As we near the end of the ETA training week, I am left with more questions than answers. Much like a conference, the experience was incredibly educational, but the long hours sitting in a chair from 9am-5pm felt routine. I have learned that the Moroccan education system is fairly different from that in the United States. I still don’t know when my semester begins, but that’s apparently normal. I don’t know how many classes I will teach, what the specific focus of these classes are, when I will teach classes, etc. (For reference, in the United States, we announce the academic calendar a year in advance). However, although I am a planner and somewhat anal person, I am trying to take a step back and realize that this lack of structure presents me with an opportunity to A. become more flexible and B. really take control of my classroom.
Throughout the course of the week, we had many lectures about professionalism, interacting with colleagues, establishing boundaries between us and our students (my students will probably be older than me), how to find an apartment, cultural norms, how to use certain hotlines, etc. Some sessions were really helpful, addressing what topics to not speak about in Morocco, what topics are sensitive, and how to keep a classroom captivated (warm up activities, partnering people, etc.) Several professors attempted to explain to us the Moroccan classroom. Some Fulbrighters will have classes as large as 150 people, but apparently only 80 will routinely show up. Some students never attend a class and then only take the final exam. Some students purposely fail the final exam in order to retake the next exam. It appears like the progression through classes and dedication to in-class course work and participation varies. Some students travel to class from as far as 3 hours away, so how can they be expected to routinely participate attentively? Moroccan university systems are very lecture-focused, so we were encouraged to get Moroccans out of their comfort zone by having interactive classes. Apparently the concept of “plagiarism” is not addressed in high school or college, and students need to learn about proper citation. Unfortunately, classes normally only meet once a week for 2 hours, so encouraging language acquisition will be quite difficult. I plan on beginning a “professionalism club” or perhaps a conversation club, just so students can continue practicing their English throughout the week, instead of just during our one course meeting. Also, apparently, I will be known as “Professor Sherwood.” (There’s a difference between professor and Dr., but to me it feels like a lofty unearned credential has been bestowed upon me).
Although ETA week was not the most engaging experience, it left me feeling with a sense of purpose. There truly is a lack of English teachers in Morocco, and I have witnessed how learning English can transform lives and open multiple professional opportunities. There is a severe lack of access to English and many Moroccans have never met a native English speaker, let alone taken a class with one. While I might not be feeling the most confident about leading a classroom, I recognize the importance of what I am doing. Not only am I engaging in cultural exchange, but I am helping people achieve their personal goals, and in some cases, helping to change lives (Inshallah). After a week living in the hotel, I am ready to go to Tangier. I’m ready to have my classes, meet my students, find an apartment, find my own language classes, maybe get my first manicure, learn to surf, learn Gnawa music, and perhaps maybe even learn how to cook, Inshallah. It seems like this will be an unprecedented year for growth, for learning adaptability, and for relaxing one last time before I begin the hussle and bussle of DC life.