Guelmim is the Camel Capital of Morocco so I had to go to a camel market. Mohamed told me not to get too close though. The last picture is of Camel Tagine which is a dish common to Moroccans. No it did not taste like chicken, more like a cross between beef and deer. It was really good though.
Hanging Out with Great People
Mohamed just opened his home to us and that was so cool. We met his colleagues and friends. I teased Mohamed and called him "The Mayor" because he seemed to know everyone. My experience in Morocco was great because Mohamed went the extra mile and wanted Chester and I to feel at home and welcomed in Morocco. He is such a great ambassador for his country and became a good friend in the process.
Morocco Is Fascinating
At the end of the day, Morocco is just like any other country I have visited. They are proud of where they live and are eager to share all the great things there country possesses. I found things familiar and unfamiliar which is what makes travel so special. I wish I would have been given more time to explore the country and experience the different cities and cultural sites but this trip was more about bridges cultures than sightseeing. While it may sound hyperbolic, I experienced a once in a lifetime event that I will share with others as long as I am alive. Morocco is a place I will visit again and meet up with those same people once again and rekindle those relationships. In the meantime, I will continue to stay in contact with my new friends and continue to learn.
Moroccan Schools District are set up in a similar fashion as school districts in the United States. There are schools, districts, regions (counties), and states (provinces). This conference was scheduled for all of the English as a Second Language Teachers in the Province to come together and talk about instructional strategies. Dr. Chester Tejada and myself presented throughout the day on instructional strategies that focused on Kagan, Wormeli, Marzano, and Lemov and also on technology strategies. We challenged teachers to try at least one strategy in their classroom. What a great group of educators to collaborate with and the feedback was tremendous. What a skilled group of educators.
Chester and I were honored to be front and center in a panel discussion with all of these educators. There were questions comparing the US and Moroccan educational systems and also just basic pedagogical questions that were thought provoking.
Presentations Are So Much Fun
Presentations work best when I can talk about what I actually do in my classroom. Chester and I did just that. We actually took presentations that we had used in conferences in the US and merged them into this presentation. The picture on the left is of a Socratic Smackdown example and the teachers really had fun with that. Some purposely distracted while other interrupted to show how students may act. Most importantly, we all learned some really cool things about teaching from each other. This was such a fun day.
These are some pictures from the conference but I do want to focus on the first picture of the two ladies in the first picture. They are young teachers and were so complimentary of the presentation. I told them thank you of course but also told them the best teacher was actually my wife. They were so surprised that I said that and asked if they could speak with her sometime. As a result of this conversation, one of the teachers and my wife have met on Facebook, did a video call, and email each other. The power of Global learning.
What good would a great experience like this be if I couldn’t share it with my students? With the help of my student teacher, Broc Kreitler, we set up a Global Collaboration call with the students from Morocco and my student in at Ste. Genevieve Middle School. The Moroccan kids were shy at first but they soon realized that my students were excited to talk to them and learn about their culture. It was a great opportunity to meet new people and learn about new cultures.
When I came home, my students had a thousand questions about my trip and what I learned. But they also were very excited to talk about the students they met on the call and to find if they were similar to how they represent themselves on social media and on the Padlet. I really like Global Collaborations because American students are so insulated from the rest of the world and I want them to experience new people, places, and cultures.
My students participate in Global Collaborations throughout the school year but this was the first one where I got to be on the other end of the collaboration with my students. It was a great experience for everyone!
At the end of the day, if you are a teacher, you want to see the schools because that is where the kids are and that means there is energy. Moroccan students are just like Americans students for the most part. Some are focused on studying and getting good grades, some want to have fun and be silly, and some just enjoy the social interaction that schools naturally bring. The biggest difference was the Moroccan students willingness to allow me to be part of their school. I WAS THE SELFIE KING!!!
There are about 50 more selfies that I did not upload but you get the basic idea. Moroccans are welcoming people and were definitely interested in learning more about the United States and my students. More than anything, these students were just fun!!! I enjoyed getting to meet them and truly missed them when I left to go back home. They reminded me so much of my own students so the connections was definitely there for me!
Being in Morocco reminded me of something that I focus on with my own students. Look at each student in the pictures above. Each of those sets of eyes sees the world just a bit different than the other. All of them have hopes and dreams. All of them what to be significant and important to someone.
While I have focused on the students I do want to mention the great teachers and administrators in Guelmim. I genuinely liked to talking to them because they were so open to conversation. Sometimes their English wasn't the best and my French is not that great but we learned to communicate because we wanted to find out about each other which is what Global Exchanges are all about.
There are so many great things about travel and I plan to address some of them in the next three or four posts. The first one is about shared experiences. Dr. Chester Tejada was my partner in Guelmim and our host teacher was Mohamed Bettaoui. Both of these guys were so great to hang out with during our visit and made the experience so much richer. While we all have different backgrounds and we teach different things, we all had common characteristics: a passion for teaching, a love for students, finding new ways to present lessons, a curiosity of cultures, and a huge respect for what each person brings to the table. Everyone was willing to try new things and collaborate.
The people I met through TGC are truly Global Innovators. Regardless of discipline, they are trying things in their classrooms to bring students all over the world together. I felt like I was in a Global Teacher Petri Dish! People are bringing instructional strategies that they are doing in their classroom. Teachers are talking about challenges they face and stories of success. It was really a special time. Talking to teachers who have the same passion for Global Education as I do may have truly been the highlight of my trip but you are starting to figure out already that their are a lot of highlights here.
Overall, I have expanded my Professional Learning Network (PLN) further than I ever could have imagined with new colleagues in Morocco and with colleagues throughout the United States. What a great experience to be in Morocco with passionate educators.
When my host, Mohamed Bettaoui, told me he was going to take me to a 400 year old Casbah I was pretty excited. These soil-based structures don't last very long so that in itself was pretty awesome but the curator also had made a museum out of it so that was even better. It is located outside of the city of Guelmim, which is about 5 hours from the Sahara Desert. This place did not disappoint but not for what was inside but for the person who gave us the tour.
I am a teacher of World History which means I talk about Rome...a lot! Rome is everywhere and no matter where I go on a trip it seems that there are Roman Ruins to be found and Morocco was no exception. Volubilis is a UNESCO World Heritage site and for good reason. If Volubilis were in Europe, you would pay over 20 Euro Roman ruins of this magnitude but in Morocco the price was 50 Dirham or about $5.00 USD.
What is so interesting about historical sites like this to me is thinking about people who have stood where I stood or walked where I walked. In this case, I am standing in the same spot as Cleopatra's daughter...how amazing is that! Roman centurions walked where I walked and talked about what was going on throughout the Roman Empire. Volubilis was similar to Hadrian's Wall in that it was an outpost of the Roman empire so defending it was difficult. This was not a great assignment for a Legionnaire but for me, it was heaven.
The best part of Volubilis are the mosaics. There are so many and the details are amazing. Most places would have already dug them up and placed them in a museum but these are exposed to the elements. They are in the same place as when they were laid 18 centuries ago.
Morocco is in Africa. You can look on a map and see that. Morocco is a nation of Muslims. You can look that up and see the statistics. Morocco has a French heritage. Just look at its history and you can see that. What is so interesting though is when you are actually in the country all of the previous ideas that one may have developed quickly dissipate.
In the Southern part of Morocco where I am located looks like Arizona. It has an arid feel but in March it is very green. My Moroccan colleague, Mohamed, tells me that in the summertime it is unbearably hot but now it is cool in the evening. Outside of the city of Guelmim, there are hot springs that I will be trying out this week but the area is very rocky, full of cactus, and full of mountains. However, on the way back there were low lying clouds that made the region look like Scotland complete with sheep. Then you go to the coast and see the beautiful Atlantic Ocean. Morocco is such a diverse place that amazes me everyday.
Moroccans are culturally tied to Islam and one can see the traditional dress throughout the country but that doesn't tell the entire story. The new generation of Moroccans have the option of dressing traditionally or dressing in a Western manner and most choose the latter option. Yes, you will hear a call to pray five times a day but not very many people actually do or if they do it is less than five minutes. Moroccans are respectful of other faiths and do not mind a conversation about the Christian faith and their own. I am appreciative of people who are grounded in their faith yet tolerant of others.
Finally, Morocco has many characteristics of France. Having visited a French market and a Moroccan market I can say that there are many similarities. You will hear French spoken in the market and when people do not understand you, everyone speaks money! I don't know if I would have chosen Morocco as destination before but I am sure glad that I am here. Morocco is truly a wonderful place.
Teachers for Global Classrooms have given me the opportunity to see a country I never thought I would see. Morocco has exceeded my expectations ten fold already and I have only been here for a week. What is surprising about that statement is when someone talks about seeing a country, they usually refer to the landmarks and tourist locations of the place one is visiting.
What has been the best part about Morocco is the people. Being about to go into schools and interact with students and teachers has been the experience that is the most memorable. Whether visiting a school in Rabat, a teacher academy in Casablanca, or an English class party in Guelmim, the students and teachers have been genuinely happy to interact and engage in conversation with me. Sure my American status helps with that eagerness but that is just the icebreaker. After that, kids are kids, teachers are teachers, people are people.
They have the same hopes and dreams as my students do. Teachers are wanting to do what is best for their kids. Moroccan teachers love their kids just like I do. Students are curious about my students just like my students are curious about them. They ask the same questions and inquiry the same way we all do. NOTE: If you are skeptical of that, check out my instagram at SGHistoryTeach and see the videos and responses. Students in Morocco are experts at Instagram and Snapchat just like my students and the Moroccan teachers are trying to integrate technology in meaningful ways just like I am.
Teacher training is serious business in Morocco just like it is in the United States. I have heard the pedagogy this week in Morocco more than I have in the last year in my own country. Teachers in this country are serious about becoming better educators and providing opportunities for their students and they do that all while earning the equivalent of around $900.00 USD a month which is woefully underpaid in a country where things are not that cheaper. Yet they are still committed to being great teachers and want to go better at their craft.
In the end, travel provides the opportunity to make connections. We learn about places and the history of the country but the real learning is from the people
Travel days are hard but the final destination makes it worth it.
There is no way around the rigors of a travel day. Leaving St. Louis with a 3 hour layover in Detroit followed by the flight to Paris was manageable but the last leg leaving Paris to Rabat was tough. The plane was full, it was hot, and I was tired. But once I arrived at the Rabat Airport, the wonders of travel gave me another gear and reminded me of why travel is so special.
Everything is so new yet so familiar. The currency, the Arabic, the people, the smells, the climate are new experiences for me. But the people are pretty much the same. They are in the airport coming and going. Taxis and transports are dropping off and picking people up. People are hugging new arrivals and waving goodbye to people departing just like we do back home. It was what makes travel so unique and so much the same.
After a quick shower and nap, I met my group and headed off to the banks of the Bou Regreg River to see the sights and grab some dinner. I love the unstructured times. Seeing the street vendors sell their wares is always fun. People are walking and enjoying the evening. Small children run and laugh, adults walk and laugh, and people interact like people do all over the world. Of course it is different because I AM IN AFRICA!
There is so much to see and do in the next two weeks. So many people to meet. The hardest part about travel is that you have to realize you can't see everything and there is a very real chance you will not ever go back to get a second chance. This is why travel is so special because the experience you have today will never happen again. The people you see will probably never been seen by you again. It's why I love to travel.