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* on some of the joys and mysteries related to (eventually) being called to teach (part I)

October 30, 2015

If there’s something genetic or transmissible about teaching, I have it. A lot of it. Both my mom and dad were
teachers_learnersteachers, my brother was a teacher (now a school administrator), my wife was a teacher (also now a school administrator), two of my sister-in-laws either are or were teachers, my father-in-law was a teacher, my mother-in-law helped establish and run a preschool. And I have relatives in Norway who are teachers and school administrators, and the list goes on.

I, on the other hand, took a quite convoluted road to becoming a teacher as I spent quite a bit of time, money and energy working my way through both bachelors and masters programs in engineering (civil then agricultural). Marriage was squeezed in between finishing my Bachelors degree and then starting my Masters program. But then, suddenly, half-way through my masters degree I had a startling insight. I wasn’t interested in engineering as much as I was interested in the interface between engineering and people! I excitedly told this to my advisor who, with no excitement whatsoever, pointed out the window to the building behind him and said, “What you’re describing is Education, not Engineering. You’d do that over there in that building. [of all things, he was pointing to what was then the Agricultural Education department–see below.] You are half-way through your Masters degree so just get it done. And then you can figure out the ‘what comes next?’ part of it all.

While I wasn’t so happy with it at the time, it turned out to be great advice.

While I was finishing up my Masters program, I was asked by the Lutheran church in Madagascar to go work there as an engineer on a shallow well project it was just beginning. My wife and I talked it over and said yes. Except that my job changed before we even left the country. And then, about a year after having tried to work on this new project without much success, (as there were funds to do things around the country, but no funds to pay for the doing of them), it changed again! Except this time working yourself out of a jobit was this job ending, but there was no job to replace it. So within less than 2 years, I’d gone through 2 jobs. Not bad for someone in a
profession where we were being asked to work ourselves out of our jobs!
Except, what was I to do next?!

About this time I ended up getting hepatitis. Which meant about a month in bed (I was ‘fortunate’ to have a mild case). During that time I became more aware of a new focus of work within the global missions of the church I was working for (the American Lutheran Church that became part of the ELCA a few years later) which was ministry to the “poorest of the poor.” Without really having a clue as to what this meant, I felt called to be working on this. In so doing, I sort of backed into the field of education through training I started to do with the team of Malagasy colleagues I worked with. Blessed to be working with several very gifted Malagasy adult educators, along with several other very smart Malagasy technicians, we began to work with some of Madagascar’s poorest, those living at what were known as “Toby.” These were special villages which were set up by Christians to minister to Malagasy struggling with a variety of issues. Perhaps not surprisingly, in so doing, many of the people who lived and worked in these villages were very poor, with food, clean water, sanitation, etc. being something which was difficult to come by.

In so doing, we began to work with the Christian staff of these sites, many who had not been able to experience (much) Paulo Freirewestern education, so only had very basic, if any literacy skills. We quickly learned from more too much error within our trials that we needed some better nonformal adult education methods. Thus, I began my journey with Nonformal Adult Education. And once I started down that road, I was hooked. It totally redefined the rest of my work in Madagascar. It meant leaving engineering behind (and so, in the words of one of my friends, becoming “an engineer gone bad”!).

While we had access to some books on the subject (it was a this point when I was introduced to Paulo Freire), by far our best teachers were those we were working with. Who patiently worked with us, teaching us what did and didn’t work over and over again. Until we finally got it.

At which point they moved us on to the next lesson in their curriculum.  [to be continued]

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