Teachers Teaching Teachers

“Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” 1 Peter 4:10

Eight years ago, University Baptist Church (UBC) in Houston, Texas wanted to develop an all-female mission trip. The idea of teachers teaching teachers grew as organizers recognized many of the interested ladies were teachers.

Unbeknownst to the UBC members, this idea fulfilled a long time hope in the heart of STCH Ministries International (International) staff member, Rebecca Dinzey. Rebecca worked as a high school teacher in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic (DR) before joining the staff at International. The more Rebecca worked alongside the Christian schools partnered with International, the greater her hope grew to bring veteran teachers from the States to share their knowledge and experience with Dominican teachers.  She believed her colleagues could learn new teaching strategies and gain inspiration from the Americans’ passion for teaching.

The first team of teachers arrived in the summer of 2012; Kindergarten teacher, Ruthann Mitchell joined the team as a guest of her friend Karol Peters, STCH Ministries Board member. Grieving her mother’s death, Ruthann wanted to honor her mother, Esther Ruth’s, love of missions. Ruthann found the confirmation she sought when the team visited an orphanage and she noticed a baby girl under a mosquito net. Asking to hold her, the caregivers also allowed Ruthann to feed the baby. Wanting to know more, Ruthann asked the baby’s name – Ruth Esther. Hearing her mother’s name spoken as she looked into those innocent eyes, Ruthann knew teaching Dominican teachers was the mission God called her to fulfill.

Ruthann returns each summer, leading other American teachers to share their expertise with the people who have won her affection. “Teaching teachers is like no other teaching I’ve ever done,” she explains. The warm acceptance of the Dominicans and their hunger to learn skills not taught in their country give American volunteers a new appreciation for the education they receive. Ruthann believes her colleagues often do not recognize how fortunate they are to have been taught not just the content they teach but also the skills for how to teach that content.

Teachers in Texas must attend professional development workshops in order to keep their teaching certificate up to date. Tamara Lee, a high school Science teacher in Conroe Independent School District, also considers teaching teachers a special blessing. “Now when I have to go to a workshop, I think, ‘How can I use this in the DR?’ I now see my ‘have to’s as ‘get to’s.” Tamara has taught school for 26 years and has been a part of the teacher’s team with International for 3 years.

This summer’s teaching team brought 12 teachers, 6 construction workers, a teenager to help with Vacation Bible School (VBS) and 38 checked bags filled to the maximum weight with resources, supplies and giveaways for Dominican teachers.  The teachers taught 8 hours per day for 4 days in 2 cities, impacting over 250 teachers representing dozens of schools. The teenager led VBS classes with the workshop attendees’ children, while the construction workers helped finish a roof on an orphanage in one city and helped build a gazebo at a Christian school in another.

The workshop organized the teachers by age groups: preschool/kindergarten, elementary and high school. Grouping the instruction in this way allowed them to teach specific methods according to development levels. Exact plans depend on the specialties of the teachers attending each year. This year, the topics for the preschool/kindergarten group included developing fine and gross motor skills, suggestions for maintaining student interest through hands-on techniques and a variety of group games. The elementary group focused on lesson planning and demonstrating specific teaching styles especially in language arts, science and social studies. The high school teachers, concentrating on academic learning activities and modeling professional collaboration, were encouraged to write down how they could adapt the material presented and discussed their ideas with their peers. This year there were two specialists in the Texas group, a counselor and an art teacher. These two rotated between classes sharing their expertise with everyone.

The first half of the week, they trained educators at Primera Iglesia Bautista in La Romana. The church partners with International to bring the best care possible to their school and orphanage. This was the third time the group has led workshops in the town on the southeastern coast of the island nation. This year, 86 teachers registered to attend the training, more than doubling previous years’ attendance. Wileny, an elementary teacher at a private school in La Romana, planned to add a new feature to her classroom, a word wall.  This is a collection of words and drawings largely displayed on a wall in a classroom, a word wall, provides an interactive tool for students.

The second training took place in Villa Mella, near the capital city of Santo Domingo, at Iglesia Bautista Quisequayana (IBQ), International’s base of operation for all of their work in the Dominican Republic. The team works at this location each year and has developed a reputation for excellence. Many Dominican teachers arrive an hour before the starting time and most returning attendees bring colleagues with them.

In the preschool class at IBQ, the art lessons, group games and the counselor’s presentation dealing with classroom management and troubled children had the Dominicans asking for more of the same. Anauris, a preschool teacher for seven years, committed to learn something new every day and this meeting gave her a new perspective. “Everything looks very different when you are sitting in the student’s seat rather than the teacher’s,” she said. Reviewing her own methods and activities from the students’ viewpoint helped her decide to make some changes in her classroom. Cristina has attended the classes for three years and already looks forward to next year. She keeps coming back because of the way the Americans conduct the classes, the comradery of fellow teachers and the opportunity to learn from others.

Each year, more American teachers join in, more Dominican schools benefit and the Kingdom of God is enriched through the collaboration of teachers teaching teachers. Next year’s trip dates are already on the calendar and Rebecca’s heart is happy. She hears from Dominican friends every year how encouraged and enlightened they feel.  It emboldens them to keep up with new ideas and to work with passion while giving them new techniques using the simplest materials and creativity.  “I know many have changed their style of teaching and have become better at their job,” she states.

STCH Ministries International accepts volunteer teams year-round, and Rebecca would love to see more teacher teams come in the fall and springtime as well. If you are interested in exploring this opportunity, please check out our website: https://www.STCHM.org/international/ or call us at 361.994.0940.