Category Archives: School

Somos Juntos – We Are Together


“A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.” – Oliver Wendell Holmes

I wasn’t sure what to expect when Christmas break arrived. I’d spent the last two months adjusting to living with new people and having a new work schedule and now I was going to be the only volunteer left in a three-bedroom apartment. The apartment felt eerily quiet. At first, I enjoyed dancing around the apartment without having anyone around, but by the third day I started to feel like a mad-woman. Working with the children and Face-Timing my loved ones just wasn’t enough. The idea of Christmas in Barcelona was the only thing keeping me going at that point.

However, the 20th of December lifted my spirits. It was the last day of work but also the day I would sing Christmas songs with the children. When I arrived, I was elated by the presence of all the children and their families. The school was giving out hot chocolate and pastries. There was music playing and a do-it-yourself (DIY) photo booth. I no longer felt unsure of how my Christmas would feel. I’ve never felt more at peace than with the children and their families. It reassured my purpose in life and my intentions within my career, which is to consciously engage and have direct relationships with the groups and individuals I work with.

That day was magical! When the time came to sing Christmas songs with my children, all the teachers and families gathered around us to listen. I grabbed my ukulele, counted to three, and my little ones sang “Feliz Navidad,” and “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” It was the sweetest thing I could have ever experienced. I was close to tears as I watched my class smile and sing along. Their eyes were filled with such love as they looked to me to guidance. It has been such an honor to be a part of their lives. They have made me a better person and I love those children more than I can express.

After we finished, the crowd asked me to do a speech. Oh, my lanta. Ha, I was nervous but I got through it. The teachers then proceeded to ask families from different countries to sing a Christmas song in their language. We were a family, enjoying and respecting each other’s’ cultures; from Spanish, Moroccan, Nigerian, to Gujarati and more. It was the beginning of the best Christmas ever.

On the 23rd of December, I traveled to Barcelona to meet my Second cousin and her husband for the first time. Prior to us meeting, we had only spoken through Facebook. The family resemblance was uncanny. It was comforting to see a familiar face and be around a culture more familiar to my own as a Honduran. They gave me the REAL Spain experience. They lived on the outskirts of Barcelona in Vallirana, Cataluña, Spain. This is the ore country side of Spain, where the pueblos (small towns) are located. I felt lucky to be staying with them because it added depth to my experience and knowledge of Spain. It was without a doubt my favorite part of Spain.

During the first two days, we visited the church La Sagrada Familia and drove around Vallirana. Catalan is the language spoken in this area. When I joined them for the Christmas mass, I could barely understand what was being said. It was definitely not the Spanish I had grown up around. Nevertheless, I was beautiful.

On Christmas day, we drove to Barcelona to join my cousin’s husband’s family for dinner in a hotel. The dinner was superb from start to finish and the family was more than welcoming of my presence. They asked me to play Christmas songs with my ukulele and so I did. Their singing captured the entire hotel floor’s attention. Everyone enjoyed themselves greatly. After dinner, a few of us went off to visit Montjuic, a hill surrounded by a national museum, a castle, and a 5-Star Hotel that hosted for the 1992 Summer Olympics. Only the pictures can truly describe the beauty of it all, but even then, it’s something you have to experience.

My cousins and I spent the next day at Mont Tibidabo, which overlooks Spain and is surround by an Amusement park and a telecommunications tower as well as the famous catholic church Sagrat Cor. The view was breathtaking; and just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, my cousins took be to Montserrat the next day.

Montserrat Mountain is both a natural park and monastery, and home of Our Lady of Montserrat, which is also known as “La Virgen Negra” – The Black Virgen Mary. It was the highest I have ever been on a mountain. It was truly heavenly. I was in the clouds. Again, this was an experience that is better illustrated through photos and 100% better in person. Every day here has been a dream.

December 28th completed my Christmas break. At 10:40 a.m., I ran into the arms of my boyfriend Trevor who in July, decided he wanted to spend New Year’s with me in Spain. I’ve been speechless ever since. Traveling is a beautiful experience but it is much better when you’re surround by people you love. I cannot wait to see how the rest of this break plays out.

Wishing you all a Happy New Year filled with love.

-Rachel B.

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Unraveling My Purpose

In the dream of heaven, you completely surrender to life, knowing that everything is just the way it is. And because you accept everything as it is, you no longer worry about anything. Your life becomes exciting because there’s no more fear. You know that you are doing exactly what you are supposed to be doing, and that everything that has happened was meant to happen because they have led you to greater awareness. Even the worst thing that can happen to you is meant to happen because it’s going to push you to grow. – Don Miguel Ruiz

Adjusting to Spain has been easy, but I can’t the same say in regard to having no local support system. While I enjoy the presence of my fellow volunteers, it is exhausting to constantly be around individuals with journeys that do not align with mine. I mean, I’m a 23 year-old who is ready for a more serious part of her life, while the other volunteers are 18 years-old and dying to finally have some control over their own lives. This is 100% natural! I’m only mentioning it because I want all future travelers to know that it is okay to feel like the outsider of a group, to realize that who you are may not fit into the group’s agenda. Raising our awareness and respect for others is the best thing we can do for ourselves in these situations. Be social when you can but also honor the moments when your body tells you you’ve had enough for the day. Your mind, body, and soul will thank you. I promise.

On a different note, Spain has been treating me extremely well. From time to time I reflect on the Lumos catch phrase, “Travel with a purpose.” My purpose has unraveled little by little each week, but I’ll wait till the end to share that with you. I will say that my Spanish has improved significantly. I’ve let the children I work with correct my Spanish. For 5-7 year-olds, they are pretty intelligent. Mind you, some of them are from different countries and have to learn Spanish, Valenciana, Castellano, and English! These little sponges are way smarter than I was at their age! After 23 years, I can finally hold a conversation with my Abuela (grandmother) back home and it warms my heart. Common now!

I’m impressed with the way the teachers work with the children. In my experience, I have never seen so many teachers treat their “wild” students with so much love and patience. I love it! I’m so use to watching teachers get frustrated with these types of students. I have the utmost respect for these kinds of teachers because they volunteer the best parts of them. I first heard this idea from a college professor of mine in NY. He said, “I get paid to teach you. It doesn’t matter how I teach you because I still get a pay check. But if I expect you to learn, that means I have to volunteer my best self.” He then went on expressing how fed up he was with teachers who don’t get personal with their students; but I digress.

As I’ve mentioned in my previous posts, these children come from all over the world and they are all from lower income families. Additionally, the teachers in this school all have fair skin, while the students vary from tan, to brown, to black. Now, I am only mentioning this because I have observed the teacher-student relationships. I have yet to see one teacher pick on a student for their race or ethnicity, or looks for that matter. Not one teacher favors one group of students more than the other. This may not be true for all of the schools in Spain, but I recognize the genuine love and respect that these teachers have for each of their students. I’ve watched some of the children struggle with accepting that not everyone looks like them. Little fights break out here and there, but the teachers are always there to set a good example. They always tell the kids, “It doesn’t matter what you look like. I’m no better than anyone here. We are all a team and we have to respect one another and love one another equally.” It’s beautiful, necessary, and powerful because there are plenty of schools in the world that don’t adhere to this belief. Also, this is a crucial developmental stage in a child’s life. I comforted and honored to work in an environment that takes their role seriously. My mind screams, “Family!” every time I think about it.

Oh,  and speaking of family – my soul sister and her fiance came to visit me in Spain! What? Do y’all understand how excited I was to see a familiar face? This is a woman that I look up to. We are about 9 years apart, she is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor (the profession I am going into), and she is one of the individuals who sparked my new life journey back in 2015. Needless to say, she is very special to me.

We took tourism to a whole other level. I spent a day and a half with them in Valencia just catching up on life! I then spent another day and a half meeting them in Barcelona, where we saw about 6 amazing sights within 5 hours. Crazy, I know but it was amazing. I wouldn’t trade those memories for anything!

*Side note* Spain’s trains are not cheap and the U.S. dollar does not work in our favor here, at least not right now.

Okay, back to it!

I purposely spent a day in a half in Barcelona because I knew I’ll be returning during Christmas time, which is three weeks away.  Again, what? Where is the time going?  Soon I’ll be meeting family that I’ve only ever known through social media. Am I blessed? Yes. Oh, and then my boyfriend is coming to visit for the remainder of the break! When I signed up for this trip I thought I was going to be solo. Thankful is an understatement! It’s a peace of mind to know I have these events to look forward to, especially after the emotional and physical fiasco my body went through prior to the GRE, which I am so glad is over by the way!

I went m.i.a. the day before the test. I did not have the energy to talk to anyone. I was overwhelmed and had knots in my stomach. I can’t express enough my dislike for these types of tests; a test that measures absolutely nothing about who I am and what I am capable of doing. I process things at a slower pace and I need time to grasp concepts. I learn better through writing and discussing the material rather than memorizing it for the sake of getting a good grade. It doesn’t align well with who I am. Nevertheless, I still gave my best on test day, and luckily I don’t get nervous once a test is in front of me. I accept the moment, I breathe, and I do what I can.

When the day of the test arrived, I had to travel three hours on train from Valencia, Spain to Madrid. During that time I had journaled to myself. In that journal entry I wrote:

 ...You did your best. You will do your best. You challenged yourself. You rose to the occasion. Be proud. Smile. Feel love. Be love. Be.

After writing, I let go of all the pressure I had placed on myself. Once I arrived in Madrid, I spent an hour in a coffee shop catching up on some reading. As I drank my delicious mocha coffee and ate my cinnamon bun soaked in Nutella, I came across the passage in the beginning of this blog. I had chills, y’all! I felt at such peace with myself. My world aligned again and I was ready for whatever was to come.

Taking the GRE in a different country was probably the best decision for me. It felt more relaxing to be amongst individuals from different parts of the world. I can’t explain it, it just felt good. At the end of it all, I can honestly say I am content and EXTREMELY thankful for the experience. Oh, I’m also thankful that it’s over! Out of sight and out of mind!

I called everything post-GRE “The journey back to myself.” Between being sick and stressed out about the test, I definitely fell out of touch with myself. I needed to socialize, start working out, and do more sight seeing. This was my new mission. To hold myself accountable, I began writing a list titled, “What do I want to accomplish today?” I would even list something as simple as waking up, which is a great accomplishment for anyone. As someone who is active in the mental health community, I find it extremely beneficial to notice all the “small” things. This type of mindfulness is powerful because things such as waking up can be a difficult task, especially for those like myself who battle depression.  It helps reprogram the brain in more ways than one. For me, it sends a message to my brain that everything I do matters. It reminds me to be impeccable with my words and my actions, especially towards myself. It’s a reminder to never feel less than or shrink at the presence of challenging situations.

So, yeah. All is well my friends. I am learning, growing, and embracing this journey that I am on. I wouldn’t change a thing about this experience.

Talk to you soon,


Life Beyond the Vines

P.S. Enjoy the pics! There are some things that don’t need to be put into words.  A picture can say it all.

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Who Run the World?

Early on into my program, I promised a post detailing the role of women I observed here in Morocco. And it’s really only fitting, seeing as the genesis of this project is centered around women’s empowerment after all. But before I share those insights, I’d like to take a second to talk about why and how women’s empowerment makes a difference... And not just for women!

While working at the US Department of State, my office’s research was wholly centered on development strategies, both domestic and abroad. However, regardless of the region in question, there were some recurring themes in these strategies. Of all of these themes, the one that surprised me most was women’s empowerment. Naturally it is advantageous to help women to contribute to society, but it is so much more than just that. This article from the Brookings Institution explains it best, so give it a quick look before continuing!

From skimming this article, it is clear that the positive correlation between supported, hardworking women and overall improved society is unquestionable. This is not only part of a feminist movement advocating for more women’s rights, this is a valuable insight about what women as a gender contribute to society when they are equipped with the skills, support, and tools necessary to succeed.


Having explained that, let’s turn back to women in Morocco. As you may remember from previous posts, the Kingdom of Morocco was established in 1956, and the country has enjoyed marked stability under the monarchy ever since. It is an Islamist country with strong Berber and colonial European influences, and as a result the Moroccan people are a unique balance of many modern and traditional cultural values. In 2004, the Moudawana code established a Moroccan woman’s right to sign her own marriage certificate, file for divorce from her husband, and to be protected from child marriages by the state. Women currently make up 17% of the Moroccan Parliament and are excelling in higher education, particularly in STEM fields. These are all examples of good improvements made to the lives of Moroccan women. Good, but to be quite frank, not good enough.


Though Moudawana has done a great deal to protect women from abusive marriages, there are still some holes. Domestic abuse and rape, for example, is still something that is very difficult for a woman to prove and be protected from. (I’ll just leave this here. Note that this article could be a trigger for sexual assault survivors.) As for Parliament, the only reason that 17% are women is because it is the mandated representation of women in the body, a law often made in developing countries that is quite controversial. When it comes to college education, these women still struggle to compete against their male counterparts for the already scarce amount of jobs available. Needless to say, we can do better.

Before going to Morocco, I was asked many questions by American women and men about my project. I’ve chosen three of the most popular questions and asked real Moroccan women to respond in hopes of us better understanding their culture, society, and how they see their future. Below are the questions that address our some of our foremost cross cultural differences in the context of women’s empowerment. My responses are crafted with direct assistance from local Moroccan women of all ages to paint as vivid a picture as possible.

Is living in an Islamist country oppressive of women?

In the US, there is a lot of confusion about Islam and whether or not it oppresses women. This is the first point I’d like to address, because it is by far one of the most sensitive no matter where you go in the world. After extensive discussions with both devout and non-religious Moroccan women, I have come to the conclusion that while Islam itself is not oppressive, some of the cultural and societal norms it facilitates in an Islamist country like Morocco are. Take for example the hijab, the headscarf a devout Muslim woman wears. She can choose when she wants to start wearing it, but she is obligated by the Quran to commit to wearing it at some point in her life. The hijab represents a woman’s commitment to her relationship with God, somewhat akin to wearing a crucifix or a Star of David on a necklace. The hijab itself is not oppressive: it is a religious choice that women are given the freedom to make at any point in their life. Furthermore, Islam as a religion is not particularly disciplinarian. If a woman never wears a hijab, that is simply between her and God, and not for anyone else to judge.

The problem, then, arises when that choice is taken away... Such as a parent deciding for their daughter when they will wear the hijab despite their daughter’s objections to save face, or a husband demanding that his new wife start wearing a hijab to honor her new marriage, despite never mentioning it before. Or, even more dismal, a woman who only chooses to begin wearing the hijab because she knows it will superficially protect her from the unsettling and incessant jeers she gets from men whenever she is out by herself. All three of these scenarios (all true stories from Moroccan women) demonstrate societal pressures that circumvent the beauty of what the hijab is supposed to symbolize in a way that manipulates the woman’s choice into questions of honor, loyalty, fidelity, and demand for respect. But that’s not all.

In a country that enjoys the luxury of close proximity to Europe, the hijab can also pose a problem in reverse. For example, a devout woman who has committed to wearing the hijab is asked to remove it as a condition of her being hired to be seen as “more modern”. With unemployment as it is, the woman can’t afford to turn down the job. But why must it come at the cost of her religion? The woman who experienced this did take the job, but confessed to feeling so ashamed whenever she saw her friends and family. It is one thing to never wear the hijab, but it is quite another to remove it after wearing it, which is why she felt so humiliated by the choice her job forced her to make.


Nonetheless, it is clear that Islam itself is no more oppressive than Christianity, Judaism, or any other faith that entreats women to dress, behave, or live a certain way. It is only when religion is manipulated that such oppression occurs.

How does dating work?

In Morocco, it is a very big deal if you are known to be dating someone. It is expected that you intend to marry that person if you acknowledge that you are indeed dating them, so it is more like an unofficial engagement for the duration of time before you become engaged, and eventually marry. As a result, the whole family is a big part of the relationship, and unanimous approval is usually necessary. This is vastly different from the Western concept of casual dating, which is more about enjoying each other’s company than pursuing long term commitment. For that reason, it is important to be aware of how dating is defined differently to understand the cultural implications of introducing a significant other.

Beyond that, any time spent with your significant other is spent in a public place, like a cafe or park. You usually meet through family members, at school, or at work. And while arranged marriages do still happen in some villages, it is much more common to marry for love. Interestingly, the age at which Moroccans get married has been getting increasingly older, just like in the US and many other countries around the world. The reason for this has a lot to do with women seeking more education and better opportunities for employment instead of just a husband.

Within the context of marriage, my sources agree that every relationship is different. When a couple sits down to write their marriage contract, (yes, they do write it together) they specifically articulate the roles that they commit to play for each other. Typically, the man agrees to be the primary breadwinner, accepting sole responsibility to provide for the family. So if his wife also has a job, she has the liberty to keep all of the money she earns in a separate bank account from her husband, unless it is stipulated in the marriage contract that she will also contribute. Her responsibility is typically childcare, but many of the women I have encountered have put their children in daycare to take on work or more schooling themselves. Because the marriage contract delegates that responsibility to her, she is free to decide as she pleases about daycare. I found this to be a particularly interesting play on traditional gender roles in marriage, because while these traditional gender roles still exist, they have certainly been tweaked to allow more flexibility and freedoms for women in particular.

What do Moroccan women want for their future?

The same thing most women around the world want... To not be seen as any less or any more than who they are. To have the chance to earn the same opportunities in education, work, and life overall that a man can. To not have their competence judged based on how they look or how they dress. To have the freedom to be independent, self-sufficient, and powerful influences on society! Regardless of religion and culture, women can and should unite around making all of these goals a reality. It has been such a comfort during my conversations with these women to share in their frustrations, triumphs, and dreams in imagining a world where women are just as able to make a difference as men. This kind of rhetoric may make some uncomfortable, especially those who are wary of the many definitions feminism has taken on in recent years. And that’s okay. But remember the Brookings article... An empowered woman is an empowered society. And that’s something we can surely all get on board with! (Salma certainly agrees in the photo below!)


To conclude this post, I’d like to introduce some insights about Morocco’s current status of gender equality using international comparative research. As previously discussed, Morocco is a country whose gender equality usually looks quite good compared to its counterparts. But for this last part, I am going to remove the rose colored glasses. It is my hope that this will clarify and challenge the way we track progress in women’s empowerment as a tenet of overall societal development.

Fair warning: From this point on, I’m putting on my social science analyst cap on... This means I’ll be discussing variables, data, metrics/measurement, and all sorts of things that one who does not particularly enjoy social science may find a bit dull. However, this is aimed to be a *BRIEF* substantive analysis, which will synthesize a lot of the research I’ve been doing behind the scenes as part of this project. So I promise, if you keep reading I’ll make it worth your while!

Ranked at 139 out of 145 in the World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report of 2015, Morocco is a country whose gender equality often looks a lot better on paper than in practice. As discussed earlier, Morocco has one of the highest percentages of women in Parliament and is often thought of as one of the best Islamist countries for women. So what is it about this report that contradicts those accolades? Well, to put it simply, a more comprehensive metric.


The report evaluates gender equality using four basic categories: economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival, and political empowerment. Each of these categories is further broken down into empirical variables that are measured using a variety of primary sources such as the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, the International Labor Organization, the World Health Organization, and more.

According to this data, no country in the world has successfully closed the gender gap yet. However Iceland, Norway, Finland, Sweden, and Ireland have all closed over 80% of their gender gap. That is a wide discrepancy from the lowest scoring country, Yemen, which has only closed 48% of their gender gap. At 139, Morocco has closed just under 60% of its gender gap. That is about 15% less than the USA, which ranked at 28 with 74% of the gap closed.


Though Morocco’s cumulative ranking is 139, it also received a ranking in each of the four categories that generated the final ranking. Those rankings were as follows: Economic Participation and Opportunity: 140 Educational Attainment: 123, Health and Survival: 95 and Political Empowerment: 97. From this breakdown, it is clear that the areas most in need of improvement are economic participation/opportunity and educational attainment. Which makes sense, given the continued struggle of unemployment in Morocco as well as the 67% literacy rate, (90% of which are women) as reported by the World Bank. Furthermore, this is why I have spent the last three months in a classroom working as a cross-cultural mentor teaching a lucrative language skill.

Though gender equality is different from women’s empowerment, I found that the two concepts inform each other quite well in creating and executing my project. I hope that through reading this post, albeit lengthy and (at times) complex, you too can see how my work has targeted the needs of my selected demographic. I also hope that you are taking away a better understanding about the culture and society that has shaped these women whom I’ve come to love so dearly. I am privileged to share their stories, but I know they’re not quite over yet! Speaking of which, be sure to check back later this week for another post that will tell the very special story of one of my dearest friends here in Rabat. You won’t want to miss it!


P. S. I will be revisiting this post to insert proper citations as soon as I get my hands on a laptop! Any questions about any of this information, don’t hesitate to ask!

Once Upon a Moroccan Wedding

One of my favorite parts about my job at Feminin Pluriel was the wide variety of students that I got to work with and invest in... Everything from 6 year old beginners to astrophysicists seeking to improve their writing abilities for their PhD dissertations! It was through my work at the center that I met Noureddine, a computer designer in my advanced conversation class. In class, I could always count on Nourredine to have a smile on his face and a profound point to make during discussion. One day after class in late June, I was joking around with my students after a great dialogue about international wedding traditions, saying how it was my dream to go to a Moroccan wedding. Noureddine perked up, and said that he actually had a friend getting married after Ramadan, and if I and the other volunteer wanted to go, he would happily take us along!


Almost a month later, Demi (the other volunteer) and I found ourselves in complete shock at the overwhelming amount of generosity our dear student showed us in making my dream come true. After spending his whole day with us adventuring together around the city, Noureddine introduced us to his sister and her beautiful family, where Demi and I were quickly named honorary tantes, the French word for aunts, to his sweet niece Amira. After his wonderful brother-in-law picked us up and brought us to their apartment, Noureddine’s lovely sister Kawtar loaned each of us two of her beautiful caftans and helped us get ready for our very first Moroccan wedding! She even helped us prepare our gift for the bride and groom!


For the first time, Demi and I felt like we were part of a family here, the value of which is simply insurmountable when you have been living far away from home for so long.


But the story doesn’t end there. At the wedding, a most assuredly exhausted Noureddine introduced us to his friends, took pictures, and kindly watched over our purses as we dove headfirst into one of the most authentic cultural experiences of my life thus far. Fun fact: traditional Moroccan weddings start at 9:00 P.M. and last until about 5:00 A.M. (So yes, we were quite literally dancing all night long.) The bride entered the venue for the first time with her groom at around 11:00 in a beautiful white caftan. The couple would exit and re-enter the space four times, sporting a different ensemble every time. Pictured below you can see the bride in her brilliant blue, yellow, and green caftans, though red is another color often added into the mix. Though each entrance serves a purpose, I thought the most profound was that of the groom’s family, following their third entrance, to present them with wedding gifts. It was so cool to see the whole family have such an outward role in the ongoing ceremony!






As those of you who know me well will not be surprised to hear, I spent 90% of my time making friends on the dance floor. I was quickly adopted by Noureddine’s friend Houda, and we had a blast dancing together with her other friends! I didn’t even realize how much time had past when it came time to leave! But eventually, Noureddine retrieved Demi and I from the dance floor to go back to his sister’s house, where we slept over after one of the most incredible and surreal nights of my life.


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Confessions of a Volunteer English Teacher

Last week, I mentioned the difficulties presented in my project by the frequent changes in classes due to shifting needs at the Empowerment Center. Over the course of my time here, I have taught just under 10 different classes. As one of the only native English speaking volunteers regularly coming into the center, my managers often move me around to better accommodate the fluctuating needs of the students attending the center. As a result, these classes differ in age as well as levels of ability in English, which means that my approach to teaching has changed with every new class that I take on, as it should. However, my thought process in embarking on this project was that by choosing to stay for here for three months, I would be able to invest in building relationships with one class of students over a long period of time. I simply did not account for the fact that though my presence would remain constant, the demands on me might change.


Last summer, after the schools let out, tons of young children flooded the center which overwhelmed the volunteers. In preparation, this year, the older students were asked to leave by a certain date to make room for the younger students presumed to be coming. However, I didn’t know that it would be my older students’ last day until that day, when one of them told me how much he was going to miss our classes. Having already gone through many changes of class with different groups of adults, I found my heart breaking yet again.


Another important factor to mention is sharing classes. When other volunteers come to the center, sometimes I am asked to move around or temporarily switch to teaching another class to better accommodate the skill set of new volunteers. Other times, we co-teach the class at the same time. This is arguably even more difficult, as I admittedly struggle in having my time with the individual students suddenly interrupted by people who, at first, are strangers to me. I worry about my students, whom I know well, and how they’ll fare under the new structures and attitudes that come with a new instructor, even if I’m in the room to mediate. Thankfully though, my anxieties about changing, sharing, and switching classes were always met with nothing but reassurance thanks to great relationships with my supervisors.


As this continued to happen, I began to introspectively analyze my responses to the changes thrust upon me. By nature, I am someone who thrives by being in control. One of the greatest challenges of this project for me has been learning how to re-channel my internal need to be in control into positive energy that is able to better embrace the fluidity of my placement. Establishing routines is great, but getting rigid in them to the point of opposing change is not. Understanding that sometimes, as a volunteer, I do not get to have the final say in what the students need is crucial. And though it has taken time, I believe that I have indeed learned my lesson and grown because of it.


For example, when my advanced conversation lesson was suddenly interrupted by my manager Amal because the volunteer to teach the youngest students at the center had not shown up, she asked me to end my lesson to become the new elementary level teacher. I had lesson plans prepared through the next week for my advanced students, where we would continue our intellectual discussions about politics, anthropology, communication, and etymology. I would have to scrap all these plans and instead create new plans for basic introductory English. But disappointed and frustrated as I was when this initially transpired, I dismissed these feelings almost as quickly as they came. Because my work in this center is not about me, or the lesson plans I’ve made, or which demographic I prefer teaching. It’s about the students. It’s about Amal and Jamillah, who work so hard to coordinate these classes and more to empower the women and children of Rabat. It’s about my sponsoring nonprofit, Cross Cultural Solutions, who have chosen to invest in Le Feminin Pluriel as their partner program.


While it may seem like an obvious epiphany to have, I would emphasize that I didn’t fully understand the gravity or the difficulty of doing something I didn’t want to do out of necessity until the circumstances were upon me. At least, not until circumstances like this were upon me. Circumstances were I was needed elsewhere, and not in a small way. If I did not teach the children, the class would cease to exist. But I am here, and so the class can and will exist. Because I chose to be willing, and I chose to relinquish control for the sake of greater needs than my own. As a result of adopting this philosophy, I believe that I was able to fulfill and serve the mission of my project better than I ever imagined.


My weeks with the little ones, whom I very affectionately refer to as my little monsters, have been tough. It was the first class that I had to integrate a discipline regimen into my teaching, the difficulty of striking that delicate balance is something I imagine any parent or educator can speak to. I missed my older students and our advanced discussions, but I was able to find new joy in watching my little monsters succeed and improve in reading aloud during our daily Circle Time. I beamed with pride as they conjugated basic verbs in the past, present, and future tense. And yet again, I found myself falling in love with each and every one of them, never wanting to leave their class for another.


But alas, this is my final week at Le Feminin Pluriel. And today was my last day with my little monsters, as I promised my older students I would return to them before the end of the season. And while it is heart wrenching and difficult to say goodbye, I take solace in realizing just how much these students (every single one of them) have helped me grow over the last two and a half months... How special it has been to experience the symbiotic nuances of working toward empowerment with such energetic, engaged, and kind people!

Ancient History, Contemporary Development, & Empowering a Community

Fun fact: Since 2002, Rabat has hosted the Mawazine Music Festival: Rhythmes du Monde. (Rhythms of the World) Artists from all over the globe come to perform, as well as local Moroccan talent, with 90% of the shows being free of charge to maintain a high standard of accessibility for the Moroccan population. In addition to a number of other external sponsors, the Maroc Cultures Association ensures the festival’s unique economic independence from public funds. The festival is touted as one of the largest in the world, and is held in Rabat because the capital city of Morocco is seen as “an intermediary between tradition and modernity” that transforms from a UNESCO World Heritage Site to an open air venue where artists from all walks in life and career perform. Seriously, give it a Google, it really is that cool.


As a proud Nashville transplant and music enthusiast, my interest was piqued. I confess that I’ve never been to an American music festival before, but this was simply not something I could afford to miss. Fantastic promotion of upcoming Moroccan artists, not to mention a few familiar names gracing the lineup just in time for my second weekend in the city, (Shaggy, Christina Aguliera, and Pitbull, just to name a few) and all at no charge! So a fellow volunteer and I decided to go on Friday night to see Shaggy perform and experience this festival in full. And what an experience it was! We were surprised to note that we were largely the only women in the audience... Likely as surprised as the men were by our presence, I imagine! Now if you read travel guides about visiting Morocco, one of the most fervent warnings for young women in particular is the frequent catcalling from men while walking around. In my experience, the key to handling these unwanted interactions is to refuse acknowledgment of their existence overall. If you give them nothing to go off of, you leave them with no direction to pursue, and they desist. Even a glance in their direction can be seen as encouragement, and so it is best to try and exude “back off” with every movement of your body. Some will still pursue, but in that case a sharp word in either French or Arabic while stroking one finger down from your eye to your cheek should do the trick. This facial gesture means “shame”, and is often used by mothers when children misbehave. Thus, it is particularly shocking and offensive when a foreign woman adopts a gesture they are used to seeing from their mother! We can chat more on the nature of living in a strongly inherent patriarchal society in a later post. For now, needless to say, Kelly and I were worried about what we had just walked into as not only females, but as clear foreigners. How would these men adapt? Would it be uncomfortable harassment? Would we have to leave early? Alas, none of the above. Despite it being the identical demographic to our daytime hecklers, these concert goers went out of their way to give us space, to the point where it felt as if we had an invisible shield around us. The only questions asked were if we could see okay, and would we like them to move over more in any direction to better accommodate. It was quite the surprising change of pace from the mosh pit I was expecting, akin to what I’ve heard about music festivals in the US.


The concert itself was a wildly amusing trip down memory lane as we enjoyed a number of blasts from the past from Shaggy’s golden years. There was a lot of dancing, though all male on male, due to the aforementioned lack of females. I’m looking forward to continuing to analyze the societal pressures and structures at work here, specifically the role of the patriarchy, but seeing as I’m only two weeks in I feel it best to keep observing before embarking on such a post in the next month or so!


Harkening back to the idea of history transformed, one of the venues for the Mawazine Festival was the Chellah ruins, located in the south of Rabat. The festival is accurate in describing Morocco as a profound cross section of ancient history and increased development, which can be seen in the adapted modern use of the ruins not just as an archaeological site, but a frequented place for concerts, families, and young couples seeking to escape the constant lack of privacy. The ruins are left from Phoenician and Carthaginian settlement in the third century BC, but were later refurbished as the Roman city of Sala Colonia according to Ptolemy’s writings, which dated around 40 CE. Eventually the city was taken by a Berber tribe and fortified to protect from Spanish invaders. The remainder of some of the fortress walls are pictured below. When the Romans abandoned the city, it became a burial ground until the 13th century when the Merinid dynasty resettled the city by building a mosque and other structures whose remnants remain today. Though I recognize that history is certainly not everyone’s cup of tea, I felt it important to discuss in the blog because the ancient history of Morocco is, in my opinion, still very much alive in the contemporary culture. Walking through the ruins, I was struck to think of how many generations of feet had followed the path through the city that my feet now walked, not to mention how many more would follow in years to come. Unlike the archaeological site in Xian, China where the Terracotta Warriors stand tall, walking through the Chellah ruins feels nothing like a museum or a tourist attraction. It more so feels like a park that just so happens to have incomprehensible historical depth in addition to being a lovely place for an afternoon stroll.


As a side note, the ruins are also home to most impressive stork nests I imagine one will ever see.  Yes, I mean storks as an the bird that delivers babies to your neighbor’s doorstep from time to time. For a second there, I thought I was looking out into the flawless CGI background of Jurassic World or Avatar gauging from the remarkable size of these nests. The storks were also in mating season, clucking their beaks quite loudly, which made for an interesting soundtrack as we meandered around the old city!


Finally, as promised, I am so excited to share what I’ve been teaching (and learning!) in the classroom at the Empowerment Center. Many have asked me, why Morocco? And though there are many answers to that question, one of the most relevant reasons to my project here is the definitive need to improve national education.

Morocco is not what I would call a poor African country. It enjoys a rare stability thanks to the autonomy of the monarchy, which has protected it from the struggles faced by many other African and/or Islamist countries. While it is still developing, it is leagues ahead of many of its neighbors.

However, for all its success, there is still a lot to be done in the kingdom before it can claim developed status. This can be summed up with two simple words: education and equality. Schools are publicly funded in Morocco, but as a result the quality of education is often compromised. Private schools – once looked down upon as the schools where students who failed one too many times would have to attend – are increasingly in popularity with those who can afford it thanks to the guaranteed quality and opportunities it offers. Meanwhile, kids in rural regions struggle to find consistent transportation to and from school, and kids in urban areas share their pain of finding a way to pay for their school supplies.


The Empowerment Center I work at provides free English lessons to anyone and everyone. The office space is located in the heart of the city, but my students come from all over the region. I admit, these classes are not at all how I had imagined they would be. Halfway through my second week, I scrapped my detailed lesson plans for building up technical grammar skills and vocabulary in favor of a new approach to accommodate the many challenges of my classroom: generational differences, varying levels of general education, and implicit gender biases, just to name a few. My new approach is entirely conversation-based, where I introduce a topic question and have my students speak to their opinions on the matter. Occasionally I have them write brief statements or paragraphs to read aloud to improve heir comfort speaking the language, and sometimes I integrate American music for them to practice listening comprehension and application. (Most recently, I used the Hamilton soundtrack to supplement a lesson reviewing proper use of the three types of past tense to discuss the history of America’s revolution with a “Who’s Who” on American currency, in honor of Memorial Day. One of my favorite lessons thus far!)


One of my dear students and I after class!

One of my dear students and I after class!


When asked about how they would change the national education system, I watched in amazement as their eyes universally brightened, impassioned by the introduction of a subject that has affected them all in some way despite their different stages of life. “There needs to be more funding allocated to the rural districts,” declared my econometrics major. “We need to improve the scholarship funds to help those who can’t afford to continue their education in their own,” explained my often quiet but just astute engineer. “There needs to be a way for us to do things like you are doing here, Teacher. A way for us to go places and share our culture and our skills. Without those opportunities, Morocco won’t have a bright future.”

Right now, they're my playful neighbors. But tomorrow, they could be world leaders... Who knows! But they are who we fight for.

Right now, they’re my playful neighbors. But tomorrow, they could be world leaders... Who knows! But regardless of who they will become, they are who we fight for. They are the future.


This is why I chose to come here. Not just to teach English and immerse in a foreign culture, because there are many places one could pursue that. I came to Morocco specifically because it is a country on the edge of what I believe to be great potential, and it is my hope that by leading discussions like this, my students will heed the spark of desire for change and pursue making a difference in their country as only they can. Young and old, female and male, it is my goal to show them how strong they can be as a united front in advocating for a brighter future.

To conclude, I want to leave you with the inspiring words of one of my students in response to today’s conversation question: Can money buy happiness? The author is a vivacious older woman whose sense of humor and intellectual depth know no bounds:

“Happiness comes from our mind, which we find in good company. It comes also when we see the future generation will live in a world without war. In a world of peace and love, without chemical products. We in the world where we feel we are all brother and sister, with no difference in color or religion. As Martin Luther King Jr said, I have a dream. This is my dream for happiness.”

This is why I am so grateful to be here, investing in these people’s lives as best I can, for the next three months. No one gives me hope for the future quite like they do, which is a feeling I hope will continue to propel me forward as I continue my work here. Thank you for reading, as always I am so lucky to have so many others be a part of this journey! Tune in next week for a breakdown of the Moroccan political system and the complex history of US-Moroccan relations! (I just graduated with a BS in political science, surely you all saw this one coming!) And of course, more stories from the classroom and an update on what will be my first week of celebrating Ramadan! The fast begins tonight at 2:30 AM, and I can’t wait to rise to the challenge, inshallah.

Chiming in just in time for brunch with the dearest of friends can make all the difference when you're an ocean away

Chiming in just in time for brunch with the dearest of friends, even just for ten minutes to say hello,  can make all the difference when you’re an ocean away.

Quick shout out to those of you who have continued to love on and support me from afar. Your constant texts, emails, and messages always brighten my day! From the bottom of my heart, thank you for helping me build a home away from home by reminding me that you’re only a phone call away. All my love!

Meet Morocco!

Salam alaykum, my friends!
In English, this greeting translates to “peace be with you”. I use it interchangeably with a hearty bonjour on a daily basis, but I must admit that the Arabic feels more genuine both to give and receive. I am continually intrigued by the linguistic identity of this country, where nearly everywhere I go I see French and Arabic side by side. That being said, my studies in French have proven to be my most valuable asset as I continue to build relationships with my fellow volunteers, the local staff, and my dear students.


This is the Empowerment Office in downtown Rabat, where I teach intermediate and advanced English classes during the week.


I was fortunate to have an incredibly smooth arrival into Rabat, having befriended the man seated next to me on my flight from Paris. He was a young father excitedly returning to his wife and young child after two months of working abroad. In a display of what I’ve found to be classic Moroccan hospitality, my friend insisted on remaining with me until I had safely found my Country Director, Mohamed. It didn’t take long, and within a few minutes I was on my way back to Hay-Riad, the quiet yet bustling neighborhood where the home base is located.


The river that separates Rabat from Salé, just 10 minutes away from our home base.

Determined to defeat the jet lag, I persevered through my exhaustion and stayed awake until 10:00 P.M. that day. I was terribly excited to finally meet Mohamed, a former PeaceCorps employee who happens to know quite a few of my friends and colleagues from my office at State in DC last summer. I also got to meet Hassan and Abdou, our security guard and bus driver. These three, as well as our incredible cook Fatiha and house manager Khadija, are all native Moroccans which creates such an authentic feeling in the home base. I speak French with all of them except for Mohamed, who usually speaks English because the other volunteers currently living in the home base, Kenzie and Kelly, speak neither French or Arabic. Throughout my three months here, there will be many volunteers coming and going through the house. Kelly left us on Friday and Kenzie will be on her way next weekend. All sorts of people come through CCS, though according to Mohamed its mostly older women who choose Morocco. Of course, there are always exceptions, such as myself! Nonetheless, I am excited to cross paths with so many different kinds of people throughout my time here!


Khadija, my partner in sass, also used to work with the PeaceCorps.

I have decided that since I will be living in Morocco for the entirety of Ramadan, I am going to fast alongside my students and the local staff. Mohamed gave a particularly scintillating lecture on Islam this week, discussing the fast as a test of willpower and perseverance to remind us of all we have to be grateful for. By fasting, I hope my perspective will be challenged to feel and understand what it truly feels like to be hungry and thirsty, like so many throughout this country, my home country, and around the world. I am nervous of course, but I strongly believe that this is a challenge that coincides perfectly with the Lumos mission to culturally immerse and seek understanding. Not to mention that in Arabic, the verb “sam” means to fast, so perhaps that will work in my favor!


The pictures don’t do the mountains justice, but Kenzie and I were having to much fun to worry about taking better ones... You’ll just have to go see for yourself! 😉

This weekend, Kenzie and I ventured out to Marrakech where we went quad biking (ATVs) in the dunes surrounding the breathtaking Atlas Mountains, explored the famous Marrakech Plaza/surrounding medina, (aka market) and relaxed in our peaceful riad. A riad is a word used to describe a house with a courtyard, and if you want to see why I’m quickly falling in love with this country, I encourage you to Google some images of Moroccan riads. People don’t really stay in hotels here... Instead they rent rooms in these beautiful courtyard houses with amazing rooftop terraces. You meet and often interact with your host, who is there to help you navigate the new place as much as you need. It’s a much more personal experience than a hotel, and Kenzie and I had an easy time getting around this intimidating city largely due to the kindness of our hosts. Needless to say, this was a wonderful weekend trip, only made better by the good company I shared!


Watching the sunset from the terrace atop our beautiful riad in Marrakech.

Tune in next Monday to learn about what I’ve got going on in the classroom at the Empowerment Center, photos from my trip to the Chellah ruins, and a review of the famous Mawazine Music Festival!


The End of a Chapter

I like analogies. They make many of the complexities of life simpler in my brain. (And aren’t we all trying to make those complexities easier to swallow?) Whenever I am trying to mentally unpack something important, I usually have to make an analogy so I am able to think though it in a concrete way.  At times the analogies I come up with are a stretch, but I have been told that sometimes my comparisons are quite on point. (Shout out to Madisson Clarry and the conversation that lead to infamous backpack to relationship analogy.)

Time. Time is complex, and society has great ways of organizing it into seconds, minutes, hours, days, months, and years. But, for me to make better sense of my time in Kenya, I am not too worried about the minutes, hours, and months. I am living this journey in chapters, and I believe the first chapter of my journey just ended. (Time viewed in chapters in an analogy that is easily followed, so here we go.)

I arrived in Kenya with eleven amazing people who are now all off to start their own next chapters. I cannot fully express how grateful I am to have shared this summer with such an open group. Every moment was not perfect, and there were times when we were all driven crazy by one another. Despite our lower points, each person grew to truly care for one another, for this place, and for the WISER girls. (Also, if singing “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and cat walking in front of 120 WISER girls screaming your name does not bond a group, I am not sure what does.) To my friends from Duke, thank you for being a profound part of my first chapter here. Cheers to group dynamics and to my upcoming visit to Durham. Oriti. 


My first chapter here was threaded together by being accepted and welcomed by two different groups—the group from Duke and also the WISER community . What a gift. As the Duke group left this morning, I was left surrounded by the students, staff, and faculty of WISER. I am not sure I have ever felt so safe, cared for, and looked after. I feel as though I have a family here, and that is where my new chapter begins. I am transitioning from feeling like a visitor to feeling like a part of this beautiful school. Today is an important page turn in my trip. I have spent these first two months building relationships and learning as much as I can about Muhuru Bay. I now feel better equipped to take on my projects and to fulfill my purpose here.

As I tie a bow on this chapter, I am watching the WISER girls play a football match out my window. (Important side note: I played in a match yesterday – Duke & WISER faculty vs. WISER girls.  I woke up this morning sore, with scuffed up hands, a bruised thigh, and a bruised shin. Simply put, the WISER girls are amazing and tough and strong and I tend to fall down a lot.)

Things are winding down at WISER as the girls are days away from completing their term, but the past few weeks have been busy. In the midst of exams, they have completed a 5K race, competed in “Crossfire” (an academic competition), and hosted a Cultural Night where they performed dances, songs, and dramas. There will be a two week holiday before the new term starts. It feels appropriate to take a quick breath of gratitude before my second chapter here begins.


Run Like a WISER Girl. WISER’s 2nd Annual 5K race.


The very supportive water team at the WISER 5K.


Crossfire. Brilliant and Birel (both in Form 3) preparing for the academic competition.


Lake Victoria. Big Lake, Little Sav.

IMG_0896 (1)

There is nothing quite like a long talk with Leah Catotti. If only our talks solved the world’s problems and our questions had answers. All I can say is, “Onward.” And thank goodness you opened your heart to the OC.


Natalie, Andrew, and Collean. Thank you for late nights, early mornings, popcorn, and enough laughter to last me the rest of my trip.


Mouryne, Leah, and Judy. My home away from home.


What Makes a Good ESL Lesson? – Part 2

In Part 1, I discussed how you need to consider time constraints and group size when planning an ESL lesson. In this part, I’d like to discuss how to consider the challenge of your lessons, the motivation of your students, and the materials you can use.

Challenge – finding the golden mean of “challenging but achievable” is one of the hardest things to do when planning an ESL lesson, especially for teachers who are native speakers. The most important thing we have to offer students is a natural “feel” for the language: a lifelong familiarity of all the peculiarities of English, from verb/preposition combinations to style and word choice. But this familiarity almost works against us when planning an ESL lesson because it is so difficult for us, as native speakers, to know what is difficult and what is easy. Then factor in that besides linguistic skill, certain students are just better or worse than other in general, and that you may have to work with varying age groups with varying levels of experience, and you begin to see how difficult it can be to find the appropriate level of difficulty.

Though it doesn’t help much in practice, you can take some small comfort that in theory there are only two mistakes you can make regarding how challenging a lesson is: making lessons too easy or too hard. When you actually start teaching, it will be up to you to pay attention to your own tendencies in planning, and to try and get as much feedback from students and teachers as you can. It will be difficult to get specific answers about what was difficult and what was easy from your students, but after some time you’ll start to recognize when a lesson was too easy or too hard simply from how your students behave. I won’t say “if they look bored than it was too easy,” or “if they smile and laugh and pay attention then it was just challenging enough,” because different students will react differently to easy or difficult tasks, and it will be up to you to try and figure out if a bored expression actually means the student is completely confused or genuinely bored. If you are working with another teacher, they can be an invaluable source of information about whole classes or specific students that you can’t read, since they probably spend at least as much, and usually more, time with the students than you will.

Also be aware of your own motivations when planning lessons. I know for certain that during the first few months of teaching my lessons were far too easy, and there were specific reasons why: I was a bit nervous in my new role as I had almost no precedent to follow and no materials pre-provided, I wanted to guarantee the students’ cooperation, and I didn’t want to accidently scare my students into silence with unreasonably hard assignments. As I became more comfortable with my role and work, and more familiar with the students, I gradually made the assignments more difficult and complicated. But if I hadn’t been reflecting about my lessons, and why I was planning them the way I was, I could just as easily have continued planning fun but unchallenging lessons. In the end your goal as a teacher is to create lessons and activities that give the students a chance to improve their language skills, and there is no improvement without a challenge. Again, I don’t want to simply say “Err on the side of making your lessons harder,” because that advice is useless without considering how comfortable you are with your job, how comfortable your students are with you, and a hundred other factors that can’t really all be accounted for. Be happy with small incremental improvements, try to adjust lessons that fall on the extreme ends of the difficulty spectrum, and recognize that during the course of a school year the challenge of your assignments will fluctuate more like a sine wave than diagonal line upward.

Motivation – by motivation, I mean a student’s immediate willingness to participate in class and pay attention, as well as their long-term reasons for learning English. This may not be something that needs to factor heavily into your lesson planning, and really only requires attention when something is wrong, aka the students are not participating or engaging with the lessons. In the short-term or immediate sense, your mere presence is often enough to get them to participate in your lesson, even if they do so begrudgingly. This will sound like bragging, but I really mean it as more of a disclaimer: I don’t know how to give advice about how to increase students’ interest in participation because I never had any problems. My students were at the very least cooperative, and often interested or even excited to see me. If there’s one other asset you have as a foreigner teaching ESL abroad that is a real double-edged sword, it’s that you are a novelty. But besides your novelty, you have on your side the very real fact that English truly is a global language, and that if you want to participate in any professional career around the world, you need at least a “basic level” of English. Almost all students are brought up believing this, meaning that even if they don’t have a specific idea of what they’d like to do with their English, they’ll still consider it important. One place where considering motivation can be helpful during lesson planning is when choosing subject matter for your lessons. You can’t be sure that all of your students will work for an international corporation or have to write an analysis of a Charles Dickens book, but there’s a very good chance that they may have to read a restaurant menu, give or receive directions, or phone up a hotel while on vacation or traveling abroad. By focusing on what students might actually end up using their English for, you can get an idea of which topics might make good subjects for lessons.

Materials – by materials, I mean quite simply and broadly anything you use to facilitate teaching. That means that materials can be anything from a simple question, such as “Describe your favorite vacation,” to a written-out script with cues for speaking practice. Often, a simple handout is sufficient to explain and set up a lesson, but occasionally you may want longer text examples, or even multimedia like sound recordings or videos. The reality is that in most situations, the material you use will be chosen and provided for you, and you’ll simply work your way through a book. But if you have a bit more freedom (or complete and total “freedom,” as was my case – I was given no materials to work with!), it can be worth starting a lesson with a video or cartoon, simply to avoid the monotony that can come with working solely through a lesson book, because even good books get boring after a while.

Well, that about does it. I believe that if you keep these 5 factors in mind while planning your lessons, you’ll be able to face your lessons a little bit more at ease. As I said in my first post, I’m somewhat skeptical that this kind of analysis of lesson planning is helpful as a guide, so take what I say here with a grain of salt and trust your experiences more than my opinions. Pay attention to what works and what doesn’t, be willing to try different things, and don’t be afraid of a lesson falling flat on its face. If you have any different ideas or experiences about planning and teaching ESL, do share them in the comments.

Until next time,


What Makes a Good ESL Lesson? – Part 1

After nearly 8 months of lesson planning for all sorts of classes, students, and groups, I decided I’d try to break down and analyze what one need to consider in order to make a good ESL lesson. These guidelines are the result of a lot trial-and-error, and even if I really did account for every factor in excellent but not excessive detail, I’m skeptical about these analyses being useful for training new teachers. That said, it can’t hurt to start with something, and if you already have some experience you might find these helpful for analyzing specific elements of your lesson planning that you can improve. After all, almost all the work of teaching is done outside the classroom, so thinking about how to plan a lesson will more or less set you up for success or failure. In this first part I’ll talk about time constraints and group size, and in the second part I’ll discuss challenge, student motivation, and  teaching materials.

Time Constraints – Never ignore time constraints. An okay lesson that fits in your scheduled time is far better than a better lesson that takes too long. If you’re working with multiple groups over the course of an hour and only have 10 – 15 minutes time with each, you almost need to under-plan; by the time you’ve explained the activity and given the students some time to work, you’ve already used up 5-6 minutes. On the other hand, if you’re in charge for 45 min. – 1 hour, you’re somewhat freer to try longer, more complicated exercises. If you can, try to have optional parts to an activity that you can cut/add, depending on the situation. For example, you can take the very basic activity of “describe and explain what is happening in this picture,” and make it last anywhere from 10 to 30 or 35 minutes. To extend the activity, you can have the students write instead of speak, and then share their writing, or create a story based on the picture, and then have the students write or speak about it.

Size of the Group – Never underestimate the effect the size of a group can have. Activities that work really well with 2-3 students can fail miserably in a classroom with 20 or more students. In smaller groups, you have several advantages: students are less nervous, you can pick up on individual strengths and weaknesses more accurately, adjust the activity to suit the group with greater precision, and correct more mistakes without holding up the lesson. However, if you do get to work with small groups, then it’s likely you’ll have less time with them, so the activity cannot be very complicated; you have to focus on one skill (speaking, writing, listening, etc.), and your activity must be fairly straightforward. Larger groups are by far more common, considering that most modern schools don’t have classes of 2 to 3 students, so you have to think about ways to avoid the pitfalls of larger groups: “stage-fright” in front of peers, the domination of the conversation by a few skilled speakers, students not paying attention or being disruptive, and “spreading yourself too thin,” or not being able to give enough helpful individual attention. In my experience, it’s good to introduce a topic to large groups with the whole group participating, then give the students individual or small-group work, and finally to have them share what they’ve done with the larger group. This allows (or sometimes forces) everyone to do some sort of work, to ask you questions while other students are busy, and then be prepared and more confident when they finally have to share their work with the larger group. I really think that the anxiety of speaking in front of all their peers is often the biggest challenge with big groups, so finding a way to both ease that anxiety, but also make the students confront it with confidence, is one of the most difficult and important challenges in teaching ESL.