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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 19, Number 2, October 2006

Sharing, fun, and learning

Emelina Perez from Cuba was a guest of several of the BC Cuba project team members this summer. Perez spoke at the international workshop at the summer conference. Some of her speech is excerpted here.

To be a teacher is a great challenge blessed by innumerable rewards. No matter bad or good times, it is always the most precious profession.

I have been teaching for more than 30 years and I always had enough pride in my job. What really makes me feel happy is when I meet former students who still call me profe (professor). Even though some of them occupy important positions in different ministries, they still greet me and acknowledge my contribution to their success in life as a professional.

My teaching expertise has been shared in Guyana and Jamaica, and also brought me to BC to work on the development of the Cuban-English-language curriculum for secondary school students.

The project with the BCTF started in 1999 when a group of my colleagues from Varona, together with members of the Cuban union and the Ministry of Education, gathered with the members of the BCTF to sign an agreement to help Cuban English teachers. When I consider all the plans you had in mind and our expectations from this agreement, it is my opinion that the expectations have been surpassed, because the results show that this has been a very good project and it needs to continue.

If we want to enumerate the results, the first one is the teaching programs you had for us. The professional development for teachers courses that have been taught include language enhancement, methodology, evaluation, the use of the communicative approach, strategies for EFL and ESL, reading and writing, and cultural exchange. The project started in Varona with the presence of secondary teachers from different municipalities and provinces and teachers of English from specialist positions in medicine and tourism. Some teachers traveled every day from great distances—teachers who were up at 3:00 a.m. and hope to be lucky enough to catch a bus or a train to be at Varona by 8:00 a.m.

That first meeting was the beginning of the most outstanding and interesting work Cuban teachers have ever had to upgrade their language skills—10 days devoted to develop the four abilities.

One of the most important results changed the education system for the teaching of English through the development of the revised curriculum for secondary-school children. This curriculum paved the way for other interesting projects in the teaching of English in Cuba. For example, the entire Cuban population benefited from the program Universidad para todos (University for All) and English has been the most outstanding of the language courses taught on television. Millions of Cubans follow the English course. It does not mean that Cuban teachers were not able to do the job by themselves but the television teachers had access to the most up-to-date methodology for teaching foreign languages, activities, and strategies in the communicative approach. It was all part of the knowledge that we got from the course taught by the Canadian teachers.

And later, video lessons for secondary schools were developed—these lessons started because of an extreme shortage of English teachers and the new changes introduced into the curriculum. This summer, for the first time, we started lessons on television for primary school students. Books at different levels have been published for primary and junior high and now high school. This is also, in part, the result of this project. Now we have the whole system from Grades 4 to 12.

When the project began, Canadian teams came to present the program. Now we have two Canadian teachers and one Cuban working together in different sites. This partnership helps the pedagogical institutes provide professional development to Cuban. Working with the Canadian team has the added benefit of the Cuban team member continuing to provide support for their own colleagues.

For me, personally, working as part of the team was very good. We adapted the plan so that instead of having my own class, we taught in teams. Cuban teachers want to be with a native speaker and they know that where there is a Canadian, there is fun, there are more activities, and there will be extra resources. In our team we met each evening and planned to share the activities. When the Canadian teachers were presenting, I was able to show the Cuban teachers how they could apply the ideas and activities in their own classrooms and at the same time the Cuban team member is listening to good English. This experience made a difference with my own teaching at Varona. I have used more strategies, games, and include more items to be discussed with my students.

The Canadian teams have had challenges working in Cuba. They have dealt with the heat, the living conditions, the hurricane, and have learned that in Cuba they must be ready to adapt to the "ever changing plan."

Interesting future projects could be more information on activities to develop multiple intelligences. Not many people in Cuba know about MI and what kind of activities can be used to develop these. This is possible for us now because our classes have been reduced to 20 students in secondary and 15 in primary.

We would also be interested in learning more about reading and writing strategies and the use of strategies to support the video lessons.

My thanks to all the people who contributed to make it possible for me to be here again and supported me during my stay here. I have had the chance to experience new cultural shocks. For example, when we went to BCTF in 2000, we saw the photocopy machine and the bulk of paper you have here for printing and the number of new updated books and resources. That was amazing.

This time I can say that I have enjoyed being exposed to new places like Harrison, Bowen Island, Grouse Mountain. I have seen people living in a floating house, I tried to sleep on a waterbed, and I traveled on Sky Train and back and forth on the ferry.

I have to thank you again and again and I hope the project will continue with more success and ideas and contribute to the ongoing strengthening of our friendship. Abrazos Cubanos y muchos besos para todos.

Emelina Perez, Higher Pedagogical Institute, Enrique Jose Varona, Ciudad Havana, Cuba.


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