Thursday, July 31, 2008

Food Market

Walking through the food market today the heady trance brought on by the sweet-tangy smells and glorious colors of abundant mounds of spices was broken by a stark conversation on the price of food in Yemen. Although the conversation was locally centered, the global undertones were hard to miss. When I was here in May 2007 it was impossible to walk down the narrow, tarp-covered spice aisles without bumping someone and replying “hello” in response to a chorus of “Welcome!” from half a dozen friendly Yemenis.

The slender aisles are quieter this time. We saw no one scooping up grain or beans in our time waiting out the rain. No one stopped to buy coffee, garlic, or fenugreek to make the magnificent Yemeni dish of ‘salta.’ We were told by our guide that the price of food in Yemen has gone up drastically, yet of course the population of Yemen has not precipitously fallen commensurately. Which leaves a person to ask: How are Yemenis getting their food? Where are they getting it? What are they doing without it? What are these merchants in the market doing in response to decreased sales? What do they forgo buying as a result of depressed sales? How does that further impact the economy? Who isn’t eating and what is the long-term implication of a country skipping meals that currently faces a staggering 40% unemployment rate, 20 million people with access to 90 million personal weapons, where 75% of the population is under 25 years old and has a 50% illiteracy rate?

Dusting off the blog as I'm back in Yemen

Amber Prentice, SPFT member and AFT ELL Cadre member, and I are in Yemen to teach groups of teachers from both the official teacher’s union and the Yemeni Teachers Syndicate. We spent a lot of time during our flight from Frankfurt to Sana’a reshaping our lessons on classroom management, time on task, and teacher praise and still I am filled with questions about how it will go.

I would have liked time to observe more classrooms and talk to more teachers when I was here last to truly get an idea of where these teachers are starting and, therefore, what they need. Most of what we plan on teaching should be universally applicable but still I have questions. What sort of behavior do they see? What are typical methods of controlling behaviors now? What sort of barriers do students have to understanding lessons? How disparate are the abilities in a classroom of 80 students? How effective is any classroom management strategy in a classroom built for 30 holding 80+ students? I suppose I could just ask a choir, science, or physical education teacher in St. Paul some days.

At its most basic, the goal of these teacher unions is parallel to ours: Make the union the place you go to become professionally supported and enriched. Make the union the place you go to hold conversations that improve your individual classroom work as well as advance our profession. Ultimately, if that is what we have in common, then those questions above can be tackled during our training. I’m looking forward to learning the answers and sharing our conversations