Days 2 & 3

We actually got to teach a little bit today. Not my usual subjects — economics and psychology — but a few sentences in English.

After watching two masterful teachers captivate their elementary school students with advanced Arabic and French lessons using only a chalkboard, two fellow Fulbrighters and I taught the kids to say, “Hello! My name is ____”, “What’s your name?” “Where are you from?” And “What’s up?”

It wasn’t much, but it was one small step toward teaching Senegalese students English, something that is a passion for one of our hosts, Mouhamadou Diouf.

Mouhamadou, a Fulbrighter himself who spent five months in northern Kentucky (and southern Ohio) in 2009, has been teaching English in Senegal for 33 years. He not only teaches English, but he has served as leader of the Association of Teachers of English in Senegal (ATES), sponsors English clubs, and works with the U.S. Embassy to expand the English language competitions it launched in 1994-95.

Those competitions now bring English club students from all over Senegal, as well as Guinea Bissau, Malia and Gambia, together to compete in writing, spelling, talent show (poetry, singing) and even podcast competitions.

Why is Mouhamadou so passionate about English in a French-speaking country, with flourishing native languages as well?

For the same reason any exemplary teacher cares about their subject — because he sees it as a way to open the world for his students.

“People are starting to say we should teach English at the elementary school, as the first language,” he told me. “People have noticed that in Africa the more developed languages are English speaking. It will open more opportunities. Even the French diplomats speak English. It is the lingua franca.

He is also driven to teach his students leadership skills, so they are prepared to be not only political leaders but business leaders in a country that desperately needs more entrepreneurs and good-paying jobs. While in the U.S., he took a leadership training course at Northern Kentucky University and learned planning and management skills that he now shares.

“I learned to write things down, set dates, figure out what resources I need and who are the people responsible,” he said. It helped him learn how to get things done, and in 2015 he also introduced the idea of nominating a teacher of the year.

Now, he says, many of his students want to become leaders. So he encourages them to get started by practicing leadership within their schools. “Can you identify a problem at your school and start to develop solutions?” he asks.

It’s amazing, honestly, to see Mouhamadou’s passion and commitment. The classrooms in Senegal are packed, and the teachers have little to no technology (not even copy machines or overhead projectors).

But as one of my fellow teachers noted today, teachers like Mouhamadou do so much more with less. And they will change the world for their students.


In other notes, we visited the U.S. Embassy yesterday and the Museum of Black Civilizations today, and I actually got to see the oldest human skeletons, including Lucy. Tomorrow, we’ll see a few more schools, and then I am off to Kaolack in southeast Senegal for nearly a week.

Here are a few sightseeing photos….