As another school year wraps up, how are you appreciating the teachers in your life?
Term time is almost over! Here in Canada, as in many countries around the world, students are enjoying sports days, gathering at year-end picnics, and bringing home artistic creations to proudly present to their families. The end of June is also a time when parents and students take the opportunity to thank teachers for their tireless efforts throughout the year, and send them on their way for some well-earned rest. Teacher appreciation flows naturally when we reflect on all that children have learned throughout the year, and as we recognize the work it takes to make this learning happen. Whether a “World’s Best Teacher” mug is presented or a group gift card is purchased or the school organizes a week of baked treats, these gestures are a tangible reminder for teachers that they are making a difference, and that it is not going unnoticed.
In Rwanda, we are so encouraged to see the ways in which our training is inspiring parents to take teacher appreciation to a whole new level.
As parents are mobilized through our Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD) training to play a practical and meaningful part in their children’s education, there is a greater understanding of their role in motivating teachers and providing the support they need to thrive. And in Rwanda, this is incredibly important. For many years, teachers have been undervalued in society, the job itself misunderstood as merely a default for those who lack the skills to do anything else. As a result, teachers often undervalue themselves and need help in grasping the huge potential they have to change not only their students’ lives, but the trajectory of their nation.
Rwandan teachers are also often underpaid, receiving meagre salaries in spite of the energy and effort involved in their job. Positive steps are being made, including Rwanda’s Ministry of Education announcing early in 2019 that primary and secondary teacher salaries would be increased by 10% to improve teacher retention and motivation. In their press release, they recognized “the wellbeing of teachers as a key factor in their overall performance,” and this is leading to a greater focus on making systemic changes to support these teachers.
When these efforts are paired with increased parental involvement and community initiatives aimed at helping teachers thrive, educators are sent the message that they matter and that we are grateful for them.
So what does this look like in practice?
We have often shared in the past about ways in which parent communities are taking collaborative and creative action to address the needs of their local schools. One of the most practical ways in which this happens is through TEACHER INCENTIVES. This involves families paying a small amount each month (around the equivalent of 60 cents) that is added to the salary a teacher receives. This results in teachers receiving a living wage. Gasabo, the district in which Wellspring has been active for almost 8 years, is in fact the only school district that focuses on these incentives, something that has been driven by our community involvement training and our emphasis on giving parent communities the tools to take action. In Gasabo, parents are committed to ensuring that teachers receive the compensation they deserve and are willingly sharing the load to make sure that it happens.
In many schools, teacher appreciation takes the form of practical and deeply impactful initiatives such as SCHOOL FEEDING PROGRAMS. In Groupe Scolaires, which teach both primary and secondary students, these feeding programs often serve the students themselves. However, in primary schools these programs are established to give teachers, many of whom work longer days than would be the norm in North America, the opportunity to eat lunch at school. Teachers are well nourished, energized, and on time for their afternoon classes. As our Community Involvement trainers engage with parents, helping them to develop home-grown solutions, this is one of the areas in which parents are meaningfully contributing, and in which teachers are being valued and appreciated.
Teacher appreciation leads to motivation and retention, both of which have been a very real challenge in many school contexts, including at Shango Primary School. Teachers’ low salaries, high rental and transport costs in the neighbourhood, and salary delays often resulted in teachers buying their groceries on credit. Local shop owners would look down on these teachers, uncertain about their ability to pay back what they owe, all of which contributed to reputations being tarnished and teachers looking for employment in new communities. At the same time, some parents were struggling to get school materials for their children on time, which affected teaching and learning. After realizing this problem, some parents decided to save the honor of teachers and, at the same time, help parents to get their children’s school materials easily. This is how the idea of ESTABLISHING A SHOP was brought to the fore.
The parents and teachers who started this shop decided to provide domestic items (rice, oil, maize flour, sugar, salt, soaps) and the materials needed by children at school (such as notebooks, bags, and stationery). Teachers can now take the items they need on credit, and pay this amount back when they receive their salary. Since the shop was opened, teacher turnover has decreased and teachers are much more motivated. Plus, children now have the materials they need for school, and are not turned away because they lack the required supplies. The parent committee even consider working together to help parents cover these costs if they are facing significant financial hardship.
Teachers are worth this incredible effort. Incentives, feeding programs, school shops all provide for the practical needs of these educators, but they also send an important message. We see you. We appreciate you. We honour you. And we are right here with you as, together, we invest in the education of a new generation.
Thank you for being part of this journey with us!