Common Denominators

By Alia Hammerstone


There are certain aspects of teaching and education that have proven to be universal. Sure, the differences between a Zambian classroom and an American classroom appear stark at first glance. One affords little comforts or resources- desks, chairs, and a whiteboard. The other overflows with technology, books, and creature comforts. But after pulling up a chair, sitting and observing, I have noticed several similarities that I find to be more important than anything else.

  1. Good teaching transcends continents. School of Hope is fostering phenomenal teacher talent- I am getting to observe and learn from some truly phenomenal educators. Giving students the opportunity to discuss and think critically, work with small groups, problem solve with real-life projects, and empowering students to feel a sense of independence and accomplishment are universalities of good teaching. I have witnessed the teachers at School of Hope doing all of the above, with a fraction of the resources available to teachers in the U.S. No resources are required to get kids up and moving, talking in small groups, acting out the scene of a novel.
  2. Teachers want to make a difference. While observing teachers in Zambia, it has become evident that teachers here are just as passionate as teachers in the U.S. when it comes to making a difference in the lives of their students. The teachers I have met demonstrate their commitment to teaching regardless of the obstacles they face- teaching children who have been orphaned by the HIV/Aids crisis, walking an hour to and from school, teaching 90+ students in a classroom quite literally open to the elements. One teacher put it best when he said that we educate children because we know they will build the future.
  3. Students want to feel respected and loved. A few of my favorite questions to ask students are “What makes a good class?” and “What makes a good teacher?” These have proven to be just as enlightening in Zambia as they are in the U.S. Students here all reiterate the love they have for courses where a teacher demonstrates a passion for the subject and a respect for the students. A teacher who shows patience and compassion is equally important abroad as it is at home. Though they come from drastically different circumstances, students in the U.S. and students in Zambia value the same qualities in their teachers.


4 thoughts on “Common Denominators

  1. Alia, you’ve raised some really thoughtful ideas here! In a short post, you’ve done a beautiful job of describing the heart of education. All the research shows that the “extras” or even some of the necessities pale in comparison to the influence of a good teacher. That is the kind of love that transcends all!

    • Ann, thanks for mentioning the power of great teaching in research around education. So true. As one teacher said this week at School of Hope, everything we do is a lesson for our learners.

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