I continue to think about what it means to be an effective teacher. Last week, I wrote about the need for passion. As I continue getting to know the graduate students, I think that every effective teacher is also a determined, life-long learner. A teacher must continue to expand his or her own knowledge in order to be effective at expanding the minds of others. There is constantly new information and skills to learn and new ways to learn those things. Even when teaching the basic skills--such as reading and writing--a teacher must be prepared to try new methods and bring in new examples in order to reach his or her students. Overton Simbeye is determined to use these sorts of strategies in order to engage young learners in Malawi, and he emphasized this fact when we spoke recently.
Meet Overton C.D.R. Simbeye
Overton Simbeye works at the Teaching Training College in Karonga. His wife is a primary school teacher, and they are raising seven children, three from a first marriage. Overton tried to come to Lakeland in 2003. This was during the eleven-year period when the college was admitting Malawians in cohorts of five students each year to obtain bachelor's degrees in education. He was not selected that first time, but he was determined to get a college education. So instead of Lakeland, he pursued his bachelor's degree at Domasi College of Education in Malawi. When the opportunity arose to participate in an M.Ed. degree program in early grade reading instruction at Lakeland, he was extra determined to be accepted into the program. This time he was accepted, and he says he is very glad to be here.
Overton told me that his thesis project for the degree will examine the effects of scaffolding techniques on young learners. I was not familiar with the concept of "scaffolding," so he explained it: "Scaffolding activities make teachers and learners focus on reading by placing it into a context." For example, before students read a new text in class, the teacher might first set the stage by walking the students through some guided imagery to help them visualize what they already know and think about the subject described in the text. By preparing them to read in this way, the teacher shows the students how the reading itself becomes more meaningful. Consequently, there is better comprehension and more retention of the text. Overton further explained that another good strategy is to read in "chunks," and to stop periodically and talk about or reflect on what has been read along the way. He is looking forward to trying out various techniques like these in Malawi and observing what works best for young learners there.
One thing that has impressed Overton since he came to study at Lakeland is how generous people are in Wisconsin. "We have had a lot of invitations from churches and the Rotary Club to visit them," he said. Like Phillip Nachonie, Overton remembered fondly a recent afternoon at the home of Pastor Brian De Jong, when all the graduate students got to ride the horse. Overton has been touched by the openness and generosity he has seen here. He has also noticed that people here are good with time management, and he is eager to impart that concept to his student teachers back home.
Overton also shared with me the meaning of his full name, Overton Chitukula Daniel Reuben Simbeye. "Overton" was a name that his father heard a British man in Zambia use, and he was told the name meant "chief." "Chitukula" is a clan name. The next two names are Biblical, "Daniel" (God is my judge) and "Reuben" (Behold my son). Overton’s grandfather’s name was Daniel, and his father’s, Reuben. Finally, the surname Simbeye is a tribal name. Overton said, "When I see all my names, I feel I must try and try and try."
Overton looks forward to returning to Malawi and getting to work on making adjustments to the TTC curriculum and improving teacher training. He is determined to see this happen. When I asked him if he thinks the system will change, he said, "I have no doubt. The content we are learning here will help us make a change. We are starting to learn good early grade reading strategies. There are ten of us. We will have the weight [to make improvements in the system]. The people back home are eager for change."
Riding the horse at the home of Pastor Brian De Jong, Sheboygan Falls