Notes from the Errachidia International English Conference

Errachidia, in the south below the Atlas Mountains.

In March, we were honored to be asked to present at the 2016 Errachidia International English Conference, a gathering of Moroccan English teachers in the Errachidia region.

At the opening speeches, I saw a sea of faces nodding eagerly as the conference coordinator began referencing linguistics and morphology. I laughed and thought, oh man, these are MY PEOPLE. It was wonderful to spend a few days with a group of educators and language nerds.

 

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I presented on strategies to integrate real-world stakes in the classroom, which was basically just an excuse to advertise for journalism programming and the Write On Creative Writing Competition. The best part wasn’t my presentation, but being able to share resources for how to get students published in real literary magazines and media sources.

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While I am super passionate about education and language learning, I’m a slightly-less-than-mediocre public speaker. I don’t have stage fright, but I don’t have stage presence either. Robert, on the other hands, rocks at this stuff!

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He gave a fiery presentation on Girls Education, which ignited an intense discussion in the room. People were actually slamming their fists on their desks and shouting by the end of it! Gender equality in the classroom is relevant everywhere in the world, but it has a particular context in the Morocco, where girls’ literacy rates are significantly lower than boys’.

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And while there is pushback (evidenced by some reactions to Robert’s presentation), there is also hope and progress. There’s still a long way to go, but just in the past decade, gender equality in the Moroccan classroom has improved significantly—because of government reform, but also in huge part because of amazing individual teachers. There were many amazing moments during the presentation, but one of my favorites was when one of the teachers shared a funny story about a time when he used the term “househusband” in an English lesson. His students all started waving their hands in the air, shouting, “Teacher! Teacher! You wrote that sentence wrong on the board! It’s houseWIFE!” And he replied, “Hey, I’m the English teacher here, and I didn’t write anything wrong! Who here can say that househusbands don’t exist? Of course they exist!” In a country where only about 10% of women work for pay, this kind of story is revolutionary.

Even after the presentation, many of the teachers wanted to continue the conversation with Robert and with each other.

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Besides working as presenters and discussion facilitators, we were also the waitstaff! The American PCVs at the conference all took on the job of serving and busing during meals and breaks. When you organize a conference, the hardest part will inevitably be the food and drink. The main Moroccan teacher counterpart who coordinated the conference said, “It doesn’t matter how great the actual conference is. If the food is bad, people will think the conference is bad.” Hahahaha… but true.

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We almost had a riot on our hands when we didn’t have enough teapots and had to serve tea from coffee carafes instead. Tea is serious business. 

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For most of the meals, we scavenged the leftovers in between serving the teachers. Although we didn’t mind at all, a few of the teachers insisted that we sit down with them to eat during the last meal, which was lovely!

Errachidia was our second Southern city, and although our sample size is low, our conclusion so far is that Southern cities are wonderful! Life at the edge of the Sahara seems so much slower and sweeter. We love our Northern city, but there is just something really special about the Moroccan South. As we wandered around Errachidia, buying date syrup from co-op stands and looking for avocado milkshakes, we felt a lovely sense of calm.

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Yours Truly,

Robert & Julie

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