Monroe Elementary School's Karen Cahall talks about her 'perspective-shifting' summer

Karen Cahall with teachers in Uganda.

Negativity seems to be all around these days.

To cope, some folks temporarily abandon social media. Others turn to health-focused activities like yoga. New Richmond Exempted Village School District teacher Karen Cahall took another approach.

This past summer Cahall, the mother of two adult children and a high school senior, traveled to Africa to take part in a month-long teacher training fellowship through Limited Resource Teacher Training.

The experience, she said, was enriching, humbling, life-changing and perspective-shifting.

The focus of Cahall’s trip was to share teaching methods with Ugandan colleagues. The goal was to help Ugandan educators to improve their teaching skills.

Cahall had many skills to offer her Ugandan counterparts. Her experience includes not only teaching at Monroe Elementary School. She has taught adults as part of a continuing education class through the Communicate  Institute (a math and technology course) and is a volunteer for the Ohio Department of Education on the curriculum advisory council.

The dirt-floored Ugandan classroom where Cahall spent her time was about a third of the size of her own at Monroe Elementary School. It was located in a small village. The teacher had a piece of chalk and a chalkboard. The one eraser was shared by all 12 classrooms.

“So we come in, I went in thinking ‘oh, I love math and I’d love to show them how to use all these great materials,’” Cahall said.

The reality was the Ugandan teachers have limited resources. Despite this, they were open to hearing suggestions and not at all put off by the fact that there are these strange people coming in trying to tell them how to do their job better, she said.

The trip wasn’t all work for Cahall. There was an opportunity to go bird watching. It was during this activity with her guide, Nick, that she had the most profound experience.

The excursion lasted six hours. It was just Cahall and Nick out in his boat on Lake Bunyonyi.

Nick, like many people Cahall met, had a special project. His project was an orphanage that he established. His guide business provided money to help support his project.

In order to make a better future for his children, Nick told Cahall that there must be sacrifice. The sacrifice for him was the cost of equipment, binoculars and a field guide, and his time to earn money as an expert guide and thus have more resources for his “project”.

This discussion also included a question to Cahall from Nick. He asked about the cost of her binoculars.

“I had to think a bit before giving him an estimate of  $300,” Cahall shared in an essay about her experience. “His next question to me stopped me a bit short. ‘Yes,’ he said, “but how much did you have to sacrifice for it?”

It was a fair question coming from a man living in a country where the average annual income is under $150, she wrote.

For Cahall, there were a couple of significant takeaways from the trip.

The first was the importance of improving your mind. The other was the importance of growing your heart.

“I really can’t say that when I was in Africa that I learned any new excellent teaching technique. I can’t say that. But what I can say is it grew my heart,” she said.

She’s more aware of the situations other people in the world face daily, Cahall said. She’s also more aware of the world beyond the United States.

“I think it has changed how I act in the classroom. I mean, I’ve always tried to be the very best teacher I can be,” Cahall said. “And I’ve spent a whole lot of time trying to improve my mind.”

She now has a greater appreciation for “heart” in teaching.

“I think that’s what the teachers showed me, that is even more important than teaching technique, which I think is something all teachers know,” Cahall said. “It really kind of smacked me across the face in Uganda.

“It’s not about the fanciest or the best. It’s about doing the best with what you have with love.”

To learn more about Cahall’s Uganda trip, read her Google document at:

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