LaToya Morgan has been teaching for three years, and although her passion for educating students has not waned in that time, it has been intensified after a recent trip to teach in Liberia this summer.
Currently working on her master's degree in secondary social studies education, the Alcovy High School social studies teacher took advantage of a program offered to her through her classes at Mercer University to teach at Rick's Institute. In order to participate, Morgan had to take a class that required several readings and research to help her understand Liberia.
"They just experienced a 14-year civil war that ended in 2003. Needless to say that they are undergoing some serious reconstruction," said Morgan. "The readings really helped us to understand the cause of the war and the road to reconstruction. We also read the memoirs of the president and a peace activist. It gave us insight on their works in Liberia. Surprisingly, they are both women. That was a treat because you don't hear too much about African women in society. Liberia is really working towards embracing women; they have a Ministry of Gender and Development catered to women and children. We also had to take health precautions, such as vaccinations."
After all her preparation, Morgan left the U.S. on May 26 for a nearly month-long stay in Liberia.
She taught at a private school there, but even so, the difference in students in Liberia and those here was incomparable, according to Morgan.
"The biggest difference is having no disciplinary issues. The kids were more appreciative and they had a thirst for education. I know that there are kids in America who love to learn and are appreciative, but it was on a greater scale there. They were very receptive of us. They asked questions and dedicated themselves to their books. The students that I was working with pay for school. I know that had a lot to do with it. The public school kids aren't as lucky. In conversations with the students, I learned that sometimes there aren't any books in public schools.
They also told me that the kids aren't as respectful. It was amazing. They were well mannered 100 percent of the time, which is often not the case here."
And while class sizes in Newton County are capped, this isn't the case in Liberia. The classes were so big that at times there weren't enough chairs or desks in a room, so they would have to go to other classrooms to get them. At one point during her tenure there, one of Morgan's work peers came to observe the class. One of the students got up and left, which she said isn't abnormal because they will go to the restroom without asking first, a definite no-no in Newton County schools. When the student came back, he had gone to get a chair for Morgan's work colleague with no prompting.
Morgan loves her students at AHS, but she did say they could learn something from those she taught in Liberia.
Mainly to respect and value their education.
"The war damaged so much of society that even education paused during that time. So many people are trying to make up for lost time. It is normal for a 17 or 18-year-old to be in ninth grade. Even if they can't afford school, they will keep coming until the business manager calls them out. That just goes to show how much they care about it."
And while Morgan went to teach the students in Liberia, she learned as much as she taught.
"From the experience I've learned to care hard. I have never felt such of a sense of community as I felt there. They genuinely care for each other," she said. "I had a blind student in my seventh grade. He didn't have a teacher to help him from class to class; the students helped him, willingly. They read stories to him and helped him get dressed in the dorms. They are selfless people. To have gone through so much destruction and still love people is beyond me. I appreciated seeing that. I appreciated their culture. They were always smiling and laughing. It taught me to love life. Through my experience I've learned not to jump on the technology bandwagon as much. There was absolutely no technology involved and the kids still learned. Don't get me wrong, I think when used effectively, technology is very beneficial in the classroom, but it's not always needed. I had to think of different ways to teach besides lecturing. I'll be using a lot more graphic organizers and foldables," she said of the upcoming school year.
Morgan has also decided to keep in touch with the students who taught her so much over the summer. She has created a Facebook page just for them and made sure they had her email address. She and the rest of the teachers that went to Rick's Institute are committed to continuing their relationship with the students in Liberia and are planning to send things such as supplies and materials for the teachers and students.
And while Morgan's passion for teaching was already strong when she boarded her plane to Liberia, her time there has reaffirmed that she is doing what she was meant to.
"It definitely re-intensified my passion," she said. "Their appreciation of learning and of us coming to teach them kept us going, especially on the sweltering hot days. Some of them wrote us letters, made friendship bracelets and gave gifts to show appreciation. I'll always have those things to remind me of why I started teaching when the going gets tough."