Diversify teaching skills to better your game

Michael  Kushemererwa, a teacher of French after receiving  a certificate of appreciation for  promoting  French in secondary school from Lucille Fontaine cooperation  attache in charge of culture and education at the French embassy in Uganda. PHOTOS | PROMISE TWINAMUKYE

What you need to know:

  • With passion and purpose, Michael Kushemerwa has pursued a subject he loved from childhood. His humble start from learning informally from his uncle  to formal classes and searching for opportunities on internet to get better have  made him a household name in the field.

Growing up, Michael Kushemererwa liked learning languages, especially foreign languages, partly because his uncles spoke various foreign languages and for every travel abroad, they took photos with Whites. He admired them and wished to be like  them.

 Thus, apart from English he settled for French. However, he was disheartened in O-Level at Kitante Hill School, Kampala.

“I joined a school which taught French in only one stream per class.Our classes were categorised as, for example, Senior One had different streams: S1.1,S1.2, S1.3 and S1.4.  I happened to be in S1.3 whereas French was taught to only S1.1 students,” Kushemererwa recalls.

However, he did not give up his dream.

 “When I was promoted to Senior Two, I went against the school policy and changed my stream to one where French was taught (S2.1),” he says.

With training from his uncle, Kushemererwa did not lag behind but the class had covered a lot. Since the teacher did not seem bothered , Kushemererwa gave his best.

“It was hard regardless of the ‘home training’. I had to work twice as hard. My colleagues had covered a lot in the first year. I got poor grades,” recounts.  

 He lived for French and later started to get a hang of the subject. He ended up as an only student A-Level at Kyambogo College in his year. Here, he read it alongside History, Economics and Geography.

French earned him a scholarship at Institute of Teacher Education Kyambogo (ITEK) in 1999. He studied a Bachelor of French double main, which he concluded in 2001.

“In 2000, however, I was not sure of what future French offered. I enrolled for a four-year Bachelor of Arts in Environmental Management at Makerere University, an evening programme I paid for,” Kushemererwa recalls.

He needed a backup plan in case French did not turn out well. He later realised, he was wrong. 

“Jobs in environment sector were competitive and scarce unlike the French teaching placement I scored easily at Naalya Senior Secondary School, Namugongo,” he explains.

One opportunity led to another that even after French was scrapped off the school’s curriculum, he joined St Lawrence College Paris, Mpigi where he taught until he got placement at Nabisunsa Girl’s School in 2010. 

Kushemererwa says all was well until the scrapping of the subject became rampant. School heads claimed the subject was expensive. He searched the internet for growth opportunities.

Going international

The teacher felt his job was under threat and opted to venture into the international curriculum.

“I surfed the internet for different programmes that could help me secure my job. The more I searched, the more training opportunities I chanced on. I also learnt of the certificates and potential these training availed,” he says.

Kushemererwa registered with Cambridge and International Baccalaureate (IB) body, who started notifying him by email about the opportunities and workshops happening around the world. He got his first breakthrough in 2016. 

“In 2016, I went for my first training at Arundel International School in Zimbabwe where I trained to teach the International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE) curriculum.”

A year later, he went for another short course in an IB training in Hong Kong, China. There, he attained a diploma in teaching and marking IB at Sha Tin College. He was also taught how to handle DELF, an internationally recognised French language proficiency certificate awarded by France’s Ministry of Education which gave him the knowledge of all the curricula. 

However, he was hungry for more knowledge and wanted more from his IGCSE.

“I did another French introductory course at Accadis International School, Frankfurt in Germany in 2018. It  is at this facility that my morale got a boost and I was up for the task,” Kushemererwa recalls.

The international curriculum, he says, was totally different from Uganda’s. 

“We are used to writing on blackboards but, elsewhere technology is the way to go. I was not as tech savvy but I learnt hoping to apply my skills back home,” he says.

Some of the students Kushemererwa taught at  graduation recently. 

He was ready for change. After the training in Germany, Kushemererwa bought gadgets including a projector, laptop, and loud speaker to use. 

“I stopped using the blackboard and embraced technology, even with the Uneb curriculum. My students seemed more lively and excited about the subject and performance improved,” he says adding that “With technology, we covered more topics and I enjoyed my profession more.”

One day, his friend referred him for a homeschooling stint of a child studying IGCSE and with enough training, the girl passed, which impressed her parents.  Since then, he got oral referrals which boost his mastery.

Covid-19, a blessing in disguise

When Uganda announced the lockdown in March 2020, schools closed. Most teachers, especially in private schools lost salaries.

“In June, our head teacher advised that we needed to be creative. It was so scary I could not imagine my life without a salary. I had some savings but I did not know how long that would last with President Museveni extending the lockdown,” he notes.

Kushemererwa later thought of using his knowledge to earn a living during the lockdown. With the help of a friend, through Zoom meetings he created, French Learning Made Easy, a web portal through which he could teach students. The portal is free of charge after one has created an account. Once you log on, you choose from (UNEB, IGCSE, DELF and IB).

“When one needs more learning materials, there is a form to fill. This prompts a notification and I place a call and we negotiate on the fees before we start learning. I still do virtual classes and homeschooling as well,” he says.

The website has learning materials including videos. There is also an option of private classes and where one can book the classes they wish to study.

He had everything set. But he had no students for more than a week.  To increase the  traffic, Kushemererwa paid Shs50, 000 a week to Facebook ads. That worked. His students subscribed and most of them were interested in DELF, which he had already introduced at school before lockdown. They also brought in friends. By the second lockdown, he had up to 20 students.

By the end of the lockdown, he had about 90 students. Of these, he introduced 65 students to Alliance Francaise Kampala who sat their exams shortly after lockdown.

“When I took in the names of the students that wanted to register for the examination during the short window of easing lockdown, the deputy director, Magaly Losange was surprised on how I acquired such a number, with schools closed,” he recalls.

 Achievements

This innovation has brought perks to Kushemererwa. Such include traversing different countries such as UAE, Indonesia, and Azerbaijan several times to do French stints where he, “was treated like a king”.

Diversifying his training beyond the French syllabus for UNEB exams has increased his income.

“Since I teach many courses, I earn more than I used to,” he says continuing: “I was able to acquire a plot of land and build a home. Oh, I also bought a car.”

It did not stop at the material achievements but Alliance Francaise Kampala named him, Best Teacher of Delf in Secondary School 2021.

“I have also been recognised by the director of Alliance Francaise Kampala for promoting DELF junior in secondary schools in Uganda,” he says with satisfaction.

Advice

In the world of work, whether you are a doctor, musician, a lawyer, or an engineer, Kushemererwa says, it is purely about languages.

“One of my OBs who dropped French and was lucky to get a job as a doctor in one of the UN missions was telling me of how his peers get picked for savvy opportunities because of their knowledge in French. 

He advises teachers to be more passionate and innovative in this fast-paced work environment. 

“Have interest in what you teach. This will help the children also get motivated and immersed in the subject,” Kushemererwa says.

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