We (Messeret Abeje, Azeb Teklu, Wendwosen Adane and Roser Noguera on behalf of terateam) got together at Lalibela Café enjoying Addis’ gorgeous weather sipping coffee with Mr. Getaneh Anteneh, the Language Program Coordinator at ECA, who recently retired. We have mixed feelings, we are happy for him, he has done a lot of work to develop this language program but at the same time we feel sad because he has left. We are hoping he won’t be away for too long.
There was a time when the language centre planned to have a web page but it didn’t happen. Now we have Roser, who is organizing and propelling the whole group to learn about blogging and we are just about to start. The team has agreed to announce the opening of Terateam blog by featuring Getaneh as the first person because he has done a lot of work to have the program running. Well, we arranged to talk over coffee (Terateam) and discover his invaluable experiences working as a teacher for different government institutions and for the ECA. Following is our informal interview with Getaneh was conducted in four languages: English, French, Spanish and Amharic.
Messeret: Well, before everything, do you feel like you have retired?
Getaneh: Yes, and I am happy about that.
Messeret: How does it feel to retire after 21 years at ECA?
Getaneh: I am trying to find out how it feels to be retired, I will soon find out. But before I start to say anything I would like to congratulate you all, particularly Roser, on this brilliant initiative of reviving, recreating, moving at least, revamping the idea of the web page. We tried twice and I remember the last one more vividly. We were almost there, the structure was put in place but when our supervisor heard about it. She said, “Wait and we will have a page not only for language training but a bigger one for the Training Unit and language will be part of it.” We thought it was a good idea and we developed the structure to include other training issues but then, when we asked them to give us the material to populate that web page with, they were not ready and we were stuck.
My advice for you now is to continue with what you are doing because maybe when they see what you are doing, they might join you and you can expand and have a bigger blog or site for the Learning and Organizational Development Unit.
Roser: We would like you to participate… In fact, we consider you part of terateam.
Getaneh: Of course, I will be glad to do that. This is about sharing, about visibility for our Language and Communication Skills Training Centre and, globally, for ECA. Many people don’t even know about the existence of ECA in Addis.
Roser: Tell us about your feelings…
Getaneh: I cannot tell you how mixed they are… Even though I am no longer an official member of the program, I am still here and I will always be interested in what you are doing and if there is anything that I can do to contribute. I will be there to provide my assistance and input.
Talking of my feelings, I am now trying to discover what freedom means… I think I can manage it because I’ve already traced a career path for myself. It is not going to be a very lucrative one, but it will keep me busy and also it will give me a lot of mental satisfaction. I will be doing something I’ve always wanted to do and for which I never had enough time. I will continue doing translation work and I will also start now, as far as my imagination can allow, to write my own creative stories and get them published thereby sharing whatever I have been able to gather during my extremely modest life, both private and professional.
Messeret: Tell us about your career…
Getaneh: I started as a teacher of my own mother tongue in a secondary school in Gojam, Bahar Dar. I did that for four years and I am glad to say that I almost revolutionized the way Amharic language was being taught in the secondary school. Many students started being interested in studying Amharic because I could show them the sociolinguistic aspect of teaching Amharic which helped them to increase their own knowledge and also earn good result in ESLCE ( Ethiopian School Leaving Certificate Examination).
Then, somebody who believed I was a good teacher felt that I could also make a good secondary school director, which is the wrong thing to think, and they proposed to appoint me as a secondary school director. I worked for almost four years in two secondary schools. That was a very nice but also humbling experience for me. I learnt a lot of things and I think I assisted also in the way education was being delivered in those high schools. I tried to put in teachers’ minds the most important features of becoming a teacher and going to school, standing in front of 60 – 70 students, and doing chalk and talk, talk, talk. I thought that teaching does not stop there and I encouraged teachers to take teaching- learning process outside the classroom in order for the students to be able to grasp what is to be delivered as education or learning.
Unfortunately, for some political reasons, I could not continue with that career. I had to resign and come to the Lycée Guebre-Mariam to become a primary school teacher which was also a very difficult and interesting experience because the education system is completely different from the Ethiopian system through which I came. Well, I had to learn the system and then use it to educate our kids. It was a heavy and huge responsibility because in this self-contained type of teaching, when you have 25 -30 students with you for the entire year, if you are a good teacher you could make them, if you are a bad one you could destroy the whole group. I see many of my students, one of them was Azeb here, who have made it in their professional and also in their life career to high levels. That means, I did not fail!
But then again because of administrative disagreements with the Proviseur of the Lycee at that time, I had to leave and go to teach French as a foreign language to adults at the Alliance Ethio-Française. That was a simpler and more successful career time for me. Then I went to ILCA (what is now called ILRI) and started assisting translators with terminology. That was also a big school for me because I learnt so many things. I worked there for 5 years and a half, that is, until the contract was cancelled. I then got back to Alliance Ethio-Française where I found a job as coordinator of the language section. I was the second person in charge of the language training where we used to train language teachers and do the timetables, and programs… I used to teach also. That lasted only one year because I got the opportunity to do the same job in ECA.
I started here as a coordinator of only the French language program. At that time there were 3 language programs: English, Arabic and French. There were four teachers for French, I was the fifth one and my responsibility as a coordinator was to do the timetable for the five of us and run the program till the end of a term and begin another term and so on. Doing the LPE (Language Proficiency Examination), budgeting, salaries,… was not my responsibility. I had a lot of free time. I was not working on Fridays, I had the December and summers breaks, etc. That lasted only for a few years, until one section chief came and wondered why the Language Training Center was managed by three people. She chose me to manage the whole program.
Messeret: The number of languages taught here has increased since your appointment, hasn’t it?
Getaneh: Yes, I saw there was a considerable number of staff members willing to learn Spanish and we agreed to start the Spanish language program, I think in 2007, and 3 years ago we started Amharic.
I am glad to say that this is the best language center in Addis Ababa. People who come here and who cannot say a simple sentence in English can start talking in just three months. I am proud of what you are doing and I am proud of my team. This is also the only self managed team in the Commission and if I ask you please come together and do the timetable for the whole program, share the job and do it, I know 100 % you will do it without any complaints. My only way to recognize your good performance (after evaluation) is, when there is one class floating, giving it to the best teacher as an extra class.
You are all professionals and people with high integrity. You go to the extent of deciding to close classes if there aren’t enough students. This is a team you can sit with and discuss, communicate. It makes me happy. I hope you continue keeping your professionalism, integrity and come to do your job, be happy about it and respect each other as you have always done. When you have an idea, like this blog, share it with others. Some people try to keep their ideas for themselves and they think they are superiors, but this is wrong because the more you share with people, the bigger you become. The only way we can grow is by sharing and working together.
Messeret: Thank you for the kind words and the advice. We know your roles as coordinator but we want people to hear it from you. What do you think are your great achievements – major contributions – as a language coordinator? You were instrumental in increasing the number of languages taught at the ECA, you also built a great relation between you as a coordinator and us as teachers. You gave us freedom and responsibility at the same time. We acted, I believe, responsibly, because you trusted us and we did everything to live up to your expectations. So there is your touch in that ‘self-managed’ team spirit.
Getaneh: I’ve never been proud of my own management skills. They tend towards the laissez faire style because I believe that each individual should do their part, they should assume responsibility once they are told in a very clear way what their responsibility is. If everybody did their part, the whole team has done its part. This is what I believe. It has its dangers because the way I trusted you, it was a very commendable step but it could have gone wrong. So I will say that if it worked it was because I was very lucky. What I think I did right was the way you guys were selected: it was competitive for each and every one of you and, of course, you were the best and that’s why you were selected.
The next thing for me was to confide, to trust you and leave you with the job and your conscience. Once you have found a team with this kind of professionalism, integrity, respect for diversity which are the three core values of the UN, whoever comes to join this team is likely to follow the stream. The exact opposite can be true also. If you are a very correct person and join a corrupt team you are likely to shade your good values and behave like everybody else, but this team is a monument.
There are stages of forming a team, what they call forming, storming, norming and performing; maybe I had in the past some storms. I don’t want to talk about this now, but then the bigger picture was normal, so those storms settled into some norms and then we started performing. This is a performing team and that is because we knew each other, we understood each other and I enjoyed personally every body’s respect. When I was not paying you on time, you guys understood me when there was nothing to understand, when I was not providing you proper supplies, equipment, space, you understood…
Another achievement was my appointment from coordinating just French language to coordinating the three languages, which tripled the amount of work, but then I continued to listen to staff requirements and needs. There was interest in Spanish – they wanted to learn it – and I said ‘why not?’ and put another load on myself but it was a great satisfaction. Later expatriate staff wanted to learn Amharic and asked me to start a program. I felt the need and I had to push and convince management. This is not an official UN language, but I did all I could in my negotiation skills to persuade management that spending money in Amharic was also a useful project.
Now I am very happy. I am not quite happy with my participation in the language training program because I would have liked to sit with you, conduct frequent academic meetings and try to figure out on what will be the best manuals, the best resources, the best way of improving our service but I’ve not been able to do this. Rather it came from you guys… For instance it was Messeret who proposed that New Headway was a better manual, and Beletou or you, Azeb, wanted to change the French manual to Campus and later to Alter Ego…. Messeret did a great job when he proposed courses on critical reading, communicative grammar,…
This should have come from the Coordination office but it was functioning the other way round and you have time with your own students and you feel their need, their shortcomings, and you come across an idea of how we could actually fill their skills gaps. They need to read more critically, and Messeret developed a 32 hours’ course which is now one of the most successful courses. This, if you call it achievement, I can say I have tried to be open.
The other thing I’ve always done is to respect teachers’ judgment on evaluating their students and deciding whether they pass to the next level or not. That is how I gained your respect.
Messeret: You haven’t mentioned how much you tolerated us. You are simply modest. I must say that this is the quality of a great mind. Well, thank you again for the appreciative words. With regard to our efforts, you have always entertained our ideas. You have given us the freedom to propose, helped us work out the details and pushed management to approve the courses… Can you tell us some of your challenging experiences while working here?
Getaneh: I told you before I was a very lucky guy. There could have been lots of challenges, given my literal absence from the centre. Sometimes we couldn’t meet even once a term. But if we are talking about the Commission’s challenges, one that I am going to put in my handover notes to my supervisor is classroom space, excepting French. I am terribly sorry that you have to work under such circumstances. Another challenge was the review of your salary. We haven’t succeeded in this regard.
(to be continued)