By Rachid Khouya
By Rachid Khouya
Morocco World News
Smara, Morocco, March 18, 2013
Dr. Ruth E. Petzold joined the United States Foreign Service in 1999. She served two years in Tashkent as Regional English Language Officer (RELO) for Central Asia, the Caucasus, Ukraine and Belarus. From 2001-2003 she was in Moscow as Assistant Cultural Affairs Officer for English Language Programs. Then until April 2007 she was based in Dakar, serving as the RELO for sixteen countries mostly in francophone West Africa. From 2007-2010, Dr. Petzold was the Rabat-based RELO for the Maghreb countries. From October 2011 Ruth has been serving as RELO for the Levant and is based at the US Embassy in Amman.
Prior to joining the Foreign Service, Ruth directed an intensive English language program at Koc University in Istanbul and served as USIA EFL Fellow in Macedonia and Hungary. She has taught at universities in Istanbul, Budapest and in the US. Based on sociolinguistic research in Hungary, Ruth earned her PhD in 1994 from Purdue University in Indiana with a dissertation entitled: Changes in the Role of English in Hungary after 1989. Her M.S. is in Foreign Language Education and her bachelors degree is in French, Art History, and Education.
Talking to Ruth is always a source of wisdom, inspiration and motivation. During her years of work in Morocco she was a trainer, a teacher and a friend for all Moroccan teachers of English. She did a lot to help and share with the teaching community. In this interview with Morocco World News, Ruth sheds light upon many issues of interest for us all. Let’s read and share.
MWN: How should Ruth introduce herself to MWN readers who do not know her?
Ruth: I am Ruth Petzold. I was the Regional English Language Officer (RELO) at the American Embassy in Rabat between 2007 and 2010. I am now RELO for the Levant, and I’m based at the Embassy in Amman, Jordan, working with all the countries in Belad As-shem.
MWN: You have been In Morocco and you were a very active lady that was always with and within English teaching community in the country. What is the first impression that comes to your mind when you hear of Moroccan English teachers?
Ruth: My impression of Moroccan English teachers is so positive. It might sound insincere. It’s not. Most of the teachers I met are very good and always trying to be better. You truly care about your students and your communities. And despite your achievements, you remain humble. You’re a pleasure to work with.
MWN: You attended MATE’s 33rd national conference in Marrakesh. What do you think about the theme they chose for this year’s conference?
Ruth: Both of the themes — gender and disabilities – are important, and it’s great that MATE put them front and center in the profession. As former Secretary Clinton frequently says, you can’t make real progress in the world if half the people are not contributing. So this is very important for development, but it is also important in helping girls reach their potential. If girls in the classroom don’t see women in positions of power, respected by the community, contributing at an equal level with their male colleagues, then the girls don’t have mentors for their future. Likewise, a child with disabilities is not different than any other child in their soul and their ability to make progress in life; and unfortunately, for a long time, they’ve been held apart as a very different kind of human being. They too should be able to contribute to the world. So let’s enable them, through an education, to be an equal partner in contributing to our society.
MWN: What is your relation with MATE? How and where did you know MATE? And how do you evaluate this Association and Maters in general?
Ruth: During my years here as RELO, I quickly came to love MATE. It was so refreshing to find an organization deeply dedicated to the support of English language teachers. I’ve seen places where there is an association and they do conferences but not with the same sense of family that I saw in MATE. You worked together to take care of each other, and you had so much to offer for teachers around the country. It wasn’t limited to one conference in the capital city.
MWN: I will never forget one of your workshops I attended in the summer at the institution in Rabat. As a teacher and a trainer, could you please summarize for us what makes a good teacher? What characteristics can you murmur in the ears of novice teachers?
Ruth: Besides competence in English, a good language teacher needs patience and empathy. Listen. Give students the time they need to speak for themselves. Smile. Make class a happy place where students want to be. Choose activities that involve everyone. Show that you care.
MWN: You have spent many years in Morocco and you traveled all over the kingdom and met Moroccans of all regions. At the same time, you have worked and traveled all over the Arab world. Could you please tell us what makes Morocco and Moroccans so special in comparison with other countries of North Africa and the Middle East?
Ruth: I don’t want to compare Morocco to other countries. Each country is unique and has good things and bad. Instead, let me note some of what I really love in Morocco. The gentleness and kindness of people, the light, the beautiful and diverse landscapes, the traditional crafts and architecture, the generally open and progressive attitudes I encountered, and many wonderful dinners.
MWN: You know our educational system with its advantages and disadvantages. As far as you are concerned, what suggestions would you suggest to improve the situation of Moroccan schools and education during the age of the Facebook and Twitter generation? And what values should be taught for the generation of YouTube and Facebook?
Ruth: For every school in the world today, a key aim should be to nurture in students love of education and the ability to learn independently. This is easier when school is pleasant, classes are motivating, and teachers care. I recently read about an approach that lends itself well to this goal and is more possible today than ever because of technology: the flipped classroom. In flipped classrooms, teaching happens at home through YouTube and other information-sharing technologies. Classroom time is reserved for helping students with what they did not understand on their own. No longer obliged to present material during class, teachers have the time to care, to help students work through concepts, to think.
That leads me to the question of teaching values and which ones. By the time a child gets to school, a good many values have already been learned. They won’t be the same for every child – families, neighborhoods, countries are different. But school is a social place and we must get along well enough to learn. So I believe some of the most important values we need in school are care, respect, and critical thinking. We have to want to learn, we have to listen to others in order to learn, and then we have to decide the value of what we’ve learned. Those are skills we will need the rest of our lives.
MWN: What should teachers and societies do to avoid or at least to lessen the level of violence in schools?
Ruth: That’s a tough question, but I think it starts with living two of the values I just mentioned – care and respect. We have to show students care and respect, and then we must demand the same from them.
MWN: Everybody talks about the Arab Spring. What does this term mean to you who knows Arab youth, their realities and aspirations?
Ruth: I think it means hope. Today, young people around the Arab world see that they can change things and so I think they are more likely to believe that their aspirations can become reality.
MWN: A last question: what are the things you will never forget about Morocco? Can you share with us a funny or sad thing that happened for you when you were working in Morocco?
Ruth: I have many, many fond memories of my time in Morocco. But two occasions are particularly special. They are the two times you brought me to tears in front of large audiences – when MATE and MEARN teachers and Access students said goodbye to me at the end of my tour. I’ll never forget your kindness.
© Morocco World News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, rewritten or redistributed