There’s Jen Bengel and her lovely family in the photo above.

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What an exciting 5 Questions we have for you!

To kick off the New Year we spent a little time with Teacher-Author Jen Bengel who just returned from a trip to Uganda. Up until recently, Jen says, “I never dreamed I would be going to Africa!” In addition to the fact that Jen is helping to support teachers across the world (talk about global impact!) we love how Jen said yes! to this unique and amazing experience. It’s also pretty great that TpT helped to make it all possible.

The lesson we’re going to take from Jen’s experience is:

Open doors! Take a chance! You never know what amazing experience might be in store for you if you’re open to it.

Read our five questions below, then pop over to Jen’s blog to read more (links at the end).

1. Can you tell us what brought you to Africa?

I met a missionary couple named Keith and Lisa this fall through my church. They live in Northern Uganda and have an elementary school. After years of working with the teachers, Lisa discovered that the education system could be so much better. So, she committed to changing the way the curriculum was taught. I came on board just this fall when our pastor asked for anyone who works in education, or is a curriculum writer, to come forward to help.

I answered the call for help and within 3 months found myself writing curriculum for Uganda and visiting the country to train teachers on a new style of teaching!

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Jen with her Teacher Training group in Uganda.

2. Now that you’re back and have had a little time to reflect, what new ideas or life lessons did you come away with as a result of this trip?

I have been back from Uganda for a few weeks now. Even though it’s a third world country, and I often slept with lizards on the walls, mosquito nets, and bats trying to screech their way through the roof of my hut every night, I miss Africa. I miss the warmness of the people. I miss the spectacular sunrises and sunsets. I miss the coffee with sugar cane so sweet it tastes like caramel. I miss the simple, calm lifestyle, where — even though people don’t have many possessions — they are so very happy to be in community with each other.

Africa has taught me so much about what is important in life. It taught me what really matters, the people matter. And that how we treat one another and care for one another is where true happiness can be found.

I can say without a doubt, that the people and teachers I worked with in Uganda taught me way more than I could ever teach them. And for that I am truly grateful!

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Silly shot!

3. What kind of impact has TpT had on your life?

Wow! This is such a huge question for me. I began selling on TpT in the spring of 2012. In the summer of 2013 I made the commitment to write curriculum full time and leave the public school system. I was so nervous about missing the community and support of other educators that working in the school system always provided for me. But, the online community of teachers I have met through TpT has more than filled that need. I feel like I have friends and support from teachers all over the world!

Because of the flexibility TpT has provided for my career, I’ve been able to write curriculum for Uganda and travel their to support teachers. I’ll go back at least once per year to continue my work. None of this would be possible without the opportunities I’ve had through TpT.

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Jen and her husband Andy finding themselves on the globe with the Nile River in the background.

4. Describe the resources you make? What’s your niche?

I have a background in elementary and middle school, and was trained in Boston as a literacy collaborative coordinator. After teaching in the classroom for 6 years, I moved into a reading coach and professional developer position.

I create Common Core literacy (reading, writing, language) resources, mostly for grades 2-6.

My niche would have to be the month-long units of study I create for the reading and writing workshops. They are so great because the lessons flow together between the reading and writing workshops each day.

I have bundles of 8 units available for grades 3-6 (with grade 2 coming soon). That’s an entire year worth of Common Core lessons for reading and writing!

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This group is working on writing a reading comprehension lesson using a picture book and the inquiry approach to teaching. They’re planning the lesson and they later tried the it out on another group of teachers.

 

5. What are some of your favorite products that you’ve created?

My favorite freebie is the posters I created for the Units of Study (grades 2-6). They are great because they are so versatile. They can be used as anchor charts during a unit, as a reference during mini lessons, as assessments, glued into notebooks, and so much more!

I am really loving the interactive edits I just finished completing for the year (one per month for grades 3-6). I learned a few years back that teaching students to understand proper grammar and mechanics requires them noticing what works in well-written sentences. So, I stopped having them correct mistakes in sentences (like DOL sheets) and had them notice what was working in really great sentences. The things my students were noticing was incredible! We had amazing conversations and lessons based off of what they discovered. Then, they began trying those skills out in their own writing.

I’m also really excited about the interactive notebooks I have for the reading workshop. They are so great because they cover every single reading informational and reading literature Common Core Standard for grades 2-5. Every standard has at least 3 lessons described for the teacher and printable assessments ready to be completed and glued in the notebooks. The notebooks work great as a whole group lesson, during guided reading, partner/center work, or during independent reading too!

 

If you’d like to read more about Jen Bengel’s experience in Uganda, here’s her blog post. She also has a post about what brought her to Africa.

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Every TpT Teacher-Author has a story. Get to know TpT sellers with our 5 Questions posts.

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