When I first got my Peace Corps assignment, which was to work in a school to capacity build teachers, I was quite intimidated. It seemed ridiculous to assume people from America can teach teachers who have received degrees in Education and taught for years how to be better teachers simply because we are from America. It is particularly curious that 22 year old people with no experience or training in any work field were also given this assignment. (Double click in the blog to see the picture full size).
It did not surprise me that teachers resisted our efforts to “capacity build” their teaching ability. Many teachers would let a PCV teach in their place,but few teachers were open to our great American suggestions on how to improve their teaching methods.
However, it turns out that many of us, including the inexperienced 22 year olds, did have pretty good idea’s about teaching simply because we were taught by good teachers using innovative, interactive and motivating methods. I was able to learn from my peers and to add value to some classes and truly co-teach and teach on my own after a short time in serve.
I quickly learned that teaching, like everything else, is much harder than it looks, especially when we had to deal with an additional 100 challenges included overcrowded classrooms, no desk or chairs or books, no chalk boards, mixed ability children, no classrooms, no climate control, no copy machines, no computers, no internet, a very limited library, parents who don’t care and administrators who will not help you.
I found I was spending 3 to 4 hours to prepare for a 90 minute class. In the beginning I thought I had mastered the art of teaching, but then realized, the children were really only mesmerized by my white skin and American way of speaking English. Needless to say, those attributes didn’t keep their attention for long and despite my detailed preparation I often could not keep the children focused or motivated. I did have some successes along the way, a great classroom here and a brilliant student there – but mostly it was so much work for so little reward.
I especially struggled at the NGO where I was teaching extremely disenfranchised children. The students had previously failed their 10th grade test and many had very significant personal issues they were trying to overcome (poverty, learning disability, rape, incest, and raising babies). If a child fails the 10th grade test their education cannot continue. These children were very difficult to teach. I often hated going to that class as I felt like a failure as a teacher and a person. I kept wondering why I didn’t have the ability to help these 15 year old girls learn very basic things in two fairly simple classes including English and Commerce.
Finally, a couple of months ago, I found that it was only taking me about 30 minutes to prepare for a class and I was totally capable of making major adjustments in any class setting such as having 3 or 20 kids.
One of the things I decided to do is give up teaching to the test. I started to believe ALL of them were going to fail the test again. Since I believed they were going to fail I felt free to try and teach idea’s instead of class material. It takes a real leap, as a teacher, to trust that you can skip the material and get children to think allowing them to will figure the material out on their own.
After a couple of weeks of this sort of improvised teaching I asked the students if they wanted to go back to the books, and allow me to help them complete their homework and go over the take home test, or if they wanted to keep having the “fun” class.
The class was divided. Some kids have no confidence in themselves and the only time they get their homework correct is when I do it with them, but they still could not pass the test. They hoped if we kept going over the book they would have a better chance of memorizing material and providing correct answers.
However, some children had experienced a break through. One girl begged me to keep teaching the “fun” way, saying I was really making her brain buzz and she could feel herself thinking. Others seconded and further confirmed they were learning besides having fun. Of course the proof is in the pudding – and several of them were able to work through their homework on their own and get as good and sometimes better scores. Sadly, too many were still failing – but I am just a beginner at this teaching thing!
It feels very very very very good to know I am a good teacher. I learned how to be a teacher while I was here. What an awesome thing to be able to do for the rest of my life.