Outside a brief stint in the second grade, I’ve never really wanted to be a teacher.
It’s not that I don’t see teaching as an esteemed career; I just didn’t think I could. Teachers play a big part into who we are and what we believe we can do, and I’ve never thought I would be good at making sure a person can read and write and be competent in this world. So I pursed other professions, ones I thought I would actually be good at.
But teaching was a way into Peace Corps. Because of a personal commitment at home, teaching in Lesotho was one of the jobs that matched my timeline and qualifications. I would’ve preferred to work in an orphanage or clinic, but I desperately wanted to be in Africa and accepted the job.
In my first few months as a teacher, it was clear that I had no idea what I was doing. I did receive some initial training before moving to my village, but it is nearly an insult to those who actually have degrees in education. I knew little about lesson planning and even less about classroom management. My school is fairly poor and, with limited textbooks, most of my classes were note taking off of black-painted square. My teaching was uninspired and dull.
Not to mention that half the time my students didn’t understand me. My English is too fast and jumbled with a Yankee accent and lingo for their novice ears and most content was lost.
I was terrible at my job. I couldn’t wait for the winter break and wished away each class.
At the end of July, I began my second term, teaching English and life skills to eighth and ninth graders, who actually range 13 – 20 in age. Maybe it’s because I have a few months of teaching experience now or that I feel more comfortable in the village and country, but there is an ease to my teaching that didn’t exist before. I smile a bit more, I involve more games in the lessons and I take that extra minute to explain the difference between simple past and past continuous.
In no way am I a shoe-in for Teach of the Year, or even a nominee, but doing something that is out of my comfort zone has pressed me to be better. I am constantly analyzing my approach and making changes, thanks to the insight of other volunteers with education backgrounds. I am learning from my mistakes and trying to better myself each time I step in front of the classroom.
But the biggest lesson I’ve earned, and what I think had changed my demeanor in the classroom, is teaching is not about lesson plans or homework. It’s about the light in the student’s eyes when he finally gets an answer right or the girl who comes to you after class for advice on her family because she trusts you.
It’s those moments that make me proud to be a teacher, even if for only two years. This is a tough job and one I’m really glad to have.