The following appeared in the Capital Journal in 2012
At my small school in rural Lesotho, classes ended in early November with the remaining weeks of the month dedicated to final exams. The last few classes were the worse of the year because the students, amped up on spring fever, had short attention spans and little motivation.
A few times I left class so frustrated that I had to fight back the tears. And it’s not just the students – once a student, I understand the taunting of summer’s freedom – but these days reminded me that I still have so much to learn about teaching.
On the final period, a group of female students came to the office and asked me to come into the class. “We want to have a good day,” they said. When I walked into the room, all 18 of my students were gathered at the front of the classroom. They gathered and leaped into traditional hymn, moving their bodies back and forth and clapping to the rhythm. I didn’t understand the words as the songs were in Sesotho but I felt the meaning.
Again, I had to hold back tears.
All year long I’ve felt that my contributions to the school were insignificant and that my students welfare and English speaking capabilities wouldn’t change with or without me. However, as I end my first year as teacher, I see glimpses of my work, which means quite a bit to me.
In October, I celebrated the year anniversary of my arrival to Lesotho and December marks one year as a volunteer. It is said that many volunteers hit the halfway point with low esteem and some rough emotions. They realize there is still another 12 months to go and, even though they have come a long way, they feel as if there is little to show for it.
I am there. I am feeling this down point and doubting that I’ve helped anyone.
However, when I look back on this first year at school, I see some definite highlights: the student who came to my house for extra study, the one who sought me after class to ask a question he couldn’t with the other teachers and the entire class, after lots of frustration and misunderstandings, wanting to show how much they appreciate me as their teacher.
The next year is going to have just as many hurdles and low points, but I have hope that some of the learning curve is gone and real results will come. Or maybe they won’t but what I know is that I’ve come to love these students. They are mine and I am theirs and nothing else – scores, side projects, classroom management – doesn’t matter.
In the end, this job is about relationships. The rest is a bonus.