What I have Learned from Teaching

As a community development volunteer I never thought I would be teaching high school classes in the Philippines, probably because I have absolutely no experience. In the Peace Corps however, this does not actually matter. When My Refuge House first applied for a volunteer they requested a teacher for their home-school program, and when they got me instead it was still a need at the shelter. So, I have become a part-time community developer and part-time educator.

The first semester of classes was pretty difficult for me because I was given geometry and chemistry to teach – these are not my strong subjects. I didn’t do well when I took them a decade ago and re-teaching myself the content was ROUGH.  The good news is that the past two semesters have been more suited to my skills and interests (thank you Jesus). I have been teaching economics, which I enjoy, and I have had the privilege of developing and teaching a college prep course for our girls who are about to enrol in college courses. Thankfully, MRH has great partners and one former professor now volunteers one day a week to tutor advanced math subjects!

This is me taking a brain-break by coloring. It is a favorite activity.
This is me taking a brain-break by coloring. It is a favorite activity.
College Prep girls. One girl finishing her paper, one girl helping, and one sleeping.
College Prep girls. One girl finishing her paper, one girl helping, and one sleeping.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For this semester I have been working with three girls on writing a research paper for their college prep course. The papers have to be finished by this week in order for them to graduate on time and begin college in October. They have had only three weeks to write a 5-7 page paper in English (their second language) and they have rocked it out. They have been working steadily every day in learning what websites are good for research, how to develop a thesis statement, the structure of writing a paper, and including in-text citations and bibliographies. They continue to amaze me by how hard they work and the effort they put into their work. Their topics are HIV/AIDS in the Philippines, Music Therapy, and the Formations of Thunderstorms. They are obviously pretty cool girls; they are intelligent and continue to put up with my edits and feedback, so they probably qualify for sainthood. They will do amazing things. One of them thanked me for teaching her how to write a paper by making me a heart-shaped card. It is now one of my treasures.

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I have now had these college prep girls for all three semesters so they have become accustomed to my teaching style (or lack thereof), but overall the girls and educators have been amazingly patient with me as I continually ask questions and learn basic teaching skills. I like to think I have become a slightly better teacher since last October, though this week I have been laughing when they ask me questions about material we have already gone over (this could be a step backwards…it’s a work in progress).  I have actually enjoyed teaching much more than I thought I would, and I would like to list a few lessons I have learned and will hopefully take away from this experience (maybe into future teaching positions, we’ll see).

  1. Be able to explain all concepts in the textbook. I failed at this during chemistry and geometry. Those poor girls. There may have been tears involved at some point.
  2. Take notes on the material you will discuss in class. You will lose your train of thought and never return. I am still trying to remember an excellent point I was going to make one day during economics months ago. The girls are also still waiting on my brilliant insight I am sure.
  3. Try not to laugh when they repeatedly ask the same question. Oops.
  4. Try not to get annoyed when they repeatedly ask the same questions. It’s frustrating for everyone.
  5. Remember (for me) English is not their first language.
  6. Don’t ask if they understand. Have them explain it to you. This was a rough lesson to learn as one girl didn’t actually understand most of what I was saying during class.
  7. Related to the previous one. Take time after class to work with students who do not understand during class time.
  8. Focus on strengths and what they are interested in learning. Everyone is more interested when they feel confident about the topic.
  9. Give a million examples to explain any and all concepts.
  10. Draw a million pictures even if they suck. Visuals are key. Mine usually offer humorous focus-breaks because of their poor quality. But they work.
  11. Find ways to make them interested/invested in the topic. I try to give scenarios and examples which apply to their real lives.
  12. Incorporate media through movies clips and videos to help explain concepts or just to motivate you students in various ways. They also offer mental breaks which everyone is entitled to every once in a while.
  13. Engage them in projects that make them feel a part of the world, such as mass media projects which allow them to join a movement towards something.
  14. Invest in them as people and you will know best how to teach them. Plus, they will be more forgiving when you make mistakes. Care about your students and they will care about their work.
  15. Celebrate small victories. I rarely get it right but when I do I try to savor the moment.
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