Monday, January 17, 2011

To Sir(ve), With Love

Despite it being the absolute dead of winter, I've had a really great day today. Bouncing down the street on the way to work, preying that the puppy frolicking in the road doesn't get bulldozed by a speeding sedan, I basked in the weak sunlight and relished the walk. Perhaps the rare sun between lingering hours of darkness brightened my mood. But as I reflected on my contentment I realized that I was really happy because I didn't have to teach class today. I was hauled in to judge an English speech competition at a local secondary school. The competition lasted only an hour but it took a whopping two hours to get started, eating a hole in the middle of my day and leaving no time for other lessons. Somehow I wasn't too sad. Now don't get me wrong- it's not that I don't like my students. I love them! They're adorable, each and every one of them. Being able to be a part of shaping their wee lives and informing the way they see the world is such an honor- a privilege. But it's also a lot of pressure. It is a constant battle to lesson plan everything perfectly so that all the class, in it's extremely varied levels of English ability, grasps the concepts. Standing up there with 20 little pairs of eyes trained on you, soaking up every word that you say, sometimes in reverent hero worship, can be a little overwhelming. And I never want to let any of them down. I want to be the absolute best teacher of their lives because I adore them so much, which is admittedly a sure sign that this pressure being self applied.

Last month I gave a test to my younger class. Some passed with flying colors, achieving 90's and above. But there were a few that didn't do too hot and tanked with a 27 or 35. I recorded the spectrum on the white board for the kids to see and panicked. How much of these scores was I responsible for? What had I done as a teacher to help or hinder these children? Did the handful of sucky grades mean I was a failure? Or were those kids slackers and therefore doomed to fail regardless? How much of the material did they learn in school or did they learn it all in my class? Should I leave the weaker ones behind? How do I make sure everyone understands everything without boring/punishing the overachievers? Were all of them ever going to understand? Was it worth it to make sure everyone understood? My brain was wracked with a million questions. I'd never really been a formal educator before. It was never my bag, so to speak. But here I was, with these children's precious minds in my hands and the results of my efforts staring back at me mercilessly, offering no solutions or help. I never really reached a conclusion on my conundrum. We reviewed the test together, they corrected their mistakes for homework and we moved on. I guess that was the right thing to do. I tried to think back on my education and that seemed to be the default endgame of a test normally. Right?

Though it is a challenge and often overwhelming, I am looking forward to starting class again soon. Admittedly it has been nice to have a respite from the emotional and mental turmoil that comes with being a teacher. But, after all, that's why I wanted to come here- to be challenged to do my best in every way, and as long as those wee eyes stare up at me I can't help but strive for excellence. So like it or not, because of my love for my students, I will continue to demand the very best of myself every single day.


E in Atlanta said...

remember what one student wrote of you when he puzzled, 'how must I refund benefit of the Laura?" they love you and value what you do. that everyone should be so lucky at some point in their work life.

Anonymous said...

hi! I'm also work as a English teacher in Ulaanbaatar.My idea of teaching and thoughts same as you. Because I face problems/grades/everyday. Sometimes I think is it worth to teach to those who doesn't interest my lesson, or cause is me that I can not manage my class and lesson properly.but I like to teach.

Steppe Up said...

Thanks so much for your comments. :-) They really made my day.

And it's so great to hear from a fellow teacher in Mongolia! Also, it's quite nice to know I'm not alone in these frustrations with teaching. I'm sure you are a wonderful teacher and I guess all we can do is try hard and hope for the best.