Monday, May 9, 2011

Ruminations on Teaching

I think of all my time here my students are the people I will remember most. Ironically, I never wanted to teach in the Peace Corps and I even begged my interviewer not to place me in the TEFL sector. I had taught English before and it was totally not my bag. And to be completely honest, true to my prediction, most days here I emotionally drag my feet into the classroom. The process of lesson planning is tiresome and the blank looks on the student's faces when something just isn't getting across feels like nothing short of defeat. However, seeing their shining faces ever day never fails to remind me of why I do the job I do.

Something rather frustrating came to my attention after I returned from training. The details don't bare repetition but it seem as if one of my counterparts isn't really the person I thought she was. And after long hours working with many adults here, I often see little, if any, improvement. At this point, it isn't a stretch to see my efforts here with many adults as far too little, far too late. And that's fine because they are just that: adults. It is their prerogative not to change if they don't want to and they have had a lifetime of enforcing the truths that I strive to alter. I've come to feel that just spending quality time with them is enough for me. Indeed, spreading love, good will and friendship is no small matter. And I genuinely enjoy just hanging out with the men and women here. But I hope in my heart of hearts and with every fiber of my being that I have at least opened a new window, or at least cracked it a little, for my students.

To my utter elation, I see my efforts reflected back at me from time to time. One student wrote an absolutely stellar essay in a competition recently. The topic was 'if hunger was a picture, what would it look like' and the only art appreciation class she had is when we'd discussed Pollock and Picasso in the last days of Access II. After the awards ceremony, she ran up to me, clutching her winner's certificate and happily trying convince me that I'd helped her win. But I refuted this idea- I'd helped but only a little; it was really all her. And it was, she's smart as a whip and I was lucky to help her grow. I was only a gentle hand at her back, nudging her into familiar territory. Smaller gestures also count for a lot, things like a smiling student who approached me at the end of the day Friday to tell me in painfully broken English that I shouldn't work so hard and I should get some rest. These children touch me in ways they'll never know and I hope they are as influenced by me as I am by them.

As a teacher, it's amazing how often 'you' becomes 'we'. One of my closest students applied to a very competitive summer course and I find myself asking her "DID YOU HEAR YET? DID WE GET IN??...umm I mean....did you get in?" She smiles at this and tells me that we haven't heard today. I remember my Mom would do the same thing when 'we' turned in a project or paper. She was always dieing to know what 'we' got. I understood her feelings before and loved her investment in my education but now her proud pronouns make sense on a whole new level. In the way that she shared my achievements, I now swell with joy like a mama bird at my student's every achievements.

Another thing that I love dearly about teaching is merely being called 'teacher.' I love hearing it sung on the streets, shouted urgently when someone knows an answer and ringing through the library in cheery greeting as students spill through the door. That is one thing I knew I would miss about Mongolia from the very beginning. Being a teacher is such an honorable thing. My father was always teaching my sister and I about something, perhaps about ancient history or the cogs that keep the world in place. And in turn, I was elated to bestow some of his knowledge in his informal, deeply caring teaching style on a younger generation. Hearing children confirm this role I possess in the community every day never ceases to make me feel both honored and tickled.

As I near my looming Close of Service date I will savor the peals of 'багша!' ('teacher' in Mongolian, bak-shaa) as I always have, but this time letting each call fall closer to my heart. I will keep them to warm me during my time as a rootless traveler in the coming months. Though certainly a reluctant teacher, I have been such a lucky one to have had my students touch my life in such lasting ways and I know I will miss their beautiful faces and the love that forever emanates from them.

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