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Posts tagged ‘peace corps English teaching’

Month 13: patience truly is a virtue

I get inquiries every now and then from people who read this blog and ask about my Peace Corps service. One of the things I tell everyone is that it really does take a year for everything to settle – this two year timeline is completely logical. I can’t imagine what it’d be like to volunteer in a foreign country for less than a year. 

My whole life people have told me to “chill out” and “be patient”. My personality is one that is all over the place – oh, and just a tad high strung. I’m a person that’s gotta be on the move. Then I came to the Peace Corps and calmed down a bit – cliché as it is, patience truly is a virtue.   

My village really felt like home-home after about eight months living there. I think that’s commonplace for many PCVs because we take a huge step out of our comfort zone. We leave everything we know in the States and trade it all for some obscure place and culture we’ve never been before or experienced. As welcoming as everyone is, it’s still overwhelming and takes some time. In the back of mind, I knew everything would feel normal eventually – and it did (really, this is the best advice I can give to any PCV or soon-to-be PCV).

As the months go on, my relationship with my host family only gets stronger. My sister and I have bonded a lot more and my mama is really my mom. My family also understands my American individualism now – just because I’m alone sometimes, it doesn’t mean I’m lonely or sad. It’s just my culture.

My counterpart told me this month that when I first arrived to my school, the staff all talked about how young I looked and how I wouldn’t last here. I’m 24, but am often mistaken for a lot younger. My co-workers gossiped, “Oh! But she is so young. How can she be away from her family so long? How will she adapt to this way of living?” South Africans find it puzzling that a young woman like me can leave her home for two years because in this culture, that would never happen. Women my age are supposed to be with their families – or close enough at least to see them every now and then. Family and home is very important.

Then I told my counterpart it just takes some time to get used to, but I expected that – I knew this experience would unfold with great patience. 

Something I've learned that gets my class's attention -- pronouncing any Zulu word with a Q click; qedile = finished

Something I’ve learned that gets my class’s attention — pronouncing any Zulu word with a Q click; qedile = finished

It’s term three at school now and my first year of teaching will soon come to a wrap. The past school terms have definitely some of the most challenging times in my life. I have the largest class at my school – 40 kids – and inherited all the kids who are consistently held back; I believe grade 5 is the year kids get stuck in (if only I had known this… because those kids just talk and talk and talk). My class ranges from some extremely clever kids to kids who can’t read in their home language. 

I have no idea how to address the kids who struggle in all the subjects. I adopted the attitude that I would impact the kids who are at a middle level and try to bump them up (thanks for that City Year!) So, I tried just about everything to give these kids stories – and even wrote my own – and vocabulary and grammar that are lower than a grade 5 level. I do notice that the kids are speaking more and more – but I’m not sure if my approach to giving these kids easier things worked. The middle kids are still struggling, but the top of the class is killin’ it.

It took eight long months at school to really understand these kids – to know their names and perfect that Q click as best as I can, their culture, their strengths and weaknesses. Now I know what works and what doesn’t through countless hours of trial and error. I’ve even been able to finally implement a luck of the draw system in my class – I pick names out of a hat now to make kids participate (but took the names out of the hat of kids who I know cannot read). However, it’s a shame because term three is jam-packed with district assignments and the annual national standardized assessment. I have to rush through this term, hit all the assignments as well as try to prepare grade 5 for ANA. And I’ve attempted to follow the national curriculum, but it’s frustrating when three quarters of the kids aren’t at the level to do the work and I only have an hour a day. 

If I had my grade 5s as grade 6s next year, we would be a dream team together. Unfortunately, I will be leaving early August 2014, which is only half way into their school term. It would be unfair to take my own class again.

Well, everything’s finally making sense on this end after a year – a little too late in the South African school system timeline, but right on track with the Peace Corps timeline!  

It’s true my peoples – patience really is a virtue. Everything takes time and it’ll all eventually come together.

On an unrelated note, I have been having nightmares about the GRE lately – high anxiety levels in my hut. I am busy getting my graduate school applications movin’. It’s actually been quite fun revisiting my service stories and finding the best for my statements of purposes. I can’t wait to see what the future holds!

A best friend from my hometown booked her ticket to visit me in November and one of my City Year teammates also booked a ticket for December. I’m so thrilled I get to share this incredible experience with two people who are very important to me. I am patiently counting down the weeks!

Yours patiently in service,

Small heartLiz

Month three: South African school structure; similarities and differences in America

“YES!!!” The learners screamed and jumped out of their seats.

YES!!! They got an answer right!

I sat in the back of the grade 5 English class during one of my “observation” periods perplexed, cracking a smile, but also trying not to laugh because the thought of my students from last year acting like this is just too funny to cross my mind. They would never be caught dead screaming “YES!” in unison during grading; indeed, they are too kewl for skewl.

South African youth, however, aren’t sitting in class during grading period texting and Facebooking each other, “bord in 4 period!!!! lmao >:((((( lyke or commnt” (American middle school internet slang gets me every time). Instead, school is cool and South African learners care a lot about their schoolwork because it’s such a big part of their lives. Family, church, school, chores, cleaning and playing games with other village kids is a typical learner’s childhood.

After the lesson, I told the English teacher that would have never happened in the grade 6 class I worked in last year. She laughed and said, “Ah, yes the learners like to learn!”

At that moment, it really became apparent to me: oh boy, I’m definitely not in America anymore.

So far, I have observed some drastic cultural and administrative differences between South African schools and American schools. To name a few:

  • Students stay in their classrooms, but teachers move class to class.
    Many classrooms aren’t decorated, but may have a few educational posters up because each classroom doesn’t belong to a teacher like they do in the states.
  • Learners from grade 4 and up take NINE subjects.
    These subjects include: arts and culture, life orientation, maths, economics management science, English, home language, natural science, technology and social sciences. I guess instead of one grade 4 teaching all the subjects in a day’s worth of class, the learners get the subjects from different teachers. But seriously, would you have been capable of all these subjects at grade 4 after being taught in isiZulu and now your first year being taught in English? Didn’t think so. However, with next year’s new curriculum, the ministry merged arts and culture and life orientation and natural sciences and technology. The ministry also ditched economic management science and now learners don’t take it until the senior phase (grade 8 and up). Amen my brothas, is teaching a kid about how businesses run at age 10 really practical? Nah, also didn’t think so.
  • Teachers teach based on a “timetable” that breaks up the hours the Ministry of Education requires.
    Subject classes aren’t taught every day and are longer or shorter on certain days. Therefore, learners don’t have a set schedule like we do in America (about an hour for every class period and usually students have the same schedule every day). Some days they might have one hour of English and on other days they might have two hours. As of next year, the ministry requires per week six hours for home language, five hours for English, six hours for mathematics, three and a half hours for natural science and technology, three hours for social sciences and four hours for life skills.
  • Teachers teach multiple subjects.
    In America, teachers usually teach only one or two similar subjects — English and history, math and science, whatever. South African teachers teach whatever they are assigned to and it changes each year. That means if they needed a maths teacher and I had time in my schedule, they’d throw me in that class. I can barely do sixth grade math myself, but in an extreme case, I would possibly have to teach it (trust me, though, I’ve strictly said I will only teach English).
  • Learners clean on Fridays instead of attend class.
    This has been one of the hardest things for me to watch/deal with. Learners come to school on Fridays, sing at morning assembly, then sit in class and wait until 10:30ish when they eat the school food. After they finish eating, they clean all day — polish the floors inside and outside the classrooms, clean the staff rooms, sweep, do the dishes, wipe the windows and burn the trash. The reasons for this are two-fold: the school doesn’t have enough money to hire a custodian and it “teaches the students responsibility.” When I tried to clean up my mess in the library the other day, a teacher refused to let me do so because it’s the learner’s job. I’d argue that these learners go to school four days out of the week. I know I won’t be able to change this because it’s cultural — South Africans need everything to be clean regardless of the unstoppable and ever-going accumulation of dirt in buildings — but I do hope that I can at least make Fridays a literacy day for some learners. For example, some grades clean while others do literacy sessions with me in the library (I would do phonetics with lower grades, reading and listening with other grades, etc.) We’ll see if it works — I probably won’t propose this until I feel it’s the right time. In a way, this cleaning business is kind of ironic for me — from my experience, I’ve seen American students trash and tag their schools; now cleanliness is a top priority.
  • Teachers go to class on their own time.
    Heard of African time yet? Well, it ain’t no myth — it really exists. African time is far, far, far different from American time and I’m slowly — but surely — getting used to it. I value timeliness back in America and I have mini-panic attacks when I’m running late for something (I know my roommates painfully miss morning car rides with Liz, right guys?) My time clock says 30 minutes before the scheduled time is early,15 minutes before the scheduled time is on-time and right at the scheduled time is late. In Africa, I’ve learned that schedules aren’t of much importance. When teachers are done with what they have to do — like socializing, debating over a morning announcement from the principal or marking papers — then they’ll go to class. Classes are supposed to start at 8 a.m., but usually start around 8:30 a.m. or later. I’m going to be moving at the pace of a tortoise when I come back to the states, no joke.
  • A substitute system does not exist.
    Self-explanatory. If a teacher isn’t there for the day, the learners sit in the class and do nothing. Hey — at least they don’t throw chairs, hit each other or trash the classroom like my old sub days! Not too shabby kiddos.
  • Every morning, learners gather in the front of the school for “Morning Assembly” where they sing in isiZulu and pray.
    All the learners have different dances and songs they sing according to the day. It’s pretty cute to watch. Sometimes they pray in English and the younger one’s faces are so serious because they are concentrating on saying the prayer right. My school is public, but all the learners are of a Christian background (they attend the Anglican church), so they know all the same prayers. Separation between church and state is unheard of. I find myself closing my eyes, pretending to pray and mumbling “amen” a lot during morning meetings. Awkward.
  • Learners are respectful and listen to teachers.
    Learners say good morning and good afternoon educator to me every time they walk by. They stand in unison when you walk into a room and say, “Good afternoon educator, how are you? We are fine.”Whenever I see a bunch of learners gathered in a group or boys playfully fighting, my blood rises and my eyes are glued to the group as I think a fight could break out. That’ll never happen, though, I just assume that a grouping of students means a fight is about to start. Miss Little Liz won’t ever have to break up a fight again (ha, or attempt — middle schoolers are strong)! Soon enough, the Markham Middle School-effect will fade and I won’t be on edge at school.
  • Staff meetings are held during school and not after-school. Teachers leave directly after-school.
    Only four teachers at my school live in my village and the rest live at more suburban towns anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour away. Those who live farther get a salary incentive to teach in a rural village. Thus, teachers may be more qualified, but only put in the hours they need to because of distance and time constraints. Staff meetings are therefore hosted during school hours so all the teachers will attend. In America, staff meetings are usually once a week after a minimum day at school, which is one more thing I’m looking at to implement here.

Now, I bring you the basics:

In general, all South African children have a right to basic education, which is the same in America: children are guaranteed an education until the 12th grade. Twenty percent of the government’s budget is spent on education, but during the Apartheid period that funding was purposefully not given to all-black schools in the rural areas we serve at. As I’ve mentioned before, the purpose of doing so was to ensure that whites received a decent education and blacks received a poor education so they would later work for the white people.

South African operate top-down similar to the way individual American schools operate: principals —> deputy principals —> department heads —> teachers.

All students at the end of grade 12 take a comprehensive exam in English that measures performance, which is called “matric”. This statistic — the matric pass rate — is a significant marker of the schooling system. In the 1990s, South Africa had a 40 percent pass rate and most recently in 2011, the pass rate is 70 percent. Other than English being an official language in South Africa, this is another reason why learning English is so important for these learners because to graduate from school they must be able to pass this test.

Ninety-three percent of South African children are in public schools. There are “no fee” schools for those who cannot pay and then two other groups of schools where parents pay for activities, supplies, etc.

One in 100 South African students will receive tertiary education (translation: go to college). After high school (grade 12), they can attend either colleges that emphasize further training for specific skills or universities like we do in America.

Funding here comes from the government, but isn’t determined by standardized tests like it is in America and schools are allowed to fundraise. If parents are more involved in their children’s education and earn a salary, they tend to contribute to their children’s public schools. At my school, this isn’t the case, but I haven’t seen a lack of resources yet. There are enough exercise books, workbooks, paper and printer ink to teach. The office assistant told me that the school never runs out of basic supplies as such. I have a hard time believing this because paper and ink were such a scarcity last year at my American school, but maybe it’s true. If it is, I can’t believe I’ll be able to make as many photocopies as I need for my class!

Now, I bring you the social issues:

Aside from differences, I can travel from urban America to rural Africa and still find social issues that ring a bell. The schools Peace Corps South Africa serve in face similar challenges to those that Markham Middle School in Los Angeles and other American schools face. There are high illiteracy rates because students cannot get the help they need with homework at home. In rural villages, the mother is usually out working so a grandparent is the only person home, who cannot assist the children because many elders are illiterate. Likewise, the mother may speak some English, but not enough to help; the mamas and babas of my community had to learn Afrikaans in school because they went to school during Apartheid. At Markham, many students couldn’t complete homework at home either because their parents weren’t involved in their education or their families only spoke Spanish. Same situation, different language and country.

Most dropouts leave school during grade 10-12 — a little later than the American school system. Some girls dropout as early as grade 7 due to pregnancies. Most girls are pregnant by age 18 and may return to school if there is a Gogo at home to take care of their child. Girls my age — 23 — more than likely have at least one child.

HIV/AIDS also plays a big role in the South African school system. Learners may have to be the adult of the household because they have lost family members to HIV/AIDS. In America, students may have to assume responsibility in the household due to substance abuse in the family or their parent’s busy work schedules, but still also live in child-headed houses.There’s a good number of children at my school who are also orphans — like foster children in America — and are taken in and cared for by relatives or elders in the village.

Now, I bring you everyone’s favorite — the political issues:

Teacher’s unions also integrate themselves into the way schools operate — what a shocking surprise. Low-performing teachers from the Bantu education era aren’t fired because of union rules and not many want to take their spots in rural schools.The only way teachers are seriously fired is in extreme cases of corporal punishment, which is now illegal in South Africa, or sexual abuse. If a teacher doesn’t commit such a crime, one can call teaching a lifelong job. I can travel 10,000+ miles away from Los Angeles and teacher’s unions still play a huge role in the education system.

The image of a teacher in South African culture doesn’t help draw attention to these issues in the educational system that need attention, either. Historically, South African teachers were seen as poor that made the bare minimum. Therefore, the profession in the past has not been appealing to South Africans and those who made it out of the public school system work in the private sector, but now more and more people are teaching after attending university because of government incentives and higher salaries.

I find South Africans exclaiming their appreciation for us being here far too often. Most of all, I recall the time a deputy from the Ministry of Education came to our pre-service training to welcome us to the South African school system and tell us how excited and lucky they were to have us. Very nice gesture, but like anything and everything, my questioning kicked in.

There are definitely some talented and experienced people in my Volunteer group so I have no doubt that they’ll be amazing teachers and English is our native tongue, but the question that keeps running through my mind is do other countries really look up to American education and educators?

Do other countries understand that our public education system is struggling too? Just because we’re American doesn’t mean we have solutions to all issues or a decent public education system. The teachers at my school were shocked to hear that teenage pregnancy is an issue in America too. See, I told you, believe it or not — we are combating similar issues!

Regardless of the issue of public education plaguing many parts of the world, Nelson Mandela once said, “Education is the most powerful WEAPON that you can use to can change the world.” Truth.

Now let’s spread that message like wildfire, my Peace Corps and City Year friends.

Here’s a glimpse into my school (10x smaller than an American school!)

Outside of my school

School yards and garden

School sport yard and volleyball court

Peace Corps world map project completed by former health Volunteer in my village

Love to my peoples back at home working in American schools!
Ngidinga ukulala (I need to sleep),


The new blogging structure of “Liz in Service”

I’m connected again!

I know it’s only been a month, but a former journo kid can’t go long without being able to write and publish! I have many updates, but this whole “publish weeks after it happens” thing is getting to me. Back in the states, I’d give myself up to two days to publish something that happened besides my weekly updates. This is my first step getting used to “African time” — even if content is recent and “blogworthy” to me, it may take a while to get onto my site.

With that said, I got a SIM card for a BlackBerry data plan for only 60 rand a month — the equivalent of ~$10 a month. Now I can use e-mail, WordPress and mobile Internet when I please (assuming I have electricity to charge my phone!) I’ll be able to type things out and upload pictures on my computer then transfer them to my BlackBerry for publishing. It might be a hassle, but I’m damn grateful I can blog on the go!

So, here’s how I’ve planned to blog these next two years:

Bi-weekly posts each month about my primary Peace Corps project: my primary project is to teach English in a primary school to grade 4, 5 or 6. I’ll be permanently assigned to my site in two weeks, so then I’ll know what exactly I’ll be blogging about (lesson plans, my students, my co-workers, the struggles of working in a South African school, etc).

Ubuntu: The Ubuntu category — a Zulu proverb meaning my humanity is tied to your humanity (which was stressed during my City Year service year and originated here in South Africa!) — will explore South African and Zulu culture. I’ll write in-depth about any cultural experiences I have and how Ubuntu is practiced here.

Just another day in the Peace Corps: Similar to my Just another day at Markham category from City Year, I’ll post photos and videos (if possible) that highlight the odd, ironic, funny and sarcastic things that happen to me and my fellow Peace Corps Volunteers.

Secondary project updates: As soon as I figure out what my secondary Peace Corps project is (fingers are crossed I can start a school newspaper!) I’ll write individual posts that discuss the trials and tribulations of working with a South African community counterpart to help make whatever project I implement succeed.

A month in photos: Every month I’ll have a photo-oriented post. Self- explanatory. Uploading a bunch of photos on Flickr or Facebook will be challenging, so I’ll make sure to put my best photos on here!

Yours back in blogging service,

Peace Corps update: making moves with placement!

I’m moving along with the Peace Corps placement and medical process! I’m not medically cleared yet because I had to get a polio shot and send in proof of it, but the placement specialist that has been in contact with me said both my medical and placement reviews will be happening at the same time. Usually nominees don’t hear from placement until a couple of months after they are medically cleared, but it looks like they’re trying to speed up the process for me so I can leave as soon as possible!

My placement specialist asked me to fill out an English teaching questionnaire that is detailed below. Writing these answers really helped me reflect on my year working at Markham Middle School and how much it has prepared me for the Peace Corps. I’m not sure if I would have been ready to go right after college, but now I know I am!

Part of preparing for Peace Corps service is developing realistic expectations of what life is like as a Volunteer, with specific attention to the common challenges Volunteers are likely to face. From what sources and/or experiences have you learned about the realities of life as a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV)? If your sources include past or currently serving Peace Corps Volunteers, please indicate so.

After graduating college, I joined City Year, a non-profit AmeriCorps program that places 17-24-year-olds in high need public schools. Corps members serve as tutors and mentors who live on a modest stipend. I made it clear to the City Year staff before we were placed in schools that I wanted a challenge and indeed, I got one. I am currently serving at Markham Middle School in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles. I serve in a sixth grade English as a Second Language classroom at Markham Middle School. Markham is one of the hardest and arguably one of the most dangerous schools to work at in the Los Angeles Unified School District. The two miles that span across Watts – a neighborhood that is three quarters Latino and one quarter black – have a high rate of poverty and gang violence. Markham Middle School inherently lacks structure and is underserved. This year is the first time in nine years a principal has returned for a second year; long term substitutes, student violence, and suspensions are a norm; there is a continual lack of resources like paper and ink; teachers are forced to teach to standardized tests; many teachers and administrators reprimand students by screaming at them; and family issues such as incarceration, alcoholism, drug abuse, abuse, and the foster care system are prevalent among our students.

Working in this neighborhood and school has opened my eyes to what it’s like to serve in a low-income area. I see on a daily basis all the problems that can potentially arise from poverty, which has also given me a taste of the reality I might be living in as a Peace Corps Volunteer in a developing country. I have prepared in other ways by reading the work of Peace Corps Volunteers and Returned Peace Corps Volunteers like the Unofficial Peace Corps Volunteer Handbook and following a recent PCV University of Southern California graduate’s blog who is serving in the business sector in Cameroon. Although she is not teaching English, out of all the Peace Corps blogs I could have followed, I decided to follow hers because I love hearing from someone who went to the same college I went to. She also knows other volunteers I had classes with in college who are serving in Cameroon but do not have blogs. I have also connected with a RPCV through City Year who taught secondary English in the Ukraine. I had the chance to get lunch with her and ask her all the questions I had about Peace Corps service. All of these sources have given me different, yet insightful perspectives about serving with the Peace Corps.

What are the key lessons you have learned from these sources that will help you succeed as a PCV?

After almost completing an academic year serving at Markham Middle School in Watts, the best lesson I have learned is to be patient. Instead of questioning a situation and getting frustrated, I strive to find solutions. I understand that I have no influence on any of the decisions the school administration makes, but I do have some control over the students I am directly working with. I may not be able to change what is happening at home – whether they are being put into foster care or are grieving a lost one – but I can at least change the outcome of their day by being an ear to listen and someone to talk to who cares about them.

My students struggle with academics; almost all of them are at a third grade reading level in the sixth grade and have trouble spelling and writing. I cannot bring them up three grade levels in one year, as I am only one person with many students. Moreover, because my students are so behind in school, they often refuse to do any work because they get frustrated with the sixth grade content. Getting my students to do their classwork takes a lot of patience and time.

Changing the world isn’t as easy as it sounds. Through my City Year experience, I have also learned that service-oriented work is a slow process and outcomes aren’t always evident. All the work I have done with my students inside and outside of class may not show until years from now, which I am at ease with because I know I have put all the effort I can into my English classroom this year. These lessons have prepared me to become a PCV because I know that other countries operate differently than America: Governments might make decisions that surprise me, there may be a lack of urgency in the population and students that I will teach, there may be a lack of resources in the school I will teach in, students may be just as behind as my students, and student progress may not show during my service. Regardless of any of these challenges I may face as a PCV, I know how much building relationships with students and community members is important to at least ensure happiness and to show the community the importance of education. All of these challenges I have faced in America seem similar to some I’ve read about in the Cameroon volunteer blog I’ve been following as well as experiences the RPCV TEFL woman I met through City Year had.

I understand that serving as a Peace Corps volunteer will be different because I will actually be immersed in the community instead of only working there, but I believe my City Year experience is like a stepping stone to the larger challenges that await me with the Peace Corps. There are many outside forces in the world that I know I will not be able to control and that may affect my volunteer work, but what matters is that I will look at anything thrown my way as just another swerve in the road to success like I do at Markham Middle School.

Working in Watts as a Caucasian female has also exposed me to what it’s like to work in a culture that’s different from my own. I get stared at frequently, but I have become accustomed to it. I still feel like I am part of the community because I spend around 60 hours a week in Watts. I know that it may be challenging for me as a white American in some countries because people will believe I am a rich American, which is the feeling I get sometimes when I am walking around Watts. The lesson I have learned from this is that I cannot change the perceptions about me from people I don’t know, but I can change such perceptions with people I do know. If I am getting all the work done that needs to be done, I at least know that I am doing the right thing for the community I am serving. Eventually, I believe that my volunteer work will snowball into changing people’s perceptions about me who may not have interacted with me.

Moreover, as a City Year corps member, we are not only required to create academic lesson plans for our students, but also school-wide events and activities for our after-school, morning and lunch programs. We spend a lot of time working on these activities and have learned the art of multitasking and teamwork. These skills I have honed from City Year will help me succeed as a PCV because I have experience juggling many things as a team player. I will know how to prioritize and use time management toward my teaching and secondary volunteer project to ensure that I will complete both volunteer positions to the best of my ability. Because of the environment I’ve been in for the past year, I’ve grown a lot and have been prepared for the Peace Corps in a way others may have not.

Since you first told your friends and family of your plans to apply for Peace Corps, has their level of support for your decision changed? As the time for a possible departure gets closer, how are they feeling about it? How have you helped them better prepare for the prospect of you going away to Peace Corps?

My friends and family are very supportive of the decision and proud of me. I have wanted to join the Peace Corps since my junior year in college, so my family has had time to adapt to the idea. As time has gone by and I could be potentially leaving soon, they are getting even more excited for me and are spending time with me while they can. I do not worry about such relationships being strained for two years because they are strong and I will always have my family and my childhood friends no matter what.

I have helped my family prepare by showing them the Peace Corps Website to familiarize them with the geographic regions the Peace Corps serve in as well as the FAQs section. We have also connected with people who have traveled throughout places like Africa, the Middle East and Europe to learn about traveling in such regions. I have prepared my friends by making a blog that they can follow if I have access to the Internet. If not, they understand that I may only have access to the Internet once in a while, so they are aware that they won’t be able to talk to me that often.

What are your strengths as an educator?

My strengths as an educator involve seeing my students as people rather than just students there to absorb information, my cheerful and fun personality and my creativity with lesson plans and activities for my students. From tutoring ESL students with City Year for nearly an academic year, I have learned the tricks about working with middle school aged students who speak English as a second language. The students are still at a time in their lives where they are figuring out who they are and still need to be assured their teacher cares about them as young adults and students.

My current sixth grade students know that they can come to me anything. I will always be there to help them and will not give up until I find a solution because I know I am their advocate in a low-performing school like Markham Middle School. I make a point to learn details about my students — their home lives, their friends and their hobbies so I can connect with them. Learning about my students shows them that I really am investing my time in them, so they respect me and are willing to work with me and learn from me. Likewise, I enjoy tailoring lectures and activities to subjects my students are interested in so learning is more fun for them. An example of this would be when I made a memory card game with phonetics and a game where students had to throw a paper airplane and estimate how far it would go then multiply the number by what I told them.

Working in a classroom everyday has shown me how hard it is to implement an effective classroom management system and have the students still respect you as an authority figure. I currently work for two drastically different teachers – one with a very laid-back behavior management plan and one with a strict behavior management plan. I have seen how being nice all the time may not ensure a productive classroom environment because students may take advantage of it. However, the teacher I work for who has a strict behavior management is very effective with her students because she balances strictness with fun and laughter in the classroom. After reprimanding a disrespectful student, she bounces back by making the students laugh through her sense of humor. She demonstrates through her actions that she cares about the students and their education, and in turn they recognize that she is only being strict because she wants them to do well in school. I plan to use my experience as a shadow in her classroom to help me create my classroom management plan and also build the trust of my students. From what I’ve experienced this year, I know students enjoy being around me because I always have a smile on my face, which I plan to continue when I am teaching.

I am also an experienced public speaker and can pronounce my words loudly, effectively and in different tones while teaching. My students do not get bored when I tutor them because I actively engage them in the material by asking questions during lectures or while reading literature and giving them real life examples that relate to what subject they’re studying.

List the top 3 challenges that you expect to encounter as a PCV and discuss how you plan to deal with each.

1. Working in an underserved school.

I understand that working as a TEFL Volunteer may require me to work in a school with inadequate resources – whether that means the school doesn’t have enough classrooms, desks, textbooks or other school supplies. Although one may think that a decent education requires a sustainable and abundance of materials, I can get around not having everything I need by using my creativity. At City Year and Markham Middle School, I was given few resources for tutoring ESL students because City Year trains corps members for regular middle school English classes. Thus, I had to come up with ways to teach phonetics, reading comprehension and spelling to students with a lack of materials. I have created fun games for my students as well as worksheets that addressed what they were having trouble with. If during Peace Corps service I am faced with a similar challenge, I will find a way to teach my students through interactive activities and games, which will get their minds running. If my school needs resources, I will also create a donation project that will hopefully bring extra funding to the school. PCVs are placed in underserved schools for a reason: Because they are passionate and will do what it takes so their students receive a decent education. I will find solutions to the problems I face at my school instead of worry about the problems like I already have done at Markham.

2. Not having access to electronic communication.

I strongly believe in the power of storytelling and take pride in sharing what I’ve seen through my service work with others. As a former journalism student, I value social media and use it everyday; I have a blog that I update weekly on my experience working with City Year and plan to keep updating it during my service with the Peace Corps. However, I know that I may not have access to the Internet – let alone electricity – and have already thought of alternative ways to deal with such a situation. I will write down daily interactions, experiences and stories about people I meet in a notebook that I will keep writing in until I can publish the stories online. If I cannot publish during my service, I plan to write a memoir about my years of service. I also communicate with friends and family daily on social media and get updates on their lives even if I am not always in contact with them. I know it is highly unlikely I will be able to keep this going during my service, so my friends and I are both aware that I may only get to read e-mails every once in a while when I’m either at the main Peace Corps office in my country of service or if I travel to an area with Internet cafes. As a young adult who is so connected to technology like much of my generation, I am actually very excited to experience what it’s like to not have Internet and cell phone service my fingertips because I believe it’s something many of my peers and I take for granted.

3. Assimilating into a different culture and community.

Although I am very easily adaptable to new places and people, I know that is not the same feeling for everyone, especially residents of the community I will serve in. I am open to accepting the different ideas, people and cultures around me, but it may take a while for community members to trust me. I serve with a hard head and soft heart, so after interacting with me and getting used to me I think community members will see this in me and understand that I am there to really help make a difference in the community and care about its members. I believe the success of a PCV requires support from the community, which stems first from building trust. It may be a rough start until I build this trust and support, so I plan to showcase my personality for those around me — kind, caring, passionate, creative and thoughtful — through my daily interactions and actions to allow the community to warm up to me. I have read that PCVs at the beginning of their service may feel isolated for this very reason. However, I think logically about every situation I am in and if I feel this way I will understand that it just takes time and that I am there for a reason. Also, as I’ve mentioned earlier, many countries run a lot differently than America. In America, there’s always a sense of urgency and time sensitivity is a large part of our culture. From reading various PCV blogs, I see that it can be very laid back in other countries and the infrastructure to getting things done varies — the bus won’t leave until it fills up, appointment times aren’t upheld, students do their homework and class work when they get around to it, etc. To deal with any cultural norms about time, I will just have to be patient because if I am not, I will not fit into the community. I have learned a lot about patience through City Year and the Peace Corps application process and now see things in a different light: If it doesn’t happen quickly, it will happen eventually and I just have to keep calm and never doubt it.

What do you contemplate about Peace Corps service? What are you most looking to the most?

City Year requires all of its corps members to write a leadership statement and mine reads: “As a leader, I will learn something new from every single person I meet, tell their stories and experience a culture different from my own. I will use these experiences and my creativity to do something meaningful in the future.” Thus, I am most looking forward to meeting people from another culture and experiencing their lives. I honestly want to learn something from everyone I meet during my Peace Corps service – even if it’s just a simple virtue like being kind.

Hearing about people’s life stories and cultures makes me so happy; I have a passion to tell their stories. I believe every person on this planet has a life story worth hearing and sharing, so I cannot wait to share my experiences and about the people I meet to people back in America. I am also looking forward to teaching English because it is a career choice I have been contemplating for some time.

My students at Markham Middle School are people I will never forget; I cannot wait to meet a new class of students that I know will have the same immense impact on me that my Markham students have had. I anticipate that my experience at Markham and my experience teaching abroad with the Peace Corps will give me enough ideas for a quality secondary volunteer project and service projects after I complete service with the Peace Corps. I am anxiously awaiting the time when I can put together all these puzzle pieces from my service years and use the experiences to somehow address social issues in America and/or abroad through more service projects or working for a non-profit.

In other words, I’m ready to go!!!


I did leave out one thing in the answer to the family and friend’s question…