America's Unofficial Ambassadors

We work at the grassroots level throughout the Muslim World to counter violent extremism before it takes hold, to promote tolerance and understanding, and to foster better relations with the United States.

The Student Becomes the Teacher

The following is a post from AUA Network member Kyle Scott Herman who is teaching History in Lebanon.

My classroom is typical by American standards, including a projector so that I can display power points and videos. The students expect visual stimulation.

My first day of school as a teacher was a half day so I only met 3 of my 5 classes, but it was intense.  First impressions are important and it’s weird to think that the perspectives 70 students have towards history, civics, and current events could be in my hands.

The one thing I was nervous about before I came to Lebanon had nothing to do with wars or social unrest or living in the Middle East; I was nervous about teaching.  Sure, I spent the summer trying to teach myself to teach, but I’ve never received any formal training or earned any teaching certificates that are usually required.  I would have been just as nervous if I was taking on the responsibility in the States.  Lebanon lacks standards that America and most other countries have to prevent inexperienced people like me from being hired. Before I came here, I saw a frontpage story on Lebanon’s main English news site that began: “A lack of guidelines and assessment regulations is leading Lebanese high schools to become saturated with under-qualified teachers…”  So yes, I am one of those villainous under-qualified teachers saturating a Lebanese high school. But I take it as a challenge to prove that I am capable.

I received a lot of helpful advice from the more experienced teachers.  Almost all of it regarded classroom management and the need to start the year as a strong and strict authoritarian.  This seemed to reinforce a feeling I sometimes had as a student that some teachers care more about wielding power than inspiring interest, which can make learning seem like a chore.  Now I understand that sometimes it is necessary to start strict because you can always lighten up later, but if you start the year too friendly and relaxed then you cannot become stricter later.  The principal’s philosophy is that you should always strive to be respected and never to be loved because if the students respect you they will end up loving you more because they will learn more than with a friendly teacher who is too accommodating.

The principal and many of the teachers have a rule that students must stand when they enter the classroom. So this morning after I greeted students at the door by handing them an assignment to begin, I walked to the front of the classroom and asked: “Do you stand when your other teachers enter the room?” Slightly panicked faces looked up from their assignments as the students awkwardly scrambled to their feet.  I paused for a few seconds, expressionless, as I scanned the room with my eyes. “You may be seated.”  In that moment, my nerves disappeared and I knew I was in control.

Some of the 34 students in my 10th grade class were talking instead of working on the assignment while I passed out name tags and answered questions, but I will have to be strict with them. They should get the message when I deduct points from the assignments they failed to complete because they didn’t care to use their time properly.  I probably would have been horrified by the previous sentence if I had seen it 5 years ago, and now I can’t believe I’m in the position where I feel it is justified.

I originally thought my 12th graders would be mixed in with my 11th graders since there are only 3 of them, but now I am teaching them separately and it will probably be my favorite class. Up until this year, the school only taught through 11th grade, but Lebanon’s education standards changed.  So now I get to teach them a completely new curriculum based on their needs and interests. We had a good discussion today, basically sitting around and talking about what topics might be fun to study.

Additional posts can be viewed on Kyle’s blog.

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