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.

I Thought I was Done Losing Sleep Over Exams

The following is a post from AUA Network member and guest blogger Kyle Scott Herman who is volunteering by teaching History in Lebanon.

January was rough.  Don’t worry, I’m perfectly safe. I just didn’t post anything because I felt like I spent almost all my time since the week of Christmas sprinting to fulfill my students’ curriculum before their mid-year exams. And that sprinting is completely metaphorical because I ran less in January than I have in any month since my early years of high school. I have settled into a comfortable teaching style, but it is a ton of work. I spoil my students with visuals and notes written out for them on powerpoint presentations, which I use to tell history more like a story to keep them involved. It’s great, but I spend hours every night making hours worth of powerpoint presentations for the next day (not to mention mastering the material not covered on the slides so I’m prepared for daily oral examinations from my students’ questions.). And with 4 years worth of curriculum – including one I’m making up from scratch because this is the first year Lebanon has a 12th grade – I’m honestly doing more schoolwork and losing more sleep than I ever did at school, including my enjoyably challenging years at Ohio Wesleyan.  And missing a deadline is not an option because I would basically be letting down dozens of kids.

Many of my students could care less how much effort I put into their education. There are a few troublemakers who actively work to undermine me and stubbornly refuse to apply themselves. But I am also blessed to teach some bright students who are engaged and even appreciative. An honest one even called me “spectacular” and said he could listen to me teach for hours. Some students force me to waste time on classroom management because of ignorant or hostile distractions. I feel bad sometimes because I hear that a lot of our students have difficult family situations, but from my perspective that’s no excuse for being mean and disruptive. When they frustrate me, I just have to remind myself that those who want to learn make it worth it when I see that they are actually learning and even enjoying it.

I thought I would have a break last week because my classes were mostly review for the exams, but I nearly ended up pulling a couple all-nighters because I was writing two-hour exams for each of my four grade levels. You thought studying for exams was difficult? Try mastering the material to the extent that you can write one. Then there’s the challenge of selecting what information is the most important, finding a way to put it into question form, making sure that it is challenging enough without being unfairly tricky. I consider my exams to be works of art. Maybe I’ll post one if anyone is interested in matching wits with my students.

This week is light because the students are taking the exams. I hope our internet starts working better during that time because I wasn’t able to upload pictures to this post and I have a lot to share from our week off at Christmas. But afterwards I’ll have the challenge of grading the exams. The one part of teaching more frustrating for me than disruptive behavior is grading open-ended questions and essays. It’s really important to teach my students to write, but I agonize over judging the quality of their arguments and the extent to which they deserve credit for being partially accurate or when they are vague or when I suspect them of cheating. I hate knowing a student has cheated even if I can’t outright prove it, but I caught three students cheating red-handed on a test a few weeks ago, including the girl whose mother plagiarized for her AND her brother. A lot of the students here don’t seem to care much about cheating. There’s a phrase in Arabic that roughly translates: “The clever one gets away with it.” I never thought we had such a big cheating problem when I was in school but I don’t know if that’s because midwestern culture is more focused on merit and integrity or if I was just ignorant back then.

Even though I respected teachers a lot before I came here, I have WAY more respect for them now. I may feel a little overworked because I’m a first-year teacher with all four grade levels on my plate at once  and to be fair I am working harder than necessary by my own choice because I care about giving my students spectacular lessons. But I completely understand why about a third of new teachers quit within 3 years. I may not plan to be a teacher beyond my time in Lebanon, but now that I’m living the life (and mostly enjoying it despite the stress), it gives me perspective on America’s education troubles and our national debate over teacher salaries. Assuming a teacher’s effectiveness could be accurately measured, schools should be competing to hire the best teachers they can by offering salaries more reflective of the job’s challenges. And yet teachers get scapegoated for budget deficits because people think they are lazy for starting work at 7 and ending at about 3 in the afternoon, with summers “off”. Sure there are some lazy teachers and sure the unions are too strong in their ability to protect them, but in my experience classes are the easy part of the day. My most exhausting part of the job is the preparation behind the scenes, which results in overtime that more than makes up for having a couple months to plan for the upcoming year.

I am eternally grateful to so many of my teachers at Stow-Munroe Falls and professors at Ohio Wesleyan who obviously worked hard because they cared about us and not because they wanted an easy paycheck. They really made a difference in my life and I can only hope I’m having a fragment of such impact on my own students.

The weather has started to improve. January was basically a rainy season, but the past couple days have been sunny and in the 60s. We can still see snow on the mountains though, which is good because two weeks from now I’m going to learn how to ski!

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This entry was posted on April 11, 2012 by in Volunteer Related and tagged , , , , , .
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