Archive for the ‘Teaching’ Category

My first semester of teaching was by far the longest semester of my life.

After going through grad school and undergrad, with four semesters of 20+ credit hours in order to finish two degrees, this one was still the longest. I think it’s because in teaching there are so many more variables than there are in learning. There are so many things I can’t control, namely my students. As a student, I only needed to worry about myself, now I’m trying to make sure no man (or woman) is left behind.

I can come to class prepared, but I can’t make them pay attention.

I can lecture, but I can’t ensure they will learn.

I can motivate, but I can’t guarantee they will study.

I can give them tools, but I can’t be sure they’ll use them.

Some days I feel like I’m in the inner city of Chicago, with kids that I’m rooting for more than they’re rooting for themselves. And then some days, I feel altogether satisfied. In this past week, I’ve had four days of satisfaction that have made ALL the hardships of this past semester worthwhile:

Day 1: I was reviewing my students on some vocabulary words they had learned over the course of the semester. They were knocking them all out of the park. The moment that made me smile was when they started saying the words with attitude, like, “How dare you ask us these easy words! Of course we know their meanings!” That’s when I realized that unbeknownst to them, whether they wanted to or not, they had learned.” I responded, “I think I tricked you into learning!”

Day 2: In helping a student finish his final project, I received the following message via e-mail:

“I really loved the course very much and learned many good things that would help me in my work. May God bless your work and ministry.”

Day 3: To cap off a chapter about breakthroughs, I had my Advanced Reading students share a breakthrough they have had or would like to have in their lives.  Though some did the project begrudingly, I’m proud of the finished product.

Day 4: As I was grading my first set of final exams, my eyes ran across the following.

“Thank you Mrs. for your well being.  God bless.  I going to miss you.  Love you my sweet teacher.”

It made this I-just-finished-my-first-semester-of-teaching teacher SMILE!

Whether you gave me a hard time, jabbered the entire class, gave me a Christmas card or a sweet word of encouragement. Whether you were the “OOOO! OOO! Me!” student or you averted your eyes when you were about to be called on. Even if you were the student who got tricked into learning this semester, thanks so much for making my first semester of teaching quite memorable. And all of my thanks go to God for bringing me (sometimes carrying me) through!

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It’s been a long time since I was in love….with a book.

Let me explain.  My prized possession in life is my bookshelf and my collection of books.  I hope to have a library in my house someday, inshallah.  So it should come as no surprise that I am in love with a book.  But I must provide you with some context.

Anyone who knows me knows that I always like to be at the top of my game.  My dad drilled it into me. As a child, if I brought home an A- from school, he asked why I didn’t earn an A.  If another student was doing well in a class that was challenging for me, he told me if they could do it, I could too.  Some may see this as being too hard on a child, but as an adult, I have a deep appreciation for his penchant for me to be a high achiever.

This career shift that I’ve made (however long or short it may be) has come with its own challenges.  The primary problem is that now, my ability to be a high achiever, depends on so many variables: students studying, students caring…..skip that…what about students showing up for class or not showing up because someone died, they got into an accident, they were sick, they collectively decided to boycott or any other excuse they can wrangle up.

But then there are bright spots.  There are days when you see a ray of promise.  At the beginning of the semester, I showed “The Danger of the Single Story” in class, and now, months later, they recall the tough Nigerian name of Chimamanda Adichie (hopefully they remember her message as well.)

Even still, as a neophyte in the teaching game, sometimes I need a sounding board.  I need the opportunity to reflect, question, learn and grow.  Honestly, I need my mentor, who is an Education Superintendent, but she’s so far away.  So in her absence, I’ve recently found this book.  The object of my affections.  I’ve only just begun to read it, but already it’s proven to be helpful.  And hopefully it’ll help me reach my goal of being a high achiever.

Maybe this is the foreign love affair everybody warned me about.

I walked out of my first exam exhausted. I never imagined I’d have to utilize classroom management techniques with college students during an exam. Never the less, there I was laboring to separate people, curb soft whisperings in Arabic of the answers and redirect wandering eyes to their own test papers.

I must admit, I had been warned about the character everyone tagged as “the Lebanese student.” One woman warned me that they were tough, others told me to be hard on them.

When one describes a student as tough, my mind immediately references the “tough” students on the South Side of Chicago. Places where security officers are as ubiquitous as teachers; where metal detectors greet students at the entrance of the building and where the sounds of gun shots are as familiar as the ringing of a school bell. That was my definition of tough.

So on the first day of class, I arrived earlier than my students, to check and see if there was a phone where I’d be able to call security, in case my class got out of hand.

To my surprise, I met students who called me Miss (a term of respect I would never receive from “tough” students in the states), asked for permission before exiting to use the restroom and even offered on multiple occasions to carry my books to my office.

It wasn’t until the day of the exam that a line was drawn in the sand, and I caught a glimpse of what people meant. This was not the “tough” I was expecting.

I met a culture of cheating. Cheating that was common. Cheating that was accepted. Cheating that was even expected. At one point, one of my students chastised me for taking the exam too seriously – in effect saying that I was being too hard on this culture of cheating.

While every part of me wants to scream, my rational side thought of a saying I’d heard long ago by Stephen R. Covey. “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”

In understanding, I see a group of students who have been bred on a culture of collaboration – and that’s putting it mildly. A place where cheating, during governmental exams, is permitted, as I was informed by a student.

How’s that for understanding?

This is me being seeking to be understood.

The last place that gave me a degree (an M.S. in Accounting) was the University of Virginia.  They required that we write the following statement on all of our tests and assignments before they were turned in:

“On my honor, I pledge that I have neither given nor received help on this assignment.”

We were allowed to take tests anywhere on campus, under trees, in the library, wherever, as long as we pledged we wouldn’t cheat.  While this sounds nice, the penalty associated with it, was weighty. Violation of the honor code requires a student to go to trial in front of a student jury, truly a jury of your peers. Students found guilty are expelled or have their degrees revoked.

What’s your answer for this Stephen R. Covey?

Tomorrow’s my first real day of teaching.

I remember the nervous anticipation I used to feel on my first day of school.  Wondering if we’d get any new students and if our teacher would go easier on us than the last.  My mom always giggles when she reminds me of what happened with my third grade teacher.

She was a stickler, as stern as they come (the teacher that is).  But honestly much of what I did that year, in third grade, is still firmly etched in my mind.  So much so that I didn’t see the need to ever have class with that particular teacher again, because I had learned so much.

My school was fairly small, so teacher shuffling was not uncommon.  Lucky for us, as we progressed on to the fifth grade, the administration greeted us with the surprising news that we’d be privileged to get a new teacher: The Stickler.  Twice as nice!  I complained then, but looking back, we learned a lot.  (if you’re reading, I honestly love you to death, now!)

The teachers you sometimes dread are often the ones you need the most.

Enough with the life lessons.  What I really came to write about was first-day-of-school-jitters.

Hahahahaha!  I ain’t got none!  (And I call myself an English teacher.)  Honestly, I’m just excited about shaping young minds.

While I don’t have the jitters, I do have the indecisive, What-to-Wear syndrome.  I’ve gone through everything, and nothing seems quite right.  It reminds me of my first day of school back in third grade.  I think I’m using the same decision making process now as I did then to choose my outfit.

I’m going for Professional but not stuffy.  Smart, yet youthful.  Fun, but tasteful.

Does this outfit exist?