Teaching Experience:

I’m No Adriana!

Amman, Jordan

People have, naturally, been asking a lot of questions about how and why I left the Modern American School, and I’ve been doing a lot of soul-searching about what went wrong. I mean, I’ve been teaching on and off for a decade now, and I’d been told I was good at it, even had a talent for it. It wasn’t just my friends and students saying I was good. It was my bosses, too, always saying they wished they had a hundred more like me. Even my supervisor and my principal here would frequently tell me I was a good teacher.

But I didn’t feel like one. At the end of every class, as I graded each test, every time I read a parent’s note that her child didn’t have the book he needed to study for his assessment, I didn’t feel like a good teacher. I didn’t even feel like a mediocre teacher. Although having two jobs has been a real drain on me physically and emotionally, I’m very glad I’ve had the AMIDEAST job. Otherwise, by the time I was fired, I’d have felt like a complete failure as a teacher. Instead, I’ve come to some very different conclusions.

I can be good with second graders. I really like eight-year-olds, and in small numbers, they generally seem to like me. I had a blast teaching Arabic and the debkeh to a Bloomington Brownie Troop last March. But I don’t have the skills to manage a classroom of 29 second graders. It’s not just that, though. Some people, like Adriana, a slight slip of a woman who teaches the 2nd grade classroom next to mine, just walk into a classroom with the presence that is just the right mix of strength and compassion to make kids really believe that she is a teacher. It helps that she can think like a second grader. She was always telling me about brilliant ways of relating the materal to the kids’ interests, and the best ones were the ones she came up with on the spot.

On the other hand, when I was in the second grade, Mrs. Herbst apparently said to my mother at the Parent Teacher Conference, “I like to stand next to Maryah when she does math. She does it aloud, under her breath. I know she has a system, because she gets the right answers, but for the life of me I can’t figure out what that system is!” And I think that’s exactly why I succeeded as an instructor at nerd camp; I routinely and constantly think outside of the box. But if I couldn’t even think like a second grader when I WAS a second grader, how did I expect to teach the second grade? Especially second grade math!

No, I do better with slightly older kids. Students who already understand the basics of logic, who have learned how to control their bladders and stick to the point. Most importantly, however, I need to teach children who can be trusted to remember their own responsibilities, like homework, and can be penalized for their own failure to fulfill those responsibilities. Maybe the problem isn’t second graders, but the factors peculiar to private schools. In any case, it wasn’t a good fit.

But all this has also made me rethink a conversation we frequently had in Peace Corps with Jackie and Lynn, who were retired elementary school teachers, and had been students in the American system fifty years ago. They would frequently say that Jordan’s education system is about where America’s was 50 years ago, and it would take time to catch up. I would say that the Modern American School may be where the American system was 40 years ago, but I keep thinking back to a video I saw on YouTube some time ago:

We can’t afford to be stuck in an educational philosophy that is 40 years old. We can’t even afford to be stuck in today’s educational philosophy.

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