Wow. It is hard to put to words how the last three days of the trip went while at the Alpha Schools. To put into perspective how I felt going into this experience I have to admit the anxiety and stress I continuously struggled with as we prepared for the trip, mentally and physically. After Student Teaching in the Fall, I saw myself grow immensely from the 11 weeks I spent with my Cooperating Teacher and 150 6th Grade students by being able to handle situations as they arose and plan instructive, engaging lessons. However, when thinking of the three days I was going to spend with 30 girls I had never met before, in a country I had never been to, teaching content for their exam I had no experience with… You could say I was a little overwhelmed.
After spending hours co-planning with the math team (which was quite the difficult task at times with 6 people), we created a plan to accomplish numerous objectives regarding Geometric Transformations. Although we were as prepared as possible going into our first day of teaching, with an 11 page outline, I was still nervous for our arrival to the Alpha Girls School. My nerves were not due to lack of confidence in myself or our plan, but rather how the interaction with my students would go. One of my reoccurring nightmares regarding teaching in general is that my students will not be able to benefit from my instruction. On the eve of my first day teaching the girls at Convent of Mercy Academy in Kingston, Jamaica, this thought haunted my mind due to the added language and culture barrier I would need to overcome in order to be successful. I hope I am not over exaggerating this event by describing my nerves going into the experience. Instead, I hope to clarify how I felt in anticipation of the trip and why I was so passionate about this Teaching Internship in the first place, (regardless of the personal obstacles I was going to need to overcome in order to be a successful teacher).
Ok, ok, so now is the time for me to describe how the first day went after all of this anticipatory talk. Well, to be honest, the first day came and went much faster than I wanted it to! It took me all of two seconds to feel comfortable in my class. The first student walked in with a smile on her face, said “Good morning, Miss”, and took a seat front and center of the room. At this point I breathed a huge sigh of relief and was able to feel at ease once the school day started. At this point I could describe how each lesson went, but unless you’re a math nerd, it won’t make entirely much sense to you. So instead, I will just share some of the highlights of the three days. First of all, when I am teaching I usually ask for questions or needs of clarification to my students. Usually the response from my students are blank stares, which honestly does nothing for me as a teacher in order to help them during instruction. However, when I did this with my students in Jamaica, I always got a vocal response of “Yes, Miss” or “No, Miss, can you explain _____ again”. This may not seem like a big deal to some of you reading this, but hearing these responses helped me immensely during instruction. I mentioned earlier about my fear of communicating effectively with the students, but there was honestly no problem because they were comfortable enough to affirm their understanding or ask for clarification. I am not quite sure why I have only gotten this response from the students I have taught in Jamaica and not any other student in America, but it makes all the difference for the students and teacher in order to ensure comprehension. Along with this, most of the students mentioned in their anonymous survey that this was an aspect of my teaching they preferred because they were able to conscious on each new topic at a time and not feel rushed to a new area without fully understanding the previous one. Not only was it a relief on my part, but apparently on theirs too!
Another obstacle I expected to face during my Internship was the language and culture barrier. Although the girls were supposed to use “Good English” in the classroom, they would still sometimes make side comments to one another in Patois. The first few times this occurred I was a little flustered because I did not know if they were talking about me, or just chose to communicate more effectively to one another by speaking this way. However, they were eager and willing to help me learn their language by practicing words and phrases with me during our breaks. By extending this hand to me through their language, I felt inclined to learn more about their culture as well, thus asking questions about their music, dances, and sports. It was through these conversations that I learned even more about my students as individuals, their perceived notions on me as an American, and their own outlook on their Jamaican culture. It was as if every anticipated fear I had going into the Internship vanished as the time I spent with the girls increased. Overall, the experience was a HUGE relief and not only did I grow and learn, but I could really see the students growing in just the three days I was there. (I don’t mean to toot my own horn with this comment, but rather just point out that their improvement was evident and they all expressed their more prepared feeling for their Exam. )
Now at this point I would have ended the blog with some concluding thought, but I felt it was necessary and appropriate to bring up the article I read for class a few days after I finished my Internship. The article is called “The Cost of Short Term Missions” by JoAnn Van Engen and it is focused around the benefit and concerns of missionary work, similarly to the one I just did. For those of you that have not read it, I suggest doing it now because it will help give context to my final statement in this blog. While Van Engen makes a good point towards the end of her argument regarding short-term missions needing to be focused on the long-term relationship it makes with their developing country, I find another reoccuring point in her argument to be alarming; her emphasis on money. Clearly their are always monetary concerns when developing a short-term mission to a third world country. For my situation, we were travelling to Jamaica to work with some students who did not even have shoes and barely two pairs of clothes. However, we were not there to be miracle workers and complety renovate all they stood for through our monetary support. Instead, as teachers, we came in with a plan to enrich the minds of the youth of Jamaica. Besides, money can only go so far. While it has it’s obvious benefits to help support troubled programs, it is not the solution to everything. With this in mind, I hope to reaffirm the goal of the Jamaican Internship that I participated in through Augustana College. This trip was a chance for us as future educators to grow and learn. It was also a trip to help the students we worked with on specific objectives. Most importantly though, it was an opportunity for people from differing cultures, backgrounds, upbringings, perspectives, opinions, and beliefs to come together and grow. The best way I can describe this growth and connection we made across cultures is through the Jamaican greeting “Peace, Love, Unity, Respect”. These four qualities are what we came to accomplish and quite frankly, we exceeded it. Now all that is left to do is look at this trip as a starting point……