Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Guesting Teacher

This entry might be relevant for all you teachers out there…or…maybe really for anyone with a steady job. It’s about a change every now and then, and, hey, a little change never hurt anybody.

Anyway, what am I getting at here? Good question. I wanna reflect on something Dad told me years ago when I started working for AC&T, an oil company in Hagerstown. He told me it’s pretty easy to go to work on your first day. What counts, though, is getting up and going the next day, and the next, and so on, even when you don’t want to.

Seeing as Peace Corps is my first job out of college (We’ll leave out any complications and just say that Peace Corps is a job, okay?), this is really my first consistent, year-round commitment. It is my job. I must get up every school day and teach eighth, ninth, and tenth formers with my counterpart, and as I go about each day, my dad’s words reverberate in my head.

Let’s go back to January. The New Year’s holiday was over, and it was my first opportunity to stand in the front of the class in Qumlaq and teach the students. I remember that day so well. I had my snazzy new black coat on, and I gave an enthusiastic, entertaining lesson. It was fun.

Eventually January turned into February. February into March. So on and so forth. I mean, I love the kids, but, every day? Every day I gotta put together a decent lesson and make the kids learn. I gotta sit in the teachers’ room and be sociable. I gotta have patience when the students don’t understand or when they act out. Not only do I have to do this every day, but I gotta do it at the same, tiny school in Oğuz rayon, Azerbaijan.

That’s not a bad thing. Everyone’s got their responsibilities, their places in the world.

But we can flip to the other side and say that change ain’t bad either, right? I mean, c’mon. We’re Americans. We run on change. And by change I don’t necessarily mean dropping everything and seeking something radically different. It can simply mean a different look, flashing your eyes in another direction.

Charlie and I had a teachers’ meeting a couple weeks ago. It was a small group of teachers, mostly from villages, and it was a productive meeting. While there, I met a lovely young woman named Humay. She teaches in a village called Kərimli, just up the road from Qumlaq.

This lady was very nice and motivated, so I offered to visit her school. She enthusiastically said yes, and I got up the following Tuesday and headed to the village.

It’s a bigger community than Qumlaq, with a bigger school. Upon arriving, some students showed me to the teachers’ room, and I sat quietly and waited for Humay to get there. When she arrived, we headed to a sixth form class (ages eleven and twelve), full of bright-eyed students, and we had a great lesson. The kids were pumped to have a newcomer at school, and they tried their best. After class, they swarmed me and asked all kinds of questions. Like me, they were getting a new perspective.

It’s also good to see folks like this in our line of work. As we go about the daily grind, we can fall into labeling ourselves and our counterparts as “unmotivated”. That’s a matter of personal opinion. But it revives the soul to be with folks who are genuinely motivated and want to do well. Humay doesn’t have to try. She can simply come to school, throw some lessons from the text at the kids, and head home. Humay does her best, though, and that says a lot about her. It kept me in check. It kept me on the ball when it’s easy to get off.

What am I talking about? Am I just talking about a nifty visit to another school? Well, yeah, I’m talking about that, but I also wanna encourage anyone to take a different look at things. If you’re a university student, visit a class at another school. If you’re a churchgoer, go to a different one on a Sunday. Go somewhere you’ve never been. Visit someone you barely know. Use new dental floss. Shop at a different grocery store. Whatever you want. Even if you step out, disapprove, and step back in, you weren’t really hurt in the process, right? Give it a shot. It might jar something loose in you.


VI said...


動力 said...


Jan said...

John, I'm so glad that Whitney has posted your blog. Hearing what some of her best friends are doing - and knowing that they are as crazy as she is :o) - makes me smile. Look forward to reading about your adventures. Jan Kimmel

Averill Strasser said...

I am COO of Water Charity, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that does water, sanitation, and public health projects worldwide. In July, 2009, we started our Appropriate Projects initiative to fund small water and sanitation projects very quickly. Applicants are limited to Peace Corps Volunteers, Returned Peace Corps Volunteers, and Peace Corps Response Volunteers.

I am a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (Bolivia ’66-’68), and am well aware of the difficulties Volunteers face in the field. Appropriate Projects is an addition to our regular Water Charity model that is allowing us to provide project resources to PCVs in the field immediately.

Often there is that little project that must be done now (before the rains start, before school begins, or in response to a critical need), but there are no funds available. Traditional funding sources are cumbersome, and there are long forms, detailed requirements, limited resources, and long delays.

PCVs working in water and sanitation usually have potential projects lined up. For those working in other program areas, there may be water components to their projects, or improvements needed where they work or teach.

Sample projects may be: rainwater or spring catchments, handwashing stations, water systems, piping, tanks, pumps, latrines, wells, etc.

We like to do the water and sanitation parts of projects for schools, clinics, and community centers. So, if you can get funding for the building and other stuff, we can help with things like the water supply, filters, sinks, plumbing, and drainage.

We like to finish projects that have been started, and fix things that have ceased to function.

We encourage follow-up projects that expand upon the successful completion of the first small project.

If you have a project in mind, please fill out the application form. We want this to be easy for you, so we have developed a simple form that you can fill out in one sitting.

If you have any questions about the appropriateness of your project, or you need some time to get it together, just let us know.

We pre-fund projects, so you don’t have to wait around for donations to roll in.

If you do not have a project that qualifies, please pass this message on to your fellow Volunteers who may have an interest. Finally, if this initiative resonates with you, please let others know what we are doing through your social networks, websites, and blogs.

I look forward to hearing from you.



Averill Strasser

Appropriate Projects

Water Charity