Teaching is hard work! I recently posted about starting my 2nd year of teaching here in Liberia and some of my challenges. From classroom management issues to figuring out what’s most important to teach, there are days that are really frustrating. But I recently had a conversation with some of my 12th grade students that reminded me why I’m teaching and really motivated me to keep at it despite the challenges, so I thought I’d share.
In preparing my 12th grade students to take the WASSCE, the graduation exam here in Liberia, I’ve been teaching many topics that are fundamental in math because I want to make sure they have a good understanding of those before starting a new topic that builds on these fundamentals. For instance, this year, I started with basic algebra of solving for a variable and then moved to the coordinate plane (both topics that come in the curriculum in earlier years of school).
At first I was concerned that students may be offended that I’m teaching them topics that they’ve already learned. But I’ve found that those who’ve seen the topics before welcome the review and many students have not seen them before (or don’t remember learning them). After teaching my first lesson on the coordinate plane, I asked a few 12th grade students if the new math notes seemed familiar to them. Instead of just finding out if they’d learned them before, I got some answers that surprised me:
One student said, “Miss S, I like the way you teach us math. Even though we saw that same math in junior high, I really didn’t have idea on it. After today’s class, I have a better idea on it now. The way you teach us step-by-step helps me to understand it. Even the math you taught us last year, if I see it on the WASSCE, I still have idea on it and could do it today.” (The phrase “have idea on it” is a Liberian English way to say that you understand something).
Another student added “Like the math you taught us last period, they’re doing that in 9th grade at the other school. Some students showed it to me yesterday and I’m glad you taught us it because it would be embarrassing if I’m in 12th grade and can’t do the 9th grade math. I could solve all of their math problems, but couldn’t have done it before. You taught it so that I could really understand it.”
That conversation with those two students really reminded me why I’m here. Even with all the obstacles in teaching in Liberia, the students are the reason for teaching! While the big looming challenge is preparing my students for the WASSCE, even just the little things like finally understanding how to graph a point in the coordinate plane or being able to help your younger brother with his junior high math are important too. And it’s in these little things that I’m finding the most motivation!