This International Education week we talked with RPCV teachers and asked them to describe an “ah ha” moment or realization during service that affected their decision to become a teacher.
Question: Describe one teaching experience or “ah ha” moment during your service that really stands out for you and affected your decision to become a teacher.
Jessica: One of my most memorable experiences teaching was non-academic and only five months in to my stay. My school site found out that I had been in choir in elementary and asked me to teach 500 high school seniors a graduation song. … I was given a song and would go class to class with a recording of three vocal ranges (bass, alto, soprano) that I would sing and have them follow along. When graduation was a week away we switched to whole group instruction which was mortifying for me, since I was always very shy about public singing, but which the students were incredibly excited about. The actual day of the graduation I got on stage and conducted them in front of a crowd of their peers, family members and local respected officials. It was a firm reminder that anything was possible when the students and teachers believed in you as an educator, as well as a reminder that even the most daunting tasks were manageable. Being able to teach and see the outcomes of the fruits of my labor was a wonderful thing. (Photo above courtesy of Jessica.)
Hannah: As an elementary school English teacher, I had the opportunity to travel with a group of students to a regional spelling bee. My community did not have a formal English teacher, but, despite this obstacle, my students placed first and third in the competition. This experience allowed my students to see that hard work and focus in school could lead to exciting opportunities outside of the classroom. This experience was at the end of my Peace Corps service and solidified by desire to become a teacher.
Amy: I always knew I wanted to be a teacher. But PC gave me the skills and experience to be a confident leader in the classroom. Specifically, it was being a role model to the female students and showing them it was acceptable to be a strong and smart woman. Papua New Guinea is a very male dominated society so for some of these girls, they didn’t know it was possible to be more than a wife and mother. This was a big realization for me: that teaching is more than helping students learn the curriculum.
Curtis: Whether it is observing students walking barefoot to school every day, with pen and paper in hand, or seeing a student doing homework by candlelight, multiple PC experiences reinforced in me the importance of education as a tool to rebuild communities.
Benjamin: I was running a role play between two teams. The girls represented a large travel agency chain from the U.K. and the boys were the builders of a large, incomplete seaside resort that had recently been destroyed by a storm. Hundreds of vacationers’ time and money were hanging in the balance, and the two teams were to meet to discuss reparations. The girls arrived in their best suits, makeup and hair done just so, each with an assigned role and adopted British name. They were extremely well organized and carried themselves very professionally. The Russian boys, wearing their typical casual outfits and relying on their quick wit, got their lunch handed to them. It was beautiful.
Elizabeth: My favorite part of each day in the Peace Corps was when I walked home from school. During the 10-minute walk through the village I lived and worked in, students would become attached to my hand to walk me home, ensuring I made it to my house safely. Although many of the children I encountered were from a low-income family, struggling to put food on the table and to buy books for school, they were the most caring and thoughtful children I’ve ever met. These relationships influenced me to continue working with students who, although living in an impoverished neighborhood, are loving and hardworking individuals.
Jessica Miguel (Philippines 2010-2012, Education) is currently works as a special education instructional aid with the Clovis Unified School District, and she is earning her Master’s in Education with a Multilingual Multicultural Emphasis at California State University, Fresno. She acquired her preliminary credential through the state of California.
Curtis Valentine (South Africa 2001-03, Education) taught 8th grade after service, then returned to international development for five years. He went back into education as the Executive Director of an education policy non-profit and as a Fellow with the Council on Foreign Relations studying international best practices in public education. He is now as At-Large School Board Member of the 17th largest school system in the U.S.
Emily Trudeau (Togo 1997-1999, Community Development) taught history for a year at a public/private school in New England. She then went back overseas for a year to teach ESL classes at a variety of institutions in Eastern Europe. She then earned a Masters of Arts in Teaching from Boston University.
Hannah Engel-Rebitzer (Costa Rica 2010-2012, Community Economic Development) is assistant math teacher at E. L. Haynes High School in Washington, D.C., and became a certified teacher through the Capital Teacher Residency.
Amy Cohen (Papua New Guinea 1998-2000, Education) already had a teaching degree when she began Peace Corps service. She and her PCV roommate were the first white women on the island that were not nuns. Amy currently teaches at a high school in St. Louis, MO.
Benjamin T. Houle (Russia 2001-2003, Education) received a five-year, K-12 Virginia teaching license with an ESOL endorsement in 2010 from the University of Virginia. He received a second MA in Social Foundations of Education in 2012.
Elizabeth Miller (St. Vincent and the Grenadines 2010-2012, Community and Youth Development) is currently enrolled in a master’s program that includes a full time teaching position at an urban school.
This article was originally posted on the Peace Corps Passport blog on November 20, 2014.