Saturday, July 23, 2016

A Summer to Serve: 4 Lessons I Didn't Know I Needed

Working in Nicaragua for a month was the best preparation for starting my first year of teaching because it taught me hard lessons through experience that I was not aware that I needed to learn before going into a school as a new educator. Here are some lessons all of us should consider as educators and role models.

1. Relationships are a lot of work, but crucial to any and every profession. I returned to work at an organization after being gone for ten months and was able to jump right back into continuing to build relationships with colleagues and students. It was an amazing experience to reconnect with people that felt like family even though they were 3,000 miles away. On the flip side of that experience, there were many relationships that needed a lot of work. I had not put much effort into those because they required more of me. The same is true in any school. First year teachers will have to work with parents, colleagues, and students, and some of the hardest relationships may be the most important. That person that might not seem too significant or that we do not feel like we have time for on a crazy day deserves attention and is worth the relationship!

2. Be passionate and appreciative! It is so easy to get caught up in looking for the perfect job in the best school or to complain about the space or supplies available to teachers, but is that the real reason that anyone chooses to go into education? For a big classroom and the highest quality paper? After working in a school where 52 students sat in one classroom the size of a very small American classroom and copied information out of a textbook all day, I am so thankful for the supplies afforded me here in the United States. I have always been a huge proponent of incorporating educational strategies from other countries to improve the education system in the US, and I still think there is room for that; however, I now have a much greater appreciation for the education system that is established here. I am so thankful for a better understanding and appreciation of the system that I will be working in because it will allow me to approach issues with more insight and a better attitude. We will all still have issues that are worth getting upset over, but let us not become so consumed by justified indignation that we lose sight of the daily goal - to impact students for the better.

3. Focus on the present and take advantage of the opportunities in front of you! I chose to go to Nicaragua the summer after graduating before I had a summer job or a teaching job for the upcoming school year. I spent a good amount of time worrying over what I would do when I returned to the states that I overlooked the opportunities right in front of me to invest in my Nicaraguan students. As a teacher it is easy to become discouraged during the school year and cling to the next break coming up or to looking for a new job, but in doing so, teachers are missing the current opportunities with students right in front of them. Even though it may seem like a long time, we only have from August to June to truly spend time with our students before they have moved on to the next adventure.

4. All of the Americans working in Nicaragua joked that we were "running on Nicaraguan time" which meant that a 9 o'clock meeting might happen at 9:30 or 10:30 or even 11:30. Working daily on Nicaraguan time was an adjustment, and while it was often very frustrating to plan a schedule, it taught me an appreciation for a different culture. Nicaraguan time was not the result of Nicaraguans being disorganized or unprofessional; the case was that their culture had different values. I learned to value taking time to communicate well with others instead of running through tasks each day. There is still something to be said for punctuality, but cultural appreciation is equally important. Working in this relaxed environment also meant that I had to take initiative and hold myself responsible for my own time. Over the course of a career in teaching, there may be times where colleagues and administrators are very invested in your work and your time, but there also comes a point where you are solely responsible for deciding how to budget time. Teachers must choose to work diligently for the sake of their students.

The thing about learning new lessons is that it is difficult and requires humility, but once learned, those lessons make you all the more prepared to tackle life as it comes at you. As a teacher, life comes at you fast with a new adventure every day, so let's take on a humble attitude, cherish our time with our students, and learn from those around us, rather we are in a rural town, an overpopulated city, or another country halfway across the world.

About the Author

Ainsley Gompf grew up in Jackson, TN. She recently graduated from High Point University with a B.A. in Elementary Education and a minor in Spanish. She has loved her time in North Carolina and plans to stay in the area for her first year of teaching. When she is not in school she loves to travel, which is what lead her to work with El Ayudante in Leon, Nicaragua during her free time.