My experience working in New Mexico has been an emotional rollercoaster ride. I had many moments of doubt as to why I chose to come teach here, or even why I chose to teach in the first place. But then I had many moments of joy for being here and joy for having the opportunity to shape and mold these young minds. I am beginning to feel contentment for my calling to teach at this school and work in this mission field. It’s amazing to see how God is working through these young children each and every day.
The culture and environment of a Native American Reservation in the Southwest is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. They have their own customs, their own religion, and their own way of handling things. I listen to my students telling me about how they stayed up all night the night before for a religious event, a wake for someone who has passed, or the medicine man who came to their house. Many of my kids will also come to school hungry because they either don’t eat breakfast at all, or their breakfast consists of a tiny jerky stick, or a bag of hot cheetohs.
The environment is equally different and took a long time to adjust to for a Michigan born and breed girl. There are no lakes that you can just walk down the road to swim in. In fact, there are hardly any bodies of water at all. The climate is so dry that I need a humidifier just for a little moisture in the room. My students are continually amazed at how big the trees are in Michigan and how many colors there are in the fall when I show them pictures of my trips back home. They think the snow is the coolest things ever, and they wanted as much as Buffalo got this past November.
I am learning more and more each day that my children are precious jewels created uniquely in the image of God. They have purpose and have a powerful story that is just waiting to be told. They are to be the light to this dark community and will lead their people to Christ. I am equally learning that it is my job, as their teacher and their sister in Christ, to not only mold and shape their young minds in the curriculum that is set out for them, but also lead them to the Light of the World. He is waiting there for them to grasp onto Him and never let go.
I’m not going to lie, teaching has been a struggle for me. I’ve had to find out what works and what doesn’t with my students. Having a class of students who are mostly all behind by a couple grades in their reading levels, has been difficult to adjust for test taking, teaching study habits, teaching critical thinking strategies for writing essays instead of just multiple choice answers, as well as reading and the language arts in general. My school has a language arts curriculum, but doesn’t have a set book or material that is used to teach that curriculum. So one of the tasks I had and still have is to find something to use to teach grammar, spelling, writing, reading, and all other categories that would work for my kids. For a person who graduated with a science major and not a language arts major, that has been especially challenging for me. I tried writing prompts at the beginning of the year to get them thinking and help them formulate something to write about. But then I found that the prompts that I had, they couldn’t relate to all that well, and were challenging for them to understand what to talk about. I also had a difficult time figuring out how to teach them sentence structure, spelling, and grammar through their writing. I eventually found a DOL (Daily Oral Language) set that is having the students correct incorrect sentences. While they correct them together in class, I have them explain why they need to make the corrections that they want to make to the sentences. Then they have to re-write the sentences correctly. This seems to be improving their writing for other things that we do in class as well.
One of the most frustrating aspects of teaching for me is that I teach a concept a hundred different ways (I may be over exaggerating a little bit) and my students still don’t understand it. I want so bad to stay after school with each one of them for hours and hours just so I know they are practicing it, but I am only one person, and I have to remind myself that I can’t do it all. I know in the back of my mind that when they go home, no one will sit down with them and help them understand the material, and it gets so frustrating to know that they could do so much better in school if they would only get that little extra help at home.
One of the biggest things that I have been learning through my experiences teaching, is that each child really is different. I always knew that, in fact it’s even in my philosophy of education, but I don’t think I really understood just how true this statement is until I started teaching. Some students work really well on their own. You teach them, give them a task to do, and they do it really fast and correctly on their own. It just clicks for them. Then there’s the other students who you teach them a concept, give them a task, and then they raise their hands with a million different questions. There are still some who won’t understand, but they either don’t want to ask, or they don’t know to ask questions, and just get everything wrong.
Then there’s the few students who are brilliant, and I really mean brilliant, but they just can’t sit still long enough to focus on the tasks they are being asked to do. These are the students who my heart breaks for the most. I know how much potential they have, and I know all that they are capable of doing, but I can’t get them to write their names on their paper, stop disrupting the other students, or stay in their seats when I’m trying to teach them something. They get so excited so fast that they fall backwards out of their chairs or jump up in the middle of me teaching something. They have to be separated from all the other students because if I put them next to anyone, they will disrupt themselves and the others, and they just can’t help it. These are the students that you beg the parents to get them checked out by a doctor to try and get some help for them, but they refuse because “there’s nothing wrong with their child,” or, “they don’t believe in medicating children.” I am finding that differentiation in teaching is always important, and when differentiating doesn’t work, try it again in a different way.