Becoming Ms. Roland
I have been volunteering and observing at Bishops for almost two months now and I’ve really enjoyed getting to know the girls and learning more about secondary education in Trinidad. After my first week I started observing more classes and had the opportunity to interact with students in and out of the classroom. After getting settled in my first few weeks, where I worked with one science teacher, I expanded my scope and reached out to other science teachers to observe their classes as well. A few weeks ago, I started sitting in on form 3 and upper 6 physics classes, and a form 4 integrated science class. Integrated science classes work to provide students a broad overview of biology, chemistry, and physics lesson plans. Students may opt to take integrated science because taking the individual science classes is not integral to their future education or career, or for other personal reasons like developing their skills in those course areas further. Being in each of these classes on a weekly basis has allowed me to get to know the girls better, and the girls to get to know me better. Throughout the day they will say hello to me when they seem me around the school grounds, and sometimes they even ask about how I’ve been enjoying my time in Trinidad or about how my research has been going. I was surprised that the girls had grown so comfortable with me in such a short amount of time, but getting to interact with them and learn more about them, their goals, and their aspirations has been one of the most rewarding aspects of my experience thus far.
On top of observing different science classes, I was also given the opportunity to supervise a form 3 biology class. This is because biology department is short on staff (one teacher is on medical leave and another retired at the end of the school year last year), and with the teachers being stretched thin with 4-6 different classes each on a weekly basis, I offered to help out where I could. They are actively searching for a new biology teacher, but haven’t found one yet. So until they do, I meet with the girls twice a week to ensure that they don’t fall behind. Since I don’t have a teaching license, I'm not allowed to formally teach the girls about biology, but when I meet with them I help them with different exercises, in class assignments and homework that correlates with the topics in their syllabus. I am the only biology “teacher” that they see on a weekly basis, so I’ve gotten closer to this class than the other classes that I only observed. When they see me around school outside of biology class they wave enthusiastically, smile and say, “Hi, Miss!” and it always puts a smile on my face.
A few weeks ago I also started conducting interviews with students to learn more about their experiences in the classroom, and to get their opinions on what makes a constructive and encouraging learning environment. So far I've conducted two interviews–-one with a group of girls from my form 4 biology class, and another with some girls from the upper 6 biology class. In our 20 minute conversations, the girls told me about the things they enjoyed and disliked about their science classes, the types of teaching that they found most effective, aspects of their classroom environment that they felt were essential to learning, their educational and career aspirations, and much more. One of my biggest takeaways from the interviews so far is that learning is universal, and that aspects of good teaching and constructive learning transcend culture and national borders. Although these girls have grown up in a different educational system than I did, many of the points that they made resonated with me and my classroom experiences. The most rewarding interview experience that I had was during my conversation with the upper 6 girls. I learned that the two girls who I spoke to were American citizens and that they were interested in applying to schools in the U.S. After talking with them about their educational and career goals, they told me that one of the challenges that they faced was funding their education. I talked to them about scholarships that were available to them because of their US citizenship, and they were shocked to learn that there were options outside of FAFSA and student loans. It made me realize that during my experience at Bishops I had the privilege of impacting girls in ways that I hadn't expected. The girls took the SAT last week and I'm excited to hear about how their first crack at the test went.
Before my time at Bishops is over I plan to do more interviews with the girls--a few have even asked me if they could be interviewed next. I've been able to share my observations and some of what I've learned from the interviews with the teachers at Bishops and they've valued my insights thus far. I look forward to continuing to develop my relationship with the girls and the teachers as I finish up my last month and a half here in Trinidad.