Joining the Peace Corps is something people do at transitional points in life: most often moving from college to career or from one career to another. My two years in Romania were the latter; after decades in various aspects of education, I finally learned to be a competent teacher. Easing this transition was the charm of being an honored visitor in a delightfully comfortable town in storied Transylvania — but I hadn’t expected to work so hard. Good teaching involves learning nearly as much as the students do — and that is even more so when working in a system organized around a different set of priorities than U.S. schools are.
The first challenge was learning the names of 225 students, whom I saw in groups of a dozen or more for 45 minutes each week. The next was providing instructive and — one hopes — stimulating lessons for a span of abilities that ranged from 14 year-olds little interested in learning English to fluent 18 year-olds. And then there were the differences between teaching here and there: students in Romania (and some other European countries) remain in their classrooms; teachers move around – and bring their teaching supplies (including maps and chalk!) along with them. For a teacher, this implied a different relationship with space – students thought the classroom belonged to them. (I was lucky; eventually I got my own room.) Students’ loyalty tended also to be to each other, rather than to what they were learning (which led to a different attitude about what I would call copying each others’ work).
Most of my Romanian friends and students knew more of my language than I did of theirs, but they all appreciated my affection for their lovely country, even if they were a tad more cynical about its prospects than was I.
In addition to teaching my regular classes, I had some opportunities to speak to college students and to write for a newsletter published by the Fulbright Commission there What Is a U.S. High School Like? and another for Peace Corps’ periodical publication: Daughters Inspire Mom to Serve with Peace Corps. Periodically I blogged at School – Scoala about education in both countries.
Shortly before I left, the school where I taught asked me to write a story about my two years there, which I was delighted to do. Those interested in reading it can do so here. “Two Years in Alesd.”