When you’re both the teacher and the student

This week I have been simultaneously learning how to teach and teaching. Each morning I wake up and walk to my Nepali classes where I learn phrases that I use with the children in the afternoon: “raamro” (good) and here is a “kalam” (pen). Volunteering in a workshop and running a workshop are two very different things and all of the less obvious responsibilities can be overwhelming at first. In my very first workshop that I planned, I was completely prepared except for the volunteer vests, because I thought only of the art and not of the logistics of teaching it.

I think back to the workshops that I have been helping with these past few weeks with a mild sense of amazement for all the work that has been put into making it run smoothly, so smoothly in fact that I didn’t even realize there had been additional work at all. This learning while doing is very hands on and more than a bit nerve wracking. To come into a classroom full of expectant kids with just a bag full of supplies and a friendly volunteer by your side is to come a prepared as possible and yet also tragically underprepared.

Each workshop is truly an adventure as well as a learning experience. Even finding our way to the site and back can be an interesting challenge. Each morning I wake up trying to limit my expectations, not because things will not live up to them, they almost always do, but because there are so many unexpected things that happen as well. They say prepare for the worst and hope for the best, but I think here it is better to say prepare for all that you can imagine and know that the unimaginable may happen.

With every mistake there is a new lesson, and with every oddity a new note in my notebook. I am learning as I am teaching, but the art still comes out alright and the kids still smile as they wave goodbye. It is a little frightening, but each trial by fire ends with the both the kids and the teachers learning a little more and I suppose that’s all that matters.

Emiline A. Jacobs