Typical day on the job:
For one year I lived in Burkina Faso, in a medium-sized town at a major intersection of two highways. The highways were paved, but other roads were not. I had electricity and a water spigot in my courtyard (which I shared with another family). Each morning I would wake up and bike from my home to the other side of town where I taught. I would teach for two or three hours. It mostly involved lecturing and writing on the chalk board, but I also led a few science lab activities and demonstrations with some limited supplies. In the afternoon I ran the computer lab, and students would come in and learn how to type (and occasionally do some internet browsing). In the evening I would return home and spend time grading assignments, writing lesson plan, and talking with friends and neighbors.
Next I was sent to a very small village in Guinea that had no paved roads, running water, or electricity. I lived in a small house on the school grounds. Each morning I went to the water pump that was on the school grounds to gather my water for the day. After that I taught chemistry for 4-5 hours each day and ran an after-school English club as well. In the afternoons, I planned lessons, graded tests and assignments, and, spent time with friends and neighbors.
It was a school and I didn't have my own office. We went around to each different group of students to teach them. We mostly had chalk and a chalkboard. The students had their notebooks. If they were lucky they had copies of textbooks, but this was rare. I used local resources creatively to do labs. My class was able to electrolyze water with some car battery acid, a few lengths of copper wire, a couple of pencils, and some creative water bottle cutting.
It was a very slow paced environment and I had a lot of free time. My teaching load was light.
Tools you can’t live without:
My essential tools were the state-directed textbooks on which national exams were based. I had an obligation to prepare my students for these important exams, so I thought very carefully about time spent straying away from the textbook material.
Best productivity trick:
I tried to understand where the kids were coming from and then tried to frame the chemistry lessons around that. Need to do a distillation? Let's use the sugared hibiscus tea sold on campus as refreshment. Need to study organic chemistry? Let's talk about the traditional indigo dyes used around town.
Best career advice you’ve received:
Join the U.S. Peace Corps.
Skills or talents that make you a good fit for your job:
Flexibility went a long way. Political turmoil caused me to abruptly change my country of service. Teachers often tacked on extra days to holidays, so school would unexpectedly be delayed a week or so. I would start a chemistry lesson and soon realize that students were nowhere near where I assumed they were with math skills. Definitely need to be able to roll with the punches
Essential habit you wish you’d started earlier:
Be open to new experiences and take risks. It's a big world out there.