The Art of Teaching

By Amir Feinberg
Dec. 7, 2017

Good afternoon students. My name is Mr. Amir and I will be teaching health education.

My third graders showing off their hard work.

Buna ziua elevi. Mă numesc Domnul Amir și o să predau educație pentru sănătate.

The words slipped out of my mouth as I stood in front of my 5th grade class, sweating partially from nerves and partially due to the non-air-conditioned classroom. I write “slipped” because the words seemed to fall out of my mouth, each with a different accent and emphasis; definitely not the way I had rehearsed, with a calm, steady sentence.

It was my first lesson as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Moldova. Although I had taught successfully during the summer’s practice school, in that very moment I felt at a complete loss. I seemed to forget every word of Romanian I had learned in the past three months. So began my career as a health education teacher.

Art of teaching
One of the best ways to get the students involved is to have them demonstrate the different topics. Here, my sixth graders are showing the rest of the class how we lose and gain water throughout the day.

The last few weeks have been significantly less melodramatic than the first 20 seconds of that first lesson. I will say, 20 seconds is just the right amount of time to contemplate all of your life choices and ask yourself why you decided to teach when you have never taught before, and to teach in a language you didn’t know in a foreign country about a subject you have no real training in. But I digress. Thanks to my amazing partner teacher, the lesson picked up and the kids really seemed interested in me.

I was surprised by the power of being the “new American.” I walk down the halls and students ask me for pictures, which I obviously oblige, or they stare at me and offer a quick “good day” as I pass. I feel like a celebrity. All of the students know me from when I gave a little speech at the First Bell ceremony, something that seemed almost impossible to me about two months ago when I was struggling with the differences between the past and future tenses in Romanian. The teachers laugh because they say the 8th and 9th grade girls all have crushes on me.

The students love to show off their new sneezing and coughing techniques. Here are some of the third graders “dabbing” away the microbes!
The students love to show off their new sneezing and coughing techniques. Here are some of the third graders “dabbing” away the microbes!

For any future Moldova volunteers reading this, be prepared to be flexible. There is a lot of uncertainty. Unlike in America, where the class schedule is planned months before school begins, the schedule here is not finalized until a few weeks into the semester. I have come to school to find out the lesson I had planned for 5th period, which was on the schedule when I left the building yesterday, had since been removed and moved to last period of Monday’s schedule, which I did not teach on Monday because it’s now Wednesday and it was not on the schedule on Monday. As frustrating and confusing as it seems, somehow, it all gets done.

In the past weeks, I have taught lessons that ranged from how to properly wash your hands to one entitled “What is a Microbe?” in which we investigated the differences between bacteria and viruses. My personal goal was that every student would learn they can’t treat a virus with antibiotics, but I think they mainly focused on how they can stop the spread of germs by coughing into their arms like they are doing the “dab.”

art of teaching, moldova
We like to play games in class that help us learn. My partner teacher Valentina is a natural and the students really enjoy learning from her in new ways.

It’s hard to express the feeling you get when kids come up to you in the hall to demonstrate their new coughing techniques, or when they sing the hand-washing song you taught them. Yes, I would love for them to be able to describe the differences between bacteria and viruses, but to me it is so much more important if they learn how to protect themselves. My goal is not for each of student to get a perfect score but, rather, to live a healthier life.

When I found out I would be teaching as my primary Peace Corps position, I was disheartened and scared. I had never taught before and feared I lacked the skills to be an educator. I’ve spent my life acting in different roles on the stage and now I can’t help but draw comparisons between teaching and acting. To me, teaching feels like a performance in which I play the role of professor, our lesson plan is our script and our plot is how we move from the introduction to the conclusion. I feel more at home in front of students than I ever thought I could. Of course, there are difficulties, but just like when a set piece doesn’t move on stage or an actor forgets a line, you learn to adapt, change and continue past the first 20 seconds and on to something new.

Amir Feinberg