One year and three months ago, Providence alumni, Lorah Gleason, walked into her first day as a teacher at a private international school called Excelsior that meets on the William Carey campus. After graduating with a degree in Elementary Education from Providence in spring 2011, Gleason applied to about fifteen different Christian schools in the U.S. and Canada (her homeland). Dr. Steven Kortenhoeven, former student dean at Providence, helped arrange a practice interview for Gleason at Excelsior School. The interview went so well that the administrators offered her a job. When none of the other jobs worked out for her, Gleason accepted the offer.
Excelsior is a privately owned college preparatory high school. The majority of the students live on campus, close to the Providence dorms, and most of them are international students, coming mainly from China and other Asian countries. Most of the students speak English as their second language.
Gleason is teaching eight classes at Excelsior this semester, some of which are World History and AP World History, U.S. History, Sophomore English, SAT Writing Prep, and ELD (English Language Development) classes. Gleason has quite the workload. Although hired for fulltime (40 hours a week), she generally works about 11 hours a day, including both teaching and prep time.
Is being a teacher harder than being a college student? Gleason said, “It is way harder than college. There is more pressure, more work, and you’re supporting yourself. It’s not like you’re not going to get paid because you don’t turn in a paper in college. And teaching is such an important job! I’m influencing these kids’ minds!”
Regardless of the hard work she puts into her job, Gleason enjoys it. “I love my students so much. I love hanging out with them. I love that my job is so interactive. I love when students actually learn stuff. I love reading an essay and realizing a student understood it.” One of Gleason’s favorite aspects of teaching high schoolers is getting them to think critically. She loves having discussions, especially in her history classes, where students can discuss different religions, the existence of God, social problems, etc. At the end of some discussions, students have come to realize that God must exist or that there must be some kind of basis for morality.
Excelsior is not a Christian school and most of the students come from an atheistic worldview. This is a burden on Gleason’s heart but she also recognizes it as a great opportunity to share her faith. She has never announced that she is a Christian in class, but she is open about what she believes so usually by the end of a semester, her students know she is a Christian. Gleason finds that discussions are the best way to challenge students in what they believe. Gleason has been able to share the gospel when teaching in World History about the spread of Christianity.
Gleason said, getting slightly teary eyed, “Some days I feel so burdened that I have so much responsibility with these students. I wonder if my students might go to hell, or if they will be saved. I struggle with not knowing what God will do with the seeds I plant in them. It is a hard job but it matters so much.”
Another struggle she has with teaching is the language barrier. She will stop a few times during every lecture to make sure students know what she is saying. Even though most of them speak English, sometimes she will use words that they do not understand, and she has to constantly be aware of their limited vocabularies. She also struggles with knowing how to grade the student fairly based on their language abilities while still preparing them for college.
The fact that many of the students are Chinese comes with its perks. When Gleason began teaching, she expected to have a lot more problems with disrespectful students, but because of their culture that respects authority, most of her students are very respectful simply because she is their teacher.
When Gleason began teaching, she felt prepared by her Providence education and by student teaching. “There was nothing lacking in my education. I felt fully equipped to be a teacher.” This is not to say Gleason had nothing to learn from hands on experience, but she was prepared well for the job. The only aspect that was lacking was learning how to teach students with English as their second language. Gleason greatly appreciates that Dr. Lynn Hoekstra, former Education professor at Providence, was someone she could always go to when she was having problems with her students and classes. Dr. Hoekstra is a role model for Gleason.
Over the past year Gleason has learned to chill out, meaning, she is not such a perfectionist anymore. She began teaching with a desire to be the perfect teacher, but she ended up overworking herself. She also feels more comfortable around her students and they feel more comfortable around her. She is more confident now, and more able to improvise when lessons aren’t going as planned. This academic year she also has less of a work load because she is able to reuse some of her lesson plans from classes she taught last year.
Gleason plans on staying at Excelsior for the time being, but eventually, when finances allow it, she would like to get her master’s degree. She is interested in learning more about teaching English language learners and people with learning disabilities. Gleason loves teaching high school, but she is also interested in teaching college.