How do teachers cope with an occasional lack of motivation in their students? How should a volunteer think about their job as a teacher if an education isn’t necessarily required to succeed? Maureen, a WorldTeach Micronesia volunteer, grapples with these questions while teaching at the College of Micronesia and realizes that regardless of a student’s future path, education matters.
I work at the College of Micronesia – Pohnpei State Campus teaching 77 little rascals either Intermediate Algebra, Elementary Algebra, or Health Science. And clearly, by “little rascals” I mean adults aged 17-40.
COM is an interesting place. Although it has “college” in the title, it is not really comparable to college either at home in Canada or in the US. There are 5 campuses dispersed throughout the FSM – National (which is in the capital city of Palikir, on Pohnpei), and the four state campuses of Pohnpei, Yap, Chuuk, and Kosrae. Students have to take the COMET (COM Entrance Test) in their senior year of high school and their score will qualify them for either National campus (the goal of most students – it is most comparable to a community college in the US), or a program at a state campus. If students end up at a state campus and do well in their programs, they can move on to National Campus the following year.
I had students fill out a survey about themselves on the first day of class, and one of the questions asked what they wanted to do after graduating from COM Pohnpei. While a few wanted to continue their education at National Campus and some eventually in Guam or Hawaii, many of the responses talked about finding jobs in and around Micronesia or more vague responses of simply “wanting to provide for my family.” So why study at Pohnpei State Campus at all, right? Answer: the Pell Grant.
The Pell Grant is a scholarship that is provided for students in the US who qualify for a lot of financial aid. As part of the agreement between the US and the FSM, Micronesians also qualify for this grant. The thing is, pretty much everyone here falls into the category of requiring financial aid based on the criteria also applied in the US. So everyone here is going to school for free. Beyond that, school doesn’t cost as much money as the Pell Grant offers for each student, so at some point each semester students receive a refund cheque for a few thousand dollars. The families of our students depend on this money, so students come back semester after semester to collect their Pell Grant cheques. That’s not to say that students aren’t motivated – many are. Many are not. I figure that’s pretty much par for the course in any classroom.
I love teaching and I love my students. However, my views on teaching in Micronesia are very different from my views on teaching at home. At home, I strongly believe in having students be successful so that they can pursue anything that they want to. Maybe they don’t like Math, but I want to motivate them to at least like the class enough to get a good grade that allows them to take whatever program at college or university that they want to in the future. And I want them to have some fun and develop a love of learning along the way. In Micronesia, I know that the vast majority of these students are not pursuing higher education. It’s not really necessary here. After reading their life goals that first day, I wrestled with the feeling of “Why am I doing this when it doesn’t matter?!” But I have decided that it does matter. It matters because whatever these students want to do in the future, right here and right now, they have committed to something and they have the opportunity to succeed. While their successes might not lead to a PhD, they will potentially lead to them feeling like they might be capable of it. People anywhere benefit from feeling successful.