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  • Writer's picturewassa123

Final ETA Reflection

It’s been a little over a week since I taught my final class and left LCA...

It’s bizarre to know I’m in my final two weeks and that I will likely never see my students or colleagues again. I know I’m making the right choice by bookending my time here with two weeks of orientation and then two weeks of rest at the end, but it feels off to be at home knowing my students are taking exams.

But my time here is over. And just as LCA and Abidjan just started to feel like home, I am packing my bags and reflecting on my time here. I'm sure these reflections will change as time passes, but here is a start:

Regardless of placement, administration, school resources, or other variables, my cohort members and I all agree that whatever challenges we faced, the students made everything worth it. I adore mine. They are brilliant, goofy teenagers who never missed an opportunity to tell me they love me. On my worst days here, when I felt isolated and miserable, my kids showed up with radiant smiles and endless jokes. Most days, I laughed until my sides hurt, even when the jokes were at my own expense.

During our orientation, the regional English fellow sized us up and told my cohort that while we are an impressive group, we were bound to fail in the classroom in some way, shape, or form. I didn’t get what he meant at first, but now I do.

From my short experience, the Ivorian school system is just as grade-oriented as the US’s, but without introducing the initiative I know drives my American students. Even in a Lycée de excellence, it can be difficult to find students who know how to independently go the extra mile. Make no mistake, there is a wealth of ideas and passion at LCA and in all of Côte d'Ivoire, but the tools to implement them aren't a priority in the school system.

I used to get frustrated with students not completing assignments I asked them to do or bailing on commitments they made. I’m still sad about the ideas we brainstormed only to see the interested parties wither away.

Without a doubt, all of my kids are motivated and ambitious, but halfway into my grant, I had to check in with myself.

Even though I logically knew this, I really had to internalize and accept that most of the skills I now see as second nature had to be taught to me. I got tons of experience with creating my own projects and seeing them through, but I was only able to hone those skills in safe educational environments. On top of that, I was given a generous leash of independence and was able to test boundaries in a non-punitive environment.

I know I was fortunate enough to go to a school interested in building a person and not a high-scoring statistic.

But these gifts afforded to me came from the abnormal wealth and influence my high school held. I often forget that, even by American standards, my high school experience was abnormal. But this deeply upsets me because, in the world of my dreams, holistic education is the standard, not the outlier.

I now think the English fellow knew how much we had in store for our schools, and how little of those dreams would come to fruition, not because of us or our students, but because of the circumstances of this program.

I had such high ambitions for my time here. I had a bucket list of ideas to create programs and systems that lasted long after I left. But that was simply unrealistic. In a bit of a self-absorbed way, I wanted my time at LCA to mean something significant to me, to leave with a project or impact that I could show my friends at home and say “look what I did!”

But my own feelings about my “impact” aren’t important here. What’s most important is if my kids felt like my presence was beneficial. If they felt supported and empowered. If I left them believing that if they put in the work, they could achieve their wildest dreams.

And one week out, I can’t say if they did. Unless my colleagues and students reach out to me, I will never be able to truly say “I had x impact on LCA.” I did have one student tell me that after my time in his class, he likes learning English now, but he alone does not and cannot speak for the aggregate of LCA.

I can only hope that by showing up every day, bringing some fun into the classroom, and answering my students’ endless invasive questions, I made the 2021 - 2022 LCA school year a little brighter.


I don’t have many regrets, but there is one thing.

I chose to lie about speaking French. It was both a practical and personal move. Telling my kids I only spoke English forced them to practice speaking and I consistently saw improvement in my classes. But, I was also insecure about my French and caught on very quickly that my students are the merciless roasting kind. I'm ashamed to say I let my pride influence a pretty big teaching decision.

Though it didn't strike me at first, I now think that lying about my French skills ran counter to my goal of making my students feel welcome and empowered in the classroom. While it helps with immersion, at the 5th or 6th-month mark, I felt like I was perpetuating the American stubbornness that is often prevalent with our travelers: you must learn perfect English to speak with us. It became the burden of my students to communicate with me, rather than my responsibility to close the gap of cultural exchange.

And some of them called me out on it. A lot. The older ones caught on pretty quickly that it was a lie, and tried to get me to slip up, but the younger, more timid students censored themselves around me. There were several times I made it my goal to get the reserved students to speak in my class, but with 60 other students to manage, this goal slipped through my fingertips.

My cohort members and I like to say that any teacher can get straight A students to talk, but a great teacher engages the ones who don't want to be there. By pretending I didn't speak French, I think I stopped myself from being a great teacher.

I deeply suspect that for some of my students, my nonexistent French perhaps stopped them from interacting with me and robbed us both of a potential connection.

And I deeply regret giving anyone even the slightest impression that a language barrier meant that they were not worth knowing.

I hope the next ETA at LCA finds a way to uphold their job prioritizes without making anyone, even themselves, feel small.

And even with my regret, I know this was an experience that will stay with me forever. One of the greatest streaks of luck I’ve had in life has been my village of incredible teachers. They truly shaped my educational career and life, and I hope that I was able to be even half of that for my students. I already miss them dearly and I am generally grateful that LCA welcomed me into its classrooms.

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