FUTURE TEACHER FINDS HER CALLING WHILE DISCOVERING THE WORLD
Her advisor, Chet Laine, associate professor and associate division head of the Division of Teacher Education, says Lehr is a standout student and was honored with a national award from the Educational Testing Service for scoring in the top 15 percent in the nation for her teaching skills. She discovered her love for the job while serving with the Peace Corps.
The 26-year-old Columbus, Ohio native and Centennial High School graduate says she signed up with the Peace Corps in 2004 after graduating with her bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Miami in Florida. “I had no idea what to do next, and there was a Peace Corps recruiter on campus. I checked it out and loved the idea of learning a new language and living in a different country,” recalls Lehr.
Lehr was required to learn Bulgarian, the country’s official language, during the first three months of arrival in the country, but says that the native language of most of the students that she taught was Turkish, since she was assigned to a school in eastern Bulgaria near the Turkish border. “Most of the students in the school knew how to speak Bulgarian, but their native language was mostly Turkish, and I’d say I can now speak that language on a beginner’s level.”
Lehr recalls that the country’s growing pains were reflected in the classroom, too. Locals would tell her about the days of extreme discipline in the classroom under Communist rule, when long fingernails could result in a child being sent home from school. But because unemployment in Bulgaria was so high at the time that Lehr served with the Peace Corps, an expelled student could result in an out-of-work teacher, so Lehr says classroom discipline swung to the other extreme to nearly no discipline at all. (The U.S. Department of State reports unemployment in Bulgaria in 2004 was at 12.7 percent, compared with 9.61 percent in 2006.)
Despite the challenge of being allowed little authority in the classroom, Lehr says she connected with some great students. “It was scary being thrown into the classroom at first, but then I realized that I could still connect with the students. I remembered my own high-school years,” she says. She still keeps in touch with some of her Bulgarian students via e-mail. “They go to Internet cafés and stay in touch,” she says.
“Some of the programs at other universities offered only a one-year field experience opportunity, but at UC, I had three, 10-week field experiences and then the teaching internship,” she says. Lehr’s master’s degree in secondary education will open opportunities to teach students in grades 7-12.
“I really find teaching to be personally rewarding. I feel very lucky that I found something that I truly love to do.”
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