Future Teacher Finds Her Calling While Discovering the World
Cynthia Lehr was initially apprehensive about her assignment with the Peace Corps, but it led her to UC to pursue her dreams.
By: Dawn Fuller
Phone: (513) 556-1823
Photos By: Lisa Ventre and Cynthia Lehr
It was Cynthia Lehr’s experience from a world away that brought her to the University of Cincinnati to pursue her passion for teaching. Lehr will finish her master’s degree in secondary education and earn her Ohio teaching license during winter quarter.
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.
But then, she first felt a little apprehensive about her job assignment. She would be teaching English as a foreign language in Bulgaria. “I never imagined myself as a teacher, but I gave it a shot and found out that I loved it,” she says.
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.”
Bulgaria, Lehr says, continues to be a country in transition after coming under Communist rule at the end of World War II and becoming a parliamentary democracy in 1991. The country plunged into an economic collapse in the mid 90s but has stabilized in the years since amid economic reforms. Still, Lehr says middle-to-older generations are continuing to adjust to a country under transformation after decades of Communism.
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.
While still in Bulgaria, Lehr says she took the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) to enter graduate school and then applied online to UC. “I was interested in getting experience in large school districts, and the UC program has excellent field experience opportunities,” she says. Lehr completed her student internship at Clark Montessori High School during fall quarter and was hired by the school as a substitute teacher for winter quarter.
“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.”