Being a UWC Teacher: A Thousand Little Pieces Every Day
Sara Edström is a teacher of Mathematics at UWC Robert Bosch College; she has been part of the team since the school’s foundation and is also a House Tutor and a Personal Tutor.
I first applied to UWC as a student in 1990 when I was 17 years old. I wanted to join the world and I wanted to save it. It was my first ever interview and I was not selected. 18 years later, I was hired as a mathematics teacher at UWC Waterford Kamhlaba. Coming to Waterford felt like coming home and I spent six wonderful years there. However, working for UWC, whose mission is to educate for a sustainable future, while at the same time flying between Southern Africa and Stockholm up to three times a year created a moral dilemma that in the end, I could not ignore. So, in 2014 I joined the newly founded Robert Bosch College where, in longer holidays, I can take the train home to Sweden.
"Being a UWC teacher is to live each day surrounded by hope and by willingness to action."
How can I describe what being a UWC teacher is?
I can’t and that is why I love it – it is not one thing, one job; it is a thousand little pieces every day. It is the intellectual challenge of teaching advanced mathematics in English to students whose background in the subject is as diverse as their first languages. It is comforting a student in my residence who is worried about their family’s situation back home. It is showing another how to use the washing machine (again). It is spending my lunch hour helping a project week group plan a visit to Krakow. It is extra maths help sessions in the evening. It is a cup of tea with a tutee who’s had a fight with their roommate. It is taking the tram across town on a Wednesday morning with the students in my service group to make frogs of paper with five-year-old immigrant children at a local kindergarten. It is staying up after midnight, because the marking also needs to get done and, since my amazing students deserve well-prepared and interesting lessons, those must be planned. It is teaching beginners knitting in my living room on Tuesday evenings. It is residential meetings, outdoor weekends, Special Focus Days and many meals shared. It is hugging and arguing and joking and struggling to see someone else’s point. It is the grand flag-waving events and the small seemingly insignificant moments. It is laughing every day and sometimes crying because there is only so much time in a day and always so much more to do. It is giving and giving and giving until you feel like there is nothing more to give. But then you wake up the next morning and find that there is always more, because no matter how much you give, you get infinitely more in return. Instantly and obviously on a personal level through the relationships we form, but also on a more general level; the energy it gives to work for an organization whose official mission is so closely linked to my personal one cannot be underestimated.
Banal as it may sound, for me teaching at a UWC really is living the mission. One of the most rewarding aspects of being part of UWC is being constantly inspired to be better. Not in a competitive way but on a personal level. So many stories and different experiences have made me realize that everyone has something unique to offer, meaning that I do, too. And watching my students courageously and enthusiastically strive to improve on all levels of their UWC experience makes it impossible for me not to want to do the same. However, this is also one of the challenges with being a UWC teacher; you almost never feel satisfied. Every student, every project, every cause is so worthwhile, so deserving, so exciting that it makes you want to give your best, and then improve from there; it is not only our students who struggle to get enough sleep.
And, of course, agreeing on what "best" means and how to achieve it comes with its own challenges. Like our students, us teachers also come from a wide range of cultures and educational systems. But to accommodate and even embrace the tension between celebrating difference and emphasizing our universal common human core is, to me, at the very heart of the mission for any UWC community. Each of our students come with their unique set of goals and dreams as well as ideas on how they want to achieve them – to support them individually in this pursuit and to see them grow and gain confidence, while also creating an atmosphere of tolerance and mutual respect is a deeply important and daily challenge. But above all, it is a privilege and a joy. Being a UWC teacher is to live each day surrounded by hope and by willingness to action.