Teaching is time consuming, says Aisha Khawaja, but there are plenty of related fields that teachers can explore, to help improve the big picture in education.

You’re probably thinking, “Beyond teaching? Isn’t teaching enough for now?”

Well, for many, the answer to that question is a hard and fast “YES!” However, there are plenty of us out there who think that there is more to education than only teaching within the confines of our schools.

Sampling the development sector
Teaching in itself is a huge task when done right, with passion and enthusiasm. Those of you who are in the field of education because you enjoy working with students and making a difference in their lives, may also be interested in sampling a little of the development sector in your ‘free time’. It’s true, all around the world nobody goes into education for the money. We go into the field because we understand and believe that a good, solid education can make a world of difference in the lives of children.

It is no secret that Pakistan has one of the lowest literacy rates in the world. The Ministry of Education, local NGOs, international NGOs, and many other organizations have been focusing on the need to improve the literacy rate and other issues related to literacy for the past few years now. The ideas of ‘Education For All,’ ‘?Quality education,’ and ‘Access to education’ are just some of the topics that the development sector is zeroing in on. One of the other key areas of focus is teacher training. The importance of having trained teachers working with the youth of our country cannot be underestimated.

Evaluate yourself
Everyone has it within him or herself, to be an advocate for what they believe in; at some point in their lives, they may want to do something in order to improve the situation for the next generations.

Why not start now, by helping those who are less likely to have received the same opportunities as us in life? One way to do this and make a difference in the lives of both teachers and students is through training teachers to improve their classroom skills.

If you have decided that you want to explore options outside of your school, you must answer the following question: “What do I have or know that I can teach others?” This is your opportunity to sit back and evaluate yourself, your teaching, and your interaction with students, parents, and staff. This self-assessment will give you a good sense of the skills you possess as a teacher and which of these you are willing and able, to share with others. It would be helpful to make a list of strengths and weaknesses that will guide you through this process. The list should clearly state those skills that you personally feel you excel in and those which you would like to improve on. You may like to share this with a friend or colleague in order to receive feedback from another person. Once you are clear on your strengths and weaknesses, it is time to move ahead to the next step.

We sometimes take our talents for granted â?? just because something comes naturally to me does not necessarily mean it comes naturally to others. So for now, let’s focus on your strengths. Are you particularly skilled with writing lesson plans? Are your classroom management skills something worthy of sharing with others? Find out which of your special ‘talents’ can be shared with others. What we sometimes do not realize is that there are many, many people in Pakistan who are in teaching positions, yet they have not had any training to prepare them for the demands of their jobs, their responsibilities, and how to work effectively with students, parents, and other faculty members.

Finding the time
Now comes the most difficult part – finding the time to delve into something after work hours. This, of course, is something that will vary from person to person. Perhaps your role as a teacher is over by 2:00 p.m., this leaves the rest of the afternoon open for exploration into teacher training. Or perhaps if during the week it is difficult for you to find the time; there’s always the weekend which can be utilized for organizing workshops with other teachers who would like to learn from you. Maybe your prior family commitments make it difficult to find time on a regular basis to be a part of the development sector; then, you may choose to help one of the local NGOs in your city once a month. It will help to find some organizations within your city with whom to make some sort of connection. It’s really a matter of deciding what you are comfortable with and what the organization needs.

Network, network and network!
While I was teaching, I learned that networking is the key that will open quite a few doors for me. I was able to meet people in the development sector, some who worked in other school systems, and I even met people who knew others in NGOs and I-NGOs who were able to introduce me to their friends and colleagues.  By the term ‘networking’, I simply mean getting to know people within your own community – whether it be parents within your school, other teachers and administrative staff with whom you work, or even friends of friends. Networking is a way to expand your own horizons and help others expand theirs. It’s definitely a two-way street – not only are you able to meet people with whom you have a common interest, but vice versa.

Having gone through the above process myself, I can whole-heartedly say that it has been a very rewarding experience! Not only was I able to work with teachers at different levels and help make a difference in their teaching, I also had the chance to meet some of the most dedicated and fascinating individuals out there!

Aisha Khawaja is an educator and trainer currently living in Islamabad. She taught at the elementary level for 6 years in the US and Islamabad, before moving to the development sector. She now works as a freelance consultant in the social sector.