Today has been a tough day. I woke up around 6am and decided to sleep another fifteen minutes before showering. I love my sleep and I have a hard time getting up early. Yes, 6am is early for me. I was up last night til midnight working on stuff, writing my blog, and listening to a book tape that’s on my computer. But there was running water today so that meant a hot shower. I discovered the water in the other bathroom was hotter so I changed bathrooms. I gathered my things, grabbed a tamale, and was off to school. I walked with Cecelia’s two boys, Elmer and Marvin, and with Kathy. It’s only a ten minute walk and is pretty nice in the morning. I do have to walk up a gigantic hill (Sue & Lynn- you know what one I’m talking about).
As we were walking in through the gate Kathy asked me how I was feeling. A little nervous? I said I felt like I was a fish being dropped into a shark tank. Not that the kids were going to be mean or I’d be devoured by them, I just felt like I’d be very noticeable for several reasons.
1. I’m teaching English. This is very exciting for them.
2. I’m a native English speaker. More exciting.
3. I’m white. Very white.
4. I’m blond. With blue eyes.
5. I’m a girl. At an all boys school.
Thus, I don’t have a whole of camouflage right now. No chameleon capabilities.
I’m going to try to use my initial novelty and “gringa-ness” to my advantage in the classroom. Eventually I’m sure the novelty will wear off. Hopefully by then I will have established myself as someone who needs to be listened to but isn’t overly strict.
We arrived and the principle invited us to come into the office. We talked a little bit about where I was going to go and what I’d do. I really had no idea as to what classes I’d be in, where they were, the grades of the kids, the time of the class, etc. There were a lot of unknowns which always tends to make me a little nervous. I like to methodically plan things out ahead of time and then prepare myself to be flexible within the outline I’ve created. I did bring lesson plans but other than that I’d say I was pretty clueless.
My first class was fifth grade and the teacher’s name was Irma. She did a quick introduction and then it was time for me to start. I should also mention at this point that none of the kids really had any English skills. A few words here and there, but that was it. So everything I explained was in Spanish. Some of these explanations of what I taught might not make sense if you don’t know Spanish. I did my best to jump right in with both feet.
I started with discussing the basic differences between the alphabet in Spanish vs. English. We talked about how there was no ‘ñ’ in English and no acentos (á, é, í, ó, ú). I told them that the double l (ll) in English is pronounced as a single ‘l’, and the double r (rr) was pronounced as a single ‘r’ with no tongue roll. I gave some examples in English and translated the words into Spanish. Then I had them try to make a ‘th’ sound, as this sound doesn’t exist in Spanish. They enjoyed sticking out their tongues trying to make the sound. I told them that ‘ph’ was pronounced as an ‘f’ and gave examples. After that we went over the alphabet in English, being sure to pronounce things correctly. I wrote out phonetically how to pronounce each letter. After that we worked on vowels and the different sounds each vowel makes. This was a brief overview for them and I’m know I’ll be repeating a lot of it in the days to come. Repetition, repetition, repetition.
The first five classes in the morning were all pretty similar. There were some differences in ability level but not much. How the teachers interacted did vary. The first two teachers seemed very interested and even participated with the kids. They helped explain things to the kids and kept them in line. The third teacher walked in and out throughout the class as I was teaching. The other two classes were kind of a blur.
Around noon class was over and I walked back to the house for lunch. It felt nice to sit down and eat. Kathy and I chatted for a while and then I walked back to school for 7th grade. We were pretty sure it started at 1:00pm, but when I got there I saw no teachers. I waited around for a while and then the principle showed me to my next class. I waited around a while longer, thinking the teacher was just late. That was a definite possibility. She showed up a little before 1:30 and it was then I learned class started at 1:30. I was given a quick introduction and then I was off.
I started with some of the same things I had taught in the morning. Most kids and people here speak little to no English. If people do know English it’s only a few words or being able to count to ten. But this class surprised me. They were much further ahead than the other classes. So we flew through the material. I’ll have to change my lesson plans for that class. I’m not sure why they’re more advanced, but I’m guessing it’s because of the teacher. She was participating and knew the pronunciations and words pretty well. We’ll see how it goes the rest of the week.
My daily class schedule will be (I think):
7:30-8:15 = 5th grade, class B
8:25-9:10 = 6th grade, class B
9:20-10:05 = 6th grade, class A
10:15-11:00 = 5th grade, class A
11:10-11:55 = 4th grade, class A
Lunch at the house
1:30-2:15 – 7th grade
Now, these times are more of suggestions than definite times. The bell rings sometime around the time when classes change. It’s the person in the office that rings the bell. So if they’re not paying attention, the bell is rung later. I noticed right away that we were way off time-wise. I think the last class only got 30 minutes instead of 45. I have no idea what it’ll be like tomorrow. I do have a fear that they’re going to change up my schedule and give me different classes at different times on different days. I hope not because that would be way too confusing. But it wouldn’t be a complete shock. Also, I have about 30 kids in each class.
There were some major differences between the classes here and classes in the US. Inside the classroom the kids were more rambunctious. There was more chitter chatter than you’d see here. At one point when a teacher thought a kid wasn’t listening well enough she told him he could leave if he wasn’t going to pay attention. He stayed. The kids moved more in their seats, sometimes out of their seats. During one class I noticed a boy sitting on the floor taking notes on the seat of his chair. I felt an instant connection to that kid because I was the same way when I was young. The one comment my parents always got during conferences was that I didn’t like to sit in my seat. I still don’t. Sometimes I kneel on the chair, kind of perching on it. Other times I’ll turn my chair around and sit on it backwards. I figure, as long as they’re paying attention and taking notes, I don’t care how they sit. Everyone learns differently.
One thing easy to explain is how they acted between classes. There was a lot of horseplay and roughhousing with each other. I’m talking some serious physical interaction. Stuff that would get you kicked out of school in the states. The teachers more or less ignored the behavior. It’s definitely an adjustment for me.
I will tell you one thing: I have ten times more respect for anyone who is or wants to become a teacher. This is no easy job. And I’ve only done one day. Kudos to people who do this as a living and have a passion for the kids they work with. The world would not be the same without them. More specifically, teaching English as a second language where most kids speak little to no English is definitely not a piece of cake. The people who teach ESL classes in the states are heroes. They deserve much more attention and respect than they get. Furthermore, I’m not a teacher by training. My undergrad degree was in Psychology and Sociology. My masters degree is in Social Work. I did work with kids for 8 years at the YMCA in the nursery, teaching camp, art classes, swim lessons, holding family events, and doing storytime with kids. So I do have some experience with curriculum and dealing with kids. But it’s still a lot of work.
After my last class I walked home. On my way to school and home from I got quite a few cat calls & whistles, even an “I love you”. I pretty much ignored these things and kept walking. Then I went to the market to buy a few notebooks and some whiteboard markers. The teachers have markers but I like to have lots of different colors. While I was looking at things a person asked me in English if he could help me. And he said it without an accent which was surprising. I found out he was born in El Salvador, moved to the US when he was 8, and just moved back recently. We chatted for a while about teaching, learning a new language, and about El Salvador in general. He told me to stop by if I ever have any questions or wanted to talk about teaching. I like meeting new people. It’s nice to have friends in town.
Tonight I worked on more lesson planning. It’s a lot of work and I like to be overly prepared. For some reason I have a Monty Python sketch stuck in my head. It’s the llama one. I keep singing: “Las llamas son más grandes que las ranas! Cuidado, cuidado, cuidado!” If you don’t know Monty Python this will make no sense. I’m not sure it makes sense to me. Right now I need a massage. Kathy needs one too. Who’s flying down to give us one?!
“Courage doesn't always roar. Sometimes it is the quiet voice at the end of the night saying, ‘I will try again tomorrow” ~Mary Ann Radmacher