Saturday, September 13, 2014

Back to the Classroom

My teaching experience has been made of up of a variety of opportunities. Never in my wildest dreams did I think that I would have taught in two different countries and two different states by the time that I was 27 (with none of those experiences being in the field that I actually went to school to teach!). Out of all of the exposure that I've had to the education field to this point has not quiet prepared me for what I'm about to face for the next two years...

- While subbing and student teaching in Iowa, I was privileged to work with some amazing people, technology (including a SmartBoard), and students. This really jump started my teaching career on the right foot and helped lead me to my next destination.

- Teaching English in Korea for a year was a real eye opening experience. I was given my own, massive, spacious room to teach in (complete with a computer and touch screen TV) and free reign to teach whatever I pleased.
This was my first real opportunity to fully immerse myself into another countries education system. It made me appreciate certain aspects of the American education system a lot more than I thought it would. My time in Korea naturally led to my next step in my teaching career.

- My time AmeriCorps down in Florida exposed me to two very different teaching environments. The first was with the homeless population of Palm Beach County as a Job Ready Instructor. The second was at a vocational charter school working with students aged 15-22. Each of these experiences enabled me to work with two very different groups of students, while further confirming that teaching is the path that I needed to pursue.

Which leads me to my current situation. Last Wednesday was our first time to fully experience Colombian schools. We have heard a lot about what to expect during our first few weeks of PST, but I was itching to get some hands on experience. Talk about conditions is great, but it really means nothing until you fully immerse yourself and get to see it for yourself. Needless to say, I was beyond excited to find out where my practicum school was and what teacher I would be working with for the next 6 Wednesdays (or so).

9 of us (Drew, Sammy, MC, Erica, Jessi, Mike, Nina, Elizabeth, and myself) met at our school, Normal Superior Distrital, at 8:00 am, anxious to see what the morning held for us. We were ushered into the teacher's lounge and waited for our teachers to arrive and show us to their classroom. Now everyone is paired up with another volunteer except for myself. There are 33 of us, so someone had to be the odd one out! I met my counterpart, Prof. Andrea Diaz, and after a quick tour around the school, we headed up to her first class.

One thing that's very similar between the schools here in Colombia and Korea is the fact that the kids stay in the same room the entire day and the teachers rotate to each classroom. The first classroom that we visited was in the back corner of the school and was with 11th graders. Here, 11th grade is the final grade that students complete before graduating. The school year lasts from the middle of January to the middle of November, so we are nearing the end of the academic year. Despite this fact, I was pleasantly surprised at the level of motivation that the students had to participate and give answers to Prof. Diaz's questions/activities.


As you can see in the picture above, there is no technology whatsoever in this classroom. Just a whiteboard and one bulletin board along the back wall. It is about as basic of a room as they come. One of the windows of the room looks out onto the concha (main playground area) and as the sounds of children running around and screaming filtered into the room, it signaled that class had ended and it was time to move on. As the students filed out of the room, I was quickly mobbed by about 12 of them who all wanted me to pronounce their names in English.

During the break between our first and second class, Jessi and I decided to walk around the school a little bit to check it out and get familiar with the lay of the land. We passed through the beautiful entry way and walked around the concha, observing all of the students exerting their energy by playing soccer, tag, and other playground games. As we circled back around to the entrance, I was called over by a 7th grader (who I didn't know) and became engaged in a short Q&A session with him and his fellow classmates. I was taken back by how willing the students were to practice their English. In Korea, it was a struggle to get them to talk, but here, they are willing and ready to go!

The main entrance to the school
The concha
This school has some awesome artwork!
Group of 1st or 2nd graders! Adorable!
Jessi and I returned back to the teacher's lounge in time for me to head off to my second class with Prof. Diaz. This class was with 9th graders and the conditions of their classroom couldn't have been more different from the first classroom. As I followed Prof. Diaz to the room, I noticed how many of the rooms in the part of the school appeared to be unfinished. Ceiling tiles were missing from ceilings. Wires dangled from unfinished electric work. Doors were nonexistent on many of the rooms. The room that we ended up in looked like a construction site. The four concrete walls magnified the noises from the other classrooms and the street (which happened to be a jackhammer). It was unbelievable to me that these students spent their entire day in this room, battling the noise and elements, while trying to attain some form of an education.

This would not fly in the States...
This class was very entertaining despite the elements. 35 awe-struck 9th graders spent a good 30 minutes asking me questions and learning as much as they could about me. I made the mistake of saying that I was single and believe that I inadvertently gained about 20 new prospects - oops! One of the girls even asked me if I wanted a Colombian wife. Let's just say that I skirted answering that question pretty quickly! All in all, it was a very energetic class, but I can already tell that when I start teaching them it's going to be a struggle due to the conditions of the classroom.

Our first day in the classroom was a rousing success! I loved every minute of it. I can already tell that Wednesday's are going to be my favorite day of training. I'm teaching part of the lesson next week already and have been busy trying to figure out how to present it in a fun way without the aid of technology and a printer. It's been difficult, but I think I have something ready to go! Tomorrow, I'm heading to Porto Colombia with Christopher and Casey to visit a current volunteer, Shanna, for a few days to see what it's like at a different site. A trip to the beach is already planned and I couldn't be happier! I'm starting to become pale and I don't approve...