Friday, January 29, 2016

Dissecting the Pueblo Classroom

Monday marked the first day of school for many students all along the Caribbean coast of Colombia. After two months of vacation, it was time to come back to the daily grind of Colombian education. Two weeks of teacher meetings established new rules and procedures that hopefully will help make the school flow and progress in a more organized way. Despite all of these changes, there is one thing that remains the same: the classrooms.

This composite of various classrooms from the school I am currently serving at, I.E. John F. Kennedy, shows some of the conditions that teachers have to teach in and students have to learn in. It's easy to see the mostly bare walls, lack of a ceiling, and numerous seats. However, there are many other aspects to each room that make teaching even that more of a challenge.

6-01: Lack of Desks

One of the unfortunate things that occurs in many schools all over Colombia is overpopulation of classrooms. It is very common to see anywhere between 30-38 students in a normal Colombian classroom. Not only is teaching to a large number of students difficult, but many times basic necessities, like desks, are in short supply. That is the case with this classroom. With close to 32 sixth grade students using this classroom at one time, at least 4-5 are left without a desk. Sometimes, even chairs are in short supply and students are forced to sit on the floor. It's hard enough to concentrate on math when your desk wobbles - imagine having to do that while sitting on the floor.

7-01: Open, Dead Space

The openness of Colombian classrooms is necessary. The constant heat and humidity make closed classrooms impossible. However, this necessity is also a hindrance. Since every single classroom in the school is constructed in this same way, the happenings of other classrooms are constantly incorporated into daily lessons. It becomes hard to hold student's attention for long periods of time. Conducting quiet, focused activities are almost out of the question. Learning how to adapt and use these conditions to your advantage has been something that requires an ample amount of time to do.

7-02: "Cooling" System

In the above photo, there are two fans on the far wall of the classroom. The extreme heat and humidity and overall lack of a breeze make the classrooms stifling. Lack of air movement leads to a profuse amount of sweating and easy irritation. The fans in the rooms are meant to help counteract this reality. However, the fans only really reach the first row of desks placed directly below them. The air current created by the fans does not reach the front of the room or the other side of the classroom. Students are constantly battling for those prime seats, which leads to unnecessary quarrels and disagreements.

8-01: Teacher's Desk

One of the luxuries of teaching in the United States is having your own classroom. The students come to the teacher, who is able to store all of their items in a secure location. Here in Colombia, the opposite is true. The students stay in the same classroom throughout the entire day with the teachers rotating to them. This means that the only "space" that becomes the teachers is the desk. In this photo, the teacher's desk is in the opposite corner under the colored squares of paper. The only main issue is that many, if not all of these desks, are broken. Some days just looking at the desk wrong causes it to collapse in on itself. As a teacher, it is very difficult not having a secure place to unpack your things during the day. The constant shuffling and packing up of things after each 50-minute classroom adds additional stress to each day.

8-02: Mucked Up Whiteboard

The whiteboard is the central tool of any Colombian teacher. With reliable technology not really available, the whiteboard becomes the main source of communication information from the teacher to the students. This importance isn't always obvious to everyone at the school. The top 1/3 of this whiteboard is pretty much unusable due to an unfortunate glue incident. A couple of months before the end of last year, students were decorating for Teacher's Day and decided to glue letters onto the whiteboard as a part of their decorations. In doing this, they failed to consider what would happen when they tried to take the decorations down. The result is a whiteboard that is only 2/3 usable.

9-01: Weak WiFi Connection

One of the biggest surprises that I received during my first day at IE John F. Kennedy was the fact that the school has 4 separate Internet networks, over 50 laptops, and close to 150 tablets for the students to use in the classroom. This obviously made me extremely excited and happy, as being able to incorporate technology into the classroom is something that I love doing. Just one major problem. Despite all of the available possibilities, there are many outside factors that get in the way. For example, this particular room does not receive a WiFi signal of any kind. Attempting to use applications on the tables is nearly impossible due to the lack of a strong, stable signal. Being a school that supposedly specializes in the use of technology in the classroom, these little bumps make that reality a difficult one to attain.

10-01: Not so SMART Boards

On the right hand side of this picture you can see a projector sticking out of the wall. This projector is part of a SMART Board in the classroom. This is another amazing technological tool that is unfortunately not being used to its full potential. In this case, there is no way to plug in the board since the power cable was severed by some students last year. The lack of a power source renders the SMART Board moot. Outside of that, students have decided to use the boards as a graffiti practice wall. It's really disappointing and sad that this overall lack of respect for some very useful and interactive tools adds to the difficulties teachers face in the classroom.

10-02: Street Noise

As I mentioned earlier, the openness of the classrooms is both a necessity and a hindrance. Here is another example of how this openness becomes a hindrance. This classroom faces a road that passes along the school. During the day, there is a fair amount of traffic (motos, motocoches, cars, etc.) that pass by the school. Every now and then, larger vehicles make their presence known with various honks and shifting gears. There was even a period of time last year in which construction on the street battled instruction within the classroom. Having to deal with this extra outside noise, in addition to that of the students both inside the classroom and the other classrooms, creates an almost unbearable environment in which concentration and learning are next to impossible.

Spending between 5-6 hours daily in these classrooms has made me appreciate the luxuries that are taken for granted in the United States. Things like air conditioning, closed classrooms, assigned classrooms, and solid doors, among others, makes the teaching environment one that is more conducive to learning. Here in Colombia, however, that isn't always the case. Instead of letting these presumed difficulties bog me down, I have attempted to find different ways to use these elements to help motivate my students.

So far, the second school year is off to a positive start. I feel more comfortable with not only the teachers and students, but also the conditions of the school. I am very excited to see what type of results my students can produce with the help of my improved understanding and realities of these classroom conditions. 

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