Tag Archives: EFL

But first, an update!

This week, I’m taking a break from #carasdecolombia to tell you why I haven’t written lately. It’s been a busy few weeks with ending second quarter classes, graduation for our weekend class, my parents visiting and finally, Camp GLOW. Here’s a first peek at all the happenings.

Coorposur Graduation

The school that hosted our weekend classes
For the past few months, several friends and I have been teaching weekend English classes through a friend’s non-profit, designed to help students from an under-served community access an opportunity for better education and employment.

What he didn’t tell me is that he and his uncle had brainstormed a way to help their vulnerable community and decided that the solution was English class. However, they weren’t English teachers. No fear, said Estefanel, I know a PCV! (With his brains and charm, this guy is going to be the president someday.)

L-R: My parents visiting, Uncle Humberto, a student, me, PCV Megan and teacher Yuranis.
Without telling me I was the answer to their problem, he invited me to check out the project and see if I wanted to help. “Come see our non-profit, Shanna!”

That first week, I taught an English lesson to 106 students, between the ages of seven and 66,  and after that first visit, I was hooked by their motivation and discipline.

I went to my fellow PCVs next, asking for some help with a new community class. “They are so excited to learn!” (With my brains and charm, I’m going to be a diplomat someday.)

The teachers in our favorite post-class lunch spot! L-R: Angela, me, Janne and Megan. Missing: Kathleen, Yuranis, Estefanel.
The next week, Megan came and we split the group in half, kids and adults. Then, we added Angela and Kathleen, then a Belgian exchange student, then two Colombian teachers.

Every class, seeing those students was the highlight of my week. After a long week of struggling in projects and politics, I felt like my heart grew a size when I saw these kiddos.

I memorized their names (mostly to say, “Elian, sit down!” a lot) and loved watching the little personalities connected to the names as they grew more confident and creative with their English.

My graduates!
We closed the class term with a graduation ceremony, handing out certificates and taking a million selfies with students and parents. My parents were visiting, so they provided the candy and video recording.

I’m so glad I said yes to that first class visit–working with these kids has been a highlight in my year. It’s been hard for me to feel like a “real teacher” sometimes, without the certifications or experience that many other PCVs have. But these kids were gratifying test subjects, helping me develop my lesson planning and classroom management skills (ha ha.) I look forward to seeing where they go next.

Primary Projects 

In PC lingo, primary projects are those that fit the initial job description. Mine are any projects that are English language-related, including my assignment to the school in Puerto Colombia. In addition to the above class, I’ve continued working in the school, partnering with an incredible Colombian teacher in 10th and 11th grades.

My 10th graders meeting my mom
Together, we’ve reached a really comfortable teaching and planning relationship. Lately, we’ve been planning lessons that integrate life skills, such as debate, powerpoint and public speaking, with the English curriculum we built. To this day, they mention the lesson we did on Malala Yousafzai, and recently, I saw a group of girls plan a project proposal with a great powerpoint.

Serena and Elliot entrancing the kids with their British accents
Outside the classroom, two British volunteers and I started a reading program in the primary school. After months of empty promises from the school administration for a library space to contain the donated books, we decided to just show up at the primary, throw out a blanket and starting reading books to the kids!

Two helpful students in the “during” picture, with books moved in!
After a few weeks of that–and a lot of renditions of “Yoga ABC’s”–the library idea started to take shape through the help of my co-teachers, some strong 10th grade boys, and even the elderly lady who sits at the primary school entrance, who took it upon herself to organize the textbooks we brought.

I don’t have an “after” picture yet, because we’re hoping to get the wall and bookshelf painted. Ideally, we’ll be able to paint another world map–a beautiful space is much more conducive to making reading an enjoyable, sought-out experience.

One of the truly frustrating aspects of my service here has been facing the reality that people often just don’t want to make any effort to change things. People love to say, “yes!” and “we want change!”  but don’t follow through. I once wrote an entire grant for a project, only to realize that the people who asked for it didn’t really have the time to make it happen, and me doing it myself defeated the purpose.  This library has been just one in many struggles between promises and outcomes.

But I have to keep taking small steps, following the people who DO have the combination of vision and grit, because they’re here! My students wowed me this week when they masterminded an anti-self-harm awareness campaign all by themselves, complete with a project write-up, a powerpoint and a design idea! Despite being shot down by admin, they’re optimistically re-designing the project to make it work.

So stay tuned to hear how the painting process and the anti-self-harm campaign turn out…if I’ve learned anything in Colombia, it’s that progress is slow, but not impossible. And usually happens with the most unexpected helpers and innovators.

Thanks for reading! Next, I’ll continue the update with my parents’ visit and our girls empowerment Camp GLOW. 

Back on Track

I’m finally feeling a bit more settled. After over a month of living out of my suitcases, I have once again starting unpacking into a more permanent place. I can finally find all my accessories and my books will have a home as soon as I get a bookshelf in my new room! It’s nice to be establishing a new routine and integrating with my new host family.

I didn’t anticipate the effect that being between houses would have on my work, my energy and my organization. Not to mention the stress it caused. It ended up being a pretty draining process, with a lot of diplomacy lessons along the way.

Now that my home life is a bit more settled, I feel better equipped mentally and emotionally to get back on track.

I am re-focusing on my goals for the next few months. I can’t believe we have already been here for 9 months!

Some of the things I’m working on:

Developing and implementing a curriculum for our Call Center-hopefuls in 10th grade. We are trying to combine a customer service/telephone class with our English conversation laboratory. Any input is appreciated! 🙂

Environmental Committee: I’m the new chairperson of a fairly new committee, and we just had a successful first meeting! We’ve seen that trash and conservation are big issues for us on the coast, so we are designing some projects that PCV’s can implement in their sites, such as awareness campaigns and hopefully some field trips.

Co-teaching and co-planning: this is our primary project. I have great counterparts and a supportive principal, and we’re working to make the English program strong and effective. It’s actually a lot of fun to co-teach–the teacher and I can bounce off each other’s ideas. And she can tell them all to sit down and be quiet.

Primary teachers: with one of my counterparts, we are putting together some workshops for the primary teachers. I’m hoping to target their English skills in order to have stronger English in the students coming from primary to secondary.

English clubs: when you’re the token native speaker, people stop you in the street and even show up at your house to ask for English tutoring! I have an adult class, a high school club and am hoping to start a class at my friends’ foundation and one with the preschool kiddies at the convent. What could be better than singing English baby songs for an hour?

That’s a brief overview! Throw in gym time, sit-on-the-sidewalk-and-talk-about-nothing bonding time, and thinking about studying for the GRE, and I’m keeping busy.

But it’s a good busy, a settled, productive, fulfilled sort of busy. And that feels good.

I said I’d never be a high school teacher

I’ve officially started teaching, with real students and real whiteboard markers and real activities. With a grand total of four class periods (2.5 hours each) under my belt, here are my reflections on teaching, discipline, learning and high school students!

1. The obvious statement that must be made: teaching is harder than it looks! Props to the countless amazing teachers I have had (including my mommy)–it’s not easy to teach, much less to be a good teacher. Kudos especially to high school teachers–you are valiant warriors and intuitive protectors of Truth, Sanity, Reason, Sensibility and Social Propriety.

2. At least in peri-urban Colombian public schools, the lesson plans will get stretched. I’m still working off of day 1’s lesson plan, four classes later! This is fantastic, because I’ve got time to develop the materials and ideas as I go. (at least this week)

3. Discipline is difficult but I’m actually better at being firm than I had anticipated. I definitely pulled the “in English classrooms, silent listening is a sign of respect.” card.

4. Colombian kids have an extreme case of “pena”, or shame. This isn’t just stage fright–this is a knock-down, drag-out fight to get them to do anything, especially in front of other people. I’m still trying to understand the deep cultural implications of this concept, because it’s pervasive throughout ages, genders and social classes. Any insight is appreciated! I realize that I’m coming from a distinctly different background, one where I grew up being encouraged to speak up, sing in front of people, ham it up for the camera, etc. I’m trying to understand the root of “pena” (some say it’s colonial) and how I can best encourage and support my students. I was SO PROUD today when all but one group successfully presented for a vocab show-and-tell!

5. These kids are incredibly artistic. I mean, this culture (at least on the coast) is clearly centered around sights and sounds (aka fiesta.) Anywhere you turn, brilliant tropical flowers, swirling Carnaval dresses and bright soccer jerseys catch your eye. At night, I lay in bed and listen: motos, dogs barking, a minimum of three different songs being played on the same corner, geckos chirping, tvs’ canned sitcom laughter, water running in the shower next door. (I woke up suddenly last night–it was too quiet.)

So I’ve noticed that my students, in addition to being musicians and dancers extraordinaire, are gifted in art. In my ADD, go-go-go personality, a request for a quick map of town warrants a sketch on scrap paper. For my 10th graders in this pre-school year reinforcement class, a quick map of town requires meticulously measured lines, carefully colored-in buildings and perfect little palm trees. The same thing happened when I asked them to make their “passports to English”–what I thought would be a 15 minute activity turned into about 45 minutes of “are you done yet, kids?” and “they took all the dark blue colored pencils so I cannot possibly continue!” 🙂

6. These kids are smart. The class I have right now is a week-long reinforcement class for some students who failed ninth grade English last year (I need to write a blog about this educational system…more later.) These kids have been labeled “flojos” (lazy), so I was tasked with immersing them and giving them a sort of jumpstart to the school year, which begins in a week. But these kids are every ounce as intelligent, quick to learn, and capable of following directions (when they feel like it) as any others.

And let me tell you, they have surprised me several times already with their attention to details and presentation. For example, today I asked them to get into small groups (we’re learning that concept still) to do a “quick” presentation of a vocab word. The objective that each group would provide a definition or translation of the word and then give an example in English. (i.e., School= escuela; we study at the school.) Having learned last week that group work is a foreign concept, I thought this would be a simple way to re-introduce the idea. FORTY FIVE MINUTES LATER, I finally persuaded the first shy, embarrassed, terrified group to the front of the room.

And here’s where I learned my lesson of the day: during the 45 minutes I had been pleading, huffing, puffing, and arguing with these kids to do a simple project, they had all been working on presentations that were above and beyond what I had anticipated. They had found full definitions of the words, in both languages; some had colored their presentation sheets artfully; others had included full examples such as “Simon goes to the library to read books” and “people go to the hospital to find the cure to types of diseases.” Lesson: even though there were evident miscommunications as to the directions and expectations, these kids committed themselves to diligently fulfilling the activity in the best way they knew how (which was way more than I had asked of them).

Today my kids showed me the beautiful manifestations of Colombian culture in the classroom, with beautifully decorated worksheets, carefully constructed, accurate maps, and utter attention to the details of appearance. And now, best of all, I’ve officially found my artists for that world map I’m planning to paint in the English lab! Get ready, kids! 🙂