Tag Archives: teacher

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. 

Spanglish: A Poem about Identity

Last weekend, I was invited to recite a poem at two different events: the first was a Peace Corps poetry jam hosted by the Oiste volunteer magazine team; the second was the annual poetry and music exhibition in Pradomar, commemorating Julio Flórez, a famous local poet.

I wrote a poem about my experience with language acquisition, in which I have reached a point where the two syntaxes, cultures and, ultimately, identities meet, in a single, confusing mindset called Spanglish.

My brain speaks Spanglish–half and half, whatever comes out first. And that’s kind of how my concept of self has become–no longer wholly a single culture or perspective, but a mix of two.

I hope you enjoy!

Spanglish video



Yo tengo this thing, sabes

My lips, teeth, tongue

boca, garganta, lungs

They’re all vueltia’o

Running over, under, in and out

And quedan abusa’os

todos agota’os

All combined to one

One tongue

One mixed up, de todita lengua

that no one understands

no one but maybe tu

On one hand, hay

words, ideas,

quid pro quo

Irony, analisis, wit and GO!

Al otro lado, pues

rhythm, rrriccccoooo beats

Sensual, sexy, sweet

cogele suave, amor

One tongue

One mixed up, de todita lengua

not pa’alla ni aca

It’s Spanglish, this vaina!

It’s a viva thing

Two identities a la vez

Dos mundos, one fluidez

Jodaaaa, now what?

Aja, so here we are

que hay que hacer?


Welcome to el nuevo ser
One tongue

One mixed up, de todita lengua


not here, not there

But somehow, everywhere

A Good Old-Fashioned Update

I’m wrapping up the school year and preparing to go home for Christmas, which means it’s about time for a standard-issue update post! Aka, what’s been happening lately, the current state of affairs and a preview of next year!

The past few months have been pretty hectic, both in the school and in my secondary projects (not to mention personal travel and a few sick days.) The first half of the school year was my chance to observe, learn the school culture, build relationships with the faculty and the students, and generally settle in. But the second half was go time!

Continue reading A Good Old-Fashioned Update

Integrated and it feels so good

(Note: This week, I’m writing my one-year-in-service reflections. There’s a more comprehensive post coming, but I was enjoying writing this mini blog tangent, so I figured I’d share it now!) 

Here’s a huge–though gradual and ongoing–success: I’m integrated! That is to say, the integration and culture struggles no longer take the bulk of my time or energy. At the beginning, every conversation took extensive effort, and I spent a lot of time getting lost, asking questions, observing people and trying to deduce the idiosyncrasies of this culture.  Continue reading Integrated and it feels so good

Because Hummus

Am I about to write an entire blog post just about my hummus? Probably. But I’ll talk about the rest of the day, too, since it was a goodie. Continue reading Because Hummus

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! 🙂

On the Night before Sites

This morning at 10 o’clock, our site placements will be announced. These sites have been carefully chosen, vetted for safety and security, prepped with school officials and outfitted with host families. Our assignments are unique to our personalities, skills and preferences, at least in theory!

And here we go, gotta run catch the bus! Stay tuned for the big announcement!