Ok…so I don’t actually make any money per say….but this post is about work. Close enough.
So if you have been reading my blog, emailing me, or keeping up with the hilarity that is my life via Facebook posts you have probably gathered by now that I am living in Colombia as a Peace Corps volunteer. You might know that I am kickin’ it on the Caribbean coast and that I spend the majority of my time sweating, eating delicious tropical fruits, going to the beach, and trying to maneuver my way through Colombian culture one sit-com worthy incident at a time. You might, however, be wondering, “What the heck are you actually DOING there?” It occurred to me that I have been slacking a little bit in the area of updating you on my work. I attribute this to the fact that often, the cultural adaption aspect of this adventure is more entertaining to read (who doesn’t want to read about me choking down cow’s lungs or my many misfortunes due to my Spanglish?) That being said, the primary reason I am here is to WORK, and as much as we associate the word ‘work’ with torture, my work here is actually one of the highlights of my Colombian life.
Peace Corps Colombia is currently only working in one project area called “Teaching English for Livelihoods” or TEL for short (because what government agency doesn’t love them some acronyms). The Colombian government requested Peace Corps return to the country after a 30 year hiatus to help them reach their bilingualism goals. Currently, approximately 4% of Colombia’s population speaks English (I got this number from an ad in the movie theater, so don’t quote me, but it gives you an idea.) I have observed a strong interest in learning English as it allows for career advancement and is becoming ‘the language of the world’.
As volunteers we work in public schools ‘coplanning’ and ‘coteaching’ English with Colombian teachers. Many teachers have a hard time understanding why we don’t just come in and teach English (obviously that would be easier for all parties involved). The reasoning behind this (and the reason I accepted this position despite my dislike of teaching English abroad) is that coteaching is sustainable and doesn’t take jobs away from Colombians. The idea is that after Peace Corps finishes it work at the school, the Colombian teachers will be able to continue the work using the new skills they have been developing. Coteaching looks a little bit different in each school based on whether the volunteer is working with primary or secondary as well as the level of English of their counterpart teachers. At my school, IED Simon Bolivar, I am working with the primary school which is grades preschool through fifth grade. This was a mutual decision based on the fact that the school feels there is the most need in the primary school, coupled with the fact that my past experience and expertise is in primary education (not to mention how much I love those little nuggets!). Primary teachers here have graduated from the university with a degree in education and a specialization (i.e. math, science, etc.) Regardless of their specialization, they are required to teach all subjects to their classes (just like in the US). This means primary teachers are required to teach one hour per week of English to their students, and the majority of them have never studied English.
I work with the 13 primary school teachers in a few different capacities. One day each week I meet with them in grade level teams to plan our English classes for the week. During these planning meetings, I work with the teachers on bringing new teaching methodologies into the classroom, how to write a quality lesson plan (or to write a lesson plan at all), developing dynamic classes, as well as going over the vocabulary for the lesson. In a perfect world, I would love to teach all of my teachers English first (as none of them speak any English) and THEN move on to the other aspects of teaching English. Unfortunately that just isn’t realistic, so we do both at the same time. The other four days of the week, I go to each teacher’s classroom during their designated English time and we coteach the lesson we planned together. This looks different in each classroom depending on how comfortable the teacher is with English and implementing new techniques. As I am just getting started, in many classrooms I do the majority of the teaching right now. The idea is to shift the bulk of the teaching from me to the teacher gradually over the period of my service. I also am available to my teachers for an hour each week when they can come meet with me about anything. Most often, teachers come to me to revise their lesson plans before they turn them in to me on Fridays. Some of my teachers are more interested than others, but everyone wants their students to learn English. I have one teacher who has been teaching for a long time and will flat out say that she hates English. Luckily I have developed a really good relationship with her and we play around a lot. I drag her (literally) to our planning sessions every week and she always puts up a fight, but normally ends our planning session by kissing me on the head.
In addition to my work in the school, I also work with three other volunteers to hold night classes for primary teachers. These classes work in a very similar way in that we are introducing new teaching methodologies and English vocabulary simultaneously. These classes are the highlight of my week because the teachers that come are so dedicated and excited to bring what they learn into their classrooms.
I love my work here because I love teaching and enjoy being around kids. I love getting up everyday and going to see my teachers and students. However, it is not without its challenges and sometimes, it can be very frustrating. Multiple classes get canceled each week for strange (or nonexistent) reasons, teachers don’t always show up, classroom management is absent from many classrooms, there are no resources, its HOT, and in general the work ethic here is very different than I am used to. I have learned to ‘cogela suave’ which basically means to ‘take it easy’ and move at the slower pace of life. As frustrating and challenging as my work can be, it can also be very rewarding. For example, I have a teacher who has been struggling for months to write a quality lesson plan and then put it into practice in her classroom. After our very successful class last week, once the last student had walked out, she grabbed the lesson plan off her desk, grabbed my hands, and broke into a celebratory dance. She gave me a HUGE hug and said, “WE DID IT!” I replied, “No, YOU did it!” I was so proud of her, but more importantly, she was so proud of herself.
Until next time…….paz y amor.
P.S. I think this is my fifth time making this promise, but I PROMISE the next post will be pictures of my new site, Santa Marta!