The past few days have been a chaotic blue – in a good way. I have been teaching multiple classes in grades 4 and 5 (ages 15 and 16), given celebrity status as students continually ask to take pictures with us, and feel like an ambassador of the English language and United States culture. My knowledge of the Spanish language continues to grow as my previous course work has been invaluable as I navigate small conversation with students, eat unfamiliar dishes, and participate in numerous school wide activities. Needless to say, I am ecstatic to be working here, but you can imagine the exhaustion of being in such an intense program.
The past three days I taught short stories to two sections of fifth grade and two sections of fourth grade. The way the school is set up students stay in the room all day and teachers rotate around carrying their supplies, laptops, and sometimes projectors. Each child has two hours of English class per day. I have been doing close reading strategies in my instruction and teaching children to talk to the text using annotation symbols and Think-Pair-Share for speaking and listening. What students lack in vocabulary and colloquialisms, though, they made up in enthusiasm and questions.
Teacher, teacher they would say to have me come over to them. Many times I would have to act out a word or use my Spanish translator. I was often met with ahhhhhh and ohhhhh. I would try to pronounce the Spanish word getting giggles and odd looks. Showing the Spanish word, students took pride in trying to teach me the proper pronunciation of their words.
Everyday when we enter the school children are excited to see us. Being in a COAR (gifted) school where one must test into enrollment, it gives off a very different vibe. Students are very high achieving and have extraordinary work ethics. One one the oddest quirks is when a teacher enters all students stand and waits for the instructor to be seated, and when using the restroom they wait outside the door to be let back in the room. One child told me they wait at the door as a sign of respect since they are using the restroom during the teacher’s time.
Yesterday, a young male student came up to my host teacher asking questions about girls in America (in a polite way). She deferred him to Mr. Brian because she was uncomfortable with the topic. He wanted to know about children his age having sexual relationships in the United States because his mother was a teenage mother and it was very difficult for her to raise him with no father around. I shared with him about conservative values and my belief in the Bible and Jesus. He shared with me he knew the commandments and only went to church once a month when he was home with his family, but he was a believer. He said he would begin reading more to learn further about the Bible because he wanted the chance to go to the University to study and have a different life; I encouraged him to find that different life through following the teachings of Jesus in the Bible.
Later that day, I was fortunate to teach this same young man in one of my classes using our discussion chips. Like his classmates, they were struggling with the formal discussion groups because the instruction here at COAR is read, practice verbally aloud, and write in notebooks. I haven’t observed much formal instruction that pushed student voice and analysis in the classroom. When asking students why the activity was a struggle, many admitted it was different and they didn’t want me to hear them using their English incorrectly. If one has ever taught gifted students before, they know gifted students sometimes struggle with failure because they want to get it right all the time.
In the evening tonight, students gathered for a literacy celebration disguised as game night. The English department set up tables where students could rotate through Bananagrams, Uno, Headbanz, Mystery Clue, and more. One of the games broke and we made it into a reading station of picture books. My colleague and I rotated on the station and had children read to us and discuss the themes in many great books. Upon playing all the games, we brought prizes of pens, pencils, soccer swag, notebooks, and the most coveted prize of all — leisure books from the Eastern Shore Literacy Association. Secretly, the games were meant for students to informally practice their English and allow the teachers time to build and strengthen relationships with the students.
I think many students feel honored to have us at their schools, and it truly is an honor to have this experience and to have such an inside view into the Peruvian education system and a COAR school. I’ll admit there have been moments of being overwhelmed and exhausted. There have been many surprises — like seeing the amount of students sitting on steps working on project or students waiting outside the teacher work area on laptops waiting for that special moment to work one-on-one with their teacher. For me, it is heart warming to see a love for education so deeply ingrained in the fabric of these students.
But, it makes me feel disappointed too because I realize the privilege I have living in the United States. Living in a well developed country with endless opportunities, the United States infrastructure allows for so many opportunities I cannot even express it into words. I am struggling with the realization many of these children (and teacher) may not reach their maximum potential due to poor funding and limited opportunities that I often take for granted.
As I complete my final teaching day tomorrow, I hope my adventure to COAR Ica leads into even bigger opportunities for my students back home to understand the world we live in today.