Amazement

It’s amazing how one little thing can change your whole trajectory… for the day, week, life, whatever.

In my case, it was my day.

We had a “get-together” with the other teachers on Thursday, at the Foundation Offices which are also serving as our home. SuperJulio (the asst. director of the school) cooked some pretty awesome carne asada and grilled onions (with the help of Fer, who, being from Argentina, only eats grilled meat. ha ha). María and Gloria made salsa, frijoles, and guacamole; we served it all up with a giant basket of warm tortillas and several gallons of cusha, the locally brewed adult beverage of choice.

I kept calling it “chusha”, much to everyone’s amusement. See, the “sh” sound is an alternative pronunciation of the hard “ch” in some Spanish dialects, which made it sound like I was saying “chucha” which is another word for puta. The funny thing is, I do normally say chucha quite a bit; they use it all the time in Chile as a casual slang word, and I picked it up there. Coming here (and in class back in the States), I had to clean up my language a bit and change chucha to chuta (akin to saying “shoot” instead of “shit”). Apparently chucha is really offensive here. Oops!

The teachers all left around 7:30, which left us gringos alone with a couple of gallons of cusha. So what did we do? Invited the Cuban doctor over for a party, naturally!

Iván is the very attractive medical volunteer from Cuba… who is also supposedly a very good kisser (according to the last female volunteer here). We had dinner at his house on Monday, and the other teachers stuck around for a dance party as well. I left with Beth-Neville and her husband John to go plan the rest of my lessons.

So… most people who know me know I’m not a big party person. My idea of a “party” is a lot of good food and people I can talk to. Maybe some music that I inevitably end up singing along to. “Dancing” and “dance music” generally don’t fall into the picture.

I had my camera out from the teacher-gathering earlier (groups of people don’t seem to mind you taking pictures as much as individuals) and decided to play around a bit with the shutter speed and color settings. I broke out the tripod and used the camera as an alternative to getting hammered… it worked pretty well! I had fun, everyone else had fun, and I wasn’t hiding in my room!


The party ended around 1 am.

And three of us (Fer, Chat, and I) had to teach at 7:30 am.

My schedule on Friday was 7:30- 4o Magisterio followed immediately by 3o Básico followed immediately by 2o Básico followed by a 45 minute break followed by another section of 4o Magisterio (same kids).

In other words… HELL.

The first section of 4o Magisterio went reasonably well. It turned out that no one understood the homework from the night before (or rather, the few that did changed their minds when they saw others claiming that they hadn’t). So I reviewed the lesson on “story questions” (who, what, where, when, why, and how) and how we can use them to describe pictures. And then how we can use them to decide what we’re going to take pictures of.

Then we worked on descriptions of each of the questions. ie: how can we create a really rich description of the “what” part of a story. What happened? How can we describe it so that we can picture it ahead of time, and then take a really good picture of exactly the action/event we want? That’s where I lost them.

3o was okay… the kids had some really creative stories they had written for the pictures I brough in the other day. One of the pictures from BBC.com was of a dog licking its lips while staring at a glass case of cookies in this new restaurant in France that caters to dogs. Pretty cute.

It was amazing how many kids wrote about the dog! (as opposed to the picture of the San Mateo market day, a mother and daughter in a squatter settlement, and a family waiting with bags by the side of the road– in other words, things you might see around here).

In each of the stories, the dog gets lost, for various reasons (one student said the dog had been sold and tried to find it’s previous owner, one said that the dog was playing and got separated from its owner in the wilderness, another said that the dog’s owner beat it so it ran away). The dog sometimes has a girlfriend, and wants to go on a trip with the girlfriend, but they get lost. But then the dog finds its way back to town, and finds this wonderful place with all of these cookies and cakes, and finds its (kind) owner, and lives happily ever after. Only one student said that the dog died of hunger in the wilderness.

I thought the stories were great!

I thought the unneccessary talking during class, complaints over homework, and random “journeys” around the classroom were not so great (kids getting up and wandering around the 8ft x 8ft box of a room).

Nor was the freezing cold great. Not at all. In 3o Básico the kids are in a room apart from the rest of the school. It’s made of cinderblocks and has a tin roof with a gap between the top of the walls and the roof. There’s a dirt floor, which is very uneven, so I get complaints every day that the desks rock back and forth too much for them to write.

I was cold, and I was wearing long underwear, jeans, boots, a tank top, a longsleeve t-shirt, a polypro top, a fleece top, a scarf, and my windproof jacket!

Most of the kids didn’t even have jackets. They were wearing maybe a sweatshirt, sometimes just a couple long sleeve tshirts, layered. It was painful to see them all huddled down in their desks– no wonder they didn’t want to answer questions, or discuss some silly pictures I put up on the board! And no wonder they created fantasies about a dog that found the motherload of cookies and cakes…

2o Básico is in the hallway in between 4o Magisterio and 3o Básico. It’s a big hallway, but it’s still a hallway. It is impossible to keep the kids’ attention for more than 5 minutes. I was so exhausted in that class, and no one had done their homework. I ended up reviewing the story questions and then putting one picture after another up on the board for them to describe in their notebooks using the story questions. Every 30 seconds or so, one of the kids would ask to get up and see the picture more closely, and an entire group would crowd around the board as I repeated (over and over) “one at a time, please! one at a time!”

What really got on my nerves, though, was how they made fun of my telling them to raise their hands and wait for me to call on them if they wanted to talk. I’d say in Spanish “Si quieres hablar, levanta la mano y yo te reconoceré” and if they didn’t wait I would say “Yo no te reconocía” or “Espera hasta que yo te reconozca”. I was so worried about the grammar that I wrote it out ahead of time and had Fer check it.

The kids have terrible written Spanish grammar. Reading their journals, this is immediately apparent. So when one of them starts repeating, over and over, in a high squeaky voice “Levata la mano para que yo te reconoceré” (which is grammatically incorrect… it’s using the future tense when it should be the subjunctive for “reconocer”) I’m wondering if he thinks that’s what I said, and is making fun of me for having bad grammar (which in that case, I didn’t!) or if he’s just mimicking me for repeating that damned phrase over and over again.

I had very little voice left by the end of that class.

I was also on the warpath when I met my coworkers for recess– Jess said she had never heard me swear before that!

One brief shining moment was when one of the girls from 2o brought me my travel alarm, which I’ve been using in place of a watch because there are no clocks in the classrooms. I had left it sitting on the chalkboard ledge.

I had no idea what we were going to do in 4o Magisterio.

On my way to that class, the sun suddenly started peeking out from behind the fog. Hooray!

I got to class, and the kids were squirming in their seats. They have so much class every day! They’re the one grade that has a full-full day of classes: they start at 7:30 and finish at 5:20. They have an hour and a half for lunch, and a 20 minute recess. That’s still a lot of time to be in class every day. Especially if the sun is shining outside.

So I opened the class with “well, I had a plan, but I think I’m going to change it.” I put some questions up on the board that you could use to describe a place. And then I told them that we were going on a “mini-fieldtrip” to the park in the town center. They had to write two full pages (their notebook pages are half the size of the letter-sized notebooks that we use) describing what they saw there, answering the questions I had put up on the board and making their own observations.

I told them I wanted descriptions so rich I could smell the air when I read them!

I fully expected them to take off and not come back, be missing from their next class, and get me in trouble with the director. I was so fried out at that point that I didn’t really care. What was the director going to do? Fire me? They’re not even paying me! (They do pay the others, a nominal monthly salary). Whatever, dude.

I went back to the Foundation Offices and consulted my coworkers. Was I really crazy? What was I thinking?! But they were supportive– maybe I should go to the center and check on my students?

Oh yeah, good idea.

And this is what I found when I got there.

I was greeted by students all over, all writing furiously in their notebooks! Several came up to me and asked questions about the assignment, I gave them some more examples of questions to think about, and they went back to work!

It was amazing!

A couple of girls came up to me and asked if they could play basketball, since they had finished. I took a look at their notebooks– they had written two full pages of description! So sure, I let them go play some basketball.

Of course, when I got back to class I found that a couple of students had hung around the school, or gotten ice cream, and not written at all in their notebooks. But you can’t win ’em all. And overall, the “fieldtrip” was a hit– brought smiles to everyones’ faces, especially mine. And two of the girls bought me oranges! And a mini rice/corn cookie thing!

I can’t imagine what would have happened to a teacher in the States who tried something like that… left the kids more or less unsupervised in the middle of town?? I would have had to pass around permission slips a week in advance, recruit chaperones, come up with a description of why the fieldtrip was edcuactionally valuable… then again, in the States I might have had a schoolyard to use, rather than having to go to the park in the middle of town!

I don’t think I could have done this activity with my other two classes, but it worked out very well with 4o Magisterio. I think I’ll try to incorporate outside activities more often.


And this picture completely made my day 🙂

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1 Response to “Amazement”


  1. 1 Katherine September 28, 2007 at 8:57 pm

    Actually, it did change my ‘trajectory’ for the whole three months— i tried to incorporate field trips as much as possible, and it worked out pretty darned well (looking back on it…)


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