3/11/10

Teaching and Learning in Colombia

A big thanks today to Nicholas Kristof at the New York Times for his mention of WorldTeach in his column!

WorldTeach Colombia also recently made the local news yet again, for those of you who can read Spanish.
And below, for Spanish speakers and non-Spanish speakers alike, is the latest dispatch from Angela Strader, WorldTeach Colombia volunteer.

"I don’t know how the full-time teachers here do it. How do they teach above the noise? The students yelling “prof!” every two seconds, and the other kids right outside the window screaming during recess. How do they keep from losing their voices? How do they handle the kids that insist on fixing their hair, having a snack, or listening to music in class?? How can they teach when at least once if not upwards of 5 or 6 times each class period, someone comes to the door with some kind of announcement: “Don’t forget to vote for class president!” “Hey, these snacks are left over from the fourth graders, anyone want some?” “Excuse me teacher, can you give me a second because I need to speak with these three students…” How do they maintain such composure, smiling and donning their crisp white delantals? And most importantly, how do these teachers maintain such warm-natured, friendly relationships with the students despite these obstacles?

But I can’t just look at the teachers, I also have to wonder how the students do it. How do they come to school without eating breakfast at times? And amid the aforementioned obstacles, how on earth do they manage to retain information taught within the space of what can be described as a 50-minute free-for-all? On the other hand, how do all the kids seem to be smiling and seem so loving?


WorldTeach volunteer Tara Klarr teaching in an open-air classroom

Sometimes I stand back and marvel at the sight. Although I’m in a special position being the native English teacher, the students always ask me when I will go to their class next. They want to hear my accent, they want to learn a song, they want to know how to say their name in English. They want to be my friend.

Teaching is hard. One 50-minute class with some kindergartners is enough to wipe you out. But afterward I sit down for a moment and a little muchacho with blue-rimmed glasses will walk up, look me in the eye, and without saying anything hug me around the neck and squeeze me tight.

Today a little boy brought a puppy to school hidden in his pack. His parents wouldn’t let him keep it at his house so rather than leave it on the street he brought it with him. It looked about 3 weeks old. When his teacher found out, he was told to go sit outside with the dog. I could tell he was sad. When I asked what he planned to do with it he squinted at me with worried eyebrows, and asked “lo puedes llevar?,” can you take him?

Teaching is hard. But I have it easy compared to the other teachers. And the students. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that they aren’t the only ones doing the learning..."

photos courtesy of Courtney Mather

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