6/20/12

A Taste of Volunteering in Guyana

 



WorldTeach Guyana is an incredibly unique program. The diverse people of this South American country speak primarily in English. Therefore, the focus of volunteer teachers is shifted towards the maths & sciences. In 2011, Erin Dunnington spent a year teaching in Guyana with WorldTeach. Her experience was unforgettable. As the deadline for the next opportunity to volunteer in Guyana approaches, we'd like to share with you a taste of such an experience from one of Erin's blog posts. Get a glimpse of her awesome experience below!

 

Tales of Term One - My first term of teaching at PKSS has officially ended. This adventure has certainly been a whirlwind.

       The term started with a lot of confusion. Rosie and I were thrust into a situation that we were entirely underprepared for. We were quite apprehensive and unsettled for the first month. While school offered some form of routine and structure to our new life in Port Kaituma, getting to know the system and trying to get to know over 300 students each was daunting. Initially we were class teachers for a 9th grade class that neither of us taught and trying to organize the sale of a dish called “pepperpot” for a school fundraiser without knowing how to cook it ourselves (… and that’s just one story). The school was also trying to get me to teach a class for which there was no available curriculum, old schemes, or any type of material. Somehow I managed to convince the school that it wasn’t in the students’ best interest for me to teach the class until curriculum could be found. Within the first week I went from teaching 7th grade Math, 10th grade Biology, and 11th grade Integrated Science to teaching 9th grade Math, and 10th and 11th grade Human and Social Biology. Chaos at home met chaos at school. By the end of the first two weeks Rosie and I were tired, scared, and wondering what in the world we’d gotten ourselves involved in. We depended heavily on support from one another, phone calls to our fellow volunteers, and conversations with our families while we were getting our footing.

      As the weeks progressed, my experience got better and better. I began getting to know the kids and began to learn about their lives outside of the school compound. While giving a quiz to one of my 10th grade classes early in the term I told them to turn over their paper and write me a note, story, or ask me a question when they’d finished. I promised to respond. One boy, Kevin, chose to ask me about my views on evolution. There is a large population of missionaries in and around Port Kaituma. What I’ve noticed is that they have ingrained in many of the people that evolution is entirely inconsistent with divine creation. Sharing my views on this topic with my students has certainly opened the door for many interesting conversations. I’ve also begun corresponding with two of my students via “note” – so high school. At least twice a day Zorina and Ronaldo will drop by the staffroom to deliver me a new note notes telling me about how they are feeling about the school day and how they spent the weekend.  I also became responsible for a new class – 11A. These students are in their last year of secondary school and they are preparing to write the CXC exam at the end of second term. I adore my class. In large part, this class has been responsible for making my transition from “white teacher” to “Miss Erin” successful. Part of Guyanese culture is to assign a callname (better known as a nickname to those of us from the USA); my 11th graders now call me “Goldie Locks” because my “hair looks gold-ish in the sunshine.” Most of the joy I gather from working at PKSS does not come as a result of actually standing in front of the classroom and teaching, but rather as a result of getting to know my kids and spending time laughing, joking, and talking with them outside the classroom.

      That isn’t to say that I don’t gather joy from teaching. While learning to manage large classes and figuring out how to make lessons applicable to people with a wide-range of base-level knowledge, I’ve experienced many frustrations. For a while I was sure that I’d be failing the entire 9th grade in Maths solely because their previous teachers had not taught them the 7th and 8th grade curriculum.  By questioning the kids and evaluating them pretty exhaustively I finally have a clue about how to adequately teach them over the next two terms. While many of the students did struggle this term, I’m hoping that their getting used to my teaching style, my getting used to their learning style, and determining the base-knowledge level for each class will help us move forward more successfully. My Human and Social Biology classes have been infinitely less frustrating to teach. This is likely because I feel more comfortable with scientific material that mathematics. I demand a lot of these kids from weekly quizzes to projects and my 10th and 11th graders definitely stepped up to the challenge this term. Many of them tell me that I am their hardest teacher, but also their best (that is flattering!). While marking end of term exams and calculating final grades I was elated to find one student, Rod (or Roddy, as I call him), who passed my class with 100.1%. I felt like I’d accomplished something even though it wasn’t a grade I’d earned. With a smile on my face I walked down the hall to find him and share the news.  Sharing in students’ achievements is easily my favorite part of being a teacher.

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       This adventure has been life-changing and it isn’t even over. I’ve learned many a valuable lesson and had experiences that wordy descriptions simply cannot do justice to. I’ve done, dealt with, and eaten things that I never imagined I would before. I’ve met some incredible people and fallen in love with the lifestyle and culture here. Whether I stay an extra year or come home for good in July, Guyana will always have a huge place in my heart and I cannot imagine going the rest of my life without coming back. I am excited to see what the next two terms of teaching have in store for me and for my students.

Check out Erin's full post and more at this address. Applications for our Guyana program will be accepted until June 30th! If you have additional questions, feel free to e-mail us at recruiting@worldteach.org or call us at 857-259-6646. We'd love to have you join us in Guyana this year!

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