WorldTeach Colombia: A Day in the Life with Autumn

I often overlook that our blog reaches more than just a strict teacher demographic. For anyone out there who wants to know what it's like to actually be a teacher, the following is a great example. Schedules and student rosters reflect one reality and yet the reality is that teaching is a fluid practice. Exceptional teachers know how to roll with the punches and push towards achievable goals. Let WorldTeach Volunteer Autumn Wonderlich share some insight about the life of a teacher in Cartagena, Colombia.


I work at Escuela Normal Superior de Cartagena de Indias in Nuevo Bosque, about a 20 minute walk from my apartment building.  The school is one of the higher-rated schools around, but is still low-resource.  For instance, the students pay for their own copies of worksheets and tests. It´s already pretty bad to take a test, but to have to shell out your own pesos for it too.. rough.  The school is one of the very few in Cartagena that is applying to be a bilingual school, which is a huge accomplishment. The English language skill in Colombian schools is typically low, and even some of the English teachers have surprisingly low levels of English. My students would not be able to understand me if I only spoke in English, so I am fortunate to have co-teachers who actually have good levels of English and can help me translate.

There are multiple Escuela Normal schools throughout Colombia, all of which are specially designed for students who want to be teachers. They are on a special track so that if they decide to become teachers, it is easier for them. La Normal offers a two-year teacher program after graduation so that the students can continue on in their studies – this would qualify them to become a primary school teacher. The students can then decide to continue to university afterwards, to become a secondary teacher. (The teacher program has been described to me multiple ways, but this is what I’ve concluded). I really love this concept because I hope my contribution will be passed on to future generations of school children through the future teachers I am teaching.

Give a man a fish, he’ll eat for a day.  Teach a man to fish, he’ll eat for a lifetime.

In Colombia, most schools follow a morning and afternoon schedule. At La Normal, the 9th to 11th graders and primary school have class in the morning, from 6:30 until 12:30. In reality, classes never start until after 7:00, there is a descanso (break) which is 30 minutes (usually more), and then classes end at about 12:15.  In the afternoon, the 6th-8th graders and the Teacher Program have classes from 1:00 to 7:00, also with a 30 minute descanso. The students stay in their classrooms, while the teachers rotate around. However, because of the "tranquilo" lifestyle, it is not uncommon for the teachers to show up halfway into a class period. This creates a problem for me because I sometimes don’t know the lesson plan, or I assume that the teacher will only take a minute to make copies, or run to the bathroom, etc. After getting used to this schedule for awhile though, it will be very difficult to acclimate back to being on time in the States.

I have 10 classes – 1 section of 6th, 3 sections of 8th, all 4 sections of 9th, and 2 sections of 10th.  The class sizes range from 37 students to 48 students. A little larger than the classes I remember from middle and high school. Because of the teacher specialization, I only have about 5 boys per class. I have around 400 students, so I am working hard to remember their names, but for right now it seems pretty difficult. I’m sure it will come as I get to know them better.. which seemed impossible to me at first, but I am already bonding with students in our limited languages.

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