First Week(s) of School

February 2015 Guidepost to Wholehearted Living
Cultivating Intuition and Trusting Faith: Letting Go of the Need for Certainty

Our long-awaited first school year in Nicaragua is upon us!  After hours of Peace Corps trainings, discussions about methodology and culture, and strategizing about how we could best manage co-planning and co-teaching dynamics, we have officially begun our 21-month journey hand-in-hand with our Nicaraguan counterparts teachers.

Our Peace Corps TEFL Teacher Trainer program is designed for sustainability.  In that sense, while we work in the public high schools our main responsibility is not to teach high school students English.  Rather, our focus is our relationships with our Nicaragua counterpart English teachers.  TEFL volunteers each have from 2-4 counterparts with whom we co-plan and co-teach for a minimum of 16 hours a week.  Through this mutual learning process we work to help them improve their English language skills & introduce more communicative activities into the classroom, while they share with us their cultural knowledge and experience teaching in the Nicaragua school system.  After nearly two years of working together the goal is for them to feel confident in using more English in the classroom and in utilizing communicative methodology in class, thus improving the quality of the students’ learning experiences.

Here is what that my work looks like, by the numbers.  I work with:

  • Two Nicaraguan high schools
  • Three Nicaraguan English teachers
  • Each counterpart six hours in the class weekly
  • Three 7th grade classes
  • One 8th grade class
  • Two 10th grade classes
  • Three 11th grade classes
  • About 45 students per class ≅ 400 students

Not gonna lie, this is pretty scary for me!  Although I’ve been telling people that I’m a profesor de inglés for the last six months, I am very aware that I had limited classroom experience and zero English teaching experience before joining PC Nicaragua.  To now wear the mantle of not only “English Teacher” but of “English Teacher Trainer” can feel daunting.  I want to give my all to helping out the English teachers of Estelí, I’m just not always confident in exactly how I can do this…With that on my mind as I started forward on this uncertain journey, these first weeks of class have reinforced the importance three things for me.

  1. Defining Success – Peace Corps service is about more than just work.
  2. A Learning Mindset – Maybe even more than I am here to help, I am here to learn.
  3. Taking it Day by Day – Patience and perspective on my progress is essential.

Monday, February 9th marked the official start to the school year.  Emily and I were invited, along with the other PCVs in the area, to attend the “Inauguration of the School Year” event hosted by the municipal Ministry of Education.  While the ceremony started a full hour after the advertised start time, it was a wonderful experience.  Leaders from all sectors of the community were invited to sit at the table of honor, and we were treated to folkloric dancing, impassioned speeches from the MINED delegate and vice-mayor, and a 7-year-old flawlessly reciting a three minute Rúben Darío poem from memory.  During the delegate’s speech, we learned that there is a government initiative to get textbooks into all public high schools.  During the event they even had a ceremonial “handing off of the books” portion.  Very exciting!  After the meeting we were treated to nacatamales, and had a great time chatting with the MINED staff.  Although we didn’t go into work, or spend time with our counterparts, being a participant in this event definitely felt successful and rewarding.

School was a whirlwind.  English is taught for three 45-minute periods (which they count as hours) a week here in Nicaragua.  Out of the six periods that were allotted to English these two weeks, on average my counterparts spent only three of them giving English instruction.  The rest of the time was taken up by parent meetings, staff meetings, or orienting students to the new year.  I sat through two staff meetings that started during the first period of the day, and didn’t finish until the second hour ending.  During that time the students were unsupervised and walking around the school grounds.  I had seen this happen a few times last year when I came to observe classes, and it is definitely something that rubs against my cultural conditioning.

Overall, co-teaching went well.  A key of being patient and keeping perspective is celebrating the small successes.  With my counterpart who is new to teaching English I was able to correct a couple of concepts before we taught them to the class (e.g. using “I am 12-years-old” vs “I have 12-years-old”).  In another class I was having a problem with students not wanting to volunteer to participate in a practice activity, so I quickly improvised and used a hot potato to elicit random volunteer participation, and it worked great!  Finally, I also convinced almost all of my students to let me take pictures of them with their names written on their notebooks, as I’m trying my best to learn their names!

See why I need all the help I can get in learning these names???
See why I need all the help I can get in learning these names???

There were also plenty of opportunities for learning.  While one of my counterparts is new to teaching English, and doesn’t quite yet have a strong grasp on the language, my other counterparts have each been teaching English for more than 15 years.  During a lesson with one of my veteran counterparts, I was thoroughly outshined by him.  Our activity was writing a number of example sentences on the board for students to copy into their notebooks to practice the different forms (affirmative, negative, and interrogative) of “have to”.  I was impressed with the efficiency and level of student engagement with which he imparted the lesson.  He did use a lot of Spanish during the course of his teaching, but he was constantly bantering with the students, using humor, and you could see that the rapport he had with the class was holding their attention.  I was able to debrief him after the lesson, and was glad for the opportunity to compliment him on his style, as well as receive some helpful feedback from him.

As Emily commented in her post An Uncertian Start, our Guidepost focus for the month is Cultivating Intuition and Trusting Faith: Letting Go of the Need for Certainty.  What I will accomplish, the influence I will have, and what I can do with my limited experience to best help the teachers we work with all feels uncertain to me.  This week I realized that one of my strengths that I can offer my counterparts is my gut intuition and understanding of the English language, which has already proved helpful.  More than that, though, I feel that I am called to have faith in this process of working together, learning from each other, and seeking successes in all shapes and sizes.

We would love to hear what you think about this guidepost:  

+ Do you feel a need for certainty in your life?
+ What is intuition?  What is faith?  How do we cultivate and trust them?

Read/join the discussion here.


11 thoughts on “First Week(s) of School”

  1. Yay, I’ve been wondering how your first week at school went. Thanks for sharing your struggles and concerns and joys. Wow!

    To answer your ?, yes I need certainty, I really like it! I like to know what’s coming in my day/week. I like some spontaneity, but planned fun is better for me!

    1. How crazy is that, huh? And the fact that we’re able to share these experiences with PCVs now a days is pretty incredible. How is Internet access at your site?

  2. I am so proved of you both. You will both learn and contribute to the learning of your many students. Keep up the good work. God bless you both. Bestefar.

  3. I personally have a high tolerance for uncertainty and chaos as long as I know that in the big picture the goals will be met. I count on serendipity and spontaneity enlivening my classroom teaching but that is in part possible because I feel very comfortable with the topic and trust my students to play along with me.

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