Before swearing in as a Peace Corps Volunteer, I anticipated service as a time for life to slow down. And while I haven’t had time to read one hundred books, there definitely is a different feeling to the pace of life here.
We’re striving to focus a little bit less on how busy we are and how much we accomplish. As a to-do lister and master task manager, I used to wear my crazy, busy life like a badge of honor. We want to soak up this opportunity of a slower paced life, where stopping and chatting with people even if that makes you late is more important than arriving on time, where buying your food every day isn’t a chore, but a privilege to enjoy the market and wonders of fresh fruits and vegetables almost year round. Hay mas tiempo que vida. “There is more time than life.” So slow down. Eat. Breathe. Think.
So we’re taking time to reflect – on our passions, on our culture, on our lives. With some of this extra time for reflection I’ve been thinking a lot about teaching, both here and in the states, and my future in it.
When I was sick a few weeks ago and stuck in bed, I spent the day working on my professional portfolio, going through pictures, and reflecting on my teaching experiences in the states. We’re currently taking online classes as a part of our TEFL certification process, and with each online learning community I get to share my thoughts and hear from my peers about teaching practices in the Nicaraguan public schools, and also more generally about education theory and practice. Our next formal assignment is to re-write our personal philosophy of education. I co-plan and co-teach each week with four counterparts to help improve their English and methodologies. We’re facilitating monthly workshops for the 30+ teachers of Estelí in which they share their teaching experiences, successes, and challenges. We chat with the Ministry of Education about how to best support their teachers and students.
In short, I think about teaching and the systems that support it, or hurt it, a lot.
There are a lot of challenges within education systems. It was easy to get overwhelmed with the difficulties and bureaucracy in the states. While the systems are different here, similar challenges exist. Volunteers can easily get overwhelmed with all that could be better, but isn’t.
The struggle to get parent involvement, disadvantages to those with lower socio-economic status, lack of resources, large classes…Sound familiar? Those are all issues here, too.
And those monthly workshops with the Estelí teachers that have been such a success? The system is changing so we won’t be able to have them anymore. Classes are often canceled, taking the already low 3 hours of English class a week down. Some of the English teachers struggle to be able to form sentences in English to speak with us.
The struggles are real. Ignoring them isn’t our goal. But there are some that we can help to change, and others we can’t. So we start by trying to counter those overwhelmed feelings whenever we can.
Our entire Nica 64 group came together one day last month for an “Ideas Exchange” – to share what’s worked and what hasn’t, to learn from each other, to find some inspiration.
Andrew and I try to share about our classes each day over our lunch break. We make sure to share some of the good things, some of the things that worked for us, too, as well as talking out the problems. And then we try to replicate our successes in future lessons.
Those monthly workshops – the teachers love them so much that they’re writing a petition to the Ministry of Education about how helpful they are, and how much they want them to continue. If change is going to come, this is where it begins.
Some of the English teachers may have low English language skills, but they want to learn and they are willing to make mistakes and learn with us. As I’ve been learning with Spanish, it takes hundreds of mistakes and a spirit that says “keep trying” to make it anywhere with a language.
Students that get SUPER into a game and forgot that they are learning, gaining support from superiors to try something a little different during the programming of the month, seeing a teacher use a strategy that we taught in a workshop…small steps, but steps nonetheless.
Because that’s what teaching is really all about. Slowly, but surely moving forward. To successfully facilitate that takes dedication, hard work, creativity, and the humility to honestly reflect. It takes slowing down. It takes focusing a little less on being busy, and focusing a little more on people.
I love teaching – working with students, taking a group of people from one place to another, facilitating growth and knowledge acquisition. It makes me come alive. I feel so lucky that I get to work towards this goal here in Nicaragua. Whether I go back to classroom teaching in the states or continue this path of teacher training and support through administration, I am committed to this complex, imperfect system that is education. Sometimes the only way you can fix something is from within.
We would love to hear what you think about this guidepost:
¿ What are your forms of play and rest?
¿ How can we redefine self-worth?
Read/join the discussion here.