May Our Hearts Remain Open and Our Minds Curious, Even in the Midst of Confusion and Struggle

“So what did you think about our last class?”

“It was OK. I really liked the Walk-to-the-line activity, but I don’t know if they completely understand possessive adjectives.”

“Why do you think that?”

“Every time we gave an example with a possessive, they seemed to wait for one student to move, and then they followed. I think they were just mimicking him.”

“Good observation. What can we do about that? Do you want to re-teach the material, or try a different assessment to see where individual students are?”

“I would like to do a review of the material. But how?”

“Well, let’s look for some ideas here in the TEFL Manual. What do you think about this one?”

Almost every co-planning session I have with one of my counterparts begins with some variation of this conversation. I have four amazing counterparts with whom I teach 14 different groups of 7th – 10th graders. Each week, they give up an hour or two to co-plan with me so that we can co-teach together.

I’ve been a teacher for a few years with my own formal classroom as well as informally through summer camps, tutoring, and Outdoor School in the Pacific Northwest. Each brought their unique challenges and moments of success. I grew into who I am as an educator, further defining my philosophy of education, my ideas about community and parent involvement, my opinions about testing and national standards. I had complete control of my classroom culture, student expectations, and lesson design.

But that is not my reality as a TEFL Teacher Trainer in Nicaragua.

While my primary assignment is to work directly with students in the Nicaraguan high school English classroom, it is always through a co-teaching model. I could certainly teach a lot of chavalos English during my 27 months as a PCV if I had my own classroom, but the project framework of PC Nicaragua is bigger than teaching a few students a couple years worth of English.

I am a co-teacher, and I am learning how to share my classroom, my planning, my ideas, my successes, my failures. It is my job to become a part of the school community through working with Nicaraguan English teachers in their day-to-day teaching, to help them improve their English and methodological practices.

If you think sharing all of those responsibilities is easy…think again. For this Type A, Midwestern go-getter, the idea of sharing a classroom was one of my biggest fears coming into Peace Corps (apart from the language learning). I was afraid that my ideas would clash with my counterparts, that we wouldn’t see eye to eye, that I would be forever frustrated and stuck between being a real teacher and a slightly annoying guest.

In some ways, this is exactly what happens. Every day. But in other ways, I couldn’t have been more wrong.

My counterparts are some of the most hardworking, intelligent, creative, and passionate people I know. While we don’t always have the same ideas (as we come from different cultures and educational contexts), we always strive to work together towards our mutual goals. Instead of encountering difficulty, I have found that my counterparts are more than willing to try some of my “crazy gringa ideas.” Some of them work, some of them don’t. The wonderful part of it all is that we are learning together.

My students are even more excited to learn. They love learning with the games and songs I bring, but also about a new culture that they only know through Hollywood. They pass me on the street saying, “See you later, teacher,” a daily phrase in our classes. They respect me, and treat me both as a teacher and as a guest.

There are times when I am confused and struggle with my work here in Nicaragua. But both Andrew and I have tried our hardest to remain open minded and curious. Starting from a place of humility and a genuine hunger to learn has made a world of difference. My counterparts are as excited to teach me as I am to teach them. That’s what this Peace Corps thing is really all about.


8 thoughts on “May Our Hearts Remain Open and Our Minds Curious, Even in the Midst of Confusion and Struggle”

  1. hi mrs.nilsen I miss you so much graduation is on Wednesday and i am going to be in 9th grade we are painting the play house red and putting our hand prints on the house for our legacy project. I am wearing a blue short dress with converse I will try to send you a picture of my outfit for my graduation. I love you with all my heart and hope to see you soon. Love Sarah Tungate 🙂

  2. You and your crazy gringa ideas. Hahaha that cracked me up.
    Sure sounds like you are growing and learning a lot. I love how aware you are that a person’s truth that they live by is greatly determined by their culture.

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