Monday, March 10, 2008

Update from The Chin

School started which seemed to conicide with a decline in blog writing by us. So, here is an update as to what we have been doing these past 2 months, other the contemplate the educational system, as stated in Jenny´s previous blog. After we returned to Chinandega from being on vacation and working at the summer camp in Managua, we had about a week to prepare for the upcoming school year. The week before school started all the teachers (a couple hundred teachers) from the department of Chinandega come here to have workshops put on by the Ministry of Education. One of my counterparts happened to be one of the faciliators for the English teachers. He asked me if I would help him with some activities, so Jenny and I ended up presenting particpatory ideas to use in the classroom three days in a row. It was luck that my counterpart happened to be one of the faciliators and we got this opportunity to work with all the English teachers in the department. Yeah, objetive 2.2!!!

The school year at my school definitely got off to a faster start this year since I was already accustomed to my counterparts and the specific challenges that working here entails. But, one challenge that is always hard to overcome is when you do not have a classroom. At my school right now there are 4 different classes that share the basketball court, as shown by the photo, plus one other class that doesn´t fit on the court so they are off in the dirt. Talk about a difficult way to start the year. I work with my counterpart in the morning with 3 of these sections. It is almost impossible to do speaking activities because I can not hear/understand the students and vice versa. Luckily they are in the process of building the extra classrooms necessary and they should be done in April or May...I hope.

My counterpart David writing on the whiteboard in our classroom of 11th grade students (seniors here).

Besides our usual English teachings responsibilities we have been doing some "secondary projects" including cooking with soy and creating a garden and compost pile in our backyard. These are more for our own good and sanity.

Will cooking our "Chorizo with Soy"... It tasted a lot better than it looked!

Will actually bought the soy beans here in Chinandega in the market and then soaked them and got the meat (payana) out of them before bringing them to our house to cook with.

Not really a secondary project, but what would a blog be without a random picture of a parade that came by our house the other night. This one was for a private school that is near our house. Surprisingly, it had a religious theme!

Here is our amazing compost pile it even comes with free baby trantulas!!

Finished after a lot of help from our two friendly environment volunteers, Lucian and Will. We couldn´t have done it without you! Now we just have to wait for the fruits of our labor..peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes, two types of lettuce, and melon...mmmm.

This photo is for Jenny´s dad because Jenny said he would never believe her if she told him that she picked weeds.

This is Paul. He is a health volunteer in Corinto. He didn´t really help with the garden, but man, can he supervise!

We have about 7 months left here and it seems to be going so fast. We still have plently that we want to up... making homemade mango wine!!
Oh yeah, and of course the English teaching and all our other projects and responsibilities.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Jenny´s had too much time to think...

The other day I was thinking...why is it so much easier teaching here than in the states? Is it because there are 2 of us in the classroom? I do think that this has a lot of do with it, but not everything. So what else is it? I think it is so much less stressful teaching here. Maybe it´s because I´m a volunteer and I don´t have to deal with any political issues? Once again, yes, but this isn´t a big problem in the US, so it doesn´t really count. So really, why?

Then I got to thinking.....wait, I know nothing about most of my students, much less their names. But neither does anybody else. In the states, we are encouraged to find out why Student A is sleeping during class, why Student B doesn´t do his homework, why Student C is such a spaz, and why Student D copies incorrectly from the board. This is something here that teachers don´t worry about! However, I still do. Sometimes I´ll make comments to my counterpart, Hey did you know that Student B who never does his homework has a job and works all afternoon/evening? And he´ll say....mmmmm. Like, and your point is.....??? I realized that here, the teachers don´t think of this as part of their jobs. Well, I guess, because it´s not.

Some of this makes my life a lot easier. We can treat all students as equals. But the truth is, they aren´t. Why should 2 students who grew up in the states be judged on the same scale as the rest of the students in English class? Since nobody is diagnosed with learning disablities, that must mean that nobody has one, right? WRONG! It is amazing the amount of students who can not copy off the board without their papers looking totally crazy and illegible. But what do we do to help these students succeed? Nothing.

In the states, the schools are really different. Teachers are expected to be part of a committee, hall moniters, lunch moniters, homeroom leaders, counselors, motivators, and more. I realize that only the teachers that really care do the counseling and motivating, but I really feel like that is a large portition of teachers in the US. However, here, teachers are mainly instructors. I am speaking about me as well. Here, I walk into the classroom and I give a lesson. It is up to the student to decide whether they want to learn it or not, listen or not, take notes or not. If they do or not, no me importa. I try and create lessons that stimulate and motivate my students, but beyond that, nada. In the states, I will honestly say, that kid in the back is going to learn, and really try to achieve that. Here I think, those of you paying attention will learn! Even though, sometimes just paying attention isn´t enough for some to learn.

It´s sad really. Jeff thinks that Paulo Freire would be mad. However, most teachers don´t have time here to play the other roles of a teacher. Many teachers teach at one school from 7-12. A different school from 1-6, and yet a different school all day on Saturday or Sunday. This is way to much work to be doing a good job in the classes that you have. There needs to be big changes in the structure of the eductional system to allow the instructors here to really become teachers. There needs to be more teachers, more schools, and more class time for students. I don´t think that 7-12 really cuts it. Students need to recieve more classes, and be given more opportunties for other forms of learning in groups outside of school as well, or even sports teams.

A lot of time, we hear a lot of complaining that there are no materials for teachers. And they´re underpaid. Welcome to the job of a teacher. Wherever we go, we will be underpaid! But materials, what do you REALLY need to inspire youth to learn? An imagination. Sure, some kick ass materials would help, but many times great materials go to waste because people don´t know how to use them. So maybe its better to do like we were told, to keep it smart and simple.

There is so much that really needs to be changed. But really, as a Peace Corps volunteer, what can I do? Nothing with these big, structural changes. But I can try and help teachers do the best that they can, with what is given to them. I can also help students who want to learn English, learn more. It´s a start.