So, I know that some of you have been thinking, "Golly Gee, it looks like she's having fun...but didn't she go there to work?!" And how do I know you've been thinking this?? Well, because you've…you know who you are…have had the tactfulness to say it to me! So, allow me to give you a little insight on my working life here in Colombia...
So first of all, my apologies; this blog post has been a long time coming! But the cultural meaning of 'time’ down here is a little different ;) When I moved to Cartagena I was so excited to finally be out of training and get started with the work I came here to do! Meetings with the teachers started the following day at my assigned school for a mandatory two-week planning period. Leading up to this pivotal 'first-day' of meeting everyone and beginning to plan the curriculum for the year, I couldn't get anybody from my school to return a phone call telling me what time I should arrive! A friend who teaches at a neighboring school told me I should arrive around 10am. So, the next day I arrive at 10, okay like 9:30, where I then sit through a full-fledged Catholic mass service in one of our conference rooms, followed by a quick lunch, and then everyone promptly left. Day one complete! After two weeks of coming to school to plan, which mostly involved me waiting for my counterparts (Peace Corps lingo for the English Teachers I work with) to show up, the first day the student's would attend school was upon us!!
|My Counterparts: Jesus and Nelly|
Now my school serves 10th and 11tth graders, and only about 220 of them. So imagine my surprise, when on the first day of classes for the students, nobody had a schedule! The kids were put into a room and watched a movie for the first day. And as if that weren’t shocking enough, this continued for three weeks! For three weeks nobody had a schedule and students just milled about school (the ones who still attended, that is). However, things have begun to pick up over the past few weeks and I have been able to get into accomplishing the three goals of Peace Corps Colombia: English Teacher Technical Training, Extracurricular English Training Opportunities for Students and Teachers from Other Subject Areas, and Support to Community Initiatives Within the Field of Education and Youth Development.
Goal One: English Teacher Technical Training. The objective is to not only improve the English of English teachers, but also improve current Teaching English as a Foreign Language, or TEFL, methodologies, aid in the development of teaching resources and lesson planning, as well as the implementation of said plans in the classroom. This is a vital goal that needs to be accomplished if there is any hope of Colombian schools becoming fully bilingual--teaching all classes in Spanish and English--as the Colombian Secretary of Education has decreed. Furthermore, this goal is centered around sustainability. If I were to come here and teach English for two years and then leave, not much would change. However, by training Colombian English teachers who will continue to teach for 5, 10, 15 more years, we have the potential to change the education landscape in the cities where we work!
Most of you are familiar with this goal, as this is the one I was familiar with before I left! Basically what this goal boils down to is co-planning, co-teaching, and giving workshops. As any Peace Corps volunteer here in Colombia will tell you, getting counterparts to plan with us is not easy! Lesson planning is something that is not focused on, nor required, while completing courses to become a teacher. Furthermore, they have managed this many years without planning, so why start now?!? is the attitude we face. However, improving methodologies and presenting new activities is crucial to fulfilling this goal, so we all keep trying! Generally it takes making three appointments each week, and getting stood up the first two, before I am able to plan with my teachers! Co-teaching and being in the classroom with students is such a breath of fresh air to an educator such as myself and tends to go a little more smoothly than co-planning. However having two leaders in a classroom can be difficult to navigate for teachers and students alike. All of this takes place during my minimum 18 hours (remember this is only one part, of one of three Peace Corps goals I am tasked with!) that I am required to be at CASD Manuala Beltran.
|Security you must make it through before gaining access to my school.|
|After the security entrance, the entrance to the school.|
|My school is rather spacious and partly indoors, party outdoors!|
In addition to co-planning and co-teaching, with the backing of the Secretary of Education in Cartagena, we are starting a Saturday morning class for all English teachers throughout Cartagena and its 'suburbs'. I have been planning this class with fellow volunteers for quite some time and it is quite the undertaking! In this class we will give workshops and focus on improving methodology and English activities across all of Cartagena. Our first class is this coming Saturday, so look for a blog post coming soon :)
Goal Two: Extracurricular English Training Opportunities for Students and Teachers from Other Subject Areas. To accomplish this goal I have started a weekly English Club for my students to attend, as well as a weekly English Class for all teachers at CASD...and some community members too!
My English Club for students is my baby, and what keeps me going through some rough weeks! The school day in Colombia is broken up into sessions, or jornadas. There are simply too many students and not enough schools for all students to attend classes at once. At CASD, one jornada starts at 6:40am and finishes and 12 noon and the second begins at 1:40pm and ends at 6:30pm. Now most Colombian teachers teach more than one jornada every day because the salary for one jornada (more than I make, I must say!), is not enough to live on. However students only attend one jornada, except at technical school such as mine. At my school every student attends one jornada five days a week and also attends a second jornada three days a week for technical classes. These are students who will not be attending University and are looking for technical skills to help them get a job right out of high school.
I give both my English club for students and English class for teachers during the lunch break from noon-1:30. That means some of my students, who eat lunch quickly and attend my Club are at school and in classes for 12 hours straight...talk about dedication! This term my English Club is focused on music. Every week we learn the words to a popular English song and do a corresponding activity. This week, every student has chosen their favorite English singer/group researched them and are creating large handwritten 'Facebook Profiles' about them. I have a wonderful group of students who attend and this club not only fulfils goal two for the Peace Corps, but fulfils me.
|Sorry about the poor quality, still working on getting my camera fixed, so this is a cell phone photo of my students working hard at creating 'storyboard' for a music video to one of the songs we just learned.|
|And the girls doing the same activity!|
The English class for teachers is slightly more difficult, full of teachers who have very specific ideas of what they want to learn and how they want to learn…which is great if it’s a one0on-one class and not full of 10 different opinions. But the important thing is I have a classroom full of people who want to learn and who want to be there…every teacher’s dream!
Goal Three: Support to Community Initiatives Within the Field of Education and Youth Development. This goal opens up a multitude of options for Peace Corps Volunteers in Colombia, and allows for a little bit (the only bit) of autonomy in our lives. Within the third goal, we are able to follow our passions and create what the Peace Corps calls Secondary Projects. These projects can be related to youth groups, empowering women and young girls, sports teams, movie clubs, early childhood education, etc.
Since I arrived in Cartagena I have been searching for the appropriate outlet for my desire to continue my work in the field of Early Childhood Education. In addition to working with young children, I would also like to work with their parents. It has been a passion of mine give classes and guidance to young parents and pregnant mothers about the development of their infant/toddler. By the time the brain is 5 years old it is 90% developed. I believe to truly ‘level the playing field’ and eradicate education inequality you need to work with young children and help give them the tools, the brain development, to compete with their peers.
I have visited several organizations, and am in the process of finalizing which organization or NGO I will be volunteering at to complete my third goal…look for more blogs on this to come J
So there you have it…proof that I do work in the Peace Corps! Look forward to a slightly more lighthearted and less technical blog coming soon about all the things I used to take for granted in the USA. Miss you all and love you. Will be coming back to Chicago in June for my birthday, so mark your calendars!