15 March 2011

Tia Coleen and Total Utter Chaos

Upon walking into the Escuela Juan de Ladrilleros here in Puerto Natales, I was greeted with warmth and stares and cries of, "Hello teacher!" from the kids. The female director (? Not sure exactly what her role is really) of the school took me to literally every classroom in the hour that followed to introduce me to all of the kids in the school. It's not a gigantic school because there are only about two hundred students, but during passing period it feels like there are many thousands of them all running around and yelling in burgundy polo shirts and gray tights.

Things stood out; a mass amount of trophies crowd every available shelf in the lounges and teachers' room. Some classrooms are beautifully decorated and offer the students a lot, but the decoration and effort of the part of the teachers wanes in a decrescendo that leaves the oldest ones with nothing on the walls and almost no discipline. The teachers sit in the teachers lounge and gossip openly about students with the door open. The sunlight in the morning is gorgeous. The windows of the English classroom are broken. Every room has a projector, but no way to connect a computer.

After the tour, we sat down to try to decide where I would teach and when, and with which grade levels. According to the Ministry of Education (MINEDUC) I am supposed to teach only 5th through 8th grade, but there aren't enough classes to complete my needed hours. 25 hours of class time is more than most of the salaried teachers work at the school, and to add another 10 of planning and extra-curriculars is very difficult. 

So I'm teaching basically ALL levels, Kindergarten to 8th grade. Where each class goes changes every day and every 45 to 90 minutes, seemingly at random. Class starts at 8AM and ends around 1:30-2:15 PM. An argument broke out over where I should teach, and when, and with whom, and why English is important. In rapid Chileno Spanish (which is nearly incomprehensible, even though understanding is usually what I excel at), the teachers and assistant director decided my fate almost without consulting me. 

I need to buy some pencils to schedule with here, since everything constantly changes.

The orientation last week told all of us volunteers that there would be an orientation in our regions and in our schools, and that the remaining questions we had could be answered once we got here and met all together with the regional director. We would observe classes but not teach until the following week, once we had time to plan with our head teachers and to learn the rules of our schools. And they would give us materials for classes, the books, and other things we might need. We would plan what to teach with our head teachers for at least four hours a week. We could even choose between two models of teaching: independent and flexible. 

HAH! More like the fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants-with-no-support model. The switch that had been at Barely Controlled Chaos ever since I arrived in Chile instantly flipped to Absolute Chaos yesterday when I was expected to teach (off the cuff) classroom instructions to one of the fifth grade classes. 

Complete And Utter Chaos would come today when my head teacher decided not to come back from his lunch break and the director asked me to substitute with no preparation or lesson plan or materials. I don't even have the English curriculum books for the different levels. Nevermind the fact that the MINEDUC specifically told us that we were not to substitute or be in charge of a whole class alone. For three HOURS. I tried for an hour and managed to get the students to make nametags, to have them show me where the USA and Chile are, and to thoroughly confuse them because we could not communicate.

The other teachers I work with make me angry at adults. They gossip, they shirk their duties, they read out scores of students and poke fun at those who aren't doing as well...worst of all they blame everything on the children. The head English teacher esentially said to me by way of introduction, "We teachers always do the lessons so that they are easiest for us, so we don't really care if the students understand." 

Excuse me? We are not on the same page...not even in the same book. The defeatist attitude that permeates the school might come from dissatisfaction with the work, from a lack of materials and resources, from a misunderstanding of what education is and why it is imperative that all children have access to it. It is a public school in a developing country, after all. But they also have this attitude that I should just magically know all the rules of the school, speak impeccable Chileno, and be aware of all Chilean cultural norms. Telepathically. By osmosis. Somehow.

But the children. The children! They make all the Utter Chaos, all the hostility, all the terror at teaching sans plan worth it. They are adorable, every last one. They call me Tia Coleen (Aunty Coleen) and they all ask questions and want to show off that they understand. They kiss me on the cheek one by one after class and say, "bye bye!!" They give me gifts of candy and cookies and wave at me in the halls. Not one of them is a problem or a bad student by their own fault. Their teachers are failing them, and I know we can do better. 

Especially after today, I've decided not to do anything the way the other teachers do. If I overstep boundaries, I will plead Gringa (Stupid Foreign Girl). I don't really care if the other teachers or the administrators are unsupportive or don't like me or lack the resources to do anything more than they are. Paper is cheap. Markers, too. I will make collages and rules and colorful things, and I will not give in to the defeatism. I will not gossip about my students. I will speak English to them and the exposure will be enough. 

I will be the best English Teacher I can be. 

Edit: I've alao aged five years in two days. I look like a teacher now.

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