Finding Meaning

Eva Ackerman - Ecuador


March 25, 2014

-Written two months ago.

I was extremely upset when I heard my six-month job was to teach English. I thought it was ridiculous; won’t analytical skills improve the students lives more than an English class would? My reasoning was solidified when I arrived to Paraiso De Amigos. All three of the teachers screamed based on students’ ill behavior in class.  Boys physically and occasionally sexually harassed girls. I thought that because teachers screamed more than I had ever seen in my own Brookline School Education that materials were not taught well.  I again reasoned that instead of teaching English, I would secretly teach other subjects. During my class, they would read novels and learn about leaders of different historically excluded groups to empower themselves. Along the way, I could teach a few words in English. I had an entire curriculum I was planning to teach the 5th, 6th, and 7th grade classes. I decided that for Kindergarten to fourth grade I would actually teach English because they had time to become fluent.

About a month in after trying to teach analytical thinking skills with fifth, sixth, and seventh grade and not succeeding, I decided to rethink my strategy. I was very happy with my success in third and fourth grade specifically, and finally decided to give in: I would actually teach English. I realized that kids need English for high school and that many high school students from my community were failing English. I started, at first still failing, but I am finally starting to get the hang of it. It is still a struggle, there is never a day that I walk out of school relaxed: I either feel like crying or dancing out of happiness, but it is incredibly rewarding. I see them learning: they started with just about nothing and are now learning phrases such as I have a sister but I don´t have a brother, do you have a brother?  It feels incredibly awarding on days such as today, when every  kid in the class completed the entire assignment. Kids who barely have anything in their English notebooks are finally sitting down to complete the assignments. I beam when Sonia, a girl who everyday tells me that she can’t do the assignment, yet everyday after about ten minutes finally sits down and finishes the assignment with time, came in today early to start English. It feels good when Leonardo, a fourteen year old sixth grade troublemaker who makes all troublemakers you know look pathetic, kept asking the teacher when English was, and when English came he sat and did the entire assignment. Afterwards, he proudly came up to show me. Or when Miledy runs to tell anyone who will listen that she received a ten out of ten, and then begins to write different phrases all around the room, each time translating them into English. This isn’t a movie such as the Freedom Writers where all of a sudden all the students miraculously love the teacher and there is never a
problem again. One boy flipped me off today and another girl cried after trying unsuccessfully to copy from other people three different times (I kept ripping up the paper).  But even these two students completed their work in class today. The kid who flipped me off completed the assignment as I glared at him.  And the girl finally did the assignment, later coming up to me and holding my hand as I told her you’re so intelligent Anji. You can complete the assignment if you try.

I came to Paraiso comparing the class to my Hebrew school days when no one wanted to do a thing, and myself to a Hebrew school teacher who
couldn’t get a thing across no matter how many different ways I tried. After trying incredibly hard, literally spending hours of time each day deciding how to teach the class, I am finally getting the hang out it. I have also realized how much thinking the brain has to do to learn a new language. When I asked my third and fourth grade savants how hard English was, one being the easiest and five being the hardest, I expected an average of three. The unanimous answer was five. Languages do in fact build analytical thinking skills. And as I have watched the fifth, six, and seventh grade teacher work with the students, the teachers I originally thought were terrible for screaming at the kids, I realize how amazing she is for the kids. I sat there this morning before my classes started as each kid worked on different subjects, the professor assigning different amounts based on their levels. They finish every subject before break, so I can teach English for one hour to fifth and one hour to six and seventh in the afternoon. When I am teaching, she does different analytical thinking activities with the other group.

I am not there to be a savior; I am solely there to teach English. And as I have realized how well the school is already running, I am now content with that. English is just the last ingredient to let these students compete in a globalized world which I truly believe they are ready to succeed in. They are smart and are blessed to have a wonderful teacher who cares about their advancement. If someone asked me if I had hope for the education system in the future, this is the first time in my life I would give an assured yes. It is working increasingly well in Paraiso de Amigos, a town that is known to be one of the poorest in an incredibly poor area. When the teacher arrived, no one knew how to read or do times tables. Now, there are only two people in fifth to seventh grade who do not know how to read, and they are learning. Everyone knows their times tables.

I am so happy. During In Country Orientation for Global Citizen Year, we talked about different forms of happiness. We can be happy with smaller satisfactions or after large struggles we can find more meaningful happiness. I have smaller bursts of happiness such as a hugging someone or buying a chocolate ice cream, but I think my true happiness comes from finding meaning from the struggles that I encounter daily, and how I am finally understanding how to get through them.

Eva Ackerman