How I Became a Dental Assistant at Age 18

Coming into Ecuador I didn't know what to expect. I thought it would be a little easier since I grew up in a Mexican/ Puerto Rican household. I grew up with Hector Lavoe and Spanish speakers.  I found little things throughout my day that reminded me of home and felt familiar in my first days in Carpuela. But there were still things that I'd never encountered before. For example, the bucket showers, hand washing clothes, people running stores out of their kitchen windows and people showering in public, just to name a few.

My town was a bit unorganized and my apprenticeship wasn’t exactly set up upon my arrival. I had a bit more flexibility with what I wanted to do since it wasn't exactly set in stone. With the help of my advisor Alicia and host mom, we went to The Collegio to talk with the principal about the possibility of me working there. We agreed I would go to the school every day of the week and help  a sixth grade class. When I returned the following week, I went to the office alone and tried to explain I was a volunteer with my broken Spanish. After a good 5 minutes trying to explain myself, I was taken to the principal. He walked me to the front of the school where all of the students were in single file lines with their teachers. He and another teacher read the announcements and after mumbling the pledge with the wrong hand across my heart, he introduced me to my class and the janitor escorted me to my classroom. The next thing I knew kids crowded around me and hugged me all the way to the classroom. When the doors  first opened I was astounded, dust was everywhere along with last year’s trash. I was extremely excited to be a teacher.

First thing I did was start to clean. My students sat down in their desks and right when I was about to teach I noticed I had nothing- not even a marker, so I asked the assistant principal for one and I began to teach “La Moose La Moose” (a song I learned at CYO summer camp). Soon the kids got tired of the song and fights started to break out between students -first the group of girls in the back then two boys in the front. I rushed to one side of the classroom to resolve a conflict and another fight would break out behind me. When the assistant principal came back he gave me a marker and an eraser. I began to write on the board but the chaos wouldn't stop. Then I noticed my marker was permanent. Luckily another teacher came and calmed  the students down. I was able to take a breath and asked "Are you the English teacher? Is this your class?". She then told me "I'm an English teacher and no this is YOUR class". She gave me some tips and helped me the last 15 minutes of class. I stayed for 4 hours after to clean and organize desks. After, I walked to the principal’s office and explained I couldn't lock up my classroom because the lock I was given had no key and couldn't be opened. We walked out of the office, he wrapped his arm around my waist and we walked back to my classroom where he locked up my room with a piece of wire. As I walked to exit  the school, he tugged on my shirt and asked if I wanted to go home to Ibarra with him. I rejected his offer and went home where I called my team leader Melissa.

Melissa told me to go to the town of Pimampiro and get some markers and a few things I would need in the classroom. She told me to teach class tomorrow and let her know how it goes. Later that evening, I went to the next town over to buy poster paper, lollipops, markers and actual white board markers. I returned home and wrote the lesson plan for the next day. I washed out a water canteen I found in the classroom so the kids would have water during class. My host sister suggested I buy water instead of filling it up from home so I did the following morning. I returned to my class excited to teach and began class with a song and game. After the class finished writing the weekly vocab all hell broke loose once again. They were moving desks all around the classroom and students started arguing. Next thing I knew one of my students was on the ground while another student kicked him in the face. Not knowing what else to do, I locked the boy outside of the classroom. Kids from other classes began to stand in front of my door arguing and students inside continued to yell and fight each other. Like an angel, the English teacher came to save the day once again. She told me if I just have them draw, they'd be fine but this time she left and all hell broke loose again. I kicked all the kids out, put my head on my desk and tried to catch my breath. I didn't know what to do. All I could do was take my purse and go home at that point. I didn't have the energy to go back to the school. My brother came home and told me some teachers came and took the lollipops I bought for the kids and began selling them at The Collegio. I asked my brother to try to get them back. He told me the teacher said I had to come and get them so I did and sure enough less than half the bag was gone. I decided I wouldn't be going back to work at The Collegio and with the help of Melissa and Mery we found a new job for me to attend during the week.

We discussed many things I could do within the community, from working with the elders  to working at the local clinic. We met with the elderly that week during a meeting with the clinic and I met many of the elders. One of the women took me by the hand and peppered me with questions. She had the biggest smile on her face that sparkled with one of her teeth embroidered with gold. Most women  and men that live in Valle Del Chota have a tooth or teeth that are edged with gold all around the tooth except for the center. The woman and I talked for maybe 5 or 10 minutes and introduced me to her friends that greeted me with the same sparkling smiles. Mery then pulled me to the side and introduced me to the director of the clinic. She wore all blue scrubs and black eyeliner around her eyes. She offered me some of her watermelon and we talked about the clinic as we ate. She noticed I kept itching my bug bites and went into the clinic to get me rubbing alcohol for the bug bites. After the director and Mery talked they decided that the clinic would be the best place for me to work.

Mery informed me that by working at El Ministerio De Salud Pública I’d be able to work with the elders and the new born babies in Carpuela. I’d be able to work with those outside of Carpuela also and work in the next town over in Juncal. Instead, on my first day I was introduced to the dentist and it was decided by the director I would work alongside her for the next 5 months. Now, I work as a dental assistant and the dentist I work with speaks English. She's unbelievably sweet and is helping me with my Spanish. Working beside her has sparked a new interest for dental hygiene. And I get to visit the Collegio and assist during operations.

Although the transition into a new community was not easy, I was able to voice what was not working while being a teacher and found a solution by working within the local clinic. My team leader Melissa was able to give me the space I needed to vent. Although I constantly call her  with questions, she’s always there to answer my calls and give me advice. She hands me some tools and I’m left to determine how to address the issue on my own.  And if that doesn’t work, we go back to the drawing board and think of a new plan. Although I work at the clinic now, when I walk around town people ask me if I’m the English teacher and I have to explain I now work at the town's clinic. Sometimes  I see my old students and they sing “La Moose La Moose”. I know these kids aren't bad kids, the language barrier just didn’t help in a classroom setting and I wasn’t blessed with the patience of my former teachers. Not until after my experiences at the school, did I realize how hard it was to teach.  Now I have a new opportunity to work with  children but in a different capacity that better suits me. This experience has taught me that even if the road isn't easy the destination could be what you needed.