Learning to Teach

Claire Wohlers - Ecuador


February 3, 2014

Here in Zuleta, one of my jobs is working at a school. I teach a combination of English, P.E., and “danza”, which is a combination of dance and music, neither of which am I particularly qualified to teach. I usually end up teaching the hokey pokey or the macarena, because I teach first and second grade. I sing some english songs on my ukulele and if I am feeling ambitious, have them clap different rhythms to teach the difference between quarter and eighth notes. In english class, we’ve been reviewing colors, animals, and greetings, for weeks, probably due to the fact that I’m teaching kids that are still learning the names of these things in Spanish.

The kids are the highlight of my work day, and simultaneously the biggest challenge I encounter. They greet me everyday with joy and hugs. They ask me if I am accustomed to living here and if I miss my family. They always want to hold my hand, sit on my lap, or braid my hair, which often makes my day. One girl, Gina, loves to sit next to me and rub my back. Even though she is in 6th grade, the gesture always comforts me and reminds me of something my mom back home would do.

The challenge lies in trying to teach wonderful children that know no discipline (or rewards, for that matter) in their school system. I wrangle and chase after children that are uninterested and console children that think they can’t do something. There is a third grader that cries every time he has to copy from the board and a second grader that clearly has ADHD and has been told so many times that he’s stupid that he no longer even tries in class. I try to encourage them and tell them that they can, but so far, I haven’t seen much progress. None of my second graders ever do the homework I assign, which leaves me with the challenge of trying to give grades. Because, if everyone is getting zeros, it’s usually the fault of the teacher, not the students….right?

So what can I do for my beautiful, kind, rowdy students? Do I grade on a curve? Do I continue to try, in vain, to discipline children? For now, my plan is to do my best and not worry too much about what material the kids take away. I try and teach the kids that think they can’t, that they can. But despite my obvious lack of teaching skills, I’m disappointed in the educational system at Unidad Educativa Zuleta.

The educational system here, from what I’ve put together, is far different from the one we have at home. Kids only go to school a total of about 5 or 6 hours, sometimes less to accommodate the kids that have to work at home (I have not encountered many). My school is understaffed and teachers, overall, uninspired (however there are exceptions to every rule, such as my awesome supervisor, Alexita). In each class, there is a child that is significantly older than their peers, which, I am told, is usually because they took a very long time to learn how to read.

I can’t say there are no faults in our educational system (both public and private) at home because there are MANY. I went to a small, private middle school and looking at the contrast in the problems I see there, versus the problems I am encountering here is interesting. Kids at my middle school were overworked and didn’t really know how to be kids. I worked 7 or 8 hours in school, plus maybe 3 hours of homework and was never left without a teacher in the room for multiple hours.

So where is the happy medium? How can we learn, and still be kids? How can we teach discipline without terrifying children? How can I teach so that my kids are having fun and still learning something from me, without making all my hair (or theirs) fall out?

The search continues.

Claire Wohlers