Profesorita Abi

Abigail Bethke - Ecuador


December 21, 2016

In the beginning, hearing “Profe Abi,” “Profesorita,” or “Senorita Abi” made me a little uncomfortable. I had no idea what kind of apprenticeship I initially wanted when I joined Global Citizen Year. There were really no expectations. I knew teaching English was of course a possibility, encompassing the majority of apprenticeships, but during the interview process and 1-1’s with team leaders, I simply shared my story and waited to see what I’d be dealt for the next 7 months.

Like I said, there were no expectations. However, deep down, the idea of teaching still gave me anxiety, even though I had internally accepted whatever apprenticeship I was given. I think teaching in general is something I have always heard I would be good at and would thrive in as a career. I understood the recommendations; I would like to think I’m generally a patient, intelligent, and sociable person, a perfect trifecta for working in education. However, the worries that plastered my mind within the first week or two working at the Instituto Unidad de Quilloac I believe stem back to all those comments people have told me: “You would make an excellent teacher!” The more I heard those comments, the more I pushed them away. The more I quenched for other goals, dreams, aspirations. I imagined being a writer, a historian, or an international politician. I still have no idea right now what I will eventually do with my life, but when I was younger I definitely tried to come up with any other career besides teacher.

As weeks have gone by (I can’t actually believe it’s nearly Christmas–I’m already at the halfway benchmark of my time here and can only fathom saying “el tiempo pasa muuuuy rapaido”), “Profesorita Abi” has definitely warmed up to me. Teaching is one of the most social kinds of work environments there are, and I have always fed off of other people’s energy. When I get to school, I get pelted with hugs from elementary school students (luckily I’m a giant here so they never really can knock me down). Sixth and seventh graders hold my hand as we walk around school grounds together. Their lips curl up into huge grins when they see me at choir practice and pound my fist (a sign that I’m definitely a cool teacher).  Girls braid my hair into hearts. Seniors in high school laugh with me as we mess around in gym class (yes, I participate in gym with the high schoolers, and it is fantastic). We have a really, really good time.

Initially I only taught in the elementary school in Quilloac, 1st-7th graders. My schedule has changed since then, and now I work with 4th-7th in the elementary school, and then I work with the middle and high school English teachers with a variety of grades, but most often 10th grade, and 2nd and 3rd years of high school (or bachillerato). Whenever I have free time though, I wander around to another English class to help how I can. I feel so welcome here, which is wonderful.

Each grade has their challenges and benefits. But I absolutely love that I get to work with so many age ranges. I’ve said this a couple times, but it can be a little weird in the high school, cause I’m nearly the same age as the seniors, but I’d say we have built a respected friendship. I’ll never be as initimidating as their teachers (and I don’t want to be), but I’m definitely different, so they pay attention. The older students are obviously more relaxed, but some are also in that “I’m too cool to pay attention phase,” so you’ve got to work with them a bit. As for the elementary school, they all pay attention and are wonderful, but their energy can definitely take a lot out of you (talking more about 4th/5th grade). However, as much as they can tire you out, they can also bring you completely to life. The highs and lows of teaching are so intense, and I would personally like to thank every teacher who put up with me over the years, especially my spanish teachers. You got me here.

Overall though, all of the students here in Quilloac want to learn English. Immigration plays such a heavy part. Nearly everyone I’ve met in Canar has family in the U.S., and many want to reunite. But because most are living there ilegally, many family members have been separated for years or decades. One of the brightest senior girls I teach tries so hard in class because she has an older brother in Minneapolis who is in college. She would like to go there too to be with him. The other day I was leaving school with one of my sixth grade students, Feliciano, and asked him what his favorite subjects were. He said he enjoys math and english the most, and when I asked him why he liked english he replied, “So I can learn for when I go to the U.S.”

English is definitely a need here and it does feel really nice to fill a need. The students give me life on those days where I just don’t think I can get out of my bed at 5:40 am (my room is also comparable to a refrigerator, a whole other challenge). I was discussing this with my host mom, Carmen, the other day, but teaching is completely different than most other work. You work with people. Make connections, friendships. Build trust. My school is a bilinguel spanish/kichwa school, so I also get the chance to experience so many cultural events and sit in on Kichwa classes when I get the chance. While it used to feel like work coming here (and still can early Monday mornings), now, once I’m here, I am happy.

I am really grateful for the chance this year to try out teaching. I never gave it a thought before, but this year I had no choice. It has completely surprised me. I still don’t know what I want to do with my life, hopefully college will give me some more guidance, but I’m no longer afraid of being “Profesorita Abi” anymore, and it’s really really nice feeling.


Abigail Bethke