Sunday, April 22, 2012

Teacher Colin, Miss Rachel

As a part of our Cultures in Contact class, the international students have the opportunity to volunteer regularly in one of several programs offered by the school. There is a Jardin botánica nearby that several students go to on a weekly basis to help out with things like pulling weeds and replanting. Some other students work with children at what amounts to a group foster home. Colin and I chose to volunteer in an elementary school helping out with English classes. 

Every Thursday we show up at Colegio Paul Harris at 10:20am and meet Rodrigo, the English teacher, in the teachers' lounge. Then at 10:30 we head down a few buildings to the classroom where Sexto A (one half of the sixth grade) meets.

The first week we were there, Rodrigo asked us to prepare a powerpoint to introduce ourselves. We went over those ten slides three or four times in each classroom as the children listened and then told their teacher what they'd understood, which seemed like a reasonable amount for even- and twelve-year-olds. Then the kids introduced themselves to us. They seemed to have “my name is…” mostly down, although they said their names so fast I couldn’t understand more than three or four of them. What astounded me, though, was that these kids couldn’t even remember how to say their own age. Maybe I’m expecting too much, but I’m pretty sure that if nothing else, I knew how to say how old I was in Spanish one. On top of that, I would bet money that they think “I am” is one word, pronounced “eye-yahm.” 

Rodrigo is about to greet Séptimo A.
After Sexto A, we head around the corner to Séptimo B (one half of the seventh grade). Two kids from Sexto A help us carry the projector, laptop, and boom box from one class to the next.  When we arrive, Rodrigo greets them with a good morning, which gets a class-wide "Good morning, Teacher." He asks them how they are and the class responds "Fine, thanks. And you?" And when he tells them to take a seat, they say "Thank you, Teacher." I think the theory was: if nothing else, at least these kids will be able to say fine thanks, and you. 

The second week we were there we worked on speaking drills with the kids. Colin and I read a dialogue from their book aloud several times, and then they repeated after us. We then spent several minutes working with pairs of students and helping them practice the dialogue with their partner. That was my favorite part, because I actually got to talk to the individual students and ask them things like "What are your favorite activities?" Even though it's an English class, most of the directions have to be at least repeated in Spanish before the kids really know what to do, so when I talk to them individually, I speak Spanish instead of English. I think once they figured out I really do speak Spanish, they were much less afraid of me. 

When our time with Séptimo B is up, Colin and Rodrigo and I head back to the teachers' lounge while the kids have another recess. Walking through recess is always an adventure, and it makes us feel like real life celebrities. Nearly every kid we pass says "Hello, Teacher Colin" (not only is he blond, but his name is easier to pronounce) as we walk by, and little girls literally squeal with delight when Colin says hi to them. Boys almost literally stand in line to shake his hand and kiss my cheek as they leave the classroom. If you ever need a self-esteem boost, I recommend hanging out with Chilean children. They seem to have a knack for making you feel like the most important person in the world. 

This is a small portion of Colin's fan club

Séptimo B waiting for the music to start
The third week we were there Thursday just happened to be El día del estudiante (Day of the Student, because who doesn't want a day dedicated to having fun at school?). There is a large community park right next to the school, so we took fourth through eighth grade outside for the day. We spent an hour or so in a concrete amphitheater waiting while reggeton and Brazilian music played and the kids danced to their favorite songs. Then the MC yelled something about Justin Beiber and pointed to the top of the amphitheater. 
Even in Chile seventh graders
are too cool to have fun at
school activities!
Even as we looked up over our shoulders, Colin and I knew exactly who he was pointing too... So Justin Beiber was called to the stage at the bottom and they handed him the mic and said "Dance!" And just to be fair, they called me down too. Never in a million years would I choose to dance on stage in front of at least a hundred latino children, but when you don't get a choice, you just have to have fun with it! When we returned to our seats, the kids around us congratulated us and sympathized with the awkwardness of having to dance on stage. 

After the dancing fiasco, we went to the sport fields in the park and watched a team from each class play a Mapuche (indigenous Chilean) version of field hockey, and quemadas (dodgeball). We were surrounded the whole time by children who wanted to ask us everything from what games we play in the US to what the translation of their name would be to what kind of jewelry do I like to what are the tongue-twisters in English, and some children who just wanted to be near us.


Séptimo A preparing for their dialogue presentations
After our break in the teachers' lounge with Rodrigo, we all head back down to the classrooms and join Séptimo A (the other half of the seventh grade). We run through the greeting drill again and then get down to business, which usually involves working on speaking drills until our time is up.

This last week was our fourth week at Paul Harris. We spent the day... practicing dialogue! Again. The same one, in fact. And what's more, Colin and I got to grade the children on their partner presentation of it. If I hadn't already decided teaching wasn't for me, this would have done it. I want nothing to do with having to watch children struggling but trying their very hardest at something and having to say that it just wasn't good enough. How can I grade a child's pronunciation when their teacher doesn't even pronounce things perfectly?

When we're finished with Séptimo A, we head to Quinto A (half the fifth grade), our shortest and youngest class of the day. Even though we only have about 15 minutes a week with Quinto A, they have managed to work their way into our hearts. (It doesn't hurt that ten- and eleven-year-olds are impossibly cute.) Most of our fan club is in Quinto A, and they never fail to kiss me on the way out. So far I have a collection of five paper flowers, and most of them were made by the girls in Quinto A

It sure makes a person feel special when the kids are more concerned with
being close enough to touch you than with being in the picture

As with all the rest of life, there are bound to be some rough patches. We've had some cultural awkwardness: on our first day, Rodrigo pointed to his left and said "This is Teacher Colin," and then to his right and said, "and this is Miss Rachel." We've had some uncomfortable awkwardness: when it's your turn to help the kids learn about occupations and you ask a girl at random, "What does your father do?" and she looks at you and whispers "no tengo" (I don't have a father). We've had some goofy awkwardness: it's impossible for dancing onstage to not be awkward. And we've had some precious awkwardness: what do you say to a big-eyed ten-year-old trying to offer you his bag of candy as you walk out the door?

But all in all, awkwardness included, it's been a fulfilling experience, and I look forward to going back every Thursday just as much as those precious children look forward to seeing us. 


  1. Looks like you guys are having fun! Keep posting please, I like stalking you!

  2. This sounds like the best experience ever!

  3. I´d give anything to see a video of El día del estudiante!

  4. Your comment about how quickly the kids will say their names made me laugh

  5. When Justin and you return to the States, we'll have a stage ready!

  6. The children are them some for me!