Right now I am packing my bags to get ready to depart Bogota. I am no where near processing everything that I saw and experienced here, (get ready for some more blog posts!) But there are a few key things that I want to be sure NOT to forget when I am getting ready to meet my new class of 2nd graders in a few shorts weeks:
LOVE YOUR STUDENTS Nancy Echeverri, our host teacher during our stay in Armenia, was a master teacher in every sense of the word. As the week went on, the respect that she had garnered from her colleagues and students become more and more apparent. Multiple times when we were walking down the streets of downtown Armenia former students would stop to hug her and tell her what was happening in their lives. She not only taught preservice teachers at the school where we were working, but taught at the university as well. She had not only traveled to the USA on a prestigious teaching fellowship, but had studied in England and India as well. It was not until the last day that we learned that she had helped to write the national English Language curriculum. I could go on and on. But the thing that stood out the most to me about Nancy, was the genuine love and respect that the paid to all of her students. She hugged and kissed every student we met. When a student was speaking with her, she gave them her full and absolute attention. She spoke of multiple former students whom she had helped to place in extended training, special projects and courses. This was something we saw with again and again with the Colombian teachers we met. A deep an abiding affection for the children and youth that they worked with. The clearly cared more about who their students were, than about what they could do.
EVERYTHING IS EASIER WITH A PARTNER My teaching partner Ryan Linton kept me buckled in laughter for most of the trip–He also had an excellent sense of direction. I would probably still be wandering around Armenia if he had not been by my side. There really are no words to describe how helpful it was to have someone to plan with and to go over the days experiences with. Ryan is such a skilled teacher and presenter. He works at a school with a very different student population than my own, but we still found so much in common in our planning and goals. I will stay in touch and continue to find some way to collaborate with him next year—-And to top it off, he is a GREAT writer! I encourage you to check out his blog: firstname.lastname@example.org.
LET KIDS STRUGGLE. During these weeks, even with the help and support of our host teacher, Ryan and I were left to figure a lot of things out. Mostly these were seemingly simple things, (like ordering breakfast–on our first few days we thought we could only order one thing–so we had a few days of eating only fruit for breakfast) I found that some of my best memories of this trip were when Ryan and I were on our own, without a Spanish speaker to help us. Once we did solve a problem, it was immensely satisfying. I have been thinking about this a lot, especially in relation to the independent learning that we observed in the rural schools that we visited. Their teacher was available to help, but only after they had tried to figure out a problem both on their own and with the help of their peers. It is one of the hardest things for me to do as a teacher–but I am going to try to “stay out of the way” as much as possible.
BE BRAVE Teach a lesson about “family life” to a class of 37 first graders. Serve as a judge for a high stakes spelling bee. Present at an inservice for the city’s secondary English teachers. Try to dance salsa in crazy Colombian night club. Ride a Colombian roller coaster! Each of these things was terrifying to me for different reasons, and I got through them all! As this TGC fellowship comes to a close I have been thinking about ways to extend this experience in a way that will reach and impact more elementary teachers. The idea of setting up such a big project is–no surprise–terrifying to me but I would hate for fear to be the reason I do not do something. I will just remind myself that I survived the roller coaster!
Question for kids: When is a time that you did something scary? How did you feel afterwards?