Wednesday, August 29, 2012


People often ask what a typical week looks like for us, and the answer, truthfully, is that there are no typical weeks. Our schedule sloshes around depending on the events of the week, although one constant for both of us has been teaching.

Both Laura Jean and I spend a fair amount of time teaching classes, both at CIEETS and in the churches -- which is to say working with both formal and popular educational models. Laura Jean has already posted about the theological education project, and I've been helping organize a writing and research workshop at CIEETS for students writing their senior thesis, as well as a series of talks in the Mission Churches on environmental science, ecology, climate change and the like.

Laura Jean with some of her students from the Northern region.

Playing the ecosystem game.

We teach in Spanish, which is difficult and a lot more work, but has also really helped us improve our grasp on the language.  It helps that our students are extremely patient with us and tolerant of our mistakes. You can usually tell by the puzzled looks when a phrase or explanation doesn't connect. It makes me empathize with (and respect) all those Russian and Chinese physics TA's I had in college! Teaching in Spanish has probably also made me a more organized and deliberate teacher, knowing that I can't just "wing it" with minimal preparation.

Last year, we also helped out by teaching English to the kids at the Marcelino Davila School at the Second Church of the Christian Mission. The school is an official K-6 private primary school serving the José Dolores Estrada neighborhood. We were asked by Doña Pilar, who is the pastor of the 2nd church to help out the directora of the school with English classes.

Now there are many people in this world for whom teaching children is their life work. They have studied and practiced their art and are extremely good at their jobs. Those people are Awesome. But I am not one of them. When I was in the moment actually teaching the class, I enjoyed the experience. But leading up to each class, I was a bundle of nerves. Put me in front of a room full of adults (or even high-schoolers) and I’ll happily blather on about most things, but 4th graders? Terrifying.

So teaching kids is not my gift in life, but once I got over my nerves, I do think that the teaching itself went pretty well. Plus it was wonderful to be part of the school community. This year I've been busy with other projects, and I find myself missing the students and the teachers, the sheer energy and noise of the playground, the group hugs from the littler kids (who shout “Teacher de Inglés!” when they see me, which either means I’m doing an excellent job or a terrible one).

Kids from the Marcelino Dávila school

It’s a pretty common experience for overseas volunteers to be asked to teach English, because it’s (1) a desired skill, and (2) one that you are actually qualified to do. Actually scratch #2, being able to speak English is entirely different than teaching it. The crazyness of one's native tongue is mostly invisible until forced to explain it in front of a group.

Last year I had a sudden revelation about how English (unlike Spanish) uses "do/does" as a helping verb to form questions or to emphasize responses ("Do you know what I mean?").  Unfortunately I had this revelation while standing in front of the white board, marker in hand, trying to answer a question. I literally had not thought about it before that moment. Goes to show that you usually learn more about a subject by teaching it than through any other method.

1 comment:

  1. I like these posts talking about all the different things you do.