Dec 10, 2011

A volunteers blog:

Below is an entry from Lauren Slater's blog - a wonderfully readable account of volunteering in Nicaragua - (http://lovepeacegratitude.tumblr.com/ for more of Lauren's great blog)


Working in the schools here is both an exhilarating and frustrating process. I absolutely adore the kiddos with whom we work; they are excited to learn, they take great pride in their studies, and they are eager to demonstrate that they have learned something new.
The culture of the schools here certainly has its opportunities for growth. School is often cancelled without much notice: because of rain, because it’s the day before the day before the day before the holiday, because the teachers want to have a meeting, or just because.
When school is in session, the students are eager to get everything correct on their worksheets and to always have the right answer. As soon as they are done, they throw their papers in the air and yell “teacher, teacher!” asking if they’ve gotten the correct answers. If we write anything but a check mark on their papers, their faces show immediate disappointment that they have gotten something wrong. Their enthusiasm for learning and participating in English class is fantastic.
Their interest in success often leads them to copy from a friend, memorize an answer instead of truly learning it, or ask us to simply tell them the correct answer. The habit of copying is one that is the hardest to deal with. Although we constantly ask children to work only on their own sheet and to not help out a friend, there is something understandable—and almost sweet—about their genuine interest in being helpful to a friend in need. Unfortunately, this does little good for the child we are trying to teach.
The teachers of each class add another element to the mix. Some of the teachers in the classes where we work are fantastic. They ask for a copy of the work we are doing so that they can test their own knowledge of English and see if they remember how to translate querer into English (usually, they do). When the kids are noisy, they demand “silencio!” and if we ask the students to repeat a phrase we have taught them—and they don’t do so with enough gusto—the teachers will wave their arms as if conducting an orchestra and ask them to speak the phrase again, with enthusiasm this time!
Other teachers are different. They interrupt the class in the middle of a lesson to make an announcement. They call to each other through the classroom windows, distracting the children. They talk to the students seated around them during the lesson, preventing the children from paying attention to the lesson being taught. These teachers make me worry about the quality of education that their pupils will receive.
The real differences in both the teachers’ attitudes and the students’ behavior in the classroom are dramatically reflected by the location of each school. One of the four schools in which we teach (I’ll call it “La Escuelita” for the sake of this post) wears me down each time we travel there, due to the attitude of the teachers and the disorder of the children in the classrooms.
Escuelita is the hardest school to get to, located far off of the main road from Granada, hidden deep in an impoverished corner of the community. The roads to this school are made only of dirt and are often difficult to cross due to large pockets of mucky water, garbage, potholes, and mud. The homes are scrapped together of miscellaneous material, and of little protection from the unforgiving rains. The school in their community is just 2 years old, and was funded by La Esperanza Granada. This means that these students either did not attend school before the building was created, or that they had to travel far to get to a school building. Were they able to make the journey every day? Did they have a quality education before these two years? These answers could explain a lot about their behavior.
In my first week, I lent a pen to a girl in La Escuelita who didn’t have her own. Although a pen might cost just 20 cordobas ($1) here, 20 cords is a lot of money. I forgot the rule that—although we help with necessary school supplies—we are to never lend or give anything to the students (as they might get used to the gifts or feel comfortable taking items without returning them). Of course, when I left the school that day, I left without my pen; I had forgotten which student I had given it to, and I felt foolish. The pen was from Mike’s company, and it had sentimental value to me, so I felt doubly disappointed.
Yesterday, after a hard day of school at La Escuelita with unruly students shouting in my classroom, I was ready to leave at the end of the day. As I walked out, I heard “teacher, teacher!” and I hesitatingly turned back. There, with an outstretched arm, was the little girl who had borrowed my pen two weeks earlier, ready to return it back to me. And with that small act I was ready to keep working hard for the students of Granada for another day.

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