Working in public schools here is tough. Class sizes are around 45 students, there generally aren’t resources like books or computers for teachers or students to use, teachers either need to pay for copies or pass that cost onto their students, classrooms are often not air conditioned and therefore are also very noisy thanks to fans and open windows and doors… The list of challenges for both teachers and students is long. For those students who really want to learn, they are often sidetracked by the majority of their classmates who are more interested in talking throughout a class period. Because of all of this, I have a huge love for students of all ages who choose to learn. (Okay, so this is true no matter what culture/circumstance I am in.)
Up to this point, I have worked with two dedicated groups of students who take time out of their busy lives in order to learn. The first group I started working with in September. My host mom and neighbors had all asked me for English lessons (nope, I don’t do that) or classes (okay, find me a spot to do them) for months before I finally started them. In the end, my host mom and one neighbor came, but it didn’t exactly end up being as focused on my neighborhood as I had envisioned – but that turned out quite all right. For the first two weeks, I had 45 students every night. After that, I dropped down to an average of 37 for a few weeks – still so many students. More recently, my devoted group has consisted of about 25.
These are people who spent as many as 3 hours a week with me learning English. Some of them are interested in learning to open up job opportunities. About 10 of them sell goods at a weekly craft fair and want to have the skills to be able to talk to the occasional tourists who come by. Some of them want to be able to travel. Some just plain want to learn.
Last week, I wrapped up my first “semester” with the group by giving them a long exam, taking their final projects (family trees), and handing out ribbons to those of them who had the best attendance and test scores. I’ll be back with them at the end of January, and hopefully at that time, also starting with another group from zero.
More recently, I started meeting with about 15 9th and 10th graders twice a week. These students will be facing their big standardized test next July. Based on test results, students may earn full or partial scholarships to private universities. In the US, we think that teachers spend too much time teaching to the tests…here, there are literally actual classes in 11th grade that teach solely review materials for these students to prepare for the test. In my sessions, we start by listening to some music in English with the lyrics on the screen. Then we play a game to practice some basic conversational English. With both of these activities, I am aiming to improve their listening and language production skills, which tend to be fairly low. Then we learn some vocabulary, play a game, do a reading, and answer questions. In January, I am hoping to have them making documentaries of their lives and write a little bit about themselves as sort of a final project.
These students, and the time that they put in towards their educations, are my heroes. They are the people who make my work worthwhile. They, along with my host family and rugby friends, are the people who keep me committed to my Peace Corps service and working here in Colombia. They are simply the best.