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End of the Semester

Saturday, July 2, 2011

There is only one week left of the fall semester, and only about two more work days for me — with visitors in town starting Monday (Mom, Dad, and Alice!) I’m going to be declaring vacation early to explore around here with them.  But before I pack up and leave town, I want to make sure I get in a few reflections about the end of the semester.

Here I am with my English Olympics team and my English co-teacher.  I am so proud of my kids.  Working with this group of 4th – 8th graders to prepare them for the culminating competition against arch-rival Futaleufú was one of the highlights of  my semester.  One obvious reason is that these are the most motivated and skilled students, kids who chose to show up on Friday afternoons to learn more English.  But I think the other reason the experience was so good for me was because it was mine.  Sure, I had to deal with a lot of bureaucratic/logistical gobbledigook to make the event happen, but once I had the kids gathered for a practice, it was my show.  Lately I’ve been wondering if my desire to be a better teacher is working against my desire to help my co-teacher be a better teacher, given that in the classroom, the more I take on, the less responsibility he has.  We are continuing to work out our dynamic, but I am thinking that for second semester, I would like to focus on more extracurricular projects like this, where I am in control, able to practice and test out my own ideas about teaching.

The English Olympics is a twice-annual interscholastic competition run by the Foundation for the past three years; it consists of a variety of group and individual activities, from listening comprehension and flashcard identification to moving the hands of a giant clock and performing dialogues.  By the way, we lost the Olympics by a tragic two points.  This is a big deal given that Palena has lost by an embarrassingly large margin in past years.   My team was initially crushed, and I felt like I was channeling my college crew coach as I provided an inpromptu speech.  Now that the sting has worn off, my students are mostly happy with their performance, and most importantly, hungry to win in November.

Another highlight of the semester is an environmental education project with a group of students I’ve taken to calling “La Comité” — The Committee.  Particularly in this area, I wanted to be very careful about not coming off as another gringo showing up and telling people what to do, so I have been working with three self-selected eighth grade students, most recently to run a school-wide battery-recycling campaign in June.  Together we have planned every step step of the way, from announcements in assemblies to decorating and distributing collection containers.  Yesterday, as we collected and weighed the batteries from each grade, I found myself thinking about Montessori, the education philosophy/system I studied my senior year at Smith.  It would have been much faster and more accurate for me to weigh the batteries, but I held back and let the students delegate jobs and figure it out.  When they realized they had made a mistake, I helped outline the choices we could make to correct it, but left them the ultimate decision.

I’m glad that Palena has avoided the contamination of 40 kilos of batteries this month, but I am confident that the biggest impact of this project is on the comité.  Especially here, I’m struck by how easy it is to make kids feel important and empowered.  As I passed two of the girls 3000 pesos (about $6) to purchase the final ingredients for the cakes (prizes for winning grades), they beamed.  What to me is a small sum of money (that I will be able to reimburse with the receipt) was for them concrete evidence of my trust and their maturity.

As I am trying to figure out how to have the most stimulating and least frustrating professional experience next semester, I am also full of questions about what to do next year and, you know, in my life.   As I’ve said before, I like teaching more than I thought I would.  While I’m not willing to say, “I want to be an English Teacher for the rest of my life,” I am feeling more and more confident that, “For now, what I really want is to figure out how to be a better English Teacher.”  If I had to decide today, that would be the direction of my next job.  We’ll see.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Tuesday, July 5, 2011 5:36 pm

    I could learn a lot from you about the Montessori model you mention and how it values letting kids do things for themselves even if it would be faster/more accurate for you to do it yourself. This is something I struggle with when I care for “my” boys. I try to restrain myself from “helping” them pick up too much, even though it takes them ten times longer to do it themselves because I know the lesson is there (somewhere). I admire your growing skills as a teacher!

    • Wednesday, July 6, 2011 4:46 pm

      I know, it takes so much patience! We’re all figuring it out. I like to think of you with “your” boys!

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