Tuesday, October 26, 2010

what are we doing here?

Greg, a volunteer down in Punta Arenas, has a wonderfully-titled and well-written post called "The Novelty Has Simply Worn Off."
In this situation, I never expected to be an afterthought. At that point, it feels like we're all kind of missing the point of me being here. I came to make kids excited about English, to expose teachers to new ideas of how to teach and to exchange cultural experiences and traditions with my family and community. As we press on through these last weeks, I feel that much of that has been tossed out the window. I'm not the new, exciting person that just showed up one day. I'm just part of the scenery now which certainly represents my cue to find an exit.
I see what he's talking about: I've been part of the routine at INSUCO for a while now. Two things strike me about that:
  1. It's inevitable. Novelty is unsustainable by definition.
  2. It's a good thing.
The lack of novelty means that everyone has changed and adjusted. My kids are used to me! I'm pretty offbeat even for a North American, so it took some time. We have really good relationships, where they like me (with one conspicuous exception) and know I care about them. I've adapted to them, sure, but I didn't have as far to go, because I have no experience with large groups of 15-year olds, so if they happened to be Chilean, well, whatever.

They, on the other hand, had to adjust to me, who:
  • Required them to participate: to talk and stand up and move around.
  • Forbade cell phones and eating in class.
  • Checked to make sure they understood stuff.
  • Took time to make them say things when they had trouble.
  • Didn't make them--didn't let them--write anything down.
  • Had no compunction about doing silly dances or making chicken noises in class.
That's all completely different from their experience, where they have to shut up and copy stuff down all the time and they get to check out and eat and wander around the room. And Chilean teachers do not, as a rule, make chicken noises.

And I got to be the Non-Parental Adult Who Cares. I tried to see them and accept them for who they are, while I push them to do things they were embarrassed about, and encourage them to act as adult as they can manage.

The WorldTeach orientation set my expectations pretty well. English education here is broken five ways from Sunday, and I had no illusions that I could fix it, fight it, or even teach a whole ton of English. This, for example, is what we've done this semester: 41 words and 4 questions/responses.

this semester's work

What they learned with me won't help them on their standardized test, the SIMCE, which is unfortunately the government's metric for success. Even if they gave the authority to rewrite the school's curriculum--which would include revolutionizing their structure so that students could be grouped by level instead of a random set of 45 kids all having the same classes--I don't know anywhere near enough about ESL/EFL education to know what to do.

I don't know that any of my kids are more motivated about English now; honestly, I doubt it. But they know they can learn at least a little bit of it, and that some random person from far away showed up and cared enough to help them do it, and to me that's the important thing.

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