Friday, June 12, 2015

Teachers Teaching Teachers

It’s been another good month here in Matagalpa.  The rainy season has finally begun.  We’ve had rain almost every day the past few weeks, which usually consists of a pretty big thunderstorm in the late afternoon or evening.  We’re learning the rain brings in all sorts of interesting bugs & critters seeking dryer ground.  We found a very large scorpion one day in my classroom, along with ants of enormous size in our house, baby termites which decorate our screens each evening, and what looks like a spotted carpet of June bugs on our patio.  We hear masses of frogs are yet to come…and of course there’s always mosquitos.

Last weekend we decided to test out our new wheels and went to explore one of the beaches where Survivor was recently filmed.  They had taken down all of the challenges but we were able to see the giant wood pile left behind and recognized many things from the show, which was pretty cool.  They also built a big pilapa using poles from one of the challenges.  You can see from the photo, our kids seeing if they have what it takes to compete!  There are many beautiful beaches here, most of which are completely undeveloped.  Evidently, Survivor made these beaches accessible by building the roads.  They’ve filmed four seasons here in Nicaragua.

As I continue to help prepare Karla for full-time student teaching in my class, I am planning how I can begin working with Suyapa, our 1st grade teacher.  Technically, I’ll still be in our classroom quite a bit, just more in the ‘assistant’ role, so it will be tricky figuring out how to balance being in two places.  Fortunately another Kindergarten teacher from the states just arrived who will be doing an ‘internship’ with me for about 3 weeks.  So it will be fun to see how she can help us with this transition.  She also brought down some wonderful teaching materials for Kinder and 1st grade and some much need gluten-free flour for our family!  Yay!

Another thing NCA does is work with various teams who come down to serve in Nicaragua.  And with summer approaching (in the US) teams are beginning to arrive!  Many teams come to do projects only at our school, while others come for a few days and then do other service projects around the country.  One team coming next month will be working on printing, laminating, cutting, and preparing materials for a fabulous Spanish literacy program I’ve been using with Kindergarten.  Thanks to this team I’ll be able to help get this program started with first grade as well as with some special education students .

A lack of teaching materials or the means to make them is definitely an obstacle here.  Printers, laminators, large cutting boards are things we teachers really take for granted in the states.  But the bigger obstacle is introducing an entirely new way of teaching and thinking.  This country’s education system is based on copying information and mundane practice of non-relevant information.  Nicaragua’s educational ‘body’ called MINED has in place strict guidelines  teachers are supposed to follow, yet they provide no materials or valid teaching instruction on how to do so, not to mention are completely lacking in academic structure or standards.  Instead, one day each month teachers are required to attend sessions where they mindlessly copy down these guidelines (which they already have a printed copy of) and then turn them into their director.  Students have no school on these days of course.

The MINED guidelines for my Kindergarten students this month for example are things like teach about children’s rights and laws that protect them, moral and social values, and societal norms.  And finally, five months into the school year they get to learn how to write their name!  Yes, and that is only scheduled to happen for three days!  Keep in mind according to the MINED guidelines these students have yet to learn a single letter of the alphabet (that comes later, much later)!

We have to then find a way to balance what MINED requires while still teaching what logically and developmentally makes sense for our students.  It’s easier for me to do of course, because I know about that developmental process, but it is painful to think about all the teachers here who don’t understand that process and more painful yet to think about what the majority of students here are actually learning.

Whenever I pause to really think about this it just reiterates what an incredible opportunity I have this year to make a true difference.  At this point, it may just be one or two teachers, and a few classrooms.  But the outcome will be life-changing and will be long-lasting.

Our Kindergartners in comparison to the national norm, have been writing their first names for the past five months and will now begin learning their last names, they know all their letters and sounds, they can make meaning out of print, they are writing and reading their own stories, they are learning to count to 100 in a variety of ways, they get to enjoy listening to and participating in stories every day, and love learning and coming to school every day.

Karla now sees what is possible for students at this age and she is equally baffled by the lack of academic instruction MINED requires, but without seeing a class develop (now for the second year) she would have had no idea what was really possible.  Karla is now coming up with creative teaching ideas on her own, she recognizes how to teach in a variety of ways and how to adapt for different students and settings.  We are now beginning to look for a teacher to be Karla’s aide next year when I leave and can now begin to see the rippling process that will begin.  Karla will train that teacher, who will eventually have her own class, and that teacher will then train another teacher.  Small as it may be in the grand scheme of the needs of the country, it is exciting and so worth all the effort to know we are making a real difference in the lives of our students and the teachers we are working with.