Orientation is almost over. Our group is flying from our cold charming home in Chia to steamy Cartagena on Saturday morning. Today I completed my final day of teaching practicum, a three-day practice in a school that is letting us visit in Bogota. The first two days were co-teaching with another volunteer and today I got to teach on my own. I was paired with a guy named Mike who is also from Pennsylvania. The first day went well, our class had a lot of energy but we managed to teach them a little about daily routine vocabulary. The second day was pretty terrible for me. We ran out of material because the class was much better at English than the one we had the day before. Both classes were ninth grade but the difference between their behavior and levels was surprising. When we finished all our material I looked at the clock and saw that we had 25 minutes left to kill. I nearly panicked. We tried to teach a game but it was so complicated that we ended up just explaining for 20 minutes and playing for less than 5. I walked out of there feeling like a total disaster.
After school on the second day we visited the Ministry of Education, which seemed like it would be boring but ended up being an inspiring afternoon. The vice minister of education, Luis Enrique Garcia, spoke to us about his current role in the ministry and about how he helped bring WorldTeach to Colombia in 2008. He talked about the challenges facing education in Colombia, but mostly about the importance of believing in students and focusing all energy on them. “Be an island of excellence, but with a bridge,” he told us. Everything might not go as we expect and working with our school administrators can be difficult, but the most important thing is to give the kids in our class the best education we can give them.
Today my lesson went a lot better than I was anticipating. After my failure yesterday I was anxious about making my lesson long enough to fill all the space but not overwhelming the students with too much new information. I taught them about National Parks and US cities. By the end almost all of them had written an imaginary post card from either NYC or LA and were still bursting with questions about the US and my life. Seventh graders have a ton of energy, but I loved their willingness to engage. One girl asked if I speak Spanish and I told her no. She immediately started helping me with her language, slowly and carefully she told me “Ho-la.” I silently tried not to laugh.
Walking around the school is like being a celebrity. Mobs of kids surround us and ask questions, take selfies with us, and even ask for autographs. They all want to talk with Americans and are proud of themselves when we are able to interact in English. During a lunch break I watched a soccer match in the courtyard and a big group of high school girls came up to me to ask about my co-teacher Mike. “Is Mike your friend? Does he have a girlfriend? ” One of the girls pointed to her friend and said “she likes Mike,” and the girl blushed and turned away. I gave them the disappointing news of Mike’s girlfriend back home and they sighed. It seems he already has a Colombian fan club. In one class I observed, the students actually groaned with disappointment when their teacher Nancy said class was over. Then they started chanting her name and banging on the desks “Nancy! Nancy! NANCY! NANCY!” It was at the same time adorable and overwhelming.