Contracts and Beaurocracy

Way back in June when I was getting ready to fly to Colombia to start my year here I signed a contract that had a page I never thought I would have to worry about. It said that because of the elections held in October, our contracts with our schools and Cartagena’s Secretary of Education may not be renewed. Given Colombia’s interest in having more bilingual teachers, I didn’t think there was any chance of losing the contract for the second semester. But lo and behold, after the new government was voted in, lots of things that seemed sure before were tossed in the air.

Rather than wait and possibly lose a place for their volunteers in Cartagena public schools, WorldTeach decided to partner with the Ministry of Education. That means that we switched from working with the city government to the national government. Also, for me personally, it meant that I wasn’t going to be returning to my placement at John F. Kennedy.

d6502-autumnjackievestsautumnjackievests Autumn and I show off our stylish green vests. Maybe we can start a Cartagena girl scout troop with them later?

Now in addition to my title of volunteer English teacher I am also a ministry fellow meaning there are all sorts of new rules and requirements I have to learn and follow. The first was a required week of TEFL training in Bogotá at the end of January. It was pretty annoying to have to go to this new-teacher training when I had already been doing the job for six months, but I tried my best to think positively and focus on self-improvement. For five days I stayed in a nice hotel in Bogotá with about 600 other ministry fellows, most of whom work with another organization called Heart for Change. The last two days of the week were spent doing propaganda exercises for national television cameras.  All the new English teachers and the people organizing us were dressed in bright green vests and taught special cheers for the cameras. Apparently it worked, for the first few weeks I was back in Cartagena neighbors and even strangers on the street asked me if I was one of the people in green who was on the news.

Some of the other requirements have more to do with the boring nitty-gritty bits of public schools and all the policy that entails. In last year’s PISA tests (an international standardized test) Colombia placed last overall. To combat this, Colombia has given education a very large budget, second only to the peace efforts. The initiatives are exciting, but I worry about their implementation, especially in the coastal setting.

For me personally, the biggest change that has come with the new contracts is that I had to change schools. Telling my old co-teachers Alfredo and Fredys about the change was hard, they were very disappointed that I was leaving, especially because that meant that JFK would no longer have a native English speaker to work with the students. I am also sad to leave the school, I worked hard to build relationships there and it’s hard to leave just as I was getting the hang of things. Everyday when I walk to my new school, I see familiar faces of old students and it’s bittersweet to smile at them and know I’m not their teacher anymore.

I now work at a larger high school about 15 minutes away by walking from my house. It’s called Instatución Educativa San Lucas. It’s in a rougher neighborhood, but the school has a few more resources. Exploring this week I found an indoor theater, an air-conditioned library with tables and a decent number of books, and a chemistry lab (that’s actually used as a chem lab and not as a cafeteria like at JFK!) I’m still working out the details of my schedule, but it looks like I’ll be working with 8th-11th grades with two different co-teachers.

While it’s been a little tough to start over, it also gives me a chance at a fresh start to the semester. I’m coming in as a new teacher again, but this time I have the advantages of six month’s experience and a little more Spanish to communicate. Already I feel more confident and motivated to plan and execute more complicated lessons. I’m really looking forward to spending the next six months getting to know these kids.

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