We’ve officially concluded four weeks of WOO classes, and I’m still getting used to writing with chalk on a chalkboard. It’s an odd experience, writing in front of a class this way. Primitive, or perhaps just simple. Visceral—writing words and letters deliberately. Markers on a white board flow effortlessly, glide across a glassy surface. Chalk scratches. I realize that even to pause and reflect on the experience of chalk on a chalkboard dates me in the opposite way, as part of some ‘new generation’ reared on whiteboards and powerpoint presentations. Indeed, my classroom in the Gigante elementary school sure is a long way from the climate controlled classrooms of my past, from ol’ Palm Crest to tech-loving DU. I’m remembering now a day in sixth grade with Mrs. Healey attached her laptop to the projector and showed us how to Google search. I was in sixth grade more than a decade ago; and still I scratch on a chalkboard in a sweltering classroom in Gigante. The power went out during class yesterday and I didn’t find out until I arrived back to Brio—demonstrative of how much we rely on it in gringo-Brio and how superfluous it is in the fan-free, bright afternoon classroom of Gigante’s elementary school. I tell ya—those classrooms are stifling.

April heat is upon us. I had heard that April was the worst weather month—the end of the dry season, before the rains offer some respite. Yes. I am here to tell you, sweating and heat-ridden, that it is true. April is hot. Going on four months without rain makes for a very dry, dusty landscape, scorched from the heat. I realized several days ago when I saw a cloud that I hadn’t seen a substantial cloud since my arrival. I got up at 5:30 (still dark) today to go running and returned by 6:30 absolutely dripping in sweat (I’m sorry, too much information?) and had to have a Gatorade to revive myself and my electrolyte count. So… that sucks, eh. Good news is the water temperature is back to tropical and I’ve been going for an afternoon swim everyday, complete with a leisurely stroll along the beach.

Back to the sweltering classrooms: it’s hard to teach melting teenagers, even harder when you yourself are melting. But… I love teaching with WOO. This, I finally realized, is teaching. As opposed to the haphazard classes of Brio English days, my classes are structured, I have authority, and, more importantly, I have resources and support. I write lesson plans for each class (in Spanish!) and actually follow them. (It’s incredible—and incredibly obvious—how lesson planning and an eye to the bigger picture make teaching so much easier!) We’re even doing ‘units’, as opposed to week-by-week sort of rambling progressions. I planned out units for the next six months, down to weekly themed lessons. This first month’s unit was ‘about me’, and yesterday, in culmination of the ‘about me’ month, we made ‘about me’ collages! I brought in magazines and markers, tape and glue, and paper and crayons and my sample ‘about Megan’ collage which I spent the morning working on (and probably had more fun doing so than the kids did…).

Teaching is definitely still hard, made harder by the large class sizes and rambunctious restlessness of after-school teenagers. Yesterday, rather than share his collage with the class, Roberto decided to throw it away in the bathroom and sulked in the back. I reprimanded him, but even better, Adam swooped in after class and gave him a talking-to. Again—why it’s nice to be working with other people instead of alone.

For the most part, when they aren’t being sulky teenagers dripping with additude, the kids are fun. Recently they’ve been in on a kick of adding ‘ation’ to the end of every Spanish word. Apparently, perhaps in their school English class, they noticed that many English words end in ‘tion’. And, just as non-native Spanish speakers note that many words end in ‘o’ and speak Spanglish by sticking an ‘o’ at the end of English words (booko, shirto), these creative teens did the same with ‘ation’ (por favoration, camisation) and thus created their own sort of Espanolish. Hilarity for the first five minutes quickly turned into something else, but I do appreciate their creativity. 

I know more than half the kids from my Brio English classes, and I will say, to be immodest for a moment, their performance in the English realm is incredibly validating of my Brio classes, the first chunk of time I spent here teaching alone. The group of six or seven that stuck through until the end are without a doubt the best English students. So—although, in December, I felt a bit like we hadn’t progressed at all, taken in-context and compared to peers taking the same English classes at school: well done, Meg. (Although, I do realize that those that took it upon themselves to come to my English classes are those who were already interested in English and therefore probably already outperforming their peers in the subject. However, I still think it’s a worthy accomplishment.)

I’m also working on giving an English evaluation to all the students, as something tangible to leave behind when I myself depart, and to help any future teachers. One of the hardest things thus far has been the huge array of levels in English acquisition among the students; accommodating those in a single class that can carry on a full conversation with those who don’t know how to say their age. So last week I gave the same multiple-choice test to everyone and plan to somehow record their varying levels to 1. assess what we need to learn and 2. assess in the future if we have in fact learned such thing. It was a hard test, but they succeeded/failed at it in very erratic ways, so I’m unsure at this point how to use it as an evaluation tool.

In any case, despite and perhaps because of the challenges… it’s fun. And so do Wednesday and Thursday afternoons now find me merrily sweating away at a chalkboard for several hours in WOO-nderland. 



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