Friday, February 18, 2011

Teaching Challenges

Teaching = Tiring
Nearly a year ago when I first set my sights on teaching English in Colombia, I knew it wouldn’t be the easiest of roads. I would not only need to adjust to life in a foreign country, but also figure out how to do a job that I had little experience performing; teaching. Sitting comfortably at home in the States, this sounded perfectly fine—I wanted and welcomed the challenge.

But there’s a big difference between talking about wanting a challenge and actually facing it.

Every morning as I head up the comically steep, ramshackle road to Nueva Esperanza, I contemplate what hurdles the day will hurl my way. Arriving at the school, I say “Buenos días” to the guards as they let me in. En route to my first class, loitering students yell “Teacher Mike!” and a few courageous ones come up to shake my hand. Every now and then, a few giggly 10th grade girls come up to say “Hi” then dart away in embarrassment.

That’s pretty much where the cutesy stuff ends.

Looks can be deceiving
I am finding teaching to be more difficult than I ever imagined. Although I am still exhausted from the day before, I nonetheless must find the energy to push forward. Without coffee, I’m not sure how I would make it through the day. I do my best to make learning fun and be an effective, engaging teacher my students will never forget, but this is easier said than done—half the time it seems as if my students aren’t even aware I’m there. They talk incessantly—push and shove each other—and zone me out when I attempt to get them to be quiet and pay attention. I’ve even caught myself doing something I told myself I never would—yelling at the top of my lungs to get my students to sit down and listen—but this seems to be the only thing they are responsive to.

I spend more time trying to manage the class than actually teaching them.

Earlier this week on a particularly frustrating day, a student came up to me and asked, “¿Por qué está usted en Colombia?” (Why are you in Colombia?)

Looking out at my unruly class, for a moment, I thought, No sé.

But I know why I am here. I am here because I know I have what it takes to make a difference in the lives of these children.

Beautiful view from Nueva Esperanza.
With the high global demand for English teachers, I could have chosen an easy job teaching rich kids in Spain or Japan or South Korea, but I didn’t. I chose to come to Colombia because I wanted to give children who got life’s short end of the stick a chance at a better life—to give them the tools so that they one day might be able to pull themselves out of poverty.

Patience is not one of my virtues—but in education, it’s the only one that matters. The road from now until December is going to be steep and rugged—much like the road to Nueva Esperanza—but I will endure.

Despite my difficulties, this job also has its rewards—like walking out into the schoolyard and being swarmed by hordes of happy little humans who are genuinely glad to see me. It’s a remarkable feeling knowing that my very presence is capable of creating so much joy.

It’s moments like those that make it all worth it.

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