Monday, January 9, 2012

Nicaragua - Blog Post 1 - Teaching

For the next several blog posts, I will reflect on my community service trip to Jinotega, Nicaragua with ten other business school students.  We were there from January 1 to January 7 of 2012.  I have organized the posts topically rather than chronically.  The first covers our experience teaching. 

Teaching (Monday, January 2 through Thursday, January 5) - Photos from Bin Yin

The purpose of our trip was to help Outreach360 promote English Education in rural Nicaragua.  During the past several years, volunteers have come and gone.  Outreach360 has hosted them in their volunteer house and directed efforts to transform old homes into “neighborhood centers” where children can come for extracurricular education programs.  Outreach360 also places volunteers inside local primary schools. 

When we arrived in Jinotega, Outreach360 had just finished its latest neighborhood center.  Alma, a Jinotega local who works for Outreach360 and is fluent in English, communicates with town residents and registers their children for the nonprofit’s programs.  For four days, we would host an English immersion program for one neighborhood.

Although we were the teachers, I was amazed by how much I learned from the children that week.  First, I have a new appreciation for primary educators.  The energy required to manage a class of five to ten children was overwhelming.  I cannot imagine teaching larger groups.  I cannot say the children were misbehaving.  What challenged us was balancing two goals: ensuring their learning progress and keeping their attention.  To rely on one teaching method was ineffective.  We had to continue finding new ways of presenting basic English material. 

Second, I have a new appreciation for foreign language educators.  My time in Spain had taught me that the immersion process is slow.  Now the roles had reversed, and I was the one immersing others in my native language.  Outreach360 stipulated that we could not use Spanish during the lessons.  How then could we communicate directions to activities?  How do we ask them to identify vocabulary?  Teaching to a room of wild children with blank stares would require more ingenuity than I had anticipated.  We gradually learned techniques to demonstrate games and “repeat-after-me” activities.  By the end of the third day it seemed the children understood us intuitively.  It was extraordinary.  I was reminded of the time my Spanish mamá Montse told me, “Children are brilliant, able to absorb everything like sponges.” 

Although the lessons were English only, recess and reading time allowed us to practice Spanish with the children.  Reading time was my favorite.  A stash of children’s books (in English and Spanish) was spread across the table.   Many of the children could read well in Spanish, but admitted to having little or no books at home.  Their eyes lit up at “Dora, the Explorer,” “Curious George,” and “Corduroy.”  I would take turns reading every other page with one or two students.  I would also converse with them in Spanish.  I was flattered how well they could understand me.  They even came up to me later to ask me questions, suggesting their acknowledgement and trust that I was fluent.  During recess, we sang English songs like “Bananas,” “Hokey Pokey,” and our new favorite:  “There was a great big Moose…”  The kids also enjoyed being introduced to “Pato, Pato, Gonso” (Duck, Duck, Goose).   By the end of the four days, we had grown attached, making goodbyes difficult.