You probably read about our arrival and first days in San Cristobal in Martin’s Galapagos Volunteering Part One, Part Two and Part Three. Following on, here’s my own tale of teaching in our first week!
After the frenzy of getting all five of us to school by 7.15am, Ben and Martin have headed off to their classes, whilst the headmistress takes me and the girls to our classes. We take Lara into Form 1, she goes in fairly happily – brave girl!
Zoe is next and is shown to 4a and I’m shown next door to 4b. I’m introduced to the expectant kids and it dawns on me that there is no teacher?!
‘Where is the teacher?’ I ask in my best Spanish!!
The Head shakes her head and says a lot in Spanish very fast – I can’t really follow but I pick up lots of Usted’s (a polite ‘you’) – I reply ‘solo yo??’ (Only me??) she replies ‘si!’ (Yes!) with a slightly sheepish grin!
I can’t think of a polite response in English, never mind Spanish, that will get me out of it so I simply give her my best look of horror and ask if she’ll help by explaining to me what to do?! She hands me four course books, and I think says ‘Just start with Unit 5 in all subjects’, points to the timetable on the wall, suggests something about getting the kids to show me around the school once we’ve done introductions? … She beams and wishes me luck and leaves….
Twenty five beaming faces are on me, about twenty three voices are shouting ‘teacher teacher teacher?’ They have questions. They shout out some in English and some in Spanish so I do my best to understand them and explain who I am and what I’m doing here!
What AM I doing here?!
I get them to introduce themselves next, in English or Spanish, most of them are 8, some are 9. I furiously scribble their names on a plan of the classroom in my notebook (I have to cheat from this for the next few days!!)
Then, against my better judgement, I let them take me on the suggested tour. At least eight hold my hands, the rest run off in several directions at once bellowing! Oh no! Somehow I round everyone up and sit them on the playground, we count them, together, in English. I have all 25! I say ‘Come on, we’re making too much noise, other classes are trying to work’ or something like that in my poor Spanish… But they want to take me up to a block behind the lava rocks to show me the view of the harbour…reluctantly I agree! More scattering. Getting everyone together and back to class is a monumental exercise and we’ve probably disrupted every other class in the school but a bell has rung. It’s 07:55 and we’re into second period!
It’s supposed to be a double period of Lengua y Literatura….I look at the teacher’s book, then theirs and realise they don’t really match, and anyway, they are only part way through Unit 4, so we finish the page they were working on. Then the bell tells us its the third period, Its Matematica for the next 40 minutes. We find where they were up to, and the equivalent pages in my book and try to have a discussion around the topic. Its division. We can work on Maths in Spanish and English and that will pad out the class! Somehow we muddle through to first break!
Break is 20 minutes. I briefly consider finding the head and telling her it’s too much or perhaps just doing runner? But not one to shy away from a challenge or perhaps just a sucker for punishment, I decide to spend the time thinking what I can do to survive the next period! The kids clamour around and want to chat. The girls want to know why Zoe isn’t in 4b? They thought she was going to be! Why can’t I move her? ‘PLEASE, PLEASE, POR FAVOR, POR FAVOR!’
They tell me the next period, Artes Musicales, is taught by a different teacher. Phew, a respite! I want to see how Martin, Ben Zoe and Lara are doing so I glug some water and venture out to the school yard, accompanied by many of the girls.
I spot Ben dashing around with a bunch of boys and laughing. Check!
Zoe is mobbed by girls from her class who are taking her off to show her around and buy tuck and she seems very content. Check!
Lara is similar but wants me to go with her. I ask one of her friends to help her buy something to eat. They wander off as she clutches her 50 cents… Soon she’s back to proudly show me a small bag of popcorn then goes off with her friends happily. Check!
I spot Martin and briefly tell him about me! I think it makes him feel better about his own class! He’s sitting in with a supply teacher (at least he had a supply teacher!) and really just figuring out the lie of the land so far, as different classes file in for their 40 minute computer class and back out!
The bell rings! Back to class. the music or drama (?) teacher arrives and gets them stretching, miming and singing whilst I sit at the back and ponder the Natural Science book – hopeless – I can’t understand how my book matches theirs, I can’t understand the first activity in unit 5 or the one they’re working on in Unit 4! Panic! It would be so much easier if it was in English! Why didn’t I study more Spanish?
When the bell rings I tell them we’ll be doing some English! They don’t object and we work through days of the week and months of the year. They seem familiar with them so it works ok although half the time is spent getting everyone to quieten down, sit down, listen, put up their hand, talk one at a time. These Spanish expressions I am quickly very fluent in!!
I try to do the months their birthdays are in and to say ‘My birthday is in ….October’ then write them all up on the board together. Its pandemonium! Santiago is one of the loudest, most disruptive but obviously bright. I bring him to the front of class and have him be my assistant – Santiago is delighted and his whole demeanour changes – it’s a good move and frankly, he’s more helpful than I could have hoped for! When they don’t listen to me, he yells for silence and sitting down before we continue and he ‘s loud!!
Amazingly the bell soon rings for next break. Another 20 minutes. Quick check on my own kids, more or less good! Zoe looks jaded and tells me her class is really noisy and she doesn’t understand anything but heads off with her new friends! I briefly see Ben streak past me in a game of chase! Lara is fine and she and Zoe get together surrounded by loads of intrigued girls all wanting to meet them. It looks overwhelming but they are handling it well! I don’t think they could have coped four months ago and I’m proud they’ve got so confident!
My last two periods are Social Studies and Foreign Language. The kids explain that for Foreign Language they’ll be in the English room with their English teacher so I only have one period to get through. I muddle on with months and birthdays but the day is getting hot, the kids are more tired and disruptive and its impossible to keep them in their seats or at all quiet to do much!
The bell rings. We all head up to English and I meet Eric, the friendly English teacher. He asks about how the day has been? It’s a tough one to answer! I tell him what we’ve been doing and he spends the lesson doing months of the year too, getting me involved, I can relax and enjoy and see he has pretty good crowd control, which I can learn from !!
The final bell rings and my class whoop and run off home shouting ‘See you tomorrow teacher!’
The Clarks congregate and we head to a restaurant called Rosita for their $5 set lunch and to share our first day at school stories! My head is throbbing and I feel a bit stunned but the kids are buzzing!
Then its off to the English centre. I sit around like a stunned mullet, chat to the other volunteers, make a kind of plan for school tomorrow and a Maths-in-English word search for next day! I make it hard so it will be time consuming and we can talk it through as much as we need to! I wonder if we can fill two periods with it!!
I also take 25 sheets of paper which I think will be good for another activity at school as i saw no supplies in the classroom!
Martin, Ben and Lara go off to shop and organise things at home, Zoe helps out in some English classes and gets to know some of the youngsters in and out of classes.
Back home, Domestic God Martin has rustled up egg fried rice… We get the kids to bed and I spend some more time organising my timetable and activities for tomorrow! I Google ‘managing disruptive classes’ and get some ideas and tips for crowd control! I should get a good night’s sleep but I lie awake thinking of my class and plans for tomorrow!
All too soon, its 5.45am the alarm is going off again! It’s Wednesday. Our second day of school. The class all clamour to have a turn as my ”assistant” – I’d prefer to keep Santiago in the role but feel I should give others a chance – I pick a girl who insists her friend helps too! Eh oh! They squeeze into the teachers chair together!
My word search provides a good amount of activity. It’s rather hard for them but we also make it a class activity and it takes us plenty of time! We muddle through!
Then I get two periods off when the art teacher comes and they make Christmas cards and also a period of English.
I get the class to do self portraits and write names, birthdays, a favourite sport and how many brothers/sisters – all in English! They do good!!
After second break, a teacher pops in and says something about a ‘su hija’ (your daughter) and points across the school yard at a small blonde child lying alone in the hot sun in the school yard! It’s Lara, asleep! Our kids can sleep anywhere – I recall something similar with Zoe asleep on the astro back home! I tell the class I need two minutes, and ask them in hope to sit quietly. But 25 eager and inquisitive helpers accompany me across the yard and crowd around as I scoop up a red hot sweaty Lara and bring her back inside. She’s burning up, and grizzly… The kids get her water, someone rustles up an ice pop!
We’ve lost the plot with the lesson but everyone loves having Lara, they all give her little gifts and by the time the bell goes for English, she’s overladen with origami frogs and beautiful drawings of sea-lions, seahorses and fishes!
We all go to Rosita for lunch but Martin takes Lara home and Ben too as he’s arranged for a friend to come over. Zoe and I go to centre – She pops in and out of classes, getting to know kids inside and outside, I do some prep for classes tomorrow again!
Thursday Martin and Lara stay home as she has high temperature and no energy. The rest of us are at school. I have another new assistant, Benjamin. It doesn’t really work like it did with Santiago!
In Maths, we try ordinal numbers in Spanish and English, my last class is pandemonium – the days seem to start well but as the day warms up, the kids get more and more hot and distracted! I leave with a thudding headache wondering if I can keep going (!) I only see the head when I pop my head around her door in the morning. Today she tells me the regular teacher should be back Monday.
After school we amble along the harbour front and have burgers and chips at Mockingbird cafe for lunch where the kids play pool and I drink a much needed cappuccino!
Ben takes a taxi to his friend Alan’s for the afternoon. Zoe and I are at centre, she helps in classes, I make tell the time worksheets for tomorrow! Back home Martin has prepared another delicious meal and our hosts have brought us a new table and chairs so we can enjoy eating around the table together!
Still no teacher for my class on Friday. The head tells me she should be back on Monday though she doesn’t sound entirely sure!
We practice months and days, do more division in maths. We colour months of year and put up displays around the room. Then we try the time telling exercises, the kids find that really tough! It fills the day. Just! I’m grateful for breaks when they have PE and Natural science.
As an added distraction Lara has come out of class a lot today and keeps walking into my classroom! Much enjoyed by my kids! She won’t stay with Dad in the computer room – it’s much too much fun in Mum’s year 4 class!!!
During second break the head pops in to thank me for this week and gives me four yoghurt drinks as a thank you drink! Lara tries one and hates it. I use them as a bribe for best listening, putting up hands, staying in seat, quietest etc…! This works quite well – i should have tried it before!
School finishes 30 mins early which is a relief! We all head to Rosita for lunch then to the Centre. Ben has been invited to Alan’s birthday bash – as have We all – but Zoe wants to work at the centre so Martin drops off Ben and Lara whilst Zoe helps in English lessons and is especially welcome with a shy little girl Meerta who loves to have Zoe as her buddy!
Martin, Zoe and I join the party later where we find a glammed up Lara in posh frock, high heels, hair up and makeup ! We meet Sandra, a volunteer at the Alejandro Alvear nursery and primary school for
children up to age 5 and we meet Rusetty, Alan’s Mum, Willy’s wife and teacher at the same nursery / primary school, and Dominic, alan’s younger sister, who’s dress and shoes Lara is now wearing!
We talk with Sandra and Rusetty about whether we can try Lara at the primary school in Rusetty’s class with Dominic and Sandra too and agree to try on Monday! We eat lovely party food, the kids enjoy party games, sing Cumpleanos Feliz and laugh as Alan has his face put right in his cake – a local party tradition!
We walk home later and get to bed, exhausted! It’s been an amazing, scary but immensely rewarding first week. Ben is buzzing, Martin has found there’s plenty of useful work to do fixing up computers, mice, wifi and internet connections, even if helping the teacher and kids in class is futile, the girls are exhausted and I am too but I’m on a real high – I’ve survived my first week in at the deep end teaching in a Spanish school!
And it’s the weekend!