Saturday, January 22, 2011

One Week In

Well, we have survived (and thoroughly enjoyed) one week in Guaimaca.  We have been incredibly busy this week with school preparations; we used this week to make outlines and schedules for the entire trimester, start planning some activities and projects and clean up and organize the school.

I think some specifics about the school itself are in order.  The school includes grades 7-11 (there is no 12th grade), and this year there will be about 70 students, all who come from one of the aldeas of Guaimaca, and who go through what sounds like a pretty intense interview process to make sure they will be committed to their studies and to developing as a person, developing in their faith, and developing as a member of the community.  Each family contributes to the school in some way, so that the families themselves are invested in and feel a part of their daughters' education.  Their contributions are completely based on what they are able to contribute, whether it's a few hundred Lempira, a few thousand, or some food that they have grown and then bring to the school.

The classes are based on a distance-learning format and are completely different from any type of class that I have had, even the most free, dialogue-based courses I had in college.   It's a system that was developed specifically for the thousands of students across the country who can't go to school past the sixth grade and therefore basically have to teach themselves.  It is only required to go to school through the 6th grade in Honduras, and most schools in the aldeas (the more rural, small agricultural villages) are a one-room classroom, with one teacher, and all of the ages all together.  With these needs in mind, the developers of this program created a radio lecture for each subject, which the students listen to, then complete exercises and read more information.  Once a week, a traveling tutor will come to the aldea and help students with comprehension of material, and then bring the state approved final exams.

The Hondurans are very proud of and invested in this program, so we in the school still work from the basics, even though we are there every day of the year.  Our students will listen to the radio the day before class, do some exercises and read, then we will come to class the next day and work on the material through activities and our own experience.  This first trimester I will tutor Biology and Chemistry and review Math from last year for the seniors, el Segundo Bachillerato.  It feels weird to say "tutor," just like it felt weird to say "tutor" last fall when working with the students who had been expelled from the high school, but that's the word that they use to describe my position.  We are in fact teachers, but it is in this system that is completely different from our own classroom experience.  I feel like I have an advantage, however, because that experience last fall "tutoring" really helped me prepare for this style of learning and teaching, and gave me a background that I would not have had otherwise.

Still, I feel like I will have to tone down the lecture portion of the classes.  I have already planned a few projects and big activities for both classes, which will be different for them but hopefully really help with their comprehension, but I need to come up with a lot of small classroom activities and labs to do while at the farm.  If anyone has any ideas, I would love to hear them!

Oh, one more thing-- we also each have some physical education classes.  I have three, and the other gringo tutors have two each, most of which are shared between us (my third is by myself).  We came up with a plan for this trimester, which includes a variety of activities and games, and a more intensive unit on basketball.  I'm pretty excited for these classes because it will help us really get to know the students of all the grades, and these classes will help them develop as a whole person, something in which both I and el Centro Marie Poussepin strongly believe.

I'm getting really excited for the start of classes on January 31st, but also pretty nervous.  The transition into this style of teaching will be difficult, not to mention the language barrier.  I can feel that my comprehension and expression has really improved in just this one week of immersion, and we have one more before school starts, but I know that at times my students will feel like they are not getting through to me, or vice versa, and I'm worried about how this will affect the class experience, especially in the beginning.  To help alleviate this problem, I will set up a box in my classroom for Preguntas, and if we don't get to anything, or I am unable to answer something, they can put it in the box for me to read through and answer at home.  I'm excited for the day that I say "Como?" ("how?" or "what?") in less than 50% of my conversations, hopefully that comes sooner rather than later.

I hope everyone in los Estados Unidos is happy and doing well.  I hear there's a lot of snow in the Northeast...that seems weird to me already.


  1. Your BLOG seems to have Facebook written all over it, Matthew. I don't know anything about FB as of now... but I just created an account. I made the leap to the social net with the hope of connecting your experiences and writings to others who I think will benefit from them. Your journey has started me on this journey, my nephew. Eventually I'll get the hang of it.... God Bless. - Uncle Pete

  2. Thank you Uncle Pete, I really appreciate it. I'll have to look you up the next time I get on facebook, which may take a little while because our internet connection is pretty limited. I hope everyone in Washington is doing well!

  3. Elizabeth and I have accepted Uncle Pete's request to be friends. So, if there was fear of rejection on the social network it was unfounded. :-)
    Matthew, you are in a similar predicament as many of my college professors were. Their English was with a heavy accent and some had poor English skills. Granted, we were college students, but the burden to understand what they were saying was on us. I like your strategy to use a box for Preguntas. Nice idea that should help. Don't be surprised when you get chistes instead of preguntas.

  4. I think your inability to speak the language will help put you closer to where it sounds like you need to be with these kids. They don't want a figure head - prof in front of them telling them what its like - it sounds like they are more'hands on', needing their help will slow you down and their ability to help will make you and the subject more real.

  5. Good advice, thank you...wish me luck anyway!

  6. I am sure you have realized by now that the language barrier is tough but not impossible to work past. This year in Peru I learned that a lot of communication can be non-verbal as well. I hope that you are enjoying everything especially the gym classes.