My volunteering opportunity in Casma was to teach introductory English to a class of kids between 11 and 15 years old, and give private lessons to a 15-year-old and 21-year-old who have a more advanced level.
Man, it was hard!
One of the passions I identified as part of The Happiness Plunge process was teaching. Until now, I hadn’t really taught in any kind of formal setting. I have given speeches, but it’s not the same. Teaching is both an art and a science.
To teach you have to connect with the students. You have to understand their world, their thoughts, and their perceptions. Then you have to communicate the material in a way that makes sense to them in their world. Given that my Spanish isn’t fantastic and that my students and I come from two different cultures, it wasn’t easy!
Oh, and yes, I was teaching in Spanish. Pretty crazy. I had my electronic dictionary on me at all times, but I could generally teach just fine with my Spanish.
Teaching The Older, Advanced-Level Students
To give an example of connecting with my students, one day with the two advanced students we listened to and transcribed two songs: one my pick, one their pick. I picked Imagine by John Lennon. Yes, it’s an anthem of mine, it’s my favorite song, and he sings clearly. Their pick was Someone Like You by Adele.
After transcribing each song, which took a while as I played each line a couple times so they could practice listening, we translated them. At the end, we listened to the songs again with the words on the board and it was wonderful to see them understanding everything!
And I guess that’s what teaching is for me. It’s taking something dark and difficult and turning it into light and easy. And that’s where the skill of a teacher really comes into play, communicating the dark and difficult in such a way as to “clean” it and make it easy to understand. I’d love to learn more about the science of teaching as this experience showed me that I really want to do more teaching!
Below are some pictures of the lesson, and the only picture I have with both of my intermediate students. The songs are below if you’d like to listen to them.
Of course, there were days when we did boring stuff like grammar or translations. But we also did things like walking through the town market and making a vocabulary lesson out of it, watching a movie with English subtitles where they had to write down all the new words they encountered, etc.
Lunch With A Student And Her Family
One of the girls invited me to her house for lunch the first weekend I was there. It was a really nice gesture and they were extremely nice. The dad is a farmer and grows mangoes on the outskirts of the town. He explained how to grow mangoes and I had no idea what a process it is! And he gave me three different types of mangoes to try later – one of which is called “king mango” and it was seriously gigantic.
Teaching The Young, Basic-Level Students
The little kids were surprisingly well-behaved and attentive. They didn’t study, unfortunately, but they have their normal classes from school and I don’t know how many of them are taking classes because they want to or because their parents are forcing them.
With them I tried to make them laugh as much as possible. Sometimes I achieved this by making jokes, often my accent or lack of perfect Spanish was sufficient to make them laugh..
I did my best to teach them a bit about their own language as well, as some of the basic stuff in English seemed difficult to them. But when I showed what a pain in the butt learning whether every noun in the language is masculine or feminine, on top of the conjugation of Spanish verbs, I think they felt a bit happier to be native Spanish speakers learning English. I think they were also more understanding when I made mistakes, too!
With them we did listening exercises, I taught basic concepts like ordinal numbers (first, second, etc.), days of the week, months, numbers, themed vocabulary (like the kitchen, sports, the classroom, etc.), and possession (his/her, its, your, our, my), etc.
Oh, and they also asked about the difference between beach and bitch. With a Spanish accent, both are pronounced the same way. Sometimes they’d ask me to translate their favorite song titles into Spanish, and it was always inappropriate – stuff like “turn me on” or asking what the meaning of this song is.
In the end, we had fun and I don’t think it was too boring for them. Below is a picture of me and the class.
I think the hardest thing for me was planning each lesson. Even when I knew what I wanted to teach there was then the question of how to teach it. What is the best way to communicate these ideas, how can I relate it to them and their background in Spanish, etc.
It made me think of all the things teachers I had did to help us learn that we probably didn’t appreciate. I think anyone can read stuff and then regurgitate it and call it teaching. But to really teach is, as I said, an art and skill. I’m forever grateful for all the amazing teachers I’ve had after this experience.
Below are some pictures of the classrooms at the language institute. If you ever find yourself in Peru and want to live in a small but lively, safe town get in touch with the amazing people at Fiore Peru.Mayi, the founder, started the organization years ago and they help people, young and very old, in a variety of ways. Mayi has a long family history of helping the underprivileged and she was a very interesting and inspiring person to be around.
When I first arrived, everyone kept telling me I’d find my “Eva/Eve” in Casma. I didn’t, but I did fall in love with the town a bit.