Thursday, July 31, 2014

Lessons from Guatemala

My epic Central American adventure has come to an end.  The teachers and students at Escuela El Suyate gave me a heartfelt sendoff and some trinkets from Guatemala to take back to the United States.  Most important, my experience gave me several things to ponder as I begin to plan for the upcoming school year:
  • Be grateful for what you have: The air conditioner in my classroom broke right before the beginning of this past school year.  Since one of the reasons I agreed to move to the South was because of the pictures of the shiny air conditioners in the district's recruitment literature, I immediately made it my mission to have this problem corrected as soon as possible.  As word spread, I received over a dozen visits from colleagues who not only dropped off fans, but reassured me that our working conditions are "terrible".  Of course, I just got back from teaching in a school that lacked air conditioning, an indoor restroom and in some cases overhead lighting.  I was able to persevere under these conditions and this experience will definitely make me think twice next time I hear or want to complain about how inadequate my school building is.
  • It is possible to teach without technology: As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, many of the classrooms at the school lacked electricity, never mind computers and wi-fi.  Despite the lack of technological resources, students were still taught math and reading skills along with some English.  While the Guatemalan education system is still light years behind the United States, teaching and learning is going on in fun and creative ways.  In fact, planning lessons without relying on technology became somewhat of a relief.  Lessons were never put on hold due to the network being down and I didn't have to worry about equipment malfunctioning,  While I will continue to incorporate technology into my lessons, I will also begin to rely more heavily on teaching methods that do not require anything beyond some basic materials and my own creativity.
  • Embrace and support new colleagues: From the second I entered Escuela El Suyate, I was immediately embraced by the other teachers.  I was pulled into the staff's family atmosphere and they insisted that I accept their offers for assistance in areas ranging from navigating language barriers to transportation.  This made me think about how we support new colleagues in the United States.  More often than not, we may introduce ourselves and point out our classrooms, but do little more.  I am going to remember the feeling that I had when others so selflessly rearranged their professional and personal responsibilities to help me and pay it forward this coming school year. 
  • Step out of my comfort zone: Much to the annoyance of my friends and family, I am a homebody.  My idea of a long vacation is four days.  This trip lasted over two weeks.  I was away from home for almost a month as I wrapped in visits to New England on both ends of the trip (partly to drop my dog off with my parents).  While I was originally hesitant to take this trip at all, it turned out to be an absolutely fabulous experience and I am even strongly considering going back next year (you can too, if you're interested send me a message).  As I go into the school year, I am bound to find myself in other situations that are outside my comfort zone.  Rather than run from these challenges, I will tackle them head on. 

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