Last day at Escuela República de GreciaSantiago, Fall 2011

Over this semester I have had the chance to observe, assist with, and teach English classes in a primary school in Talagante, a small city south of Santiago. IES organized this volunteer experience for me, and I have been very happy with my experience even though the school is an hour away and there were many challenges I encountered on the job. The school, Escuela República de Grecia, has just one English teacher for kindergarten through eighth grade, who although a great person and dedicated teacher is not a native speaker. Throughout the semester I came every Friday morning to work with the fourth and eighth grade classes.

At first this experience was a huge challenge for me. After introducing myself to the eighth grade on my first day, the first question I received, in Spanish of course, was ‘Do you have a boyfriend?’ Naturally after having worked with middle school before I know to expect random inappropriate behavior because at that age, kids have no control over their bursting hormones. However, I was still very surprised by the rudeness of the question and the reality that none of my students actually knew much English at all and the majority had not paid attention to a word that I had said. The students didn’t know at first that I spoke Spanish and thought I had to rely on the teacher for translation. Within a week they respected me because some students had learned the hard way that I could understand their comments and did not put up with such inappropriate and disrespectful behavior. In addition, for the first month and a half I had no say in the lesson plans and no way to contact the teacher with whom I was working other than during the work day. The combination of culture clash, large classes with rowdy students (about 40 students per class), and the poor communication between me and the English teacher at the school made my experience difficult, to say in the least.

Later in the semester, I found it easier and easier to work with the students and staff. I had learned how to control the class and what types of lessons would interest the students more. In addition, I had started to talk to the teacher I worked with over email and had some input (although minimal) in the lesson plans. The rest of the staff at the school was extremely friendly, always asking how I was doing, how the students were, how I like Chile, etc. In addition, I had started to become popular among my students, who (more so with the fourth grade) became very excited when I came in on Fridays. I had begun to become a favorite teacher for a few of my students!

On my last day, which was this past Friday, I realized how much this internship had really grown on me. After teaching the day’s lessons (this time I was in charge and the teacher mainly was just there for support), it was very difficult for me to physically leave the room. After the fourth grade (I always teach fourth then eighth), I was immediately surrounded by a swarm of students and could not escape from hugs, kisses, and leech-like attachment that nearly made me fall down as I tried to say goodbye and leave the room. When I was about to leave at the end of the day, I the principle, assistant principle, the English teacher, and I all went into the office and I was given a little good-bye ceremony with a card, a box of chocolates, and a couple great photos with the staff.

Although there were certainly some days that I did not feel like going, and some days that I could not focus well and just wanted to go home, over all this experience has been extremely important to me. I have learned just how difficult it is to teach English as a Second Language, and especially how difficult that is in the context of another country and culture. I will always remember this opportunity as I move forward in my career as a student and a teacher and consider what I have gained as I decide how my future as a teacher will take form.

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