I am currently taking the year off of classroom teaching and have been spending a bit of time traveling and volunteering. My current volunteer assignment in Honduras, though multi-faceted, allows me to spend some time in a unique classroom setting. Let me explain a bit more.
Briefly, this nonprofit works with malnourished mothers and children in Honduras. The organization has a recovery center where mothers and their children can come to overcome their malnutrition. Mothers who come to the center are invited to bring all of their children, not just those that are malnourished, so there are often between 7-12 kids at the center, and generally about half of those are of school age.
Working in this system has been unique and challenging in lots of ways. For starters, the kids only speak Spanish, so my teaching has to be in Spanish (which means I’m not really bringing my A-game, if you know what I mean). There is also a wide range of ages in the class, and, on top of that, an even wider range of academic skills and abilities. These kids are coming from very rural communities which usually have schools but what is taught in each school can vary greatly.
This opportunity has given me the chance to reflect on some really important things regarding my own teaching practice. Honestly, some things that annoyed me about the schools where I worked, I realize now, are good and important ideas (at least in theory). One broad idea is that of assessment and its importance. I still strongly disagree with the quantity of assessments that took place at the schools where I worked and the amount of pressure that these assessments put on students (topics for another day), but I’ve been reminded that diagnostic assessments are so helpful. I had the chance to develop a quick diagnostic test for the kids that come to the center, and this five minute diagnostic gave me so much clarity for how I can best help each student, even if they are only around for a few weeks. In the future, I hope that the teacher can use this diagnostic as new students arrive.
While all of that is good, I’ve digressed from my main point. As I mentioned earlier, some days I’m with the kids, some days I’m doing other things, and other days I don’t know what I’m doing and have some down time while a plan is being created for me on the fly. Not knowing my schedule, especially when it comes to work, is something that annoys me, and I was complaining about this very thing today. I was complaining about how sometimes the teacher just expects me to teach a lesson when I’m around for an hour, even though I wasn’t planning on teaching and am completely unprepared. In the midst of these complaints and a vent session, though, I received some great advice and was reminded to, put simply, just have some ideas ready of things I can quickly do with the kids – activities that the kids enjoy that will also build their academic skills.
So, after being reminded of this, I stopped complaining and I went and did it. I found the younger kids who are still working on name writing, we got some markers, and we practiced writing our names. As basic as this activity is, they loved it. They chose their own markers, they switched up the colors, and I drew smiley faces by their correctly written names. It was great.
I realized, after thinking about this morning later in the day, how easy it is to complain about the big picture in the classroom and in a school; how easy it is to complain about the things that are annoying and frustrating. But what really matters is the kids. I was reminded of the importance of these little moments with the kids, and how little moments can have a huge impact on learning.
I’ll try my best to remember this in the future, though I’m sure my complaining days are not over – sorry to those who might have to listen 🙂