Friday, August 5, 2011

How We Became Teachers

This week I gave the last test I'll give before I leave Guatemala.

When I arrived thirteen months ago, I'd never taught a class in my life. "I'm not qualified," I reasoned. And I wasn't. But that cut at the intersection of our most important principle: letting Chaquijyá dictate what kind of work we provide. It's critical that we're conscious of our skills and weaknesses, and our preference is to place Program Directors where they can leverage their expertise to positively impact the organizations alongside which they work.

Nevertheless, for much of the past year, that wasn't our most pressing concern. Doing what the community leaders asked of us took priority. So when they asked us to teach English in their elementary school, we agreed. They felt that English comprehension was essential to their children’s future opportunities. Our plans to launch a small business incubation program and an import/export cooperative took a back seat. And thus, I became an English teacher.

My first few classes were difficult; in a class of 38, it's hard to keep the boys from joking in Kaquikuel, and it's even harder to get the girls to volunteer a response. On the first test, which covered colors and numbers, the class average was a 29.5. But slowly, almost without notice, my teaching and the students’ retention improved. Now, on their most recent test, the class average was a 63. Thirty-one students have shown double-digit improvement on each exam. On the portion of the exam that covered complete sentences (such as They wear two red shoes and He is not tall and ugly), they averaged a score of 58.

These are students who, six months ago, didn't speak any English. These are my students. I'm not sure if English will ever benefit their future endeavors, and I'm confident that I'd improve as an educator with experience and training of my own, but they've worked incredibly hard. As I leave, I know I'm incredibly proud of these kids. And I know that, if you met them, you would be too.

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