About a month ago, Lorena and I were up late talking, and she gave me a pop quiz. One question, four possible answers. The question was, “When you leave Guatemala, who are you going to miss the most?” The choices were varied, but my answer was easy and immediate. I said, “My students.”
Living in Guatemala had its ups and down. From making new friends but having to see them leave a few months later, traveling to exotic destinations but sometimes not being able to leave the house due to natural disasters, and having one of your closest companions, Oliver the cat, being taken away from you instantly one day. However, there always seemed to be one constant. Every Monday and Thursday in the afternoon, I had the pleasure of teaching English to 40 Primero Basico (7th grade) and 11 Segundo Basico (8th grade) students in Chaquijyá Central. I was not only their English teacher, but a connection to an outside, Western world that they might never see. Our relationship was much more than English nouns and verbs. I learned about their families, was given homemade crafts as gifts, and invited to community events. I watched their enthusiasm in the English language grow from simple excitement over learning bad words and swears to wanting to use English to tell me how they were feeling: “Cameron, are you happy? I am happy.” When I walked into school every day they would greet me with a “What’s up?” They even wanted to describe their friends: “Alfredo is fat. Claudia is pretty. Cameron the teacher is ugly."
Most of the time in life, people are focused on themselves. It is quite difficult to consistently dedicate your time to other people, while putting your interests aside. I can truthfully say that looking outside of myself and putting my efforts towards bettering the lives of my students was a truly rewarding experience. Am I saying I didn’t gain any personal benefit and satisfaction? Of course not. I enjoyed every minute with them, whether we were learning, joking, arguing or playing soccer. However, if I had not put forth the effort to make a connection with my students, their positive influence wouldn’t resonate with me the way it does now. Was I a good teacher? I don’t really know. Having never done it before, it’s hard to tell. However, one thing I do know is that my students' personal warmth, laughter, and willingness to accept me into their inner circles made an impact on me. As I walked up the hill away from school for the last time on Thursday, I wondered if I would ever come back. I think I will. A part of me has been left in those two classrooms in Chaquijyá Central, and I guess I have to come back to rekindle that spirit. Before I left, I gave each student a class picture with words written at the top. Estoy orgulloso de ti. I am proud of you. And I know I will be for a long time. Thank you for being part of my life. Se cuidan.
--Cameron Roth, newly-retired PD