The air conditioner steadily hummed as I re-taped the posters on the board. There was a bucket right next to me, catching the water droplets that fell from the air conditioner. I scanned the room to visualize how the seating arrangement would work out. The chairs seemed to be in a U-formation, which I was hesitant to use, only because I had never worked with that seating arrangement before. I moved the broken desks to the back, and thought about how far away the board was from the students at the back of the U formation. This would be a challenge, I thought, since the room was so long, and the teacher’s desk was inconveniently placed in front of the whiteboard. I wondered how difficult it would be for me to convince the students to sit in the front row. Before I knew it, the 11th graders from the “11A” section began to come in. Cindy was the first to walk in. As soon as I saw her, I knew I would need to learn her name. She had large dimples like myself, and she walked happily and confidently into class. I introduced myself in English, and she said “nice to meet you”! I knew she would be a role model for her teammates. It turned out that she was one of the best students in the school. And yes, instead of calling students “classmates”, I prefer “teammates” because it insinuates that they work together to learn.
Class was supposed to start at 12:30, but students come in late so much that class ends up starting later than that. Our classroom had been moved to this air conditioned haven, which partially explains the tardiness. By 12:35, more and more kids streamed in. I shook hands with all of them and asked their names, even if I wouldn’t remember them all. This was my chance to show them I cared about them, even if I would only be with them for 90 minutes of their lives. Having them sit in the front was not an issue for this class. I continue to be surprised by how compliant my students have been in this country, compared to American students. From my experience, American students have no problem challenging authority and making excuses for why they cannot follow directions.
I introduced myself and gave both of my simple rules:
1. When I’m talking, your eyes are on me (This automatically assumes that they cannot be talking to one another if they are looking at me).
2. I need you to participate with VOICE!
Today’s topic focused on comparing technologies with using “I prefer” sentences. My TEFL training has taught me several fun activities to engage the kids. This time, we played “hot cabbage”. I passed around a ball of post-it notes with the vocabulary words on them, along with a picture of the word. For example, the first student with the cabbage peeled off the outer layer to reveal a post-it with the word “Clock” and a picture of a clock. I had them say the word multiple times, each time more loudly than the last. Next time I am going to model the pronunciation of the word first so that they are more comfortable saying the word. This time, they started off by mumbling the word because they weren’t sure how to pronounce it. “Clock! Clock! CLOCK!”, we chanted. I heard some of them saying “cluck”. I clarified that cluck is what a chicken does, and they laughed. Repeating words can be mundane, but when you add a little bit of humor to it, the kids really respond well to it.
We then asked the students to come up with adjectives to compare two different things. The sentence they had the most fun with was about Nicaragua’s top cell phone providers: “Movistar is _______ than Claro”. I said I liked Claro better because I had a free family plan with the Peace Corps. Most of them disagreed because Movistar is cheaper. Claro’s slogan is “Claro que si”, so I said that while making my case for Claro. “Claro que NO!”, Cindy joked. The rest of them laughed. I was surprised at how quickly the students felt comfortable enough to participate and joke around with me. After this part of the lesson, Glenda asked me to go over pronunciation of the technologies. Since going straight down a list of words like “tractor” and “cell phone”, Donald, my supervisor, suggested that next time I go out of order instead of going straight down the list so that the students are more engaged. I was surprised at how much extra time I actually needed to just go over pronunciation. It’s always better to plan too much than too little for a lesson, but I was afraid we wouldn’t have time to finish everything we wanted to.
We had about 25 minutes left, and moved on to the Nicaraguan Olympics game. It was actually more of a Basketball game, but I thought that the kids would be more excited about the “Olympics” title. I don’t think they cared in the end. We had them all come up with a comparative sentence, which they would get a point for if they said it correctly in front of the class. Then they would shoot a basketball (which was actually Glenda’s blue football) into a basket and earn another point if they made it. I modeled this in front of the class, and to my surprise, I made the ball in the basket. Almost everything was going as planned during this lesson. We then had them count off into groups of 5. The most interesting moment of the class was when I asked them to sit in sections of the class with their group members. One student picked up her desk to move it, but I told her to just leave the desks where they were. They all just stood there. I repeatedly asked them to sit down in their groups. Finally, Cindy did so and I pointed out that she was following directions. Later, during my debrief with Donald, he explained to me that the high schoolers here are extremely possessive of their desks. Kids have their wordly possessions in their precious backpacks, or they might have the only colorful gel pens they will get for the month on their desks. If you ask another student to sit there, then they might break, or heaven forbid, steal something! I laughed at the thought of this cultural misunderstanding, but next time I will make sure to keep this in mind. We ended up having time for all the students to come up and shoot the ball in the basket. Students came up with phrases like “Wisin Y Yandel is more famous than Pitbull”, and about 1/3 of them made the ball in basket.
The only moment where my authority was being the most indirectly challenged was when one girl refused to get up to play. Her eyes watered, and I could tell that they thought of going in front of the class was terrifying. I couldn’t let her sit this one out, I thought. If they saw me letting one student exempt herself, then the rest would follow. Luckily, Cindy was sitting right next to her and encouraged her to just go up and participate. The student wasn’t listening to me, so I asked Cindy to get up and help her. Then, finally, the student got up when she realized that her teammate was waiting to support her. She didn’t really need much help saying “Justin Beiber is more famous than Miley Cyrus”, but Cindy gave her the confidence boost that she needed. She didn’t end up shooting the ball in the basket, but the more important goal of going up and confidently saying a sentence was achieved. Glenda kept score, and I asked her to just give her ½ a point because her friend helped her. Then Glenda just said no, she can have a whole point. Alright, I thought. Maybe I was getting a little too technical. After my lesson, Chelsea (A current volunteer who also observed my class) let me know that she had never seen a teacher use students to help one another in that way before. To me, it just seemed like a natural thing to do. The students know each other better than I know them, so they are much less likely to let one another down.
We still had some time left to spare, so we played pictionary. I drew a TV on the board, and had them guess what it was. The kids started getting more and more excited once they understood the game. It even came to a point where after drawing a simple straight line, a student blurted out “HORSE!”. The class roared with laughter. I keeled over laughing. I’ve found myself laughing a lot more in class here. That’s the nature of teaching English. Anything can happen, especially when you are trying to teach a foreign language only in that foreign language. After the laughter died down, I ended up drawing a horse from the line, and the students laughed at themselves for taking so long to actually guess what it was.
During the last 5 minutes, I had them start their homework. I told them that if they came up with 5 comparative sentences now, then they wouldn’t have homework. They didn’t seem to understand that. They only wrote the assignment down. Then a student named Byron caught on, and I praised him for having already finished his 5 sentences. Others followed, while others still seemed confused. I refrained from clarifying the directions in Spanish, until the final minute when I realized some of them weren’t working on anything. I’m getting better at speaking only in English, but it’s still a challenge. The bell suddenly rang, and I dismissed them after a giving them a round of applause for their effort today. This was the most fun I’d had in a classroom so far. My feet were tired, so I sat down to rest before the next 90 minute class would promptly start. The only suggestion Glenda had for us was to draw more pictures during our lessons so that students could form sentences from pictures of two different objects. I was eager to try this out in the next class, which I couldn’t believe was already starting in the next minute.