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Ike Crews - Teaching English & Other Subjects in Peru

Kids in class

My name is Ike Crews and I volunteered in Peru for three months. I volunteered for two months in Huyro on the Inca Project. Afterwards, I volunteered for a month in Urubamba teaching English at General Ollanta School. I decided after completing high school that I would take a gap year to see more of the world and gain some work experience. I plan on becoming a history major and I am interested in archaeology, which is how I became involved with Projects Abroad. Projects Abroad was the best program offering archaeological experience for me. After reviewing the website I found that I had the option to also teach English in Peru. I figured while I was in Peru I may as well try my hand at teaching to see what it was like.

My two months on the Inca Project gave me an opportunity to learn some Spanish and to become better acquainted with the way things worked in Peru. I did not have any Spanish training before arriving in Peru and I soon found this to be a problem. However, with help from other volunteers and the staff I was able to learn enough Spanish to be able to get around the region by myself. I also learned that people move at their own speed in Peru. Everyone in Peru works on Peruvian time which means people show up at their own leisure and jobs are rarely completed on time.

School gates

While in Huyro we hired a man to plow the fields so that they could be planted. The man was hired for Monday and he didn’t end up coming to do the plowing until Wednesday. It can be very frustrating when you want to get something accomplished. I also learned to stomach the long bus rides over less than optimal road conditions. The roads in that area are dirt roads that wind over and through the mountain ranges. The Inca Project allowed me enough time to be able to communicate with my host family when I moved to Urubamba and to feel comfortable getting from one place to another by myself.

After two months in Huyro I hopped on the bus as I had done every other weekend, but instead of traveling for pleasure I moved to another town. While I was waiting for my bus in Huyro five other teaching volunteers passed me in a car heading on to Machu Pichu; it’s not hard to spot other volunteers from the locals. Once in Urubamba I was met by the staff and moved into my new home with my host family. My host parents were great. My host dad taught physical education at a school, and was on the radio. We had two dogs and seven puppies living with us, and on the weekends my host brother would come in from Cusco.

School yard

My host parents did not speak any English, but they were always patient with me and helped me speak better Spanish. I later learned my sentences did not make much sense most of the time, however with some patience and a bit of miming my host parents always understood what I was trying to say. Looking back I can’t believe how great all the host families were in the area. I never heard a bad word said by one of the volunteers about their living arrangements in Urubamba.

In Urubamba I taught eleven year olds to eighteen year olds, which in the Peruvian school system are grades one through five. Each class was around thirty to forty kids and I taught three or four forty-five minute classes Monday through Thursday. Coming from the Inca Project where I worked eight hours a day of physical labor, I didn’t know what to do with myself some afternoons in Urubamba! I had a two hour gap in the middle of the day on Tuesdays and Thursdays and I was done by 1:30pm every day except Wednesdays, during which I taught in the afternoons and evenings. Along with the short day, Peruvians are always having festivals that give the kids days off. The first few weekends I was in Cusco I thought it was really cool to see a parade and thought it was a special deal. I soon learned that this was not the case after seeing a parade every weekend I was in Cusco.

Volunteer dinner

The way teaching is set up by Projects Abroad in Peru is that you teach with either one or a few partner teachers who give you a curriculum and help you teach in class. I had two partner teachers, Nancy and Elizabeth. Elizabeth was very good at English and Nancy was a fairly good English speaker. They also had very different teaching styles and ways that I could help in class. Nancy liked to teach by handing out worksheets and having the kids complete them in class while we both went around helping the kids with the worksheets. My job with Elizabeth was to pronounce words that she would have me write on the board, make sure she was correct with her English, and help the kids with their worksheets. Nancy gave me a lot of freedom with the classes. She would tell me what we were going to be covering for the next class such as “have to” and “must” or location words, and I would prepare a worksheet or a game for the classes to do. Whenever I found myself having trouble explaining something or starting to lose the classes attention Nancy was always there to help me out.

With each teacher I had a different role in class, and therefore I tried to help with the class in different ways. With Nancy, she would tell me to write a bunch of simple present tense verbs on the board and then use them in a sentence. She would then go through the sentences once with the class and then have me go through the sentences pronouncing all the words. I used to like to make the very last sentence with big words in them. For example, my first sentence would be John went to school. My last sentence would be Griffin McGonagall D’Brickashaw left a store. Nancy would always get to the last one and have trouble pronouncing the words and I would have to explain that Griffin McGonagall D’Brickashaw was a name.

With one of my students

Before we would hand out a worksheet I would have to write all the words we were going to use in the worksheet on the board. I would then have to pronounce every word and have the kids repeat them back to me. At the very end of the list I would write “antidisestablishmentarianism” and “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.” I always got a laugh when I did this and they always had a good time trying to pronounce those two last words. I knew the kids always thought that it was fun to try and pronounce the big words.

With Elizabeth I was the lead teacher in the class so I got to come up with games and activities to do with the kids. A lot of times I would write sentences on the board but leave a blank space where the correct word was supposed to be. I would then pick kids from the class to come and complete the blank. A couple times I divided the class into two teams and we would see which team could get the most answers right. After a while, I had the student who completed the blank correctly come up to the front of the class and bow while the class applauded for him. The kids really liked this. After a while I found that the bowing in front of the class wasn’t having the same effect, so something had to be done. I told Elizabeth to tell the kids to put out their hands. Then I started jumping up and down, and ran through the class giving high fives to all the kids. That was what the students had to do from then on when they got a question correct.

I found that the best teachers I had always made class fun and interesting; under their supervision I wanted to be in class because I had fun while I was learning. When I came to Peru I wanted to have a fun class that kids enjoyed coming to. Almost all the teachers in Peru are very uptight and serious, and so I found that the kids really responded to my teaching style because they’d never seen it before. It’s very important to have fun with the kids and provide interactive activities. No one likes to sit in class and take notes from the board while a teacher rambles on in a monotone. I just tried to make class fun for me to teach and most of the time it was fun for the kids too. One of the most rewarding moments for me in Peru was on my last day of teaching. A student was walking with Elizabeth and I, and asked Elizabeth why none of the other volunteers are as much fun as I was. For me that was a huge compliment.

There are many challenges to teaching in Peru. Not getting sick from the food, trying to breach the multiple language barriers, and getting along with your partner teacher are just some of them. All you can do is go in everyday with a smile and try your best. Some days are good and some days are bad. Also, it is really important to teach the teachers English as well as the students.

I had a great time in Peru. I met a lot of people that I still talk to today. I learned a lot about different cultures and experienced things that I probably never will again. To anyone thinking about volunteering in Peru I say you should do it. You will come away with memories and friends that you will never forget.

Ike Crews

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