Susan Chan - Teaching English & Other Subjects in Ecuador
Arriving in Ecuador
We had just finished eating lunch and were in the process of clearing the table with our host father when Judy, a Projects Abroad coordinator, arrived. She was to take me to the school at Jose Villamil on Avenue Charles Darwin in Galapagos Island. After exchanging “Buenos tardes” I grabbed my lemon-coloured Muji nylon bag, which housed a laptop, some paper, general lesson plans, writing utensils and an I.D. Gingerly balancing my laptop below the knees, we zipped through the streets, whizzing by pueblos, houses created out of cement bricks made from sand, stores, bakeries, expat cafes and restaurants.
In sight of the malecón, the boardwalk, Judy turned to one of the side streets, stopped and parked. Walking up two flights of stairs, and after making a right, we ended up at the Projects Abroad office. I was introduced to William Puga, the director of Projects Abroad in Ecuador, and started to receive my induction.
My Teaching project
After meeting the rest of the administrative staff, I sat in a classroom. It was one of the four classes that I would be teaching in, but for now, I would monitor and see what the process was like. This class had about 18 students, all 6-8 year olds. The original teacher was out sick and they had pulled a last minute substitute, a German gap year student by the name of Ann-Catherine. Ann would speak in English first, and then switch to Spanish to translate, explaining that they would be learning to write about animals and what colour they would be.
With a sinking feeling, I realised that my Spanish wasn’t going to be up to snuff. Proficiency wise, it was perfectly passable for flight check-ins, order food, buy tickets or groceries at the mercado, maybe ask a native whether they knew how to speak English and at best, have a one-sided conversation. There was no way however, that I was going to be able to answer their questions, even if I was able to teach the main lesson in Spanish. Then, there were other factors likely not to help. The kids’ knowledge level of English was minimal because they were younger. It was also the first class after the siesta, where they were cranky and high from sugar-loaded snacks.
This also being the hottest time of the day, the classroom would slowly heat up to boiling point with the number of little bodies inside and they in turn, wanted out, like lobsters futilely fighting their way out of the stockpot. Discipline would be in order, and I did not know enough phrases yet to even go about it.
After the longest hour of my life, the class ended, followed by observing three other classes. The later classes were older students from 8-13 year olds, and they knew a little more English. The girls were in t-shirts and jeans or khakis. No dresses. There seemed to be a dearth of Disney-themed backpacks and writing paraphernalia. Of the girls that seemed to be into the latest things, they had stacked rings and necklaces with tiny enamelled moustaches, symbols that any Brooklyn hipster would be comfortably in. The boys wore polo’s, solid or striped. Several of them had sports jerseys and board shorts on. I started to get an inkling of an idea on how to approach this.
Judy was outside the classroom, waiting for me to finish. She was going to show me how to walk back to the host family’s house from the school. Grateful for the instructions, we started walking in the dark, the sun having set an hour ago, but fifteen minutes later we were outside the house.
My host family
Nora, my host mother was laying out the table for dinner and Jorddy, her son back from hanging out with the amigos. Carlos was working the night shift at the national park as seguridad. There was sautéed pollo, chicken smothered in sauce made from its juice, with a large disc of white rice and fried plantains and a glass of tamarind juice made fresh from their tree. It tasted heavenly, pleasantly sour with a hint of sweetness from the sugar.
There was laughter and smiles, as we pointed to things to make sure everyone was pronouncing it correctly, with simple questions on how the dishes were prepared. I asked Jorrdy about his classes and what Nora did, and in turn, they did the same, curious to what I did and why I was here. I finished most of my plate, leaving two thirds of the rice left. It was more than what I was normally accustomed to in the States.
“Para los perros,” said Nora, as we cleared the plates. I went to my room, which used to be Nora’s daughter’s room. It was painted in a cheery yellow, with a simple bed and a small dark side table with drawers. Two rods flanked one side of the room, for hanging clothes. A dresser with a mirror was opposite the bed. A poster was tacked on top of the dresser with several male teenage idols and pop stars, abandoned for college.
I came back out to the living room, where the dining table was, with my binder of notes and lesson plan ideas. As it was almost Christmas, I had brought several catalogs with pictures of clothing and gift giving items from New York. Flipping through them again, I decided to teach the first class about clothes and the names for articles of clothing, by using visuals from the catalogs for reference. Then, build on the vocabulary to include lessons for them to identify with and string into sentences, of what they were wearing, a bit each day. Feeling a little better, I spent the rest of the evening adjusting and re-planning the lessons for the other classes and went to bed.
Teaching in Ecuador
It was right about dawn when I woke up to the sounds of a rooster crowing. After eating breakfast with Nora and Jorrdy, I grabbed this time, a heavy-duty backpack, packed with everything I would possibly need and more for the classes & started to walk to school by myself. After some confusion at one of the streets and getting lost along the way, I saw a Batidos sign advertising milkshakes. Remembering it was next door to the school; I found the entrance to the right and went into the office.
I spent the rest of the morning figuring out where to print and photocopy some of the worksheets needed for the lessons and prepared the material. Since the office had Wi-Fi access, I took a break after the daily Duolingo lesson, posting messages and photos to family and friends so they would know I’m alive and well. Then, some lunch with the host family at their house before going back to the office and classrooms. This time, we were in for a treat. We had langosta de sopa, lobster soup with a side of the crustacean, and noodles. We washed this down with jugo de tomate, fresh tomato juice, sweetened again with a little sugar.
It was now 2pm and the volunteers were in the classrooms. I looked at the assignments on the board and to my relief, Ann would be teaching with me for the first two classes. It was decided earlier she would be replacing the teacher partner initially teaching the first class. After some discussion on the structure of the lesson and logistics, Ann agreed to keep the class moving along by translating my English to Spanish whenever I had trouble, as my muy bien, si, and gracias wasn’t going to be much help to the kids.
The kids were now in their seats. The room was getting warm, and we opened all the windows to let the air in. Taking a deep breath, I stood in the front of the classroom, facing the students, and started to speak.
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