Thursday, August 5, 2010

Playing Teacher

The religion teacher at Colegio del Nino Jesus is taking a 3-week class on the Bible in Bluefields, so she tapped me to teach not only her religion classes, but also the "Convivencia and Civismo" classes she is responsible for. This class covers everything from human rights and gender identity to healthy eating and proper bicycling practices. They copied the biking notes surprisingly enthusiastically, as if they were actually aware that a bike typically has things like lights and reflectors, and it is generally recommended to wear a helmet.

I have found the creative freedom of creating all of my own lesson plans to be a breath of fresh air. I enjoy the challenge of drawing together resources and adapting my knowledge to present a cogent lesson that a teenager can both grasp and run with in search of their own ideas. I hit a crisis when thinking about how to teach smart consumerism. It first occurred to me to teach about the media's influence in consumption and the various ways they seek to manufacture needs and pursuade people to buy. I then started to think about the kinds of media that are present here in Bilwi, and I realized that no one's developing ad campaigns to target the modern Bilwi youth. The only international media that has any widespread influence is via television. I have to wonder how many of the products advertised there are available here. There's also radio, but that's locally run. The economy is operating very close to subsistence levels; in general people don't buy much more than what they need, and sometimes not even that. There are far fewer manufactured needs here. In my education, smart consumerism had everything to do with learning to make the right choice in an endless sea of options. How can I teach young people to be shopping-savvy when there's only one type of peanut butter available? In the end, I focused the lesson on two points: distinguishing between want and need, and the importance of saving money. The latter is scarcely present in the "just survive today, let tomorrow take care of itself" philosophy that pervades the culture here.

Despite all my training at Hope House, I err on the side of being too nice and forgiving. Or at least I think I do. When I told Lee I had taken several tests away from students who were copying, he said, "Wow, I just took points off." I love the dramatic flourish of whisking a test away. It's deeply satisfying.

I find myself challenged with trying to make lessons about proper nutrition and hygiene interesting enough to hold my attention. I don't worry so much about holding their attention. If it's interesting for me, I can convince them to be interested, too. I was looking for an angle from which to present the lists of information about the proper handling of food. I started off saying, "Did you know that a kitchen rag has more bacteria than the toilet?" They responded with a languid stare, nonplussed. I tried another tack.

"Do you know what BOTULISM is?"
"It's a DISEASE that you get from preparing your food wrong. It slowly paralyzes your body until it reaches your heart, and then your heart stops and you DIE!"

They seemed mildly more impressed by this. Capitalizing on what little interest I had managed to pique, every time a student stopped paying attention or started talking, I pointed at them and said, "YOU'RE going to get BOTULISM!" A few students caught onto my logic that the word "botulismo" rolls off the tongue delightfully, both in English and in Spanish. By the end of class, one of the worst offenders was bouncing up and down, pumping his fists and chanting "Botulismo! Botulismo! Botulismo!" A lump of pride began to swell in my throat.

The other strategy I employed in that class was the traditional trivia quiz-style review, where the class is divided into two teams. One member of each is sent up to the front, and they have to answer a question about the material. In my rambunctious first-year classes, engaging activities like this is like trying to steer a horse at a frenetic gallop. If you can keep it going in the right direction, you can get quite far. If you lose control, all hell breaks loose. I was quite pleased with the results of my class, though the teacher in the room next door might not have been.

On the whole, I have enjoyed playing the part of teacher. I think keeping that element of "play" in the job makes the difference between a delightful class and a nightmarish one.

1 comment:

  1. What a fun, fantastic teacher you are! Really, you might regret not getting a degree to teach high school--you seem to have FUN doing it!