Friday, June 28, 2013

Good morning, Miss Rebecca!

Honestly, when I first arrived in Ecuador I had no plan of teaching English, especially not in a formal setting. During the past year I spent 3 months working as a substitute teacher at home in Indiana, and while this job enlightened me in many areas, afterward I thought I would never want to be a teacher. Surprise, surprise! My second week here a pastor asked me if I would be willing to teach English at the Methodist elementary school near my town. I hesitantly agreed, not really knowing what to expect, and being unprepared for giving classes (I don't have a degree in education!). I also was a little annoyed because everyone apparently thinks that just because you speak a language fluently means that you are qualified to teach it. Newsflash: I am a native English speaker, meaning I don't know all the complicated grammar rules. I just learned to speak naturally. Example: why do we have to put "do" in front of the verb when it becomes a question? I have no idea.

Now, here I am 9 months later, and the kiddies are finishing up their school year. Next week I have to give a final exam to my four English classes. I hope they do well. I hope that they have learned something this year. I hope that I have been a good teacher, despite the complicated pronunciation and spelling of my language. Why in the world is "height" spelled that way?? The past school year has been a learning process for me. Along the way,  I have improved my discipline techniques, discovered the secret of incentives for good behavior, and tried various teaching methods to explain difficult concepts. Not all of them worked perfectly, by the way. Already I have several ideas brewing in my head about how I can structure the classes better next year. And I'm determined to have better communication with my fellow teachers.

During these two semesters of teaching, there have been frustrating moments, either because I had no idea how to get the students to understand something, or because the kids had no desire to listen. But there have also been many unexpected joys. Every day when I walk into the school, kids come up and hug me, saying "Profe!" and asking me every question under the sun about English and living in the U.S. There are also the adorable cards and pictures I have received occasionally (handmade gifts really are the best!). One day with my 7th grade class we spent the last 10 minutes of class talking about flying in an airplane. And I drew a rough map of the United States to show them where I live. Then there is the day that I took the sixth-graders to play at a nearby park (it was their reward for winning the behavior competition). We had a ball playing "capture the flag" and running around like crazy.

It gives me so much joy when a student comes up to me and says something perfectly in English. Recently I have been making the 7th graders ask me in English when they need to use the bathroom or get a drink. Practice makes perfect! Many of them say it so well now. :) And of course, every day when I walk into the room, the kids greet me with an animated "Good morning, Miss Rebecca!!", when never fails to make me smile. Maybe I'm not a perfect teacher, maybe sometimes I fail to describe with clarity ideas such as contractions or prepositions, but maybe, just maybe, these kids have learned something this year. Maybe, just maybe, they know a little bit more than before. I sincerely hope so. And I will work even harder next year to be a better teacher, navigating the complex path of my strange language for these kids who are so eager to learn it.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

A Birthday to Remember

Apparently working with three different groups of kids, although exhausting, has its benefits. Other than getting to know some sweet individuals, and having almost every kid in the neighborhood greet you when you walk by, of course (it's a small town). Because, when it comes to birthdays, you get to have multiple parties! And you can't beat celebrating with's just loads of fun. There's bound to be games, balloons, singing, adorable poems and cards, and craziness. And don't forget CAKE. Lots and lots of cake.

In short, I wasn't at all sure of what I would do for my birthday this year, and I didn't make a big deal of it. But my friends, neighbors, and students clearly didn't forget. If there is one thing about children, it is that they love surprises. And hey, so do I! That being said, I could not have possibly imagined a better 25th birthday. And I didn't imagine any of it because it was all a surprise! Here are some of the fun celebrations we had:

On Thursday my 7th grade English class surprised me with a birthday banquet: an Ecuadorian tradition for birthdays which involved chips, candies, and cake being passed around the class. They even sang Happy Birthday to me in English! :) And of course, they made me bite the cake and smashed my face into it (another Ecuadorian tradition)!

On Friday after coming back home to get ready for tutoring, I saw Sara standing in the church, kids all around her putting up balloons. She came all the way from Quito to throw me a birthday party! We played games and some kids shared poems or songs that they knew.

At church on Sunday, I thought the celebrations for done. But Pastor Blanca had planned another special day - we ate cake with the congregation and they prayed for me.

But perhaps the best of all, the icing on the cake, you might say: After church, Blanca told me we were going on a trip. I needed to bring warm clothes and a bathing suit. I thought, where could we be going?? We piled into the car with a family from church and I couldn't contain my excitement anymore. I had to ask where we were headed. The answer: the Ilinizas, two mountains close to our town. We drove for about an hour on quite likely the worst road I have ever seen (filled with pot-holes and huge cracks and gaps in the one point there was even a sign advising that cars not pass any further. But did that stop us? No!). Finally we arrived at a parking lot and hiking up for 15 minutes to arrive at some natural hot springs! The air outside was freezing but we stayed in the hot pool for over an refeshing. I even found a penny in the pool - good luck on my birthday! The surprise day trip was a wonderful way to finish the weekend. Here we are enjoying the water:

Thank you to everyone here in Ecuador for making my birthday special! Muchas gracias!