My school is called Escuela Superior Normal del Quindio. Try saying that to the taxi driver at 5:30 in the morning without fumbling. I haven’t succeeded yet.
Our school is pretty big with at least 1000 kids. The school day starts at 6:30am and ends at 1:00. After 1:00, the high schoolers leave and the middle schoolers take over the building for their classes. Our school model is based around forming their students to become teachers themselves. Our school partners with a bilingual elementary school nearby (also public) which teaches content in English and Spanish. When our students reach 10th and 11th grade (the final two grades in the high school system), they begin doing internships at the elementary school. They work with the students and begin to get the feel for teaching to see if it is the career they want to stick with. Our school also offers a 5th semester program for 11th graders who have decided to go into the teaching field. These classes are entirely based around teaching strategies and pedagogy, similar to a college course in education.
Every Friday, Teresa and I lead this 5th semester class for an hour and half to help them work on their English skills. This level has a very difficult English test that they need to pass at the end of the year including reading, writing, and an interview portion. We help them prepare for the test. I love my regular 9th grade classes, but really look forward to this Friday class as it is nice to have a bit more of a mature (and slightly less talkative) audience for a change!
The English Team
There are about 10 English teachers at the school, now including me and the other English teaching fellow at my school, Teresa. Though we all work as a team and what often feels like a family; professionally, I am assigned to work with the 9th grade English teacher, Diana. We have 6 classes of about 40 students each and see each class of students for 4 hours per week. We plan together for about 2-3 hours every week to come up with ideas for lessons and activities for the following week and divide the work between us. For example, I may start the class with a review activity that Diana has prepared, then Diana will conduct the first activity (which I prepared) while I help students and keep some on track. Then we may explain the next activity together and both supervise the group in individual work, etc.
So far, Diana and I work really well together as co-teachers. We have each other’s back if one of us starts to lose our voice or energy throughout the day and sometimes we teach side by side,bouncing off each other as a team. Outside of school, we meet occasionally to walk through the park or run errands together. Co-teaching is not always so easy as different personalities can rub the wrong way and really there are about a hundred things that can make it difficult, so I feel really lucky that we mesh so well together and so quickly.
I have been so happy to be working at this school! The teachers that we work with are very passionate about their jobs and focused on the students. Despite having a few bad experiences with fellows in the past (irresponsible ones or ones who joined the program mainly to travel), to Teresa and I, they have been very welcoming and make us feel right at home. We all plan dinner and birthday celebrations together. Every day at 9:30, the English teachers have a 30 minutes break in which we meet in a classroom and drink coffee and snacks that everyone brings to share.
The very first day, Teresa and I were brought to the monthly English teacher meeting. We sat down, introduced ourselves, and in between answering questions, we tried to catch any bit of conversation that we could from the 10 teachers speaking in a mixture of Spanish and English yell-chatting, gesturing, telling stories, and laughing together. We were told a few times, “This is what we are like. We are like a family. We might yell or fight, or get excited, but when we leave, we love each other. We meet for dinners and go out together. We are a very close group, you will see.”
The principal came in and we got our first glance at what the classroom would be like (but didn’t know it at the time). They were discussing some of the new policies in a way that I can only relate to maybe an Italian family sitting down to their Sunday dinner. There was yelling, talking over each other, laughing, hand movements, and many strong opinions being thrown around. I felt like I was watching a ping-pong tournament with 5 balls flying in different directions and I didn’t know which way to look half the time. By the end though, everyone had listened to each other with respect and each one seemed very focused on doing what they thought was best for the students. Through all the madness, they completed what needed to be done and left the room chatting away as they were in the beginning. I left the school that day feeling slightly bewildered and very much excited to be a part of it all.