Semester Ends

Finished up the fall term at Instituto Inmaculada Concepcíon. One of my freshman students made me this on the last day. My heart melted.

English Winter Camps

I just finished working the winter English camp in Valdivia. The English Opens Doors Program sponsores these annual camps every year for students in dozens of towns throughout Chile. They’re free for the students who sign up, and are meant to be a way for students to experience a week of English language immersion.

During the week, me and the other teachers lead activities, while trying to keep warm in Escuela Espana’s freezing hallways. (Thankfully every classroom has its own woodburning stove.)

It was such a different experience working with students in a non-classroom setting. For all I knew, the students at the camp actually wanted to be there and had an interest in  English, making our jobs that much easier.

Our group at Escuela Espana

One of this year’s projects was creating a lipdub music video to the song “Moves Like Jagger” by Maroon 5. It was a national project that every camp across the country had to do.

So in one afternoon we filmed and uploaded this epic masterpiece. Get ready:

Karaoke competitions

Last week, I joined Andrea and Ellie at Fred’s school in Lanco. We were asked to judge their school’s annual karaoke competition. It was a very Katy Perry, David Guetta, and Sum 41-music-filled day. 

The first place winners

With Fred, Ellie, Andrea, a student, and the principal of Liceo Camilo Henríquez.

It was such a warm welcome from the Liceo Camilo Henríquez school. The teachers greeted us and thanked us for making the trip over to Lanco. They expressed such thanks for our work with the English Opens Doors Program.

Beautiful murals line the school’s hallways.

Getting out of Valdivia and seeing a more rural school was a great experience, as they really are two different worlds.

I definitely owe a post about the education world here. I have so many thoughts and observations from these past few months. I’ve been frustrated but also inspired after many conversations and experiences with students and other teachers. It’s helped me see the importance of making education development a priority.

That’s up next.

More Reflections on Teaching English Abroad

I can’t believe how fast three months have flown by. I’m just starting to get my feet and feel at home in this new country. Last week, all of the teachers in my region had a meeting with our regional representative here in Valdivia. We talked about our experiences so far, and gave some feedback. I had one “ah ha” moment during this day. As follows…

My seniors

“How is everyone,” the regional rep asked us, looking around the table. “Andrea,” he smiled, “You look so happy. That is good.” I had an ear infection and was drenched from the rainstorm I’d just walked through to get here. But I was smiling, and didn’t even realize it. And then I understood why. I had a cup of warm tea in front of me. I was inside a cozy room. I was surrounded by other familiar faces. Sincere appreciation of these little details is something I’ve noticed myself doing more and more here.

Here are a few of them: Falling asleep to the sound of rain on a tin roof.  Hot wine, or, “Navegado” on a cold night. Warming up next to a wood burning stove. The smell of the mountains. A conversation with someone selling sopaipillas. More simplicity, but also, more chaos. That’s Chile.

This English Opens Doors Program is a lottery, and everyone’s situation is unique. Some people were placed in Santiago, and they’re living it up with other foreigners in an international city. Others are in rural communities with populations barely above 3,000 people. Some of us teach at high-risk public schools, while others teach at semi-private “colegios”, with better resources and quality of education.

I read this quote somewhere yesterday, “You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.” I couldn’t think of a better way to say it. But out of all of the personal transformations these last few months, it’s my student’s who’ve taught me the most. They teach me empathy, humor, and patience. They teach me about people, and how to understand moods and adapt.

One of my favorite groups. IV Medio B

It’s not easy. I have one class of 17-year-old boys who are extremely difficult on purpose. Their attitudes really suck, and teaching them in 45-minute blocks is always grueling. They clearly don’t want to be there, and getting them to do anything is a pain. But I try to act with empathy. Lately I’ve been sitting with them in the desks instead of standing up in front of the room when we start class. I think coming down to their level has caught them off guard, and so far it’s helped change the mood a bit.

III Medio B Class

However, what happened last week redeemed all of the stressful teaching moments. It was Wednesday, and I was having an off-day. I tired, and didn’t feel like leading class at all. It was the toughest day I’ve had at school so far. Even though I was still smiling and trying to get the energy together, one of my senior classes picked up on my mood.  When they left the class, I saw this on the board… It made my week.

English Debates

I’m so proud of my students!!!

Our team just ranked second in the first round of Chile’s high school debate tournament! If they pass the next round, we’ll go to the nationals in Viña del Mar.

One of our duties as teachers in this program is to form and guide a team of 6 students. We helped coach them after class, preparing both sides of the argument, “Organ donation should be compulsory.” All teams had to research both sides, because nobody knew which side they’d be arguing, or what school they’d be going against, until the day of the tournament.

I saw my students’ faces drop this morning when they found out they were debating with last year’s champions: Instituto Salesiano. (It was like we were the Oakland A’s about to go up against the NY Yankees.)  My students were already nervous as it was: the ominous microphone, a debate in their second language, and now this.

Right before they went on, I told them: do not worry about making language mistakes…just speak with passion. And they did it!!!

With their participation certificates before we found out they ranked 2nd. (Matius was so nervous before going on, but he nailed the closing speech!!)

About to go up against last year’s winning school. Our team is on the right.

First speaker…rocked it!

The team

Woot!! Inmaculada Concepción

Teaching in Chile 101

Some of my 4 Medio students- one of my favorite groups to teach.

I just finished my first week of teaching solo.

I frequently have moments when it hits me all over again that I’m actually teaching abroad. Me and Ellie call them, “OMG I’m in Chile” moments. I have them daily. It usually happens when I’m standing up in front of the class. I’ll turn to write something on the whiteboard, and then I’ll turn back around and see 20 teenage faces staring back. It’s surreal.

I’m at semi-private, Catholic school, with nuns, fresh whiteboards, and a big library. It’s luxurious compared to the country’s public schools. The opportunities and quality between the two kinds of schools runs deep. Children in public schools don’t start learning English until 5th grade, while children in semi-private schools get years of a head start.

I teach 8th graders through seniors in high school. In Chile, elementary and middle school education is called “basico”, so level “8 basico” is like our 8th grade. High school is “medio,” so freshman are 1 medio, sophomores are 2 medio, and so on.

I have 24 different classes, for 25 hours of teaching a week (this doesn’t include lesson planning, or giving workshops to the local English teachers network.) Each class has about 12-25 students, meaning I see over 300 students every week. Memorizing names IS challenging, but I try, one by one.

I work with a local Chilean teacher, taking half of the class to another room for 45-minutes and then we switch. My co-teacher enforces the grammar and writing, and I’m supposed to develop their speaking and listening skills.

It’s only been one week, and I quickly learned that teaching in Chile requires a huge amount of patience, but most of all, an ENORMOUS sense of humor. It’s a bustling beehive of (organized?) chaos, and classroom management is the key. When students can barely understand English, keeping their 15-year-old attention spans makes the job more tricky. But if you stress out, the students will sense this.  All of us teachers  arrive here with ideas of how we want our classroom to run, but once you’re here, you  realize it’s not going to happen exactly as orientation had you expect. Accepting this is not not giving up; it’s just adapting, and the sooner, the better. As our orientation told us in Santiago, “Be like liquid. Take whatever form you need to take in any given situation and just be.” Ok.

So far, I’ve bonded with my 4 medios the most. They can get my sarcasm and comments, and they crack me up with their own. We actually have a lot of fun, sitting in a circle and chatting. Unlike my hyperactive 8th graders or too-cool-for-school sophomores, the seniors’ hormones have  balanced out enough for them to act like humans again.

I start each class teaching the “slang word of the day.” For the debate topic with my 4 medios, we talked about privacy issues and social media. They got really into it.

art 20

A poster for a 2011 education march in Valdivia.

But you can’t teach in Chile without noticing the seething tension within the education world. It’s one of the continent’s wealthiest nations, but all of the wealth is concentrated in very few people. When it comes to income, Chile is one of the most unequal countries in the world.

It wasn’t always like this.

In the early 1970s, socialist president Salvador Allende made education free, but when right-wing dictator Augusto Pinochet (with the “help” of the U.S. CIA) overthrew Allende in 1973, he privatized Chile’s school system. After the military dictatorship ended in 1990, the education system remained.  Now, of all the OECD countries, Chile gives the least amount of funding to its public education, and the country’s university fees are some of the highest in the world.

This is the fuel of the student protests. They’re calling for an end to the privatization of schools and a quality education system that is accessible to all social classes.

Before my 8am classes, I sit in the teachers lounge, drinking coffee with the other staff. One of the other English teachers told me her son is enrolled in the local, German language immersion school. She would rather have this than he attend one of Valdivia’s public schools. “It’s so, so bad here,” she told me of the country’s education system.

"Free education!" Valdivia.

“Free education!” Valdivia.

If you’re thinking of teaching here, or just want to know more about the education issues, this is an incredible video from Al Jazeera on the background of Chile’s education system and the widespread protests:

FAQs about going to Chile

Why Chile?

I want to completely immerse myself in a Spanish-speaking country. I’m half Mexican, but never learned Spanish growing up. I considered heading to Mexico or Argentina, but Chile came through with a program that I liked, and it felt like the right choice.

However, leaving behind my group of friends, a job, my family, and the Bay Area was not an easy decision.

So…What am I doing?

Teaching English through government’s English Opens Doors.

The program is run by the Chilean Ministry of Education, with support from UN Development Program. The goal is to make English language learning more accessible to all of Chile’s communities.

I’ll either be in a public or semi-private school, teaching alongside a local Chilean teacher. I’ll be teaching different levels, ranging from grade 5 through high school seniors.

Where am I living? 

I’ll be living right above Puerto Montt on the map, in Regíon de Los Ríos. I’ll be living with a host family. I won’t meet them or find out the exact town or school I’m teaching in until I arrive for orientation in Santiago.

How long am I staying? 

Good question. My contract is officially up in July, but I plan on renewing this. (You can for up to a year.) My goal is to stay in Chile until I learn Spanish, however long that takes. We’ll see what happens!

More on Chile:

•President: Sebastian Piñera

•Population: 16 million (Over 2/3 live around the capital, Santiago.)

•Over 620 volcanos.