What A Teacher Gains
We are now well into our second semester of students, and already this round is so much easier to manage than the first. I learned so much about how to organize a class, demand respect, and about how much strength I possessed. I successfully taught my first batch of 68 students, and what is truly is amazing is how much I can personally tell they improved! And, as I’m sure many first time teachers say, I’m amazed at how much I have learned from them! I teach at DuOC, which is a technical institute associated with La Universidad Católica. It’s best compared to a community college in the States. Many of my students do not come from wealth or privilege but they posses an inspirational desire to learn! I had an incredible conversation one afternoon with one of my students who told me that because he has to work so hard to get an education, rather than feeling entitled to it, he is a better student, worker, and person than some of his peers at expensive, private schools. From Day 1 when I nervously stood in front of my class feeling like a child playing dress up, to now, this has surely been a journey.
And just what have I gained?
Imagine never having taught a class, and you are sitting in a classroom staring at 20 empty seats about to be filled by students your age at any moment. Scary, isn’t it? Those few minutes waiting for my students were terrifying, like an army of butterflies in my stomach. When my first student walked in, he gave me a strange glance because I looked so obviously different than the teachers he’s accustomed to. I smiled, said “Buenos Días! ¿Comó se llama?”, and reached out my hand. After a spurt of laughter, he leaned in and kissed my cheek, “Buenas Profe!”. Within the first minute as a teacher I had already committed my first cultural faux-paux, but that one laugh and kiss helped put my nerves at bay. As my other students walked in and greeted me with a kiss on the cheek, my first student and I shared a secret smile. Teaching over the last seven months, was a day by day learning experience. Some days it felt like pulling teeth to get any student to participate, and other days almost every hand was raised. By the end of my first semester, I was never nervous before class. Managing to make all my classes, with an average age of 23, respect me, listen to me, and even enjoy coming to class has been one of my greatest accomplishments thus far.
The best teachers you remember having were always the ones who were most patient with you. I knew that learning to be more patient would be necessary for me, as patience has not always been one of my strong suits. What surprised me is how naturally I became patient with my students. Maybe because I was only in their shoes just a short year ago, and I understand the frustrations as a student when your teacher does not make the necessary time for you, but my impatience never showed (with the exception of my Adventure Tourism students NEVER showing up on time for class). I would spend weeks enforcing the idea that in the present tense, we add “s” to the end of the verb for he, she, and it…but students would still constantly make the same mistake, “She live in an apartment. He drink beer. It sleep all day.” But rather than getting frustrated or upset at my students, I would have to take a deep breathe, smile, and come up with a new trick to teach the same material. You would be astounded at how creative us teachers have to get sometimes. To remind a class that “S” comes after he, she, and it… I split the class in groups and made them come up with a name, and adjectives for their group pet snake. All of the snakes were either he, she, or it, and always make an “sssssss” sound. So, whenever the snakes did anything, they HAD to add an “s”. The snake driveS a car. The snake eatS eggs… Maybe super corny, but hey it worked!
What do I mean when I say I have gained appreciation? Well, two things.
First, being with these students has further helped me appreciate everything I have had in my life. Here, a week does not pass when students are not protesting for better education, and I had the chance to go to Princeton Review’s Most Beautiful Campus in the United States. I had a perfect university experience, with professors that challenged me, and opportunities to grow as a conscientious world citizen. I graduated with no debt because my parents worked hard to provide me with the blessing of a stress-less undergraduate career. I’m from a loving family, and wonderful small town outside of New York City. I am part of a small percentage of people in this world who have been as lucky as me.
Second, this past semester my students have taught me greater appreciation for the culture I am currently living in. One day early in the semester, my intermediate classes had to do a lesson about things that were “Typically American”, so to make the lesson more relevant to them I asked them to tell me things that are “Typically Chilean”. And what did I learn? Much to their delight I google-searched “Indio Picaro” on the computer displayed on the whiteboard. If you want to know why my class erupted into laughter, google it too. They told me about Chilean cuisine, the most beautiful and famous villages, the typical dances and games, and the mysterious Chilean mythology and folklore. From that day forward, if I ever had a question or curiosity about this country, they were my first resources. They loved to be the ones teaching me something, and boy did I learn a lot from them. (One day they decided to tell me that the Chilean phrase “A lo gringo” means when you go commando… they had a big laugh at that one too).
One of the greatest testimonies that I managed my first classes well, is how much affection I received from my students at the culmination of this semester. Every class asked if I was teaching again next year, a handful of students brought me presents, one class wrote and played me a song, many students offered to be my Chilean tour guides, every student gave me hugs and kisses, and many sent me heartwarming emails. I was so touched getting an influx of love to my inbox saying “Thank you for always being happy, with a smile for me!” ”I learned so much because you are the greatest teacher!” “Thank you for everything, this was the first time I was in an english class that I liked!” “Miss, don’t ever change the way you are because you are love personified!”. Without a doubt, the best email I received from a student didn’t say anything but he simply sent a smiley face.
All the affection during the last week of the semester helped remind me that all of my hardwork did not go unnoticed, and that my time in Chile is not only serving to benefit me, but also my wonderful students who are pushed even further in their english classes by being stuck with a “gringa” profe.
And now, I am excited to see how much more I will gain with my second batch of students!