Co-Teaching in Colombia
Every school day starts with a very early bus ride towards the outskirts of Santa Marta, following a dusty and bumpy road through breathtaking mountainous scenery. Even on the days when there’s no time for coffee, the noises of people selling by the roadside, the honking of horns, and the bus driver’s associate shouting destinations to tempt pedestrians to Bonda mean that I’m wide awake by the time we reach my colegio, (Institución Educativa Distrital de Bonda.)
On arrival I’m greeted by almost every student I pass, regardless of whether they’re old enough to be in my class or not. “Hello teacher” by the nearest and boldest, or “‘Ey gringo” by small clusters of boys peering round corners. The older students I teach greet me with complex handshakes and fistbumps that betray my age and origin, and each time I consider devoting a class to the British handshake.
I meet up with my co-teacher, Victor, who like a true Costeño is open, friendly and easy going. When the class begins he takes the register and introduces the topic of the class, and I’ll subsequently introduce a relevant activity or discuss a point of interest that comes up organically. The good working relationship we have is really important because my authority in the classroom owes a huge debt to the amount of respect the students have for Victor, while my native experience of English helps to illuminate some of the slighter nuances of the language.
During the break I join the other teachers in the Sala de Docentes and try to decipher the free flowing Costeño Spanish they’re talking to each other to little avail. That being said, I’m always made to feel welcome, always greeted when someone enters the room, and can normally find someone who is keen to test their English with me.
A typical day will conclude shortly after midday, but typical here is a very loose term. There are often days devoted to themes like Earth Day or Languages Day, or where the students are given an opportunity to showcase their dancing and singing abilities. Occasionally the entire school will make their way to the school field to support the football team, with attendances that would make lower league English teams nervous. Just before Semana Santa (Holy Week) the children all brought in homemade sweet delicacies to sell in the local village square. After each of these events I always come away impressed by the strong sense of community and school pride the students are instilled with.
From midday, the rest of the afternoon is mine to do with as I please, which normally involves an involuntary nap first, but then cheap cinema, language exchanges, salsa classes, or occasionally a trip to Victor’s farm in the mountains. On the many bank holiday weekends, I can take a trip to the national park, to the backpacker destinations of Minca or Palomino, or go visit fellows in neighbouring cities. It’s been a truly rewarding experience so far.
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