My first week of school in Manizales
Author: Stephen Perkins
Excerpt: English Teaching Fellow, Stephen Perkins, on arriving to his school in Manizales and how he “hit the jackpot” in Colombia’s Coffee Region.
“You’ve hit the jackpot.” That’s what I was repeatedly told regarding my school placement by other teachers on my program who have been in Manizales since January. After a week of observing classes and interacting with the students and other teachers, it’s clear they weren’t lying! The students are awesome (I say that now), the other teachers couldn’t be nicer, and the school location is in a great neighborhood right next to the main athletic fields.
It’s a Kindergarten through 11th grade school with 2,300 students. However, the two other fellows and I will be only be working with the 6th through 11th graders. I will be teaching two 6th grade classes, two 9th grade classes, three 10th grade classes, and one 11th grade class.
It will be interesting to see my different experiences with the various grade levels. I know there will be challenges but it should also be a lot of fun. The class sizes vary between 30 and 40 students and there is a very wide range of English levels among the students. Some kids can’t say much more than “hello” while others can have a full on conversation. The problem is compounded when the lower level students don’t even make an effort to speak English they just look to the more advanced students to translate everything for them.
All the schools that are part of the Ministry of Education Program are public schools mostly from poorer neighborhoods. My school isn’t as disadvantaged as many of the other schools on the program. However, I don’t think I have even one student who has left Colombia in their life. The large majority has never interacted with foreigners before (besides the previous fellows at the school). As a result, the two other fellows at the school and I are practically celebrities on campus, especially among the younger kids. They all want to say hello to us in the hallways, and I will have kids circle around me and ask questions.
I have already been able to hop into a few sports games during recess which has been a blast. I played full court basketball with some 9th graders last week and also ran the ping pong table for all of recess. Despite, all the 4th graders hovering around the table and letting their curiosity physically interfere with the game, I was able to retire undefeated for the day. I was even challenged to a game of chess by a 9th grade girl and I took her down in a barn burner.
As a part of our program, we are supposed to do one hour of cultural work per week and I am thinking of starting an after school basketball club. We will see. I officially start teaching tomorrow and it is bound to be a memorable experience one way or another.
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