Big Problems, Little Chela

This week marked my first “active” week in the public school where I am helping teach English to 9th, 10th, and 11th graders with a counterpart, and a week of both frustrations and little victories. Each day, I become more aware of new obstacles that are unfortunately impeding the success of both students and teachers in Nicaraguan public schools. This time period is especially chaotic because it is the end of a grading period. Some students are rushing to turn in last minute assignments late. Some students couldn’t be bothered. Many are copying each others’ assignments. Many of the teachers are overwhelmed. Final grades that I have heard so far are ranging from 17 to 96. It is hard to see any systematic frame to this mess but it is not hard to see causes and effects of this reality.

karaFor example, I know that many of the teachers in my school do not want to be teachers and many hold other jobs to supplement the low pay. This lack of energy and compensation makes for a lack of enthusiasm and incentive that I think both inspires and reflects a parallel lack of motivation in many of the students. The effects of this negative environment are many. Students and teachers arrive late to class, clearly do not expect much of the class, and do not want to do the work necessary for the class. The problems also extend to materials, where incorrect English is used in books, and lessons are pursued on complex subjects even when foundational concepts are nowhere near grasped.

I will never forget looking at the vocabulary list of a class that was still struggling with greetings and descriptions- it included the words apartheid and oneness. When I first came into school, I thought the largest obstacles would be the overfull classes of sometimes more than 50 students or even the loudness of the entire school environment. However, I now know that the largest obstacle is much heavier- it is a cyclical and stifling lack of motivation and fulfillment. Acknowledging this reality can be hugely disheartening, as is accepting that in two months (and even less considering testing, grading, and vacation days), it may not be possible to change this reality much. However, I won’t stop trying. I will keep pushing my counterpart to plan with me. I will keep making myself a spectacle in front of my classes if it will make them listen and have interest. I will keep finding positive milestones in each student that asks for extra help or demonstrates a new skill. If one small thing that I do now is used in the future by a student or teacher, I will consider that enough.

Meanwhile, on a personal level, it has been very enriching to be challenged by this work and to think that I would like to be continued to be challenged by issues of development and education for a while.

Kara Fitzgerald ’16