My Nica Struggle

They said to me “Working in a Nicaraguan public school is not easy.” I was told that some of the students would be careless and trying to motivate them would be highly challenging. I was also told that some of the professors had acquired a strict style of teaching and some of them would not be open to learning dynamic activities to do with their class. I took all of this information into consideration before walking through the big blue doors of the school. I met my counterpart with excitement and I was ready to meet my new students. For me, this was an exciting time because I have not experienced first-handedly the eagerness and vitality of a public school in years.

Because they warned me so much about the students, I was prepared to deal with those hardships, but never was I prepared to deal with such hardships of working with a counterpart. I thought that we would be on the same page with what we wanted to accomplish. I thought that both my counterpart and I wanted to find creative ways to teach the children English. However, he is more concerned with practicing his own English. I completely understand why practicing English would be important for him. I can see how if he perfects his English, he will be better equipped with the language to help his students. On the other hand, after observing the class for a week, I have noticed that his teaching style is not conducive to the classroom environment. The children do not understand him, and are confused and frustrated throughout the entire class. Furthermore, the school is designed to have air flowing freely throughout every classroom, which unfortunately allows noise to transfer and elevate rapidly. Such noise completely eliminates any information that the professor is offering, so even the children seated in the front and middle section of the classroom can barely hear what’s being said. I wanted to create a classroom system that included movement and fun so that the lesson can be memorable.

While trying to express this to my counterpart in English, he pretended to understand me by repeating the word “Exactly.” When I’d ask if he understands me, he’d say, “Yes, of course.” But I could tell by the creases in his eyebrows that he didn’t understand me, so I’d try to repeat it in Spanish. However, in the moment that Spanish flowed from my mouth, he’d cut me off telling me he didn’t want to speak to me in Spanish, only in English. It has been beyond frustrating working with this man thus far. I can barely understand what he says to me in English, and when I tell him straightforwardly that I don’t understand, he gets frustrated. So we spend much of our time, going back and forth trying to understand each other in English, when we both can understand each other perfectly in Spanish.

I’ve been trying to process this experience. My goal in Nicaragua is to bring sustainability in some way. I’ve been asking myself, “Is it better to simply practice English with him, so that when I leave he will feel more confident and advanced in his speaking skills? Or is it more important to find an impressionable way to motivate and help the students better their understanding of the language?” I want to be able to find a balance between the two, but with such a short amount of time, I’m afraid I’ll have to choose one in order to make a slight difference.

Tiarra Riggins ’17
Nicaragua

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