Hiking and Teaching

As we began our hour-long descent into the lake formed by an ancient volcano the path seemed both familiar and foreign. I love hiking, and the path wasn’t all that much rougher than other paths in state parks that I’ve seen. The greens, while more vibrant than I’m used to, were more or less like those back home. Vines, trees, clover and grass surrounded us like they do in the summer in Wisconsin. The longer we walked, though, the more unfamiliar aspects became apparent. Little lizards race across the path, sometimes chasing each other just like squirrels do in the Midwest. The heat and humidity drench everything I wear in sweat in just minutes and to an extent I have never known. The cawing of strange birds and howls of unseen monkeys seep into the background noise at intervals and at closer scrutiny, the plants surrounding us have only the color in common with home. Green leaves, six feet long, peel off of trees like torn newspaper and trees twist and loop around in impossible shapes. Even the path is a reflection of the uncontrollable forces of nature at work shaping and carving the landscape. We essentially trekked down a dry stream that must gush with rainwater every time a storm passes over. When we arrive near the bottom, after struggling around boulders, through mud, and despite the heat we come across farms where we expected to see nothing. It boggled our minds to see people living lives and producing food where we struggled to reach on a small footpath. The farms were literally on the sides of the valley sloping into the lake, and the houses looked like they hadn’t changed in decades. Then again, when we reached the edge of the lake we found a road with access to the highway, so the idyllic scene of absolute isolation and pristine life that I had imagined burst like the mirage it was. You never know when you’ll be surprised and then proven wrong about being surprised here.

Laguna del Apoyo

Our time at the lake was lovely, and the water was crystal clear, deep blue, and warm. It was especially appreciated after feeling like we would never stop sweating to float in clean beautiful water and feel free of the bounds of gravity. Swimming underwater I noticed the ability of the water to reveal all of the rays of sunlight and hold them captive there, shimmering like columns holding the surface at bay. Pity we only had about an hour and a half before we had to rush back to my town to meet with our youth group, though we had a blast practicing English and playing basketball. We have a really fun group of kids, and they’re really excited to be practicing with us.

Here’s a brief overview of our current projects: A youth group that meets three times per week, twice to cover English language and once to play games and chat informally. Co-planning and co-teaching with an English teacher at the local public high school. As much Spanish class as we can squeeze in when we’re not working with the youth group or teachers, and we’re also planning our own lessons for this class and doing homework. Finally, there are the technical training sessions about twice per week where we learn about health, safety, teaching, the Nicaraguan education system, and anything else we’ll need for our time here. It’s an absolutely fantastic and at times exhausting process, and possibly the most challenging and rewarding experience of my life.

Despite having no education background, I’ve begun meeting with my co-teacher and planning lessons. I co-taught my very first class this morning, and it went very well! We were working with about 35 10th graders on English vocabulary related to global warming. The unit is on environmentalism, and they were learning about the greenhouse effect, pollution, carbon dioxide, and how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in their lives. Profe Juan, my excellent counterpart (who has been teaching English for 18 years), began by reviewing vocabulary, practicing pronunciation, and going over some of the meanings of the words. I had drawn a diagram of how greenhouse gasses help cause global warming, so I then explained, in English, how the the greenhouse effect works and had them practice some of the vocabulary. Profe Juan explained more about how burning trash or polluting in other ways contributes to CO2 in the atmosphere, and then they copied a paragraph down in their notebooks and practiced reading it out loud. Finally my big moment came and Profe Juan turned the reins over to me. I had written a short dialogue about burning trash and releasing greenhouse gases and read it out loud to the students. They repeated it first, then I assigned them one of the parts and I read the other. Juan and I acted out the dialogue twice for them, then I started asking for volunteers to perform it in front of the class. This part was pretty difficult. They were nervous and self-conscious, but slowly I was able to coax or choose people to do the skit until almost everyone had gone. It took about 45 minutes to do this relatively short activity, but I think that by the end of it all of them had a pretty good sense of what the dialogue was about, how the words should be pronounced, how the vocab fit into the theme, and how global warming and greenhouse gases are related. I had six fellow volunteers and two of our Spanish professors observing me, in addition to the 35 students in the class, and they gave great feedback as well as supportive comments about my first foray into the world of English education. It was a small step in this long journey of learning about how to be a teacher, but it felt very natural, very positive and really exciting.

I’m feeling more comfortable in my family and town every day, and my Spanish continues to steadily improve. Fluency, vocabulary and even grammar are increasing and it takes very little extra energy to communicate in Spanish rather than English, which is a great sign. I’m really enjoying getting to know my town, and the awesome-looking library near my house will re-open in a few days after being under repair these last two weeks. This morning, as I was leaving my house to go teach my class, I stepped out into the street and had a flash of timelessness, very similar to what Marquez describes in 100 Years of Solitude. The sun was strong and low in the sky, but there was a fine mist through the whole town. This was not like what fog looks like in the US. It wasn’t quite as thick and it was perfectly evenly distributed across every visible area. For that split second all of the people and animals in the street were perfect silhouettes, losing their individual character and becoming a street teeming with archetypical men on their way to work, women with baskets on their heads, oxen pulling a cart, and children on their way to school. It was as if that moment represented a glimpse into every day, every year, every century of human life at its simplest and most elegant. Nice way to start the day.

I’m continuing to update my online album, so check for new pictures!


4 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Debra Lawsing on September 24, 2010 at 5:48 am

    Andrew, I love reading your posts. I can visualize so much of what you’re writing about. Sounds the the teaching aspect is falling into place (of course, you had a great role model in 7th and 8th grade) and you’re getting more comfortable with it. Your part in the lesson was very good because you modeled it, had them practice it together (nonthreatening) and then asked for those confident enough to do the skit for the whole class. Good teaching practices used throughout. Keep up the good work, you’re off to an awesome start.


  2. Posted by Aunt Kathy on September 25, 2010 at 7:45 pm

    Your writing is very beautiful and full of imagery. I am so impressed with all of this, and have lots to go through, since I missed out on this until now!


  3. Posted by Theresa on September 26, 2010 at 9:38 am

    Wow Andrew! What fun to read your blog, see the pictures and hear what you’re thinking and experiencing. Your pictures “show” so much, but your words have a way of painting scenes and settings as alive and descriptive, if not more so, than your photos. You peel off layers, and create events so the reader feels she’s with you as you experienced the event. Looking forward to reading more.


  4. Posted by Courtney on October 7, 2010 at 7:55 pm

    Congratulations on your first lesson! It sounds like it went well. It sort of reminded me of those first couple of months in Mr. Jones’ class, back in the day, when he would make us stand up and say things in front of the whole class. It used to make me so nervous! But then you realize that everyone else in the class is in the same boat, and it doesn’t seem so scary. At least that first year I wasn’t proficient enough to realize that Senor Jones was actually making fun of us, rather than patting us on the back. Haha!

    Your hike sounds amazing. I haven’t gone to check out your pictures yet. I figured that I would catch up on the blog, and then head on over to grab the visual. But, with your writings, seems I barely need it. I just finished re-reading 100 Years of Solitude this summer, and was amazed at how much more I got out of it. So, while I haven’t seen what you have seen, your words combined with Marquez makes me feel like I’m there. 🙂


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