Practicum Week

It’s a fascinating experience to be traveling on a bus, winding over and down hills valleys, and to feel a swelling pride about the beauty around you. Pride feels like a strange emotion to me, considering I’m not from Nicaragua and I that I haven’t been here that long. Part of it came from traveling to a northern province this past week for teacher training; the landscape changed dramatically from the flat and hot south where our training towns are to verdant mountains and valleys. As we drove up everything looked new and foreign, but after only four days in Jinotega I feel like I know Nicaragua in a new and deeper way. Part of me feels guilty and self-absorbed to be feeling pride in a place that I’ve barely seen. After all, what right do I have to claim even a leaf in Nicaraguia? Nonetheless, I can feel my connection to this country growing. The knowledge that I’m not here to just take pictures and leave changes dramatically my relationship with the surroundings. On Sunday we all traveled to Managua to spend the night before heading up north to two larger cities to teach classes for three days. This was our practicum week, designed to allow us to get more experience in a classroom and see more of the Nica education system. Half of our group spend their days in Matagalpa and I was with the group in Jinotega. Jinotega is a city situated in the bottom of a valley with a cool climate. Waking up to mountains all around us was a breathtaking way to start our mornings and we all enjoyed going through our days without sweat drenching our backs.

On Monday when we arrived, we all met up with counterpart teachers to talk about what their classes were like, what they were teaching, and when we could teach some of their classes to gain experience. They all had expressed interest to Peace Corps in helping us out and in observing our methods in the classroom. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday we all taught classes, debriefed about how the classes went, and planned for the next day. It was one of the most exhausting, exhilarating, and rewarding experiences since arriving here. A typical day was waking up at 4:45 to go for a 30 minute run in order to work off the stress and nerves that came from jumping mid-stream into someone else’s class and teaching what we had spent three and half hours planning the night before. After the run was breakfast in our hotel and more planning and material creating (usually drawing posters, making slips of papers with topics to pass out, or writing phrases to practice). I was in the morning teaching group, so at 7:30 Kellie and I (For each Nica counterpart there were two trainees) walked over to our school and started teaching at 8:30. Each of us taught for about 2 hours per morning, and then observed for the 2 hours that the other taught. We quickly grabbed a bite to eat and then met up with the other PC trainees to talk about how all of our experiences went. That usually lasted until 3:30 or so, at which point we could head back to the hotel. Usually we would take about an hour to chill out and then start planning for the next day’s class or classes. We worked together, asking for advice and ideas, troubleshooting and helping each other draw pictures and word phrases. We practiced giving instructions to each other to make sure they were easy to understand. With only a break for dinner we would plan and re-plan from about 4:30 until 10 PM. Trying to fall asleep with all of our plans for class in our heads was a challenge, but we knew that we needed all the rest we could get.

 

Teaching tenth grade

 

Teaching the classes themselves was exhausting and fantastic. Kellie and I worked in a private Catholic school with both elementary and high school classes. I taught a seventh grade class and a tenth grade class twice each. The seventh grade class had about 30 kids in it, and the tenth grade class had only about 27. I was lucky. Some trainees had classes of more than 60 students. My seventh grade lesson was about prepositions of place (next to, behind, in front of, between, and across from). The first day I did a lesson about where the Simpsons were. After a warmup and practice, I split the kids into groups of four, gave them each the name of a Simpsons character and had a competition of who could arrange themselves according to the instructions I gave. (Bart in front of Lisa, Marge across from Homer, Homer in front of Bart) The biggest challenge was speaking almost exclusively English to kids who had very little experience speaking or hearing the language. It took a lot of demonstration, examples, and practice to get them to understand what I wanted them to do, but the game was very successful! They had fun and learned the prepositions. In tenth grade we learned about natural disasters and practiced writing descriptions and presenting them through drawings and sentences. This class also went very well, though after every class I came away with a new, deeper understanding of all aspects of teaching. Clarity of instructions, the importance of using English all the time, strategies to maintain classroom control, ways to keep kids engaged and learning when you’re speaking a language they don’t understand.

Peace Corps deserves a lot of credit for organizing this opportunity for us. We had a unique and incredibly intense teaching and reflection experience this week and every trainee feels more prepared and excited about what we’re doing here. At the dinner we had with our counterparts last night we all felt a sense of personal growth and exchange that we never knew was possible in only three days before. I know we’re all feeling a sense of accomplishment, anticipation and excitement about where we are in our training. Next week Friday we will be given our site assignments, which is where we will be living and working for two years. The following week we’ll be going to those sites for a six-day visit to meet our counterpart teachers and our host families. Another recent happening was our Spanish language mid-term evaluation. My group all progressed from intermediate advanced to advanced low. It feels good to have the validation of our hard work in class, though we’re going to keep working and studying hard.

There are many more pictures in my photo album online from this week, including two of me teaching and a bunch from a trek up on of the mountains. More soon!

 

The cross overlooking Jinotega, Nicaragua

 

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