Everyone here wants to learn English, a fact that has become exceedingly apparent since the moment I stepped foot in site. Three of my Cooperative Socios are teachers (one is also a director) at the elementary/high school in town so the topic of teaching english was inescapable from the very start. When first asked if I could teach English I said, “there is a possibility.” And from that point forward my socios would introduce me as, “This is Annalisa, she is a volunteer with Cuerpo de Paz and will be working with the Cooperative for the next two years and she said there’s a possibility that she will teach English to the kids, right Annalisa?”. They’d turn to me smiling and nodding and I’d reply, “Yes, there is a possibility.”
During training we were warned about this. Guatemalan’s look at all Peace Corps volunteers and see an “I know English” stamped across our foreheads. Hence the reason why every Guatemalan that knows any English ALWAYS throws out a word or two in passing or in conversation. I constantly hear, “Hello” (more like: haylow) in the streets. In conversation, random words or phrases will just pop out of mouths like, “taste good”, or “hot” or “car”, “store”, “shopping”. These words are normally followed by a smile and a look on their faces that requests some reassurance that they said the word properly.
It is nearly impossible for PCVs to go through service without being asked to teach English. I personally have no problem with it, but the Peace Corps constantly reminds us to not let teaching English interfere with our main project- Agricultural Marketing in my case. In my case, I took teaching English as a good opportunity to get to know some more faces, integrate a bit and gain a little trust in the community. SInce I arrived in site during “summer break” it also gave me a two month window to teach 10 classes until January when school picks up again. “Get in and get out quick” mentality.
My English classes started last week and so far so good. The students, who are supposed to be 11-15, are eager to learn and well behaved. I was amazed when on the first day of class there were students waiting outside the classroom 30 minutes early. Everyone here runs on la hora Chapina (aka Guatemalan time aka at least 30 minutes late) so this punctuality meant my classes were important to them. The first class I taught I had about 30-40 students. The next class again I had 30-40 students but some new faces and some students didn’t return. The third class I had 72 students. There were so many students they didn’t all fit in the classroom. There were kids sitting on tables, dragging in chairs from other classrooms and sitting 5 to each table meant for 2. The classroom was overflowing with kids, literally, there were students outside huddling in chairs around the classroom door. I am pretty sure the fact that my classes are free has been the major draw for the town. In my class of 72 there was also an entire family, mother, father and kids, that just received their papers to go to the U.S. and obviously wanted to soak up as much English as possible before their departure.
So far we have reviewed basics, the alphabet, numbers, colors, salutations, introductions, emotions, names of family members and “to be” and “to have”. What I find frustrating is that its a little difficult to gage whether the students are actually learning. They love to repeat words after me, in fact they shout the words out. But if I call on anyone to talk or come up to the whiteboard to present something all of the sudden they become voiceless. I’m hoping that after these initial ten classes if I continue to teach English (and I don’t think there is anyway out of it) I will be able to have a smaller class size- ideally a class sized for one room.
p.s. my women’s soccer team lost in the final. It came down to penalty kicks- thank goodness I made mine. If I hadn’t, I may not have been welcomed back to town.