I was in Santa Cruz for 6 weeks, volunteering at an amazing hostel/hotel. I was very grateful to not have wifi but, at the same time, my blogging really suffered. Not for lack of ideas, but lack of motivation and organization – getting online, using good old-fashioned flash drive to transfer my writing from my computer to the internet-connected computer at the hotel. While I loved my time there, I was always surrounded by people, which is not an environment that motivates me to write. I could have easily gotten away, by walking a mere 30-60 minutes into the neighboring mountains. But I didn’t. I suppose my priorities changed while I was there, and that’s not a bad thing. If there’s one thing I’ve learned on this journey so far, it’s to follow your heart (I don’t mean that to sound so sappy, ‘heart’ is just the best word I can think of). In eating, making purchases, hanging out with people, and deciding how to spend my time. In Santa Cruz, I spent most of my time reading, improving my billiards skills, playing Catan, and eating. The hammocks were great for a relaxed day of reading. The pool table was actually pretty decent for Central America (and the people I played with challenged me to become better). The hotel down the way had Settlers of Catan so, obviously, games were a frequent occurrence. And the food was delicious… that’s an understatement: It was f***ing amazing!!!
I’m happy to have had those 6 weeks. BUT I am glad to be back in the connected world, with a renewed motivation for writing. I think I’m even going to start blogging about teaching, inquiring, and everything education. I’ll keep you posted on that, but for now, I’ll tell you what I’ve been up to.
The son of the hotel-owners attends an American School in the nearby town of Pana(jachel). I had chatted with the boy about his school and decided I’d like to inquire about volunteering, maybe doing some sub work, while I was in Santa Cruz. It just so happened that a few of their teachers came to the hotel one weekend and we got to chatting. I got the email of the director and promptly let her know of my interest.
To my great surprise, she responded, not with an offer of sub work or volunteering, but of an actual job – a 2nd grade teacher! It turns out the class’s teacher had to leave on short notice and I happened to email at just the right time. I don’t think they were expecting to find a trained teacher, let alone someone with 4 years international experience, so I imagine they were pretty excited. They needed someone to start in a week – after Semana Santa (Easter break). I hummed and hawed, talked to everyone I saw, wrote a pros and cons list, and was simply stuck. I had been enjoying my wanders so much – the freedom to move about as I pleased, waking up each morning thinking “Where will I go today?” I was really excited to move on to Xela to study Spanish for a while – I even had a few travel friends who were stopped there and it’s always nice to know people. One of those friends had a place for me to crash and possibly work a little – a place with a piano, which was an incredible pro in the Xela column. I was beginning to think I’d have to flip a coin.
Then, one morning, I woke up planning the first day of school. I had ideas, and I was excited to try them out. In a purely non-spiritual, logical sense: I took it as a sign. I wanted to teach. I really wanted to teach.
So here I am. I’ve been in Pana for 3 weeks now. Second grade is a whole different world for me, and it’s taken me until this week to really know how to talk to the kids to keep them interested. I now speak with so much enthusiasm and energy. Without that, the kids are totally gone, disinterested, bored. Also, everything needs to be done in small steps. I can’t just give a general instruction, “Okay, put away your notebooks and get out your reading book.” Chaos would ensue. Rather, “When I say your name, put your notebook in this (motions dramatically) bin, then (walks over to where the reading books are) get your reading book. (excitedly) Let’s see how fast we can do this!” While I am loving this class, I do still prefer upper elementary. I like that older students can use writing more for meaningful communication, whereas the second graders can barely form a sentence. I like that I can work with them on meaningful research projects, talk with them sort of like I do with adults. What’s funny though, is that I think these 3 months with a second grade class is going to help me more with upper elementary kids than any experience or training I’ve had. So much of what I’m learning can be applied to upper grades (in a modified way, of course). It’s those things that I was missing in my teaching before, but that were never absolutely necessary – like the very explicit instructions – that I’m learning now. Just because older students don’t need it doesn’t mean it won’t benefit them. I’m excited to see how it will benefit them – and me – next time I teach upper elementary.
Pana itself is just a small town that has two main streets and two public docks. It’s the transition point between towns – connected by land and water – so there are lots of tourists just passing by (and some staying a while, I’m sure). It’s nice to have a couple touristy streets to wander down, but then there’s a whole other side to Pana where the tourists don’t go. I have yet to explore it all, but there isn’t much to it. Tuk tuks putter around the streets, locals get by on their bicycles, motos, or on their feet – often with huge loads balanced on their heads. Even with the high foreigner population, I haven’t had any trouble practicing Spanish. Most people speak Spanish with me, especially since I’m not buying textiles from the only-there-for-tourists shops. I might start lessons soon, just to keep pushing myself forward. But, then again, I might not – I get a small monthly stipend and, with my healthy eating and cappuccino-drinking habits, I may be dipping into savings already.
I’ve got so much more to tell you, but I’ll write about it all in separate posts. Until then, I hope you are as well as ever, and I look forward to seeing you with a little more frequency.