Living and breathing teaching in 1100 words

June 11, 2017

My name is Fraser. I have been teaching English in a Catholic school in the South-East of

Bogotá for more or less 4 months now and loving every moment. That is not to say that

teaching English is without moments of challenge and difficulty, but I feel that it would

be all-the- more boring if you did not have moments of chaos in and around what is

thoroughly enjoyable and rewarding experience!

 

First of all, I had no real previous experience teaching. I have an Economics degree and a

background in Insurance. Tired of being a desk-droid and doing the 9-to- 5 slog, I needed

a more interactive and less monotonous quality of work. Teaching has given me

precisely this. As a volunteer, it is your job to provide a natural learning environment in

which students can feel confident to practice speaking English. How do you do this? By

being as creative as possible when planning a lesson, and utilizing the human (ie: the

native teachers) and technological resources available to deliver this plan effectively.

 

One of my initial challenges of teaching was getting past the language barrier. In my first

ever class, the students created personal profile and then presented this to the class.

Giving instructions proved difficult at first: In my effort to tell the students what to do,

the majority stared with contorted facial expressions, as if I had caused unconscionable

offense. The rest looked destitute, glancing at my Colombian co-teacher as if to say

“Please, help us”. Even if you are nervous, as I was, speaking at a hundred-miles an hour

is not an accomplished method for ensuring your students know what your instructions

mean. A slow and clear delivery, particularly for someone for Scotland, is a much better

way to get your students to understand the task.

 

After many attempts of trying to get students and fellow teachers alike to pronounce my

name correctly, all of them insisted that my name is “Freezer”. I now accept that within

my capacity as a teacher, my name is related to a kitchen appliance. Recently, I have

been told that ‘Freezer’ is actually the Spanish name for the character of the animated

children’s TV program ‘Dragon Ball Z’, and struggled escaping daily questions about my

fights with Goku as a consequence.

 

The students themselves are truly fantastic. I can honestly say, I have never met a

funnier, happier, and more energetic group of kids. Wherever you go in school, you can’t

avoid someone bumping your fist, wanting to have a chat about your country, or to teach

you swear-words in English (which of course, I have never done). Soak this up, because

apart from being a real-life celebrity, it is the biggest ego-trip you will ever have. The

students are so curious to hear about your life and eager to teach you about their own.

For me, you will not find a more rewarding cultural or knowledge exchange in any other

experience. Forget travelling, this is how you get to know a country and its people.

 

Developing a healthy working relationship with your co-teachers is a great way to

guarantee your lessons are fun, but crucially educational for your students. If your co-

teacher does not understand the objectives of your lesson, your students won’t stand a

great chance of understanding them either. The native teachers have more experience

working with these particular students, so bouncing ideas for lessons off of them has

been a great way to gauge what activities will work and what won’t. When you are in

class and struggling to explain a concept to your students, you realise how vital their

support can be.

 

I teach children from 3 years to 17 years old, and each class contains a variety of levels

of English. Preparing a class that can cater to multiple abilities can be incredibly

challenging but great fun at the same time. When thinking about this problem, I have

found the best solution is to make the work relatable to the student. If I teach some

grammar or a theme using a topic they are already interested in, they are already more

engaged and driven to do better work:

 

I wanted to introduce ‘speaking in the 3 rd person’ in my grade 10 classes to practice

formally spoken English. I brainstormed with my co-teacher, and we decided that a

mock United Nations styled debate on the Death Penalty would best serve this objective,

whilst keeping the students interested. Once the students grasped the rules of the

debate, they became engrossed in the topic, giving impassioned spoken responses and

verging on the point of fighting each other over the moral implications of capital

punishment.

 

What if things don’t go as well for you as they have for me?

 

I have had excellent support from Volunteers Colombia. My coordinator has dealt with

any concern or issue I have had, immediately. When I have been ill or had problems with

my living allowance, my coordinator has helped me through every stage of the process.

There was one incident where I accidentally pocket-dialed him, and before I could text ‘it

was an accident’, he had responded, “Are you ok Frase?” It concerns me that he may not

have much of a social life if he can write so quick, but I am ultimately grateful for all the

support he gives to us as volunteers. Thank you Daniel. I promise I will repay the

50,000COP I owe you eventually.

 

Teaching English in Bogotá has been an invaluable experience for me personally. It has

developed my ability to quickly adapt to new situations, to speak publically, and to be

organised. However, the most I have taken from my experience has been when I’m

experiencing the life of the school. As well as learning a new language to help develop

relationships with my colleagues, I have helped teach English terminology in other

subjects such as Maths, become involved in the schools United Nations team which is

about to go compete in a national conference, and even done a TV appearance talking

about the importance of becoming a bilingual school.

 

If you are looking for a unique opportunity which gives you a variety of challenges,

builds interesting relationships, and allows you to help some fantastic children to learn a

new language, then my advice for you is simple: apply now and start as soon as possible.

I have been rewarded with an amazing experience; to be surrounded by fantastic people,

and embark on what is only the beginning of an incredible journey of teaching English in

Colombia.

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