I was finally able to do what I came here to do this week…teach. Although the school that I was originally assigned to went on strike, I was able to make different arrangements so that I would not miss the opportunity to interact with elementary students and teachers. The teachers frequently go on strike here in Chile, and from my understanding, it is to fight for better pay and more planning time. I knew that schools here in Chile would differ than those in the U.S. But I am not sure that I was truly prepared for what this experience brought to me.
The entrance to the school had a new addition. A notice. Telling parents that they were no longer allowed to enter the school area due to a confrontation between a parent and a teacher. This set the stage for what was to be expected these next few days. From what I was told about the population of students is that they are from low socioeconomic backgrounds.
I taught in a very small public school, which was about an hour metro ride each morning. The school was almost square in shape, three buildings attached to one another with the fourth side being the gate upon which students enter and exit. In the center was a concrete slab. This is where recess occurred. No playground, just a parking lot like resemblance to run around in. There was one basketball hoop but I did not see a basketball. There were a few Ping-Pong tables that the students wheeled out and unfolded, as they took their paddles out of their own backpacks. I also saw one soccer ball. Besides that, the students were constantly running around playing tag, I think. I was told that sometimes, for physical education, the students were walked down the street to the neighborhood park/playground.
The building itself was made up of concrete. There were limited heating sources, which when the sun was not out, made it pretty cold indoors. Students wore their jackets, while some even wore gloves. The few classrooms I did teach in had very minimal resources. Walls were, for the most part, bare. Students took their own materials out of their backpacks (pencils, scissors, glue, notebooks) while some had none & had to share. However, one of the classrooms did have a Smart board. I did not see it being used & there was a computer lab. I did get a chance to see a class utilize the computer lab. They were given a strip of paper with the website to go onto to practice their English. Although most students followed these directions, a handful played video games.
Students entered the classroom as the bell rang with food, drinks, and cell phones out on their desks. They were conversing with one another throughout the entire class period. Up and out of their seats and either talking or fighting with each other. I couldn’t tell if they were play fighting. It didn’t look like it to me, but their teacher didn’t seem too concerned. I saw a lot of smacking, twisting of hands, pulling of hair, and biting even. The teacher attempted to give directions, but several students continued on with their own business. From my point of view, it didn’t seem as though the teachers were adequately prepared with classroom management strategies. There was limited respect given to the classroom teachers by the students. I noticed that when the supervisor came in to speak with the students, then and only then were all students silent and attentive. The only form of classroom management that I observed was when the classroom teacher said, “shh!” This however, did not improve behavior.
I will recount one instance that sticks out to me, one in which I haven’t been able to shake. The students were involved in a cutting and pasting activity. One little girl simply sat there. When I went up to her and attempted to ask her to begin cutting (making scissors with my hands, since I speak little Spanish and she understands little English) her teacher told me that she had difficulty cutting and that her friend was going to do her work for her once she finished her own. I was at a loss for words. However, the teacher in me was not going to allow that to happen and my instincts kicked in. I simply took a pen, drew lines on this little girls paper to separate the pictures that needed to be cut out, providing guide lines for her, and asked her to cut. She did so, perfectly. When I showed the classroom teacher this, he responded with “well, she learned something today.” I was shocked. This little girl, 5th grade, didn’t just learn how to cut. She knew very well how to cut. All she needed was a little support and a little guidance, as all students need, to be successful in the classroom. I wonder why the classroom teacher didn’t try various strategies to help this student in particular with her assignment?
My belief is that teachers need to provide all students with the necessary tools to succeed.
My name is Natalie and I am a graduate student at Buffalo State College in the special education program. I have been given this amazing opportunity to really grow not only as a student, but as a teacher and a person. Through this experience my hope is that I get to know myself better as an individual; develop a deeper understanding of the Chilean geography, culture and language; and gain a different perspective on the possibilities within the classroom. I hope that you follow me on this journey and learn right alongside me.