Teaching in El Gusano: Creative Approaches

By: Jennifer Ibarra

Last week Gilly wrote about some of the issues that have made it difficult to teach classes, such as not being able to teach in the primaria, various community events that interfere with our after-school classes, like the political party candidates who come to make speeches, or students simply not showing up to classes. Fortunately, we’re starting to make some progress. Not being able to teach in school was turning out to be quite difficult, so we had the idea to check out the secundaria in the nearby rancho. All of our youth who continue onto middle school (because going to or finishing middle school isn’t always a given here) attend the middle school in Capulín, the neighboring rancho, because El Gusano doesn’t have a middle school of its own. On Monday, we took the twenty minute walk down the road into El Gusano with Irma, one of the promotoras, to speak with the head teacher at Capulín to see if we could teach English classes there a few times a week. He spoke with other teachers, and five out of six of the teachers decided they wanted us to teach English. Originally, we were going to come in twice a week to teach each class once a week, but we soon added on more classes.

Now, we come in a total of four times a week. We teach one first grade, two second grade, and two third grade classes (there are two classes for each grade). I teach both of my classes, a second grade and third grade by myself, and Gilly and Elizabeth teach one class by themselves and one class together. It’s definitely been fun to be in front of the classroom with desks, a whiteboard, students who pay attention and take notes, and students who whisper or chat when they shouldn’t be chatting. I’ve had to bring down a “strong fist” and call students out for chatting or misbehaving. Teaching in the secundaria has been a great way to get to know the male youth (muchachos) better. They usually don’t come to our English or art classes in the Centro (and by “usually” I mean never), but we see them around a lot because they come to play soccer or hang out. Before teaching classes in Capulín, we would always make jokes at each other in passing, but at Capulín we get a little more time to talk to them. This is because they’re often coming or going somewhere at the Centro, whereas Gilly, Elizabeth and I are at the secundaria for a whole forty-five minutes before classes for break and lunch-time and we chat with them during another break after class while waiting for someone else to finish teaching. When we talk to the guys before or after class, it’s almost always joking, too, but this helps us grow friendships with them no matter how insignificant it sounds. Just showing face helps. Instead of being the funny gringos in the center every Monday through Saturday night that they see around, we’re teachers or even friends…okay, maybe we haven’t gotten to friendship level yet with any of these rowdy middle school boys, but simply seeing them more often has helped out a lot.

What I have noticed more than anything is that a lot of the students are very shy about being called on, or speaking in English. We had an English class for adults and adolescents this week in the Centro where everyone hid behind their notebooks at one point and giggled because I told them to speak up. I’ve had to learn how best to be the head of the classroom, how to work with kids. Of course, everyone has their own personality. It’s not like they all act the same, but there is this sort of unexpected shyness or timidity.As Elizabeth says, it’s like pulling teeth. Sometimes kids are more reluctant to participate because they don’t want to, but often kids are just shy.

You have to seek them out and be gentle, even with some of the rambunctious ones. I had to be firm but kind in order to encourage some o the energetic and sassy boys in primaria to participate in the photo project. I could see that they wanted to. If I just asked them, “Hey, want to take some photos?” they would think about it for a few seconds and decide not to. One boy was fine with taking photos but was uncomfortable saying that he wanted photos taken of himself. I had to ask him gently a couple of times, and both times he only responded with very slight nods. After the first time, he changed his mind. He was happy about getting to take the photos home with him a few days later.

All of the kids were happy about taking photos home with them. For the past few weeks, we have been having a lot of success with our art activities. Our first popular art event was Music Week. Gilly, Elizabeth and I had collected a variety of bottles and cardboard. Tuesday, we made musical instruments out of the bottles and cardboard, and throughout the week kids and I played on the centro’s guitarra and Gilly’s guitarrita, or mini-guitar.

On Saturday, we played the instruments while putting music on that the locals like over a speaker. It was a lot of fun to jam with the kids, and they really liked it.

This week, we had a photo project. We bought disposable cameras and let kids use our digital cameras. In total, the kids took about 200 photos! The photography project was a really good way to get girls who are shier or more distant to participate, and Music Week was a really good way to get rowdier boys to come out and participate. The art activities continue to be a hit, and our after-school English classes at the Centro are still going pretty well, too.

About the Author: Jenny Ibarra is a Spanish Major at UNC on the Hispanic Literature and Culture track. Born and raised outside of Washington, D.C., she has always been exposed to the migrant experience and is excited to see it from another perspective. This is her first time participating in Project Guanajuato. She is teaching English and Art classes in El Gusano.

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