Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Ready? Set? Go!

First things first, I’m sorry it’s taken so long to write this post. You see, I've been wanting to explain what our experience has been in the classrooms of Nueva Mercedes, working with the schoolteachers to improve the day to day learning of the students. I thought I must write about our past week and all of the reasons why the public education taking place in this town has been so pitiful, so that everyone would understand where we were starting from before we try to improve things.

What came out was 3 pages describing the horrible conditions in the classroom, the lack of discipline, and overall horrible teaching that was going on in grades 1-6. I looked this over many times contemplating whether to post it or not and I finally decided that many of you would be downright shocked to hear what has been going on in these classrooms for the last few years.  I decided when all is said and done it is not problems that people need to hear, but rather solutions, so I’ll briefly pass over some of the issues in the classroom and then present the agenda for a meeting we are planning with the teachers this Monday as our first school week comes to a close.  (Special thanks to Gabrielle Ward from Australia, who was the first member of Li’Ch utam’s Global Exchange program for this new year and proved invaluable in helping us get the ball rolling)

Issues in the Classrooms!!! (Not unique to Guatemalan public schools!)

- School enrollment down from 151 to 100 from last year

         -  No Discipline (Kids punching each other in the face, running out of the classroom, playing soccer in the classroom, stealing school supplies, and yelling things out loud… With No Consequence
      - Enormous inefficiency (starting class 20 minutes late even though everyone is already present and seated including the teacher, disappearing for 30 minutes in the middle of the class without saying anything, takes 2 hours for 1st graders to color in 3 shapes in the 3 primary colors, but it isn’t taught why they are called the primary colors,  and the teacher sits in the corner at her room waiting for the kids to finish so she can rubber stamp each individual notebook)

       -  Girls refuse to talk in class and are not encouraged to do so, girls are not mixed with boys in the seating arrangements , and the best students sit in the first 3 rows while the worst students sit in the last 3 rows)

       - No creativity or critical thinking involved in the teaching method (Teacher reads new vocabulary and the class repeats it…Repeat this process until the new topic has been “learned”…apply to all subjects)

       - Lessons are not planned in advance (teachers often spend an hour a day reading the lesson book to figure out how they will teach today’s lesson)

           -  No leadership or accountability among the teachers (Best teacher on the staff, who also happened to be the staff supervisor, the record keeper, and the soccer coach was relocated to a different town yesterday because the teachers voted him out for being too demanding)

Immediate Solutions to be Posed at Friday’s Teachers Meeting to be Implemented on Monday
       - Assigned seating to mix the boys with the girls and the more advanced students with the slower students 

       - Labeling the fronts of the notebooks to prevent the thrice daily 20 minute waste of time rifling through notebooks to pull out the specific notebook for each lesson

       -  “Common” sense: No leaving the classroom while students are present, no cell phone in class (teachers), and no stamping individual notebook FROM THE BACK CORNER OF THE ROOM (So individual checking of the students work takes place at their desk proactively instead of waiting for them to finish 10 minutes of work in 2 hours)

       - Discipline Every act of violence…no exceptions, but not with more violence (Stand up in the front of the room facing the class with arms raised above head for lengths of time depending on the infraction, while being tested to ensure that students are still paying attention) 0 tolerance
       - Downtime exercises (Instead of punishing students who finish early and talk to friends by a slap on the hand with a ruler…incentivize finishing early with downtime activities that will allow faster workers to continue learning at their own pace with extra, more advances activities) 
       - Introduce student hand raising in the classroom to ensure comprehension by random testing and to teach respect by preventing uncontrolled yelling of answers

Most importantly, tomorrow we will ask the teachers to review their lesson book for the upcoming week so as to suggest 2 creative ways of teaching each upcoming lesson. This will either a) give teachers ideas that they WILL use in class or b) get teachers to start thinking in more creative ways of their own, even if they don’t choose to use our specific suggestions.

This is our immediate game plan to fix the issues in the schoolroom on top of introducing extracurricular programs to the youth of Nueva Mercedes. Stay with us in the weeks and months that follow to see how the school reforms are coming along, as well as our technology literacy program! 

Please feel free to send any suggestion to or leave your comments directly on this page. 

Pictures from Top to Bottom: 2nd grade Physical Education Excercise run by teacher, 2nd grade Physical Education Excercise run by Caleb and Gabby, 1st grade teacher sitting in the corner correcting papers as most of the class goes joyfully unsupervised, 2nd graders learning to use a camera for the first time

1 comment:

  1. David - great choice in posting the solutions and not going into detail on the negatives. That would have only made you enemies! I like your ideas and can't wait to hear more!