School continued this week as we hung on to a piece of good news from one of our contacts in Guatemala City regarding textbooks due to arrive any day. On Monday we were delighted to see that textbooks had arrived for the children of Nueva Mercedes; one for each child in two subjects: Math and Language Arts. Though the textbooks arrived late they are a welcome supplement to the current lessons and very helpful in reinforcing concepts in a way that requires less monotonous copying of the whiteboard. The only issue now is that fourth, fifth, and sixth grade do not have textbooks and in second grade there are only 25 textbooks for 36 students. We are hoping that the rest of the textbooks will arrive at a later date but this is certainly not guaranteed. Also we were informed by the ministry of education that this year the government is only providing textbooks for grades 1-3. Perhaps next year this will change but it certainly leaves the grades 4-6 in a more difficult position. In any event, our work in improving the level of education has been greatly aided by the late arrival of good learning materials.
This major improvement in the classrooms has increased not only the amount being learned but it makes it much easier for students to comprehend what they are being taught. The traditional system of copying an entire lesson from the whiteboard with little or no explanation (which is typical when textbooks are lacking) is now much less frequent. Students can actually spend the majority of their time reading, comprehending, and completing fun exercises instead. First grade is using the textbooks everyday and second grade is beginning slowly to incorporate the new materials into their daily routine. A full shift to individual textbook use is due in the beginning of March.
Aside from the good textbooks news our work as teacher’s aids is beginning to bear fruit in other ways as well. As Dave and I begin to understand the dynamics of the teachers we aid in the mornings, we are now able to contribute more each day. Every teacher in the world has his or her own rhythm and style of teaching. This past week it has been apparent (as Dave and I both agreed) that we are now in sync with the rhythm and style of our respective teachers in first and second grade. As their trust for us grows and we begin to understand their character better, class time has improved greatly. There has been much more collaboration, better planning, and more use of creativity on a daily basis. We are also much more aware of each teacher’s strengths. Since we recognize these strengths it is much easier to know where to contribute and where to be less vocal and let the teacher excel. One testament to this new bond between teacher and teacher’s aid was apparent between David and the first grade teacher last week. He suggested that the students learn gardening and nutrition in an interactive way—by planting a garden. The teacher was completely supportive and took initiative (something unimaginable in the first month) instructing each student in the class to bring a few germinated seeds to plant in the schoolyard beside the classroom building. The students responded to this idea with enthusiasm and a few days later each one showed up to class with a few germinating seeds in their hands. Now the beginnings of a great school garden are taking root all thanks to some good communication and a little collaboration.
Between Martha (the second grade teacher) and I a bridge of trust is beginning to build even more rapidly than I anticipated. Martha has been a teacher for many years and is now beginning to express her frustrations with the current education system. She even emphasized to me her confusion at the lack of importance local families place on education. Yesterday as six students did not show up school she shook her head in frustration and explained to me that this was wrong saying, “this view of education must change!” I could not agree more that a greater importance must be placed on education and it is great to see teachers that recognize this as well.
Next week we look forward to seeing how the textbooks continue to augment the level of education and hope to meet with the local town committee members again to brainstorm more programs ideas. The key now will be identifying local leaders to help run the programs or even run them fully in order for all of Li Ch’utam’s activities to be sustainable. We have built a strong presence and growing trust in the school but it is critical now to make this increasing value of education sustainable and to begin branching out to other effective areas as well.