Saturday, July 6, 2013

Rain Rain Go Away

On the way back from classes the other day I said to co-volunteer Jess that it is interesting how the external environment influences our internal thoughts and perspective as I realized that my most pervading thoughts at the time were, not so much to say pessimistic, but  critical of what I was observing in the classrooms.   Up to this point in the school year, days have rarely offered anything other than blue skies and sunshine, translating to and providing me, a consistent stream of optimism (an ideal standpoint to begin any experience in a community very different from my own).   However, of most recent, the rain which I have noted in an earlier blog has become such a force that it has altered the entire mood of the Polochic Valley.  For example, the sun no longer awaits us outside our door every morning, but instead has been replaced by grey skies and thirsty mosquitoes, and the pollen released by the various floras at times plays tricks on our bodies.  Needless to say the rain-season has its benefits undoubtedly, yet it requires slight adaptation.

The main points that I have been most critical of in the classroom are poor teacher attendance, poor time  management, and lack of resources.  I walked to school this Monday excited to continue classes after a national rest week for teachers, and was immediately frustrated to see that classes had been cancelled for another national holiday.  Tuesday classes continued, but were slow to start, lacked energy, and one of the teacher’s was not present.  After over a week of resting I had hoped to see an excited rejuvenated teaching staff, but this was not the case. 

After reviewing our teacher attendance sheet, I’ve noticed we have two teachers that have already missed at least twenty days of classes, many of the reasons being “work-related” and some unexcused.  Regardless, the children on these days are not provided with substitute teachers therefore miss out on days of learning.  Unfortunately the issue of attendance is something that seems out of our reach in improving, but I believe that through greater communication and coordination, we will be able to allow for more transparency and perhaps we can develop some sort of safety-net system where we can catch the children up on missed lessons via our afterschool program.

The time management of the third grade class has improved substantially since my arrival in February, however, there is plenty of room for improvement.  There are still moments throughout the day where the children will finish a lesson or activity, and rush to the corners to play marbles or jacks.   With success, I have been able to isolate up to two or three children in these moments to really see if they absorbed the lesson or activity, but I’d like this to be the norm of the entire classroom.  The other day I asked third grade instructor Elda if she could give me the lesson plan for the following day at the end of each class so that I could plan extra activities that coincide with what we are doing.  She kindly agreed and added that she finds it to be a good idea.

The resource scarcity at this point is my largest qualm and is something that stems deep into the economics and politics of Guatemala.  A month ago I was informed by Elda that the construction of the government funded school was never actually finished as it was designed to have finished bathrooms and a small kitchen to cook the children’s mid-day snack (of which were not provided to the school until two months after the year begun).  Furthermore, we are having issues receiving all of the other smaller school materials that the government is required to supply.  Textbooks have arrived (3 months late) for grades kindergarten to fourth, but we have not been provided with the correct amount.  In a discussion that I shared with Veronica Spross, director of Empresarios por la Educacion, she mentioned to me that at the start of the school year every school was to be provided with four-hundred reading books for the children.  I brought this up to the school’s director Reginaldo that knew nothing about it.  lastly there are basic simple things which are lacking in Nueva Mercedes such as paper for the children and markers for the dry-erase board.  The other day Elda gave lessons with a faint marker that was practically unreadable from the seats of the children.

Class Materials Shelf
Many of the issues that I mention have begun to frustrate me further because these are obstacles that are much larger than we are at Li Ch’utam or the teachers are in Nueva Mercedes.  As a grass-roots organization we have no ability or intention to recreate the whole system, but are here to work within it and strive to set an example to the hundreds of other schools that are in the same predicament.  Like the pesky mosquitoes, some problems we face are inextinguishable, yet we relentlessly push forward even if only inch by inch.  

*In contrast to this useful critical analysis, our afterschool program is thriving, and we eagerly look forward to sharing our stories and the many photographs in our next posting that testify to its success.

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