Friday, March 11, 2011

"Schools" in Paraguay

A note from Tegan:

Well, it has come to pass that I am now observing and teaching in a sixth grade class in my neighborhood. In Spanish. To Guarani speakers. While my confidence in my Spanish is soaring in language class and in my home, it is another thing entirely to stand up in front of 23 pubescent native-speakers and try to command some semblance of a presence of authority. Fortunately, a friendly smile and earnest attempt at understanding a rapid-fire mash-up of two languages (none of which I speak fluently, mind you) goes a long, long way.

So far, I have observed a lot of yelling and vehement scolding on the part of the teacher, a lot of writing on the board for the kids to copy, and a lot of the teacher strolling in and out of the classroom as she pleases. We are told all of these things are quite common in Paraguayan schools. Bueno...these are all things I hope to find alternatives to in talking and working with the teachers.

For my first teaching experience last week, I led a round of the game where you write a sentence then pass to someone else to draw a picture, then fold the paper to conceal the original sentence and get someone new to write a sentence based on the drawing. I now know that this might have turned out better had we first discussed how to come up with a sentence to write, and had we discussed communal ownership of art, as opposed to art for private consumption. We have been told that centuries of dictatorship has effectively squelched creativity in Paraguay. Fortunately, I brought with me the belief that creativity can never really be killed, just buried very very deep. I will be thinking and reading on how to draw out creativity, in writing and in visual arts. Any informative websites or input would be most welcome.

Yesterday was a bit more successful from my perspective. My goal was less focused on content and instead centered on encouraging student participation. I tried to think of a subject in which the students are experts and settled on Paraguayan culture. Then I had us ditch the desks and rows to shake things up and had us all sit in a circle. They then taught me about Paraguayan maxims and the values behind them, traditional music, traditional clothing, food, and language. I´m not sure that they necessarily learned concrete, tangible content, but I do know that they participated and laughed a lot and were comfortable.

I won´t be able to build on this experience until two weeks from now because we are on the cusp of Long-Field Practice (fancy talk for a week working in the community of a current volunteer). Starting bright and early Monday morning, we will be heading out with our respective language groups and a teacher or two. Yes, you read correctly. Matthew and I will be *GASP* separate! We are both pretty excited to delve into hands-on learning, despite the pang of sadness at the thought of a week apart. My group will start leading high-school classes on the Values of a Democracy as soon as we arrive Monday evening. The rest of the week will be a blur of last-minute lesson planning and high-energy classes on various subjects to kids of varying ages. Wow. Needless to say I will be enjoying my free time this weekend.

Speaking of which, tomorrow at 8am a friend and I will be riding horsies around the countryside for a few hours. Due to some unfortunate miscommunicating, my horse-riding will be cut short in order to catch an irregular bus to the community that now lovingly refers to Matthew as the little-penis guy (please read the previous post before making any assumptions about that nickname). He has been toiling away in the still, blazing mid-day sun to build a fogón (brick oven) for a school in that community, and tomorrow we will taste the fruit of his toils, so to speak. A group of trainees and families will come together to inaugurate the oven with some good old-fashioned chipa-baking. Chipa is a cheesy, bread-like product that is not too unlike the bricks with which the oven was built. Maybe a little harder, though.

Come Sunday, I will host the 3rd meeting of my Youth Empowerment group. This was formerly just a bracelet-making group started by myself and a friend, but to my utter shock, it has morphed in only two meetings into a computer-skills club, a geography club, a physical-activity club, and a photography club. The girls are literally every kid I saw on the street the first day, plus a few who were then invited by the initial girls. They range in age from 5 to 13 and are just delightful. They interact with each other in a very respectful, genuine manner and are infinitely curious. I am currently figuring ways to get boys to join. When asked initially, they were quite closed to the idea, but I have since befriended an 11-year-old boy who might be interested in hanging. I think now that it has branched out from just bracelets, they might be more inclined.

In brief is good. We are busy. We are content. We are stretching and growing. And we miss you all very much.
The next message will be after long-field and hopefully will contain all kinds of language and cultural mishaps, as well as a few successful learning moments.
Much love to you all,

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