Some Pictures

Mariachi dudes playing in the town of Copan Ruinas. After I saw this Guitarron, which is a big acoustic 6-string bass...

 

...I decided to get my own! Couldn't go without some bass for 5 months. The thing is fun. Not sure how I'm gonna get it home, though.

 

The flag of Honduras waving in front of students practicing their traditional dance for the Fair.

 

A family portrait I drew for my Dad's 60th birthday.

 

1st Grader Andres coolin' in the sun. Mr David giving serious props

 

Mr. Chris braving a rickety bridge on Adventure Wednesday. (Every Wednesday we go on a big hike)

 

Rockin' band from El Salvador playing at the fair in Ocotepeque.

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Some Perminance!

Today was father’s day.  Most students didn’t come to school so I gave some impromptu music lessons and took a group to the market to teach them practical english (I want five bananas and three mangos. How much does that cost?  Thank you Mr. David for the idea.  Practical english in a real situation is most useful!)

Anyways, now that all six volunteers are here, and we got our workbooks (hooray!), we have implemented a new permanent schedule for the semester.  We’re a month and a half in, but better late than never.

Instead of having one teacher for each subject, we have decided to mix things up so that we won’t get sick of any one thing (Grammar, Phonics, Reading, etc).  In reality, though, I take a wholistic approach to teaching English, instead of compartmentalizing, using games and practical scenario activities.  When I lack a better activity, and for homework, I revert to the book-learning style.

My schedule is:

1st period: 6th grade spelling

Spelling is so closely tied to reading and writing, and I think it’s silly to have a class just focused on spelling, so this class is more general english with a spelling slant.  Anyway, this group is absurdly hard to motivate, and never wants to do anything unless it’s fun, so I have taken a join’em instead of beat’em attitude.

Working with the other teachers, using google, and being imaginative, I have come up with all types of various activities to get them practicing English.  At first I was doing more advanced themes and words, but as I have said before, I realized they need a stronger foundation, so I’ve backed it up big time.  This class takes a lot of my prep time.  They enjoy weekly spelling bees, and scrabble-like competitions.

2nd period: 4th grade phonics

Only two students in this class, and they are both very smart, so it’s been great.  We whizz though topics, and like the spelling class, I focus on general english with a slant towards pronunciation.  I’ve figured out tactics to make straight lessons appear like a game (competition, dice, rewards) which works wonders.

3rd period: lower tier 8th grade grammar

This class is wonderful – 4 lower-intermediate 8th graders who want to learn.  English Teacher X, who I mentioned once before, very kindly contacted me and sent me his book expanding upon his ideas for english speaking activities.   These have worked WONDERS in this class.  All types of basic english ideas and practical speaking skills wrapped up in 40 minute blocks.  I do these and put a focus on the grammar side of things.  Thank you Mr English Teacher X!

4th period:  Beginners

There are some students that are beginner english speakers.  So, we have a beginner class each period, a conglomeration of ages.  This class is tough for some reason.  Some of the students have 3 or 4 beginner classes a day, with 4 different teachers.  You’d think they would get the hang of things quickly this way.

However, they still have trouble with stuff we’ve been doing since day one.  What’s your name?  How old are you?  It’s baffling.  They like vocab, but they struggle with real sentences.  It’s almost like they don’t think of english as a language, but as another class in which they need to memorize facts to pass.  It’s not good.

Anyway, in this class I use the tactics that Robin Hayes taught me to build up from scratch.  Mostly games and reinforcement.

5th period: 5th grade reading

The 5th graders are raucous and have short attention spans.  So, we read short stories and plays together.  The books that were recommended to use were much too high a level.  I’ve gone down to 3rd/4th grade level and it still challenges them.

They really like plays, where each person can have a role.  They like to read the words, but they don’t seem to comprehend things well (an effect of reading books that were too hard, perhaps).  Whenever I stop to discuss what’s happening, they all get sad and just want to keep reading the words.  I am trying to get it through to them that COMPREHENSION is the important thing!

6th period: Advanced Literature.

This is my most challenging class – these kids are smart and have good english, so I can’t just do basic stuff.  I need to come up with good lessons and find appropriate literature from scratch.

I found a simplified version of Romeo and Juliet that we are working on right now, to perform at Hora Civica on Friday.  Plays are fun, engaging, and educational!  I love performance so I want to give them a taste.

7th Period:  7th grade literature.

These three students have mid-level english, so we read a variety of articles, books, and short stories.  Roald Dalh is a favorite.  We go through national geographic sometimes as a treat, more for general life education and to talk about the world, as the articles are way over their heads.

In this class I realized the importance of teaching students about things such as global water issues, recycling, deforestation, other cultures in the world, and the like – important stuff they don’t know diddly squat about.  They are fascinated by it, and it’s really useful stuff to know.  I think education in general should focus on these important, current issues.

8th period: free!

I either leave early or play guitar for a while.

Fridays I have four music classes and a conversation class.  We learn songs, and I try to teach students about a different famous musician each week.  Beatles and Bob Marley have been covered, and it’s awesome to hear 1st graders singing 3 little birds at recess!

As you can see I have 7 classes per day.  It’s a challenge.  Sometimes, with myriad extra (outside of school) expectations, it can feel like borderline exploitation.

I think I would run the school differently.  Physical education/art/music more often than once a week.  More recess (there are only two breaks, 20 and 10 minutes, all day).  Not focusing classes on subjects like spelling and phonics, but having general english education.  Providing syllabus and lesson ideas to inexperienced teachers instead of a sink/swim scenario.  I’m only here for four months, and it would take time to successfully argue for and implement fundamental changes.

But, I feel like I’m doing a good thing here, I’m learning and seeing a lot of new things, and the lifestyle is enjoyable.  So, all is good!

More to come on my weekend trip to the Mayan Ruins of Copan, probably tomorrow or later this week.

Peace out, and happy Monday,

Eric

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The Fair (La Feria)

For the last two weeks there has been a fair in town, in celebration of the region’s patron saint, Jose.  Many people came into town and set up food stands, shops, games, and rides along a main street.  The rides are unsafe but everyone loves them.  Punta rhythms shake the town into the wee hours.   Some insomniac assholes light off fireworks regularly at 4:30 AM.  It’s been lively.

Last night was the culmination.  There were multiple stages set up, all types of performances, and the people were out in full force.  Another school’s marching band pumped things up big time.

My Little Red House had a performance slot, so a bunch of the older students prepared a traditional Honduran dance.  It was fast and reminded me of a squaredance.  The boys dressed like Vaqueros (cowboys) and the girls wore lovely bright colored dresses.   I was also asked to lead the students in a couple songs to show how they are learning English.  I chose two that they know well from my music classes – “Three Little Birds” and “Let it Be.”

It went well even though we only had one mic for an acoustic guitar and 20 students.  We passed it around so everyone got a chance to be heard.  I sang enough to give the kids confidence, but I wanted it to be more about them so I let them take it away.  There was a huge crowd, so I doubt many people could hear us well, but I let it be because every little thing is gonna be alright.  That’s the benefit of choosing such positive songs.  My students told me today that I was on Honduran TV, again!

I have lots of pictures but it takes forever to upload here.  Ill upload a ton when I get home.

I’ve fallen behind in my blogging, so instead of making one huge post, I’m gonna post a bunch in succession.

Peace,

Eric

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Back to Basics

I have realized that most of the students lack a solid foundation in English. Their education has been fragmented as they have eight teachers per day, most of whom only stay for six months to a year. Such is the nature of a volunteer teaching staff.

They know a lot of vocabulary, and do alright in conversation (albeit most everything is said in the present tense), but often times they won’t know, for example, how to say “J” in English, or will be hazy on some numbers 11-19, or other basic things.

Therefore, I’m scaling things back. As a bass player, I know that you need a strong foundation if you want to make beautiful music.

In my youngest classes, I want them to know the alphabet back and forth. I’m the spelling teacher, and letters are the fundamentals of spelling. Most kids can (and would love to) sing their ABCs, but believe me, that doesn’t mean they’ll know how to say Q if you draw one on the board. So, we’re making personal sets of letter flashcards. Aa on one side, and they write the word apple and draw a picture on the other. I like to incorporate drawing, as to exercise more parts of the brain.

All types of fun and games can spring from this. Getting through the entire alphabet is proving to take quite a while, but I know this foundation will be worth it. I still don’t know all the letters in Spanish and it’s killing me!

For 5th and 6th grade, I can’t really bring myself to go back to the alphabet. It would be embarrassing for them, even if a few need it. I’ll have to incorporate letters in a less direct way. So, instead I’m focusing on numbers this week. Numbers are on a similar level with letters, so common and important.

So, we’re playing bingo, I’m making up menus on the board and having them say the prices outloud, I’m saying big numbers and having them compete to spell them out, and endless variations on games like this. Most students said, “we know this stuff!” or “this isn’t math class!” but I learned in the first week not to let them strongarm me, and it turns out they need a lot of work on numbers.

There’s a similar problem in my 7th grade literature class. They can pronounce the words, and they know most of them, but they have serious trouble putting together the meaning of a passage. I don’t really understand it – maybe they are just used to copying and memorizing. But I want them to be able to put things into their own words, so we stop often to talk about what’s going on, and I make them write summaries of homework chapters.

 

With two new volunteers starting next week, we have made up a spankin’ new schedule. I will have more older kids, including the top literature class. Excited to switch gears from young beginners to older, more advanced students. Should be a challenge, and therefore, an opportunity. My new schedule has more variety (not just spelling) and will be mine until I leave in June.

———

The fair is is full swing here in Ocotepeque. A ton of vendors, carnival games, and rides have set up on the main drag. People and music have been bumping all week. It’s exciting, considering how tranquil the town has been. On Saturday, My Little Red House Bilingual School has a performance slot, where I will lead a group of students in singing some combination of Three Little Birds by Bob Marley, Let it Be by the Beatles, and I’m Yours by Jason Mraz. The students will also be performing a traditional Honduran dance.

———

I have started giving guitar lessons to a bright 5th grader named Emily. Today was the first session. We talked about music in general, I explained the different parts of the guitar, we spent a lot of time tuning her family heirloom, and I taught her a couple basic chords and principles. She learned an important lesson when her old-looking D string broke during tuning. I flipped her frown around by talking about how sweet new strings sound, and how guitar players break strings all the time. It was unfortunate, though.

It was a good lesson and she has a fine ear. She is willing to learn. I’m pumped to teach her twice a week, and make a little (about $2.50 per hour :P) money. It also turned out that her father is one of the men I play basketball with. Small town!

———

There’s some pressure – from school administration, the student’s parents, and other volunteers – to do extra tutoring each day. I want time to play guitar, and basketball, and prepare for my Fulbright Application, and hike, and draw, and do other great stuff that life has to offer, so I’m staying strong in my resolve not to. As a volunteer, I figure 30 hours a week is enough time devoted to the cause. Gotta stand up for your rights.

———

I’ve also gone back to basics thinking about what this trip is all about. Now that I’m settled in I’ve had some time to reflect on my situation. English is becoming THE language, and I feel lucky to have been born into it. It’s the main reason I’ve been offered this opportunity to teach. And teaching is a big responsibility. It’s the best way to change the world, and it seems like the system everywhere is pretty screwed up. We prepare kids to recite facts instead of think critically. We punish kids for standing out, when that’s what we need. We focus on academic education instead of wholistic, moral education, which is what makes a life happy and successful.

What’s the goal for the students here? I imagine that the goal would be to attain a level of fluency so that they can attend a university in the USA. But, the school only goes until 9th grade, and there are no bilingual high schools in the area. And while many of the students have aspirations to do so, it doesn’t appear that they are at an academic level that would afford them the necesary scholarships. In addition, the school curriculum does not prepare the students for international assessments. (If anyone has experience with tests that are required for international students who want to attend US college, talk to me.)  I find it strange that a person like me can come in, with zero experience, and be expected to do a good job without any curriculum or materials.  It’s not easy.  I am thankful for this, as it has allowed me a great opportunity.  But it could easily go wrong.

On the other hand, there are benefits to simply knowing English. Job opportunities abroad, and locally in tourism. The ability to understand international business, science, and academia. These pursuits, however, would require specific goals and continued practice.

I think it’s great, teaching these kids english, but it feels like many people just go through the motions of life without thinking through the why of things. Myself included – I make a lot of my decisions without the deliberation they deserve. I need to put more thought into what I do – life is short and we have insurmountable opportunity to do anything.

For now, the best thing I can do is focus on my lessons, and do my job well. But as for the future, I am going to pursue entrepreneurship and music. My last semester is going to be in Boston, where I can get some college closure, and where I know how to thrive. I plan on doing a lot of research on industrial hemp, and making it my business, probably in Canada or on the west coast. Here’s to the future.

But even more, here’s to now!

Adios amigos,

Eric Santagada

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Making the Most

Could your school system function without textbooks, a printer or a copier?  I’m realizing how much we take for granted in the US of A.  I suppose that’s how we got to where we are.

In face, we DO have a printer/copier here, but it is capricious and chronically constipated.  So, I can’t count on it.

And we do have plenty of workbooks, but they are last year’s, filled in.  Every once in a while I’ll look through the closet full of them for new ideas.

My supplies are meagre but I’m making it work.  My ammunition each day consists of:

Two dry erase markers

These are my lifeline.  Every classroom has a whiteboard, so I write and draw whatever is necessary for my lesson.  I am zealously protective of the eight markers that I brought.

I like to start and end classes with short games that require the students to come up and write stuff on the board, usually in the form of a competition.  When they’re pitted against each other they get really into it, while if I’m just asking questions from the front they look like zombies.

My lesson-plan notebook

Every night I spend an hour or so preparing lesson ideas and word lists for my seven classes.  Having it at all times helps me stay focused and grounded.  Without it I would be lost.

This is a sample lesson that worked well with 5th and 6th grade.  I found the inspiration online, googling “teaching english lesson ideas”:

Create-A-Country

Vocabulary: Capital City, Major Cities, Population, Language, Religion, Geograpgy, Climate, Government, Industries, President, Map

Also helps imagination, teamwork, speaking and presentation skills.

Start by drawing map of USA, ask “What is this?”  Answer some questions about the USA.  Then draw a bad map of Honduras, have a student draw a good one.  Elicity/Explain the above words and how they relate to the two countries. 

Then have them create their own countries in pairs.  Show them an example: I made Musikstan.  Looks like a note, Capital is Melodia, Language is Sol Feg, Religion is Vibrationism, etc.

Make sure they don’t make Honduras!

Have each group present their country, using all the vocab words.  Encourage extra questions. 

Make some students “tourists,” they have to decide where they would want to go and why.  Can make laws too.

This worked well with the students, they were proud of their countries, and truly learned these difficult vocabulary words.

 

Stickers

I brought some really cool stickers, if I do say so myself.   Solar System Stickers, Woodland Music Stickers (see my “Music Class” post), Old-Time Firefighter Stickers, Fast Food Stickers, Toy Story Stickers, and African Savannah Stickers, to name a few.  These are incredible motivators.  I can’t believe how powerful they make me.  Just today, I tamed the wild 5th graders just by waving around my Fast Food stickers.  LOL

I think rewarding good behavior, through stickers, is much better than punishing bad behavior, through lost recesses and trips to the principal.

 

One old workbook from each grade

I’m starting to create lessons out of last year’s workbooks, for some structure.  They are from a series called English Travels, and have some good ideas.

It was too hard and fragmented to come up with new stuff every day.

 

The guitar

Playing the guitar makes everything OK.  When I feel stressed, or when I want to reward a good class, it’s music time.

Not to mention Fridays, when I teach a number of music classes, and the guitar is integral.

 

My Netbook

I bring this thing every day, for the off-chance that I am too exhausted to handle the 1st or 2nd graders, and want to throw on an episode of Sesame Street.  I haven’t had to do this yet but it’s nice to know that I have the option.

Also, so I can write blog posts like right now!

 

 

I’m starting to settle into the position and a routine.  Up at 6:15, School til 1, personal research, music and reading til 530, basketball til 730, dinner, and then lesson prep til I go to sleep.  It’s a nice life.

I’m researching the Fulbright Student Scholarship, and my current idea is to study industrial hemp at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver starting in the fall of 2013.  The Fulbright looks like an ideal scholarship, UBC looks like a research powerhouse in a beautiful city, and industrial hemp looks like the answer to a sustainable future, and also a entrepreneurial pursuit I could really sink my teeth into.  It is illegal in the USA due to its (unfair) association with marijuana, but in Canada it has been legalized for research.

I’m reading the Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama.  It was published in 2008.  It’s nice to hear straight from him, without all the filters I imagine he has to come through these days.  I can literally hear his voice in my head while I read.

He’s a great writer and has such sensible views – I just wish he had more success turning his ideas into reality.

Still playing  and singing a lot of Bob Marley and the Beatles.

 

I do miss you, friends and family.  My gripe with traveling is that I meet new people, over and over, and a few months later say goodbye forever.  Im learning a lot about different cultures, but I can’t put down roots.

That said, I think happiness is all about attitude.  I sure love new places and new adventures.  This world is huge, and life is good.

Signing off from My Little Red House Bilingual School, Nueva Ocotepeque, Honduras,

Eric Santagada

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Rollercoaster of Life

This lifestyle is a rollercoaster.

The teaching hours are reasonable but intense, from 7AM to 1:00PM.  During this time each of the four English volunteers leads seven 40 minute classes.  My students range from 1st grade to 8th grade.  Class size varies from one student to about ten.

It doesn’t look like we’re gonna get textbooks or workbooks.  The supplier is no longer giving the school credit, so we need to collect money from all the students before we buy.  Tough break for teachers and students alike.  The structure and material would be welcome.   We need to prepare a lot more material, and the upside is we have more control.

When I put in adequate prep, the classes go great.  The worksheets I make have been successful.  The cards I have cut up and drawn on lead to fun, engaging activities, like the “color-shape” game below, for youngsters and English noobies.

ColorShape game with the 2nd graders, who are a blessing

When I don’t get around to good prep for a given class, most of the time I flounder and revert to whatever games worked most recently.  It’s hard for me to successfully improvise up there, and I can’t bring myself to make students do boring, worthless busywork.

It’s tough to put in enough prep time to make every lesson a home run.  7 classes takes over an hour.  So, I’ve been recycling games and ideas for different class levels.  This activity was good for 5th grade, and even better for 6th grade.

Wellcome to my class.  Speling is easy!  It is simply puting leters in the corect order.  After a lot of practise it starts to become awtomatic.  I know what you’re thinking:  English is hard.  But beleive me, it gets easyer!

When you right a letter to your family or your freinds, you are going to need to no how to spell.  When you get out of skool and find a grate job your going to wish you lisened more closly in class! 

Their are 18 mistaiks in this story.  Cirkle as many as you can find and write them correctly on the lines below!

I already knew that I enjoy explaining and showing people things.  I am realizing that this enjoyment depends on the students, and the subject matter.  A bright student is a treat.  I seriously enjoy my time with Hector, an 8th grader who I have a one on one with 3rd period.

He wants to be a doctor, like both his parents, and his english is good enough that we can talk at length about everything.  We converse in school, and for homework I make him write.   For his new vocab we choose a random page in the dictionary, and he usually knows most of the words.    (Edit: The schedule is still being altered, and I just lost this class with Hector.  Now, during 3rd period, I teach basic english to 6th graders who are new to the school.  This is good too, but very different, and not as stimulating.)

On the other hand, the 1st graders are a riotous bunch, a nightmare to control.  I feel like a babysitter most of the time, as they never listen (how could they with no english skills?) and don’t want to learn.  I know that play is important, so I don’t feel too bad about these tikes having fun, but I feel bad sticking to colors, shapes, my name is and body parts day after day.  Glad I only have one class with them!

Those are the ends of the spectrum – The majority of my classes are going well.  The students are behaved if I respect them and provide engaging activities.  It doesn’t seem like they are used to working hard, though.

Phew!

After the whirlwind of classes, I have a lot of discretionary time.    I am learning how to balance this time between school prep and personal pursuits.

I found a great book called Drawing On the Right Side of the Brain at school that is kindling in me a love of drawing.  I drew this self-portrait last night, it took me about a half hour.

Pencil-drawn Self-Portrait

I am also playing basketball every day with a group of men at the park.  They are quite good, and it’s the best Spanish language practice I get all day.  My best friend among them, Manuel, had me over to his house yesterday for lunch.  We ate pupusas, which are tortillas made with various fillings – meat, beans, cheese, etc and topped with tomato sauce and cabbage.  Delicious.

I also met his big family and watched a Barcelona soccer match.  I love how PUMPED up everyone gets when Barca scores a GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOL!

I spent last weekend at the vacation house outside of town.  It was tranquil and rejuvinating.  I reread The Power of One, which is a fantastic book about a boy growing up in South Africa.  I did some yoga, played some guitar, and went on long walks through the wilderness.  Being alone, out in nature, troubles melt away and the incomprehensible beauty of life and mind cascades all around.

A Haiku

Here birds are singing

pure, peculiar voices

are questions answered

I’m happy to be playing a lot of guitar and singing here.  Another way, possibly the BEST way, to lose myself in the moment and feel alive.  Really glad I brought my Bob Marley Songbook, it’s getting a lot of use.  That, and the Beatles songbook on my Kindle, is plenty of material!  So much quality music.  I miss my new guitar though!  I’m playing all the time on a surprisingly resonant kid’s size guitar that was in storage.

Tomorrow is Friday, so I teach three music classes.  So pumped.  We’re gonna work on Three Little Birds and Let it Be, and maybe My Girl, for the town fair in two weeks.  Also gonna have some youtube clips of different kinds of music to share with the kids.

There are a lot of ups, and a lot of downs here.  Sometimes I feel on top of the world and sometimes i feel down in the dumps.  Like a rollercoaster, I think this is better than flat stagnation!

PS I’m looking into Student Fulbright Scholarships, if anyone who sees this has insight or experience with Fulbright, could you message me?  Thanks.

Signing off with love from Central America,

Eric Santagada

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Music Class, Picking up Steam

My first week of teaching has ended.  After a tumultuous first couple days, I am starting to get the hang of this.  My success will hinge on preparation, discipline, and confidence.

Fridays are art, music and physical education days.  Fun Days, I’ll call them.  Last night, I spent some time preparing a 1.5 hour-long music lesson for the 4th-6th graders.

I started simple, having students list their favorite types of music (pop, rock, reggaeton, country, etc) and using words to describe these genres.  Then, I moved into musical instruments, asking what instruments are used in each type of music, and had them all choose their favorites from the handout I made, below.

 

I made this handout from a pack of stickers I brought from home, construction paper, and a black crayon. I made a bunch of copies for my music class.

 

I think that having students talk to each other in pairs is the best use of time for them to practice speaking, so I tried to have them talk to each other about their favorite music.  They just stared at me when I asked them to pair up.  Note to self: set them up so that it is as easy as possible to get them talking.  Prompts on the board (My favorite band is ____, my favorite instrument is ___), tell them exactly what to say, etc.  I don’t even need meaningful dialogue, I just want them to practice speaking on each other.

Im picking up more and more Spanish each day, but my main obstacle is still the language barrier.  Some of the students didn’t understand most of what I was saying, which is tough.  Luckily, music is universal.

I pulled up youtube clips of  different instruments before class, tabbed and ready to go.  A Van Halen guitar solo, Fred Wesley tearing it up on the trombone, an accordian playing Super Mario Bros, an opera concerto (which one of the boys, Ramon, was seriously captivated by), a flute solo, and a bunch of others.  I played the clips for the kids as we went through the various instruments, and talked a little bit about each one.  They were all huddled around my netbook, in awe of the music and the videos.   Some of them claimed to have never heard a sax or a trombone before (or at least been aware of it).

Then I pulled out the guitar.  I did a short listening activity to see if they could tell the difference between major and minor chords (one sounds happy, and one sounds sad!).  They were very good at it.  I also did a short lesson on rhythm, having them count to 3, and later 4, stressing the 1, like a lot of popular music.   Next time I’ll do a We Will Rock You exercise.

Then, they wanted to hear some songs, so Eric F. and I played Three Little Birds and Let it Be, and a few others.  We had played those first two a few of times this week, and handed out lyrics, so they all sang along, which was wonderful.   Then, I went around and let the students strum while I fingered different chords.  I saw lightbulbs go off in their heads when they realized how easily they were making the music.

There is a town fair coming up in March, and Carol asked us to prepare a performance, so it seems like we will perform those two songs, and maybe another with the youngsters.  Should be fun!

Overall, the lesson went well considering the language barrier and the fact that none of the students considered themselves musicians.  They all got bright-eyed when I played the youtube clips, and when we sang Bob Marley and the Beatles together.  I think that having bright eyes around you is a sure sign of success.

Students experimenting on the guitar!

 

On Thursday, we completed a concrete schedule for the year.  Us English teachers broke up the responsibilities by subject, rather than age.  For the first month, I’m the spelling/vocabulary teacher for all the grades.  But, having seen how classes function, I’ll have a lot of freedom to teach my own way.  We pulled out last year’s books to give us some lesson ideas, before the new books come in next week or the following week.  I’m glad to have some structure, considering I’ve never done this before.

Each teacher will have seven 40 minute classes per day.  It seems like a lot right now, but I’ve learned not to make any assumptions about how things work here.  I’ll be glad to have short classes after this week’s 1.5 hour sessions.  Easier to do a short warmup game, a core lesson for 20-25 mins, and a wrapup review.

This weekend I’m going to walk an hour and a half to the Penman vacation house in Santa Nita, to relax and prepare lessons for next week.  They own a vast amount of land there, stretching to the mountains in the distance.  It is incredible, beautiful land.  Of course I will spend some time exploring as well!

Eric Santagada

 

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My First Days as a Teacher

(Transcribed from Journal on Monday)

Today was the first day of classes at Little Red House Bilingual School.  It was a half-day, with two hour-long periods studded with a recess, primarily to see how many students would be in attendance, to assess ability levels, and to make introductions.

Apparently every day this week will be like this, where us teachers have free reign to do whatever we want with whichever students we please.   Until we get textbooks.

After Carol made a speech in Spanish (which I actually caught a lot of), Eric F. and I played and sang Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds for everyone on our guitars.  We printed out lyrics for everyone, and the little kids especially liked it.

Every little thing, is gonna be alright.  Amen.

(There was a father videotaping the speech and song.  The next day, a clip of me singing was on Honduran public access TV.   One more check off the bucket list!)

All the students were broken up by age into different classrooms.  After helping to move around some desks for the youngsters, I noticed the oldest kids,the  12-14 year olds, were in a room with no teacher, so I took over the job.  They were happy unsupervised, and didn’t seem thrilled to see me.

It was hard to connect with them.  I was aware that reading and talking about teaching would be very different than the real thing, and without any direction, I kind of floundered.   Some of the games I was pumped about failed to interest anyone, and it was incredibly hard just to keep them all focused on me.  Paper airplanes flew by, spanish chatter and laughter echoed in my head, and I wasn’t quite sure what to do.  I didn’t get too worried, because there is little pressure to make progress, unfortunately.

I quickly realized that the students should be broken up by ability, and not age.  Of my 13 students, two were nearly fluent in English, two new students had no English ability at all, and the others covered the spectrum.  The students with no English were visibly nervous about having an American teacher talking at them in English, and rightly so.

I can’t imagine that this is would be a new problem this year, but there was no procedure to take care of the issue.  On Tuesday, Carol took them to another classroom to start basic English lessons.

So, after introducing myself and having everyone introduce themselves (and writing their names on the board, which turned out to be a life-saver), we played a bunch of word and image games to work on english vocabulary.   I employed Jorge, one of the English speakers, to act as translator.

Mainly we played Pictionary, Hangman, and Grab-the-flashcard-0ff-the-table-when-I-say-the-word-on-it.  That last one was a hit with the students, who got fiercely competitive.  This age group is not so wooed by stickers, so I left them in my backpack. They were motivated by competition in itself.

The older kids playing hangman on the first day of school.

I also brought them to the office to show them the library, and made every student take out a book to read.  I saw students reading all day, even at recess, which I was happy about.  Most of the books were left behind at the end of the day.  I, on the other hand, played soccer at recess.

I was hoping to get into lesson plans, or start forming a schedule with the other teachers, but we have yet to do so.  I need to go with the flow, as the culture here is different.  I don’t really like the idea of just playing games all week, and it’s near impossible to make lessons that cater to this range of ability.

One of the young Honduran teachers came in, which was good for communicating with the students who do not speak much English yet.  I may try to continue this co-teaching model as long as all the levels are mixed.  The one problem is, he doesn’t speak English either!

On Tuesday, he gave a simple grammar lesson in Spanish, and I translated everything I could into English.  It seemed like it was a good level for the students, who participated, and I learned a lot of Spanish myself.  I used a die that I brought to make it more like a game.  Each student would roll it, and have to list, for example, 4 pronouns in English and Spanish if they rolled a 4, etc. 

Some of my teaching has gone well, and some not so well.  It’s a roller-coaster.  I found that when I appeared confident in my activities, even when I wasn’t, the kids took to them more easily.

 

Today was Wednesday, and us teachers wanted to work with other age groups so that we could meet all the students.  I had the 1st through 3rd graders, who speak very little English at all.

After attempting to have everyone say “my name is (blank)” with little success, we played some games with flashcards, and I did simple lessons on body parts, colors, numbers, and shapes.  They caught on pretty quickly, and got into it when I made them all say things out loud.

Some of them only wanted to draw and play with blocks, which I let them do…

I got into a little trouble when I broke out the guitar.  I played “Let it Be,” and I took the advice too literally when they started running around and screaming.  It was a powerful feeling, singing it and feeling it when I needed to hear those words.  Some of them were really into it, but before I knew it the classroom was completely out of control.  Sometimes you can’t just Let it Be.

Then I played Three Little Birds, which they recognized and loved.  Some even sang along.  I was a little worried about too much repetition, but in general, they didn’t mind.  I must have played through it 7 or 8 times before they started to drift.  Same went with the vocab lessons.

 

Fridays are Art and Music days.  Carol asked me to be the school’s primary music teacher, which is great.  I jumped at the opportunity.   I am more passionate about music than about the English language!

I’m not sure how I am going to approach this, but I will let you know how it works out.   I just need to prepare interesting lessons, which takes a lot of time and effort, in order to have success.

I had lofty ideals of what I would do and how good everything would be, but the reality is different and hard.  As usual.

Keeping a positive attitude when I can.  I met a bunch of really good basketball players who play every day at 5:30.  I’m headed over there right now, in fact.  Also continuing to play lots of guitar and exploring the natural beauty of this place.  I think its important to stay fit and keep a good work/life balance.  This is life, after all!

Stay tuned, folks.

Eric Santagada

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The Summit – El Cumbre

Big Country view from the top. That's Ocotepeque on the left.

Behind town there is a mountain range, majestically looming.  I had done a little exploring around the base, but on Satuday, I decided to climb as high as I could.  Three hours, two liters of water, and countless barbed wire fences later, I found myself at the summit.

 

Success!

 

The first hour of climbing was on a steep, winding road through small hamlets and sparce farmland.   Occasionally, I would pass a group of men working, or someone herding cattle.

I make sure to say “buenos dias/tardes” to everyone I pass. When I do, they are instantly transformed from incredulous to friendly.  I can’t overstate the power of this simple gesture here.  One rambunctious duo took the chance to practice their english on me for a while.  I never comprehended the power of a simple “good morning!”  I think I’ll bring that back to the US…

After the road ended at a ranch, the ascent became a patchwork of unmarked trails, cutting through cloud forests, cropland, and pastures.  I came to a bunch of dead-ends and forks.  At one point, in a dense, steep forest, I almost gave up, before I saw the trail continued.  It looked like it had been destroyed by running water.  It was exhilarating, high-caliber exploration through a variety of ecosystems.

At last, I broke through the steep forest and came out on a field, which I believe was near the summit.  It was hard to tell because there were patches of forest and small valleys all around.    I found a nice place to sit, and shared the view above with a couple cows.

 

After sitting inside for a few days, this was powerful and liberating.  On top of a mountain, I can see and think so clearly.  I had forgotten how alive it makes me feel.  It is also humbling, when the town you live in suddenly looks so small and insignificant.

 

When  I made it back to town, six hours later, I was exhausted and dehydrated.  Note to self: always bring more food and water.  Stepping back into the bustle, which hadn’t missed me, I saw things differently.

I felt like nature told me a secret up there. “Eric, I am your cruel and magnificent reality.”  Through my new lens, I was able to keep a healthier perspective on where I am in life.  I was dirty, sore, and thoroughly content.

And I learned a new Spanish word that I will not forget any time soon – El Cumbre.

 

Today was the first day of school, but I wanted to post this first.

Eric

 

 

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Animals

A sweet view from where I went running.

This trip has been a fascinating lesson on animal behavior.

Ants

Think about how many ants there must be on earth.  It seems like there are more ants in this room than there are people in Ocotepeque.  And we think that we’re in charge?

I reached for my bag of granola yesterday, and poured a tasty handful down my gullet.  I thought, that tasted just great, I think I’ll have another.  As I was chewing my second portion, I became aware of a tingling sensation all over my face, neck, and arm.  About this time, I noticed dozens of speck-sized ants crawling out of my food and all over me.

My 15% daily protein just turned into 20%.  From now on I double-check to make sure everything is sealed!

Chickens

There’s a chicken and a bunch of chicks that hang out just outside the volunteer house.  The other day, I heard a ruckus and looked around the corner, from the couch.   I was just in time to watch Camila, Carol’s 2-year-old, herding the whole chirping family straight into my room.

Sometimes I look at a chicken and think that it actually looks kind of smart, or dignified.  That is, until it drops a deuce on its offspring or shrieks at the top of its lungs.  Poor, tasty morons.

Dogs

There sure are a lot of stray dogs around town.  They come in an incredible array of shapes, sizes, and attitudes.  Most are super chill, but some are fiercely territorial and scary.  This morning I went on a run and was attacked by one of these little buggars.

Luckily, I had mentally prepared for this moment for some time, and wound up for my one chance to kick it in the face.  I think it saw this doom coming, and stopped short as I let foot fly.  I took off down the path.  I think I have more a chance of being attacked by a dog here than a human.  A dog would not be instantly disarmed by an enthusiastic “Buenos Dias!” like the people are.  hmm…Or would it? 

Birds

I mentioned my run this morning.  It took me way out of town, to a river.  I found myself in a tropical ecosystem, alone, so I stopped to listen.

My goodness, the birds sounded incredible.  So much beautiful sonic variety.  I lost myself and stood there, entranced, for some time.  I did not want it to end.  I realized, these guys sing all day, every day.  For hundreds of generations.  Of course they are good!

I really can’t believe such an orchestra is so natural and so persistant.   When I happened to see the birds, they were colorful and exotic.  There was just as much variety in their looks as their sounds.

I can finally understand why some people go nuts for bird-watching.  It just takes the right frame of mind, and they become awesome.

 

There are plenty of other animals around.  Horses clop up and down the road outside driven by cowboys, horned cows stare at me emptily as I walk by, and I could sware I saw a gigantic toad hop out of sight one night in the girls’ room.   But there is one animal that I continue to learn about day in and day out.

Humans! 

After all, we are animals like all others.  Look down at your body, for christsake.  Yeah, we’re smart, but not as smart as we think.  If we were we would all be happy.   We try and try and try to hide uncomfortable realities instead of embracing life as it is – messy, unpredictable, and FINITE.

Try to understand yourself better.  It’s not easy, and it’s never finished, but it can pay off bigtime – especially if you are spending your precious time doing things that don’t make you feel fully alive!  You owe it to yourself to get the most out of your life.

Eric

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