Published: June 4th 2012June 2nd 2012
This is the first time that I have been able to write in my blog since last Sunday! I have needed all my time at night to make my lesson plans for class. We start every day with class on Mexican history and culture from 9am-1pm. Then we eat lunch and plan for class from 1-3:30. Our math classes are from 4-5:30, and English classes from 5:30-7. We leave the social incubator by 7:30 and eat dinner and shower at the residencias. By 9, we’re working on our plans for the next day. I will try to summarized the past week as well as I can, but there is no way I can do justice to the exciting, inspiring, and completely new experiences I have had working in Tec’s social incubator.
Monday began with a quick tour of the campus and then an introductory day to our work in the incubator. Leslie showed us the beautiful classroom buildings, labs, library, gym (finally!) cafeteria, and a little surprise. Written on the announcements whiteboard in the middle of campus was a sign saying, “Welcome Harvard, Yale, and MIT!” and all of our names. Then, we all received welcome gifts of handmade Tec notebooks, squishy pens, highlighters, and a very comprehensive info packet made by Arturo. It had all the information we would ever need about addresses, daily schedules, and future costs. Arturo had gone above and beyond addressing our worries that we expressed in our conversation the night before. This was the beginning of a week that left me knowing that the program in Pachuca is without a doubt the best one (sorry Diego!)
Then, we left for the social incubator, which is about a ten-minute drive from the campus by taxi. Each of us would be a teacher for two classes: one teaching math to elementary school children and another teaching English to students ranging from sixteen to sixty. The program director assigned me a class of four fifth graders for math and a class of seven adults, ages eighteen to twenty-six for English. We spent some time talking about how to structure our classes. For math, we had a folder with a packet of suggested topics to cover and example activities. No materials for English class. Also, we did not realize that our first classes were to be held that afternoon! The introduction session ended around 1:30, when we returned to the Tec campus for lunch in the cafeteria. We had until 4:00 to plan our first classes. Although we all felt a little flustered and unprepared, it was OK because these first classes were mostly about introductions and finding out what the students wanted to learn about over the next two weeks.
First was math class. I fell in love with my students. Omar Gabriel is a talkative boy with a bird’s bone structure and wire glasses that he must constantly adjust as he speaks. Martin is a little chuck of a thing who loves to shout of the answers…while I’m speaking. Esther looks like a life-size doll and has taken the whole week to warm up to me. At first she said everything was so easy and didn’t need to practice. As she realizes that she does not know how to do certain things, however, she gets more and more excited about learning. She is definitely the quickest learner in the class. Finally, Jair (Ya-ear) is my quiest student. He doesn’t like to ask questions or make eye contact. However, he takes the most beautiful notes—making good use of his heavily guarded collection of colored pens—and listens the most closely to me as I speak, even though I only make sense half of the time.
After the first day, I made a daily schedule for class. Every day starts with Math in Life, when we talk about an important application of math. I have taught them about using math to find out things from the acidity of acid rain to a country’s GDP. I hope that this makes them excited to continue studying math. Next, we do and exercise that reviews the previous day. Sometimes, this takes the most time. Third, we start the new lesson, followed by practice exercises. For learning area and perimeter, we used shapes made of construction paper to make animals. Each shape had measurements on it so that the student could find out the area and perimeter. Finally, they added the figures to find the total area and perimeter. Esther made a cat, Martin a three-headed monster, Omar the Titanic, and Jair a Chinese person (my favorite). Another example is our exercise to practice percentages. I made fake shops—one selling sweets, the other selling games—and each student had some fake pesos to spend. All the imaginary items were had discounts of 5% to 30%. The students chose what items to buy, calculated the totals, and decided if they had enough money. They seem to really like these exercises and work really hard to understand the concepts. On Friday, Omar gave me a huge hug and kiss and said, “Adios maestra! Que tenga un buen fin de semana!” (Bye teacher! I hope you have a good weekend!)
English class requires a bit more planning. I have a couple students with no experience at all. Their major concerns are pronounciation and becoming comfortable with some introductory concepts, like personal pronouns and basic phrases. One girl, named Maribel, is much more advanced. She can understand almost completely and needs practice in nuanced parts of English, like idiosyncratic prepositions and word order. I have started making additional practice pages for her. Like math, I decided on a daily schedule. First, we practice a greeting where each person must engage in a short, improv dialogue with me. Then, we do review exercises to practice the grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation from the day before. Again, this takes the longest. Next we listen to an English song and read along with the lyrics. I always re-read them aloud so that the students can hear the pronunciation more clearly. Fourth is the lesson. Some days, we begin this by working on the computers downstairs. I go through the online lessons, choose the portions I want them to complete, and make a worksheet to fill in along the way. Back in the classroom, we review the work sheet and do more exercises. We end with a list of optional homework, in which one task is always working on a language strategy from the comprehensive list that we made the first day. My main goal is to encourage continued English learning and show them the ways they can study on their own. I think my English students think I am a little silly, but seem to really like me. Although teaching the fifth-graders is fun and rewarding when they catch on, I must say that I LOVE teaching the adult class.
Before going to the incubator everyday to teach classes, we were students ourselves in a class taught on campus about Mexico. Our teacher was a tiny little lady with a huge voice and personality. With boundless energy, she taught us each lesson with a hint of her rebellious attitude and her clear love and pride for her country. I have learned that Mexico is a deeply complex and interesting country, and have pages and pages of notes to prove it. I can’t wait to continue exploring and seeing the things we learned in class in real life.
Over the week, we learned that we could order anything from the cafeteria. What began as lunch of one egg torta and a diet coke grew into two coffees, a diet coke, a salad, a yogurt parfait, and a torta or burritos or club sandwich. This way, we always had extra food to bring home and heat up for dinner. We’re still not sure if the cashiers are keeping track of how much we order, but our reasoning is that since we don’t have to pay…. eat up!
Although Aly and Carol have gotten up most mornings to run or use the little gym in the residencias, I have been trying to snatch every minute of sleep possible. Plus, I really don’t like running through the streets because of catcalls… and I just don’t like running. Once again, Arturo to the rescue. He spoke with Tec’s swim coach and got us in at a nearby athletic club! Sarah, Louis, and I went to swim Wednesday evening after class. The club is gorgeous—way nicer than any club I’ve been to at home. The pool was a little too warm and we didn’t have much time, but it felt great to swim again for the first time in weeks. Also, the gym on Tec’s campus opened on Friday! Aly, Carol, and I went before class. Again, the gym is more beautiful than a lot of the ones I’ve been to at home. Also the people at the gym were soooo friendly, giving us tips and asking us about our stay in Mexico. I can’t wait to go to the gym more next week.
Right now, we’re driving to Veracruz for our weekend trip of zip lining, hot springs, and whitewater rafting. The vegetation has changed so much. The closer we get to Veracruz, the more tropical the environment. I’m am so excited!