A Fulbright Teacher in Bogota, Colombia, A Special Series — Aguadulce and Teaching – The North Star Reports – by Laura Blasena. Sponsored by The College of St. Scholastica and The Middle Ground Journal

A Fulbright Teacher in Bogota, Colombia, A Special Series — Aguadulce and Teaching – The North Star Reports – by Laura Blasena. Sponsored by The College of St. Scholastica and The Middle Ground Journal

All Fulbright ETAs in Colombia are required to complete, in addition to their thirty hours of work at their placement university, a fifteen hour social project somewhere in the area of the community that they are placed in.

For me, with a background in education and a desire to eventually return to the United States and teach, I wanted my social project to involve elementary education. As luck would have it, one of my fellow Fulbrighters ended up choosing to temporarily live in the guest house of an organization that runs eco-tours in the Bogota area and, on the side, runs a wonderful organization called InterChange Colombia. Interchange Colombia works with two communities outside of Bogota, the first being Quinini (a farming community) and Aguadulce.

Aguadulce is the community that I volunteer in. Every Monday morning, I wake up at 5:30 AM to take public transport to a bus station in the south of the city and then take another, smaller, bus 45 minutes outside of Bogota and arrive at the rural school by 8:00. As the bus climbs up the mountainside at the edge of Bogota, the temperature drops and the cement and city buildings are replaced with tall trees that eventually give way to the short shrubs of the Paramo, a type of ecosystem present in the mountains surrounding Bogota.

LBAgua1

[Photo 1: The view from the playground at Aguadulce, featuring a shrine to the Virgin Mary. The school is public, but each classroom features religious statues, and the students study religion on Wednesdays.

The bus winds along a small, two-lane road, passing small farm houses and small cafeterias. The trip there is peaceful, but the way back is often terrifying. When driving back to Bogota, the bus has to drive on the side of the road at the edge of a cliff, and, with many people and my students crowded onto the bus bound for Bogota, I often have to stand smashed against the window of the bus, staring down into the ravine with only a small metal fence and a few feet of dirt separating the bus tires from the edge.

The school serves students from Kindergarten to 5th grade. Kindergarten, second, and fifth grade are in one classroom, and first and fourth grade are in another classroom. Each classroom has one teacher, and each grade level works independently on homework assignments, consulting the teacher occasionally when they have questions or if they think they have finished an assignment and want to turn it in. Understandably, not much work gets done most days, and the students spend a large amount of time arguing with each other, wandering around the classroom, or simply not completing their assignment because they receive very little direct help from the teachers.

LBAgua2

[Photo 2]

When I teach English, I teach in grade groups of two (fifth and fourth, third and second, first and Kindergarten) using the white board in the larger classroom while the rest of the students that are not in the English class crowd in the back of the room and work quietly on math homework.

As with teaching the university students at my placement in Bogota, teaching students in Aguadulce proved to be a challenge at first. Copying down information is a large part of the curriculum in all subject areas in Aguadulce, and their social studies assignments are sometimes literally dictation assignments, where one student reads from the textbook and the rest copy down the sentences. It took a while for the students to become accustomed to activities that involved moving around, drawing, and different sorts of games, but the fact that they’ve had other volunteer teachers (Interchange Colombia has sent volunteer interns to the school once a week in the past), so the learning curve was fairly smooth.

The best part of the school day is certainly the “food break” (not lunch) that takes place at 11:00 every day and lasts until the teachers feel like calling the students back into the classroom.

LBAgua3

[Photo 3: It’s raining and freezing almost every day in Aguadulce. Whenever it’s sunny, the students stay outside longer playing, flying kites, running around, and lounging in the grass behind the school.]

About our special correspondent Laura Blasena: Ever since I was a little Kindergartner I’ve always wanted to be a teacher.

I graduated from St. Scholastica in the summer of 2015 with a double major in Elementary Education and Spanish Education after student teaching as a 5th grade teacher and also as a Spanish teacher at NorthStar in Duluth, Minnesota.

While my future plans before graduation were initially to become a classroom teacher, I decided to wait a year to begin teaching in the United States and have chosen to work as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Bogota, Colombia. In Colombia, I will be working with a university as an assistant in the language department, attending classes, running conversation clubs, and offering the perspective of a native speaker.

I’ve always loved to travel. In college, I participated in several study abroad trips, visiting England, Guatemala, and Mexico. (I loved visiting Mexico so much that I even went back a second time!). I’m looking forward to the travel opportunities that I will have while working and living in Colombia.

Please contact Professor Liang if you wish to write for The North Star Reports — HLIANG (at) css.edu

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The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, The College of St. Scholastica and the scholarly Middle Ground Journal’s online learning community and outreach program with undergraduate and K-12 classes around the world. For a brief summary, please see the American Historical Association’s Perspectives on History, at:

http://www.historians.org/perspectives/issues/2013/1305/Opening-The-Middle-Ground-Journal.cfm

The North Star Reports publishes edited essays from our students, particularly from those who are currently stationed, or will soon be stationed abroad. Students have reported from Mongolia, Southern China, Shanghai, Colombia, Norway, northeastern China, Nicaragua, Micronesia, The Netherlands, Tanzania, Ireland, El Salvador, England, Finland, Russia, Cyprus, and Haiti. We also publish student reviews of books, documentaries, and films, and analysis of current events from around the world. We will post their dispatches, and report on their interactions with the North Star Reports students and teachers. We thank The Department of History and Politics and the School of Arts and Letters of The College of St. Scholastica for their generous financial support for The North Star Reports and The Middle Ground Journal.

Hong-Ming Liang, Ph.D., Editor-in-Chief, The North Star Reports; Chief Editor, The Middle Ground Journal; Associate Professor of History and Politics, The College of St. Scholastica.

Kathryn Marquis Hirsch, Managing Editor, The North Star Reports.

(c) 2012-present The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy http://NorthStarReports.org ISSN: 2377-908X The NSR is sponsored by The College of St. Scholastica and the scholarly Middle Ground Journal. See Masthead for our not-for-profit educational open- access policy. K-12 teachers, if you are using these reports for your classes, please contact editor-in-chief Professor Liang at HLIANG (at) css.edu

25 Comments

Filed under Laura Blasena, North Star Student Editors, Professor Hong-Ming Liang

25 responses to “A Fulbright Teacher in Bogota, Colombia, A Special Series — Aguadulce and Teaching – The North Star Reports – by Laura Blasena. Sponsored by The College of St. Scholastica and The Middle Ground Journal

  1. Pingback: A Fulbright Teacher in Bogota, Colombia, A Special Series — Aguadulce and Teaching – The North Star Reports – by Laura Blasena. Sponsored by The College of St. Scholastica and The Middle Ground Journal | Professor Liang 梁弘明教授

  2. Pingback: A Fulbright Teacher in Bogota, Colombia, A Special Series — Aguadulce and Teaching – The North Star Reports – by Laura Blasena. Sponsored by The College of St. Scholastica and The Middle Ground Journal | The Middle Ground Journal

  3. How wonderful it is that you get to spend time with the grade level you want to teach when you return to the US. Were these children more flexible than the adults (easier to adapt to the new activities/learning format)? I am terrified of heights so I would be very rattled by the ride back down to the city!
    I went to a school that had mixed grades. However it was Kindergarten, 1st and 2nd grade in one classroom, then 3rd through 5th grade in another. It was easier to be on an accelerated track this way, and the 5th graders had math class in a separate room. I think having mixed grade classes is wonderful but can be tricky when trying to accommodate for different levels of learning.

    • Laura Blasena

      The students are way more flexible when it comes to new activities! They`re also way more willing to negotiate and ask questions, which makes introducing activities easier.

      For example, when working with the Kindergartners, I wanted them to play a form of rainbow tag to practice their color vocabulary. When I explained it to them, they stared at me blankly until one student started saying it was like a game they all recognized. Then they taught me the game, we modified it, and they all automatically knew how to play it. Works way easier!

  4. Matt Breeze

    The mix of grade levels in the classroom is interesting and usually from my perspective. I can see how that would make teaching extra difficult as there are many different ages and skill levels among the students. The social studies assignments where they are simply dictation seem like they would not be very effective in gaining a good understanding of the material. Why is the food break your favorite and what do you usually eat during that time?

    • Laura Blasena

      The food break is actually the students favorite–not mine, but it is a very fun time! The students teach me games and they like to show off a garden in the back of the school.

      The snacks are composed of a lot of starches. Rice, patacon (plantain), cookies, and arrepas. They sometimes have things like eggs or beets, but food options are very limited in the area. One time we had chicken and the students were super excited.

  5. Logan Davey

    Awesome to see how many great experiences you’ve been able to go on to further your studies. I’m curious as to how helpful you have found your studies abroad when it comes to your career path? I find the class setting in particularly interesting as it must be tough for the long children to learn. I’m also curious if you had any input towards the teacher on any ideas towards bettering the classroom?

    • Laura Blasena

      Studying abroad has been very helpful simply in that it has given me a lot of stories to share with students, and, of course, it has given me a lot of opportunities to learn about understanding the perspectives of others.

      Another Fulbrighter is currently developing a new curriculum for the teachers to use, so we are suggesting changes, but as for the general attitude of the teacher and what she does in the classroom I`m hesitant to suggest changes. Education is a microcosm of society and often reflects a lot of cultural practices, and since I haven`t spent an extended amount of time in other classrooms in Colombia I don`t know if the teacher works as she does because of her personality or because that is how teaching is done in Colombia.

  6. Roman Schnobrich

    Woah, that sounds like a very different education system than what we have here in America. Does it seem a lot less organized, maybe more spontaneous even? I guess in some ways that could be a more useful way of learning, as realistically, the world isn’t necessarily very organized. A common fad of our generation is complaining that classes are all about memorizing information and regurgitating it, but it sounds like that is exactly what your students must do.

    • Laura Blasena

      I know that the teacher is sometimes planning the next subjects materials as the students are working on the current subject, so in that way it is spontaneous because it is inplanned. However, the students know exactly how the day will go, what to do, what chores to complete at the end of the day etc. The schedule is very organized, but the work and learning is sometimes not just because it isn`t organized into a “grander scheme of things”. The students learn things because it is what`s next in the book.

  7. Bryce Gadke

    Throughout all of your posts I’ve been perplexed and in awe of the differences in our education system and the one that you’re encompassed in currently. The seemingly disorganized nature could be a result of less years of the formal education system being in place. The students seem to be more apt to the memorization and the system is built on the ability to remember countless facts and tidbits similar to that of our system which is complained about more and more each year as students progress through their formal education. I look forward to the ongoing updates and I’m hoping that you’re enjoying your time abroad!

  8. Sarah Grace Devine

    What does their religion class consist of and is it Catholicism only? When I was in German Students had to take a religion or ethics class, different from the united states, so I think that is very interesting! The differences in teaching methods is still shocking, I can’t imagine Elementary school without lots of games! Thank you for sharing!

    • Laura Blasena

      I`ve never actually been there for the religion class, but it is for sure just Catholicism. I think that a lot of the students don`t actually know what Catholic or Catholicism means; it`s simply what everybody is.

      It`s a bit of ethics based on what my students have shown me copied down in their notebooks, but definitely heavily based in Catholicism.

  9. Connor

    From your article, I got the impression that it sounds like there is a lack of desire on the teachers’ part to teach the students more effectively. Is this accurate? Also, how did the students respond to your teaching methods compared to the university students? Was it more or less difficult for them to adapt to the different teaching style?

    • Laura Blasena

      The students in Aguadulce are way more flexible and receptive to different teaching methods. As I said in a different comment, they`re good at taking what I ask them to do and comparing it to games/activities/etc. that they already know about to better understand the directions.

      I`m not sure if the teacher has a lack of desire to teach or if that`s simply the cultural expectations of the teacher. The students usually think that I`m being super silly or super animated (like I`m acting) when I teach, and I teach in a way that is generally expected of me in the United States.

  10. This article was very interesting. I really enjoyed reading it! However, I do have a number of questions for you!
    Do you find that your students enjoy the learning activities that you plan for them? Have you seen what effects your lessons have had on their learning? Why would you say the snack time is the best part of the day?

    • Laura Blasena

      The students usually enjoy the activities, but since it`s a short school day and they`re used to being able to work at their own pace they sometimes say that they don`t like the activities and want to stop. I usually have to explain to them that, no, they can`t stop working on an activity to color because they want to take a break because we`ll be moving on to a new activity soon.

      Since I only go once a week their English knowledge is spotty, but I`ve noticed them getting accustomed to my classroom management techniques! I use whole brain teaching with a lot of call and response to keep them focused, and I don`t have to explain it to them anymore. They also sometimes propose ideas for changing up call and response answers. They understand the framework now.

      Snack time is one of the best times of the day because the students, once they finish eating, teach me the games that they play. It`s quite fun, and since I`m usually bad at the game when I first learn it they`re incredibly amused that they can ” beat the profe”.

  11. Rebecca Smith

    Are the students you are working with truly learning with the teachers that they have? It sounds like public schools are fairly lax about the child’s education. I can imagine that the students had an adjustment period when you took over the class! Do you think you helped the other teachers in the building at all with your teaching strategies, or were they largely set in their ways?

    • Laura Blasena

      The teachers are definitely set in their ways! I get the sense that the teachers think my style is incredibly strange, and they just choose to ignore me when I teach. I`d be embarassed, but teaching is one of the areas that I feel confident.

      I`m not sure if all public school are like this, of course! This is an example of one, very small and rural school. However, this school also has a lot of outside influences trying to improve it.

      I don`t know if the students are learning what the teachers are teaching them, but I know that they are learning the material at some point. Especially in math, if they don`t do the problem correctly they simply don`t move on, so the fact that they`re all roughly continuing to progress means that they`ve learned how to do the problems at some point.

  12. Thomas Landgren

    When reading your article the thing that surprised me was that even though it is a public school they still feature religious statues or pictures in the classrooms. I have seen some schools in rural Minnesota that bunch the grades together because of the differences in class sizes. This seems to be the most effective way in the end, even though it seems to be very unorganized. Another thing that really surprised me was the leniency when it came to school work. How many teachers does the school have? Do they rely heavily on outside help when it comes to teaching? Great Article!

    • Laura Blasena

      There are two teachers at the school.

      They occassionally have visiting teachers like myself or a gym teacher (and some “student teachers” that visit to do a lesson here and there), but for the most part it`s just them. I know that they usually rely on a native speaker (usually an intern of the group I work with) to teach English, but the students have shown me work they`ve done when it was the main teacher teaching English.

  13. Tabetha Filzen

    Working with kids is always fun, even it there is a small language barrier. Have any of the kids gotten attached to you and vice versa? I remember it was hard to leave after my volunteer group had finished the month working with preschoolers. They were very sad to see us go and possibly not come back again. I bet it is scary to be riding the bus like that. I could never handle that type of situation.

  14. Cassidy Jayne

    I really appreciate that you’re expected to contribute back to the community where you TA. Your avenue has clearly exposed you to different forms of education. Have you found your teaching efforts to be effective? I’ve enjoyed following your journey in Bogota.

  15. Cassidy Jayne

    I appreciate that you are required to give back to the community where you TA. Have you found the students more receptive to your teaching than their regular teachers? I’ve really enjoyed following your experiences in Bogota.

  16. It sounds like your morning bus rides were pretty exciting to say the least. Especially, since it seems like the bus is about to roll into the ravine. Your experiences in Bogota have been great to read. Keep up the good work!

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