Teaching in Chimbote: About Cockroaches and Hand Blisters Caused by Crayon Sharpening

Being a volunteering teacher in Chimbote, Peru, as a blond and green-eyed gringa (probably the only in the town) who speaks almost no Spanish but is supposed to teach English, yoga, arts and music to kids aged between 5 to 11 years of age can be a challenging, but truly rewarding experience. You surely need your cell phone with offline Google Translator, amazing creative skills, flexibility, adaptability, and love for improvisation…

I came to Chimbote right after Christmas when the two-month summer vacation began. I am thus leading the summer workshops which means teaching two lessons per day from Tuesday to Thursday, each lesson in the length of 105 minutes which is a challenge especially with the small children (5 years of age) whose attention span is circa 5 minutes (yes I know psychologists claim it is 5 to 10, but forget about this in reality, at least with the warm-blooded, temperamental Peruvian kids). In between the classes there is a 30-minute break called recreo – yes, a word I know perfectly well as I get to hear it frequently, starting approximately 20 minutes after the beginning of the class, repeated by the kids with increasing intensity at intervals of about 10 minutes, till I finally resign, sweated to the state of dehydration, when the 105 minutes have passed.

I believe I lead the classes as such as a form of a recreo – games, fun, playfulness, videos, singing, moving, drawing, working with stickers and colourful objects and all that is recommended by the didactic specialists. But when it comes to actual learning of words in English (colours, my family, fruits, veggies, body parts), let alone MAKING SENTENCES, the kids don´t agree that it is fun.

I have even backed off my principles and am willing to use a language other than English in my English lessons, which is obviously Spanish in this case, as a mediating language, even though my knowledge of the language does not even equal to an A1 and I base most of my Spanish talk on what Google Translator offers me. I play videos in the lessons (thank god for Youtube) which teach the subject matter half in Spanish and half in English. But still, the kids are not always happy with what they are learning. They enjoy colours, some of them also family members, but word-stock for fruits and vegetables leaves them intact. By now I have given up and am happy that the kids know mango, papaya, mandarin and melon (I know it is not fruit but vegetable yet the educative cards I am using were created by someone who did not know this fact and put melon into the same colour category as other fruits) and other expressions which are the same in Spanish and English and which they pronounce with a strong Spanish accent. I made sure they know the demonstrative pronouns THIS (esto, esta) and THAT (ese, esa) so if they go shopping to a local Miami open market one day in the future (hahaha) they will just say: “Hello, I am Thiago from Peru, and I want this and that,” pointing their fingers at the fruits they want to buy and indicating with their fingers how many pieces; which brings me to numbers in English… yes, when you start counting numbers one after the other (and it is essential to start from number one – two, three etc.) the kids can go all the way to twenty easily. But do not dare to write on the board all of a sudden for example number 4 or 2 or 7. No way. Numbers in English can only be recited one after the other. Out of context – nada! Merely silence reaches your ears.

When it comes to my P.E. classes, I was the first one to bring in something different than football. Which means I am actually teaching the kids (even 11-year-old) how to catch and throw a ball! When it comes to yoga for kids (which obviously involves a lot of games and fun) they find it really hard to stretch or balance. It is clear they have no proper physical exercises and that actually surprises me with kids from South America whom we, Westerners, believe to be amazingly fit.

There is a yoga game when kids lie down and pass a small ball on with their feet but the kids here cannot do it at all, even a single go, and I am not sure whether it is a matter of their physical coordination or the fact that Peruvians never take their shoes off (only in bed when they go to sleep). They walk in shoes in their apartments and even adults look at me in a puzzled manner when at the public yoga classes I ask them to kindly take their shoes off and step onto their yoga mat…

As for my art classes: I have to do a lot with almost no resources. But I manage. Luckily my imagination is good and I am pretty resourceful. And there is Youtube, thank you, where I find more paper and crayon and scissor creative options when in need.

And my music classes – here, I could just smile and move on. But really, forget about any kid wanting to sing on their own. Forget even about their willing to sing a simple song (as a group) in English (with the help of a video, seeing the lyrics and knowing what they mean). Twinkle Twinkle Little Star turned out to be boring and silly and hard to pronounce, Jackson´s Will You Be There (the children choir part) which I thought would be the main output of my singing classes in the end of the workshop term turned out to be an unreal goal even with the oldest kids.

Another interesting fact: so far, I have not had a single girl in my classes in this private school where I am teaching. Just boys! And boys will be boys…

Now, no need to emphasise one of the first expressions I had to learn for my classes was the imperative: “Limpia (clean up).” Seriously, you would not believe this: there are litter baskets in every classroom and at so many places in the school courtyard, yet the kids keep throwing things on the ground. One cannot even blame them for their ignorance when you see in what state the classrooms are – which obviously is the fault of the teachers. I spent about three hours cleaning the classroom I was assigned when I arrived. Dead cockroaches everywhere on the floor, old chewing gums, paper shreds, and mouldy food inside the benches. I could not find even crayons in the classroom as there was really no order, no system in anything. The teacher left the classroom before the summer holidays in a dreadful state which is so normal here…

There were bits of Christmas decorations the kids were making in a broken glass bowl with terrible smell (the teacher probably brought a Christmas cake for the kids for the last class). There were drity forks among markers and crepe paper, dishes with leftovers of Christmas cake among exercise books, pieces of broken glass among dozens of spools of fishing line (I know Chimbote is a fishermen town but I have no idea what those spools are for in a classroom where I could not find a single bead for beading), forgotten school uniforms and other clothes in different parts of the room with bits of moulding plasticine here and there.

When I finally found some crayons in the classroom (thrown in a corner in a plastic bag with fallen out milk teeth, brushes and clips) I celebrated by sharpening all of them – as none of them was actually sharpened and most of them were without the tips. I constantly have blisters on my right hand middle finger as I keep helping all the kids I teach sharpen their own crayons and pencils. They simply don’t do it and unlike in Europe, the parents here don’t think it necessary to tell their children to do so.

It is very convenient for the school that I am a “sort it out” freak because now whoever from the teachers lacks something they know they can come to my classroom and I will have it and give it to them in a second without needing to spend time looking for it…

The kids have an easy and nice schedule which includes mostly me teaching English, arts, music and P.E., and then three other teachers teaching swimming, maths and computers, and reading. Yet, even though the teachers, the kids and the parents were given the schedule, it happens to me many times that the parents bring their kids to my class instead of the class of my colleagues or that the kids come looking for me in my bedroom (I live in the school) as they think I am teaching them – but of course, they are supposed to be with a colleague of mine who is waiting for them in their classroom…

Yet, I honestly love my job here and I love the kids. Yes, it is challenging, yes, I have to improvise a lot, but then when the kids actually find their flow in some activity, when I see their enthusiastic expressions, I know I am in the right place and doing the right thing. Just as I am writing this text after having taught my classes for today, Diego (a five year old) came to my room holding a cracker in his tiny weeny hand which he took from the small pack he had for snack to share with me… That is what I call love.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.