Bethany’s Life in Guatemala, Volume 3: School Has Started!

I know. Last week was already about school. But I’m a teacher, so you should fully expect to read more about school over my year here, teaching in Guatemala!

I need to write about school this week. Because it was A WEEK. An incredible week. A good week. A hard week. So pretty much your typical week when it comes to school. 

On Monday, parents came to pick up packets of work for their children. One thing that is very different from Canada is that students need to pay for their photocopies here. That has been quite a different idea for me to wrap my head around. I’ve had several conversations with Beth, our TEFL director about it. Because my first instinct is to make sure I give the fewest number of pages possible, but giving nothing isn’t an option right now and besides needing students to do work that they then turn in to be marked so that I have grades, students also need to do work to learn. So I will balance thorough, thoughtful sheets with saving space. Beth also reminded me that students expect that cost. At many private schools in Guatemala, students are required to buy books and then don’t really use them, so this is also a way to ensure that students only pay for what they actually need. 

On Tuesday, the halls rang out with the joyful sound of children. Such few children, but what a joy to have children at school! The children of teachers and staff are at the school. Having them doesn’t violate municipal regulations for Covid, it means students can actually be at school, and it means students aren’t at home alone or requiring child care while parents work. 

We started Tuesday the way we always do – with a devotions time full of listening to God, worship, and prayer. I spent a lot of that time crying. I can’t believe how good it was to listen to children sing with gusto. I haven’t been in a space like that since February 2020. It was so good. 

On Tuesday, I also posted my first video in a Facebook group. Still kind of crazy to me that I am teaching and purposely using Facebook. I also received some very cute texts through WhatsApp from students asking questions about their work. 

I don’t have any pictures of students or school, so please enjoy this very cute text from a student! 💕

Tuesday through Thursday, I uploaded teaching videos to Facebook, answered questions through WhatsApp, and TAUGHT REAL STUDENTS IN PERSON!!! I have one student in person in my segundo básico class (grade 8), and two students in person in my tercero básico class (grade 9). It’s so helpful to have in-person students and get to have real interactions instead of just online, and it’s also really helpful to get one data point of information for where my students might be in their English level. 

In typical roller-coaster teaching fashion, classes went really well and really badly. When I finished my last class on Thursday, I came back to the staff room and told my TEFL colleagues, “I’m really worried about my online kids. When you can spend 3x longer explaining the concept in person and they’re still struggling with it… how are the online kids doing when they just have 5 minutes of explanation?” Sure enough, that has certainly been the class and activity that I’ve had the most texts about. When parents come next week Monday and hand in this past week’s work and pick up the next packet, it’ll be very interesting to see how students did. 

In addition to teaching, editing and posting videos, and answering questions, this week we also needed to plan our next two weeks of class. We need to turn in our lesson plans for the coming week by Thursday afternoon before we leave school. To give some context, remember that Guatemala is a country with a chronically underfunded education system. In November, the Congress literally voted to make cuts to education and the health care system in order to increase their stipends for meals. So when teachers aren’t paid a living wage, when no one checks in on their work, when they sometimes live long distances from school… why bother showing up on time? Why bother having lessons planned for the day? Global Shore is consciously different. Teachers must arrive on time for the day or they aren’t paid for that day of school. Their lesson plans must be turned in to be looked over. And those handouts… remember the handouts that get photocopied? You also have to give those to the secretary to make copies for everyone. 

This past week and next week, parents will come on Monday, and classes happen from Tuesday to Friday. But the plan is to change the turn-around day to Friday, so that classes will happen from Monday to Thursday, and on Friday parents will come and switch out materials. That means we actually need to have our lesson plans turned in by Wednesdays and get the copies done. In order to make that turn-around happen, this week we handed in lesson plans and handouts for two weeks. So yes, in our first week of school we had to write lesson plans and handouts for the next two weeks. Another crazy and fun factor is that we need to have 3 “midterms” throughout each quarter, each approximately 3 weeks apart. So I have already planned and made photocopies for a test for the end of week 3 and I haven’t even gotten any student work back yet. Literally who knows if students will pass or fail, if it’s incredibly easy work or incredibly hard work for them?! Not me!

I don’t tell you these differences to critique the educations system in general or the work that Global Shore is doing here. If you understand the cultural differences, many of the differences in how schools run make sense. But I hope that the stories give a little insight into my life in this past week and in the kind of work that I’m doing!