Planning is a funny word. Especially when that planning is referring to four weeks of lesson plans for a Peruvian public school consisting of students I hadn’t met yet. Not only did I not know these students, but I had no idea how well they knew English. I was the second English-teacher volunteer, so I figured these kids would definitely know their numbers, colors and animal at this point and just needed a little refresher course on greetings before moving on to the next subject in the curriculum.
I definitely overestimated.
Not only was I teaching, a skill slightly out of my comfort zone, but I was teaching completely in Spanish — and to kids who have not been taught properly since Day 1. Many aspects of the Peruvian education system intrigued me.
The students don’t really know how to learn. And yes, learning is a skill. Generally speaking, their whole lives, they have been fed information, told to copy it down word-for-word in their notebooks and then move on to the next subject. Repeat. These kids spend more time making sure their notes look pretty — using every color pen they have, alternating letters with different colors and drawing perfectly straight lines with their rulers at unnecessary times. This proved the highest hurdle — explaining to them that there was an English way to say “¿Como te llamas?” Instead, they would memorize the phrases without having any understanding of what English sounds were coming out of their mouths.
This stigma manifested itself more with the older grades — 3rd through 6th. My first- and second-graders were wonderful. Their fresh, uninhibited brains soaked up my method of teaching and most of them knew their greetings — and knew what they meant — by the end of my four weeks.