Thursday, February 25, 2010

Ups and downs of teaching

This has been an intense couple of days on the teaching front. I am teaching English to the 6th graders without a Costa Rican English tacher, which is stretching my abilities as a teacher.

I think they more or less understand the nervous system, at least a little of it, but I am struggling teaching the endocrine system. I have some ideas on ways to try to explain how the pituitary and adrenal glands work, but its a struggle.

I will be working on more ways to teach it for next week. I think the new teacher will be starting soon, which should help. Having a teacher who can explain the concepts briefly in Spanish makes the teaching I do in English much more effective in my limited experience so far.

Today was the first time I taught third grade science and it went well. They were learning the names of some of the bones of the body. They already knew them in Spanish, so it made it much easier to teach it in English. While I use as much English as I can, I do lapse sometimes into Spanish.

As the year goes on I will work on ways to explain concepts visually so I do not have to use Spanish, but I also am not solely relying on the students understanding me. This has been a long and tiring week, but it has been satisfying. Some lessons have gone much better than others, but it gives me hope for the future.

Friday, February 19, 2010


In my family, I am notorious for not taking photos when I travel. I really do intend on improving on that this trip. So far, I have not taken very many photos, but then again so much of time has been either learning how to teach or actually teaching, so I have not had that many opportunities. I will work on adding more pictures.

For anyone who wants to see my photos such as they are can look at them at I have a permanent link to them on the right, but I figured it would be worth it to highlight the photos in an actual blog post.

The majority of the pictures have been released under a Creative Commons license. An explanation can be found in the link, but basically what that means is that the pictures which say "some rights reserved" can be shared, redistributed, remixed, used for commercial purposes as long as the picture is attributed to me.

Basically I want to be credited with having taken the pictures. A drawback to Picasa is that Picasa is not as clear as I would like on how to credit someone. I basically just would like a link back to my Picasa if anyone wants to, for instance, use one of my pictures on their blog.

The picture at the top of my blog is a picture I used under a CC license from a Flickr user, with the attribution underneath the picture. I have been reading novels released under CC licenses and am a big fan of the concept and figured I would use it for my own pictures.

First full week

One week of classes teaching is now behind me. Next week I will be upping the amount of teaching some more, though it will not be a full week. That has to wait until a couple of the English teachers are ready for me to do conversation classes with their students.

The curriculum is ambitious for the 5th and 6th grade. I will need to work in the next few weeks on finding a happy balance between satisfying the curriculum and not overwhelming the students with too much science in English. While their confidence in English is not as high as I want it to be, many of them do remember some of the science from the previous years, which is good.

The hardest part will be the students in 6th grade who have moved from other schools, where they received less English or even no English in one case. I will do the best I can and hopefully they will learn a lot this year, even though they will likely not catch up to their peers completely.

My science classes with the younger students begin this coming week. They receive science for 80 minutes in Spanish and then the same material in English for another 80 minutes. This means I teach based off the monthly and weekly lesson plans given to me by the regular teacher. This is challenging because I need to follow the regular teacher's plans and adapt it for myself, but it is less work because I do not grade the students. I hand over the grades I will have to the regular teacher, who gives the students their science grade.

All in all, this was an interesting week which went pretty well. I know I will have challenging weeks, as someone without much training as an elementary school science teacher teaching science in a foreign language for the students.

In a discussion I had with one of the first grade teachers at lunch yesterday, she mentioned a reason I had not even considered why it was good the students were learning science in English. When students wish to continue in the sciences past high school (including engineering) most of the material is in English, and it is a technical English which even the students who did well in high school English struggle with.

While its possible the students will lose the English I help teach them between 7th grade and leaving for college, hopefully they will be able to build off of what I teach them in future years to succeed in college. Ideally anyways, even if it is only a couple of them.

To end one of the longer posts I will write something which I need to remember myself. While this is a high priority school within the Costa Rican public school system, which means it receives extra attention, it is also an experimental bilingual program. These 6th graders will be the first to have fully completed the program, so some kinks still need to be ironed out. This will be a year of taking a deep breath and accepting that which I can't change and doing what I can to make the students better in English.

Monday, February 15, 2010

First real classes

While classes started last Wednesday as I mentioned in a previous post, today I had my first actual class. I taught my 5th grade science class for 70 minutes (10 were taken for lunch). We spent most of the time going over the rules for the class. That was the main thing which I will have to work on, is moving from one activity to the next, so as not to let one activity dominate the entire class time.

However, even with the entire class being the unexciting task of going over rules, the class went pretty well. I am working on learning the students names and while there are a lot of them, it is not an overwhelming amount. I feel more settled now that I've actually started teaching, since I can focus on the reality of the challenges instead of trying to predict ahead of time what might go wrong.

1 class down, many more to go in Costa Rica.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

First day of school

Today was my first day of school at La Escuela Z-13 (zeta-trece). Although the students were only there for half the day, it was still a full day with a lot of information to process because of meetings after the students left.

I found out my schedule, which while busy does not seem overwhelming. I will be teaching science and an oral comprehension class to 2 6th grade classes, 1 5th grade class, 2 third grade classes, and 1 second grade classes. I will also be teaching a small amount of English every day to a kindergarten class in the afternoon.

I introduced myself to all of the classes in the school, both the ones that I will be teaching and those that I will not be teaching. Most of the students were in school today, however certainly not all of them were.

I will really start teaching on Monday. I will be using the next couple of days to accustom myself to the school. I will start working on learning the students names and getting to know the other teachers who I will be working with.

I am excited for the school year. While I am nervous and feel it will be a long and stressful year, this is what I wanted. The classes are large, ranging from 20 to over 30 students, but I will never be alone in any of them. I will always have support from either the regular teacher or one of the other English teachers.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

First day of school tomorrow

I have my first day of school tomorrow. I am showing up at 6:45 tomorrow morning, with little to no idea of what is going to happen. I do not even know my schedule yet, though I do know which grades I will be teaching. Tomorrow I should find out my schedule, though there are no guarantees.

I have to focus tomorrow on only speaking English. While I am relatively pleased with my level of Spanish so far, I need to set the tone from the beginning that in the school I will only speak English with the students. With the other teachers the Spanish may come out, depends on their comfort level with English.

I am finally settling into La Fortuna and Z-13, so I am looking forward to starting school tomorrow. I still can not really wrap my head around the fact that tomorrow starts the school year and I am here until December. I am excited and nervous for tomorrow and for the rest of the year, should be an interesting time.

Saturday, February 6, 2010


I have a 30 second walk to my school. I am currently sitting outside of my house and using the wifi at my school. One of the best parts so far about living in Zeta-Trece is how short my commute every morning will be.

When I have a bad day, I will be able to walk home in two seconds and relax. While it might become annoying when my students know where I live, I will be able to escape inside or change quickly and go for a run.

While school starts at 7am, since I live less than a minute walk away, I should have no trouble arriving on time.

These small bonuses are what I need to remember as I embark on this crazy adventure. I knew what I was getting myself into and I know it is going to be a tough year. I will have to remember how grateful I am to have less than a minute walk to work in 65 degree weather year round, not a 20 minute drive in the bitter cold.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Finally in La Fortuna

Apologies for leaving the blog so silent. I am able to have internet in my host family's house at least sometimes, so I should be a little more active going forward.

The last few days have been busy, with a lot of time spent in buses traveling to and fro from San Jose- La Fortuna, then yesterday back to La Fortuna and then back to San Jose last night.

La Fortuna is really nice and I am really happy to be here so far. I still have plenty of it and Zeta Trece which I have to explore, but from what I've seen so far its really nice. There are lots of things to do, though unfortunately most of them are pricey because they are geared towards tourists.

In the near future I will be working on going to the watefalls in the area and finding some of the free natural springs. That will be a goal of this weekend, in an around lesson planning for the start of school next Wednesday.

Today we had a staff meeting of all of the teachers at the school I will be teaching at. I met the other teachers, which made for an interesting morning. The meeting was obviously all in Spanish, so my understanding got a good work out. I think I followed most of what was going on, but at times I lacked the context to figure out what was being talked about.

Tomorrow I figure out my schedule and which grades I will be teaching. That should be interesting, I need to figure out tonight which ages I want to ask for.