Friday, August 27, 2010

Family in Fortuna

My mother, father, and sister all made it safely and without too much hassle to La Fortuna last night.  Interbus got them from Alajuela to La Fortuna without too much trouble.  I was a little concerned given the driving habits of some Interbus drivers, but they had no complaints and thought the driver was perfectly fine.

I have one more class to teach today and my family is showing up towards the end of the class. I can afford to take 10 minutes out of the 80 minute class to introduce some of my students to my parents.  I'm not sure I should be so amused by the thought of 30 9 year olds jabbering in Spanish and small amounts of English at my family, but I am.

Then this afternoon I will give them a tour of the community I live in and they will meet my host family.  That will be a test of my translating abilities.  I am much better at either speaking only in Spanish or only in English. Having to switch between the two of them confuses me no end.  I will have to watch myself and not start speaking Spanish to my parents and English to my host family, as I have done in the past.

Not much else going on here.  Tests are next week which will be interesting.  I will be madly grading at the end of next week, but I should be able to finish everything.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


Update:  For a similar take on what I talk about here, read Derek Thompson at the Atlantic.  I particularly enjoyed when he mentioned how it's not our generation that wrecked the economy, we're just the ones who are paying for it.  And I say that fully aware that in terms of socioeconomic class I am incredibly lucky (as I type on my netbook from Costa Rica)

There was an interesting article in the NYT Magazine about twenty-somethings and whether or not they are in a previously unrecognized stage of development.  The article is good and I'm definitely following some of the paths outlined in the story.  If I had not been accepted to WorldTeach, my next option would have been City Year, an organization mentioned in the article.  This one is also less depressing than some of the others I've read such as the Atlantic's or this one in the WSJ.

While the article is good, I do agree with both Matthew Ylgesias's criticism and Jamelle Bouie's criticism They both point out how the article focuses on people in their 20s with college degrees.  The majority of people in their 20s have not finished college;  More focus on them would have fleshed out the article.  The one anecdote is good, but not much else is made of it beyond that. 

As a somewhat aimless 23 year old, the part that bugged me was the lack of attention on the recession. This is what I found annoying, "Parents are helping pay bills they never counted on paying, and social institutions are missing out on young people contributing to productivity and growth."  As my parents can attest to, I did not do the most intelligent nor comprehensive job search before deciding to do WorldTeach. However, when unemployment for college graduates was over 7 percent, even my friends who knew exactly what they wanted had trouble finding jobs, never mind jobs which allowed them to move out and pay the bills.     

Add to this the sharp drop in employment in manufacturing and construction, two job sectors which traditionally employed 20-something year olds without college degrees, and its no wonder we're not moving out as fast as some say we should.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Two interesting bits

Today, I want to point out two interesting pieces on education policy at opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of age.  I tend to read less about pre-K education policy and university policy. They are just less focused on.  It is more common to see a LA times story about the effectiveness of elementary schools or an article in the Boston Globe comparing MCAS scores across middle and high schools.  The importance and relative effectiveness of pre-K and universities seems to be less focused on. (I hate to use the word seem, but of course I have not been regularly reading any US papers for the past 8 months so for all I know the Globe has run a hard hitting series on dropout rates at local colleges.)

The first is an interview  with Sara Mead, a pre-K policy expert, by Dylan Matthews who is filling in for Ezra Klein on Klein's blog at the Washington Post.  The part that interested me the most was when Sara Mead points out, "It's actually possible with universal pre-K in Oklahoma to improve learning for everyone while also moving to close the achievement gap."   I guess it should be obvious, but this to me argues for universal pre-K education, not solely focusing on the most disadvantaged groups, since they will benefit the most anyways. 

The second is an excellent article in the Washington Monthly by Ben Miller and Phuong Ly.  This part might be controversial, but I think important, 

"But we won’t make real headway on the college graduation problem until two even more fundamental steps are taken. The first is acknowledging that colleges share responsibility for graduation with their students. Without that, governors, mayors, accreditors, and secretaries of education won’t be willing to expend scarce political capital on behalf of students like Nestor. The second is a willingness to broach a heretofore-forbidden topic in higher education: shutting the worst institutions down."

The article points to universities which deal with the same types of students and graduate students at double and sometimes triple the graduation rates.  If a college or university is truly this terrible, the money and effort it will take to turn it into a functioning university seems to be not worth it.  This is especially true for schools in areas such as NY, where efforts could be made to increase enrollment at universities which actually serve their students.

Saturday, August 21, 2010


Yesterday I probably played a total of an hour and 15 minutes between my two classes playing Pictionary.  What a great way to prepare for the exam and so easy for me. Both 2nd and 3rd grade loved it.

I could make teams without having to have the students actually move their desks.  Simply divide the class in 2 with one half and the other half.  I had barely any complaining about who the kids had to team up with.

Thankfully simple machines and machines in general are quite drawable and thus work well for pictionary.  Levers, wedges, and wheels all can be drawn even by me.  Phones and refrigerators are not prove too difficult.  Bicycles and hammers are trickier, not to mention drawing an airplane and not a shark, but overall I've managed to get them to recognize my drawings.  Then when the students draw, its even better (both in terms of them learning and the fact that a bunch of them draw better than me.

Overall a very successful Friday.  I even managed to involve a student who was sent to the principal's at the beginning of class, which I have really struggled with.  Once I lose him he's usually lost for good.  Now if only all my subjects were so easily drawn, but drawing a liver, gallbladder, stomach, and kidney just does not work as well.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Teacher! Teacher!

I'm probably jinxing myself by writing this post, but I do feel that the last couple of weeks have been better teaching-wise.  I have to give tests to 2nd and 3rd grade in two weeks and I feel way more confident about it than I have at any point so far.  I'm unsure if this is warranted, but its a nice change from the last minute scrambling to figure out how to test my students and general stress.

My lesson planning is also coming somewhat easier.  I now need to focus on making my students speak in English and forcing them to use their English.  Now that I have the presentation part down, I need to ensure that my students don't spend the entire time passively listening to me ramble on in English.  I need to figure out ways to gauge how much they understand. This is harder in science in English than in English, but certainly not impossible.

I'm almost two-thirds of the way through the school year here.  To think that I'm that far along is surreal.  At times it feels I've been here forever, but at other times it seems I was in orientation just last month. 

Monday, August 9, 2010

15 again

One of the odder aspects of this year has been that I am navigating being an adult in the real world for the first time, while at the same time feeling 15 at times

I feel 23 when I am standing in front of 25 6th graders for 80 minutes teaching about technological advances and their impacts on society... in English. Teaching science in English to Costa Rican elementary students is something I struggle with daily and I can not imagine trying to do it even a couple of years ago. I am living in a foreign country for a year with a more limited support system than I had in my study abroad program (not a criticism of WorldTeach, which does a lot to help me.) While I'm a volunteer, I am a full teacher in the sense that I do all the lesson planning and tests for my sections of science in English.

At the same time at times my life is like being 15 again in so many ways. Teaching in August makes me feel like I'm working at a summer camp, except more serious and without the songs. I eat the food I am served both at the school and at home.  I am reluctant to just grab food from the kitchen, not knowing what is needed for dinner that night.

I have amusing arguments with my host mom about who should do my laundry. One of the first things I did when I arrived in February was ask how to use the washing machine. Yesterday I started doing my laundry, but then my host mom told me to leave it and she would finish it. I tried to convince her I could finish it myself, but she was having none of it.  I was not going to argue about using her washing machine, but yeah, not being allowed to do my own laundry is not what I'm used to at 23.

Other things which make me feel 15: I walk or take the bus everywhere I go. I have limited spending money, even less than I did in college, because I can't have a part time job (which I probably would in the US, given the free time I have). I only have the stipend, which while not nothing does not go that far. Some of the emotional ups and downs have also reminded me of being 15, though of course the specific causes (culture shock and anxiety over my lack of teaching experience vs. normal adolescence) are different.

I do intend to do a better job of trying to figure out making food. That will help me if I feel I can get myself lunch without needing to wait for someone to serve me. I just don't want to do what my host sister did, when she made chicken in salsa with chicken the host mom was saving for chicken in rice. I can barely cook with ingredients I'm used to in the US, never mind here in a foreign language without recipes. Still, making rice and beans is not that hard.

(the title is a reference to the Zac Effron movie, which was pretty amusing to watch dubbed into Spanish with my 13 year old host brother)

Wednesday, August 4, 2010


Admitting to being an aspiring author is an odd thing, at least it is for me. For some I am sure it feels quite natural, people who have been writing since a young age. I am not one of them. I never took a creative writing course in college nor did I write much fiction in college. I for a while now been a some day person about writing fiction. Some day I'll write a book. Some day I'll sit down and write. 

Now I am trying to do more than say "some day", since some day can so easily become never.
Admitting on this blog that a dream of mine (however low the chances are) is to become a published author makes me wince inside. I am not sure why exactly I feel self-conscious about saying this. Maybe worried about appearing as a wannabe writer, but why that's bad I'm not clear on. Every published author spent some time as an unpublished writer. Most from what I've read spent  ten years working on their writing until they sold their first novel.

I do not plan on living at my parents writing forever and not looking for a job (don't worry Mom and Dad). I make a conscious effort here to make sure not to spend time I should be prepping for teaching writing. I am here to teach first, everything else second. While I am not perfect, I do my best. Still, I have plenty of free time, especially if I use my time wisely, to write here. No stranger than knitting, watching tv, reading a book or any of the other things people do in their free time.

Well, this is me telling the world (or at least the 5 people who read my blog) that I do intend on making an effort to someday be a published author. Right now my aim is to write a 1,000 words (at least) every day. For the past month (except my week at the beach) I have done a pretty good job. I have only missed a couple of days.
By tonight I will have finished 20,000 words. Not too bad. For now I am a writer, in time maybe I will become an author.