My attitude towards my job has truly come full circle over the past several months. I went from absolutely hating the position I was in and feeling so miserable to feeling nothing but joy and pride at what my students and I have accomplished together since January.
In the beginning of the school year I was wondering how on Earth I would make it through all the way to May. My hands were tied behind my back in terms of what I was capable of doing in the classroom, I was soon engulfed in the negativity and laziness of my colleagues’ attitudes and the hard earned skills I had gained the year prior in an incredible classroom were slowly disappearing because they weren’t being put to use.
I work in a poor school, in a poor pueblo. Not only a poor school, but one of the poorest in the pueblo and on top of that a school that some families see as a last resort to send their children to. Our material resources are limited to the ridiculous amount of textbooks the Spanish education system seems to think are absolutely a must and printer paper. There is no paint, no glue, little to no construction paper and there are maybe 5-8 books of children’s literature for each classroom.
When I returned from winter break in January I was truly at a loss as to how I could advance and how I could change the situation for the better. But slowly, my eyes started to open to the hopelessness that seemed to surround the school, and that brought to life a fierce determination to turn it around, not for my sake, but for the students.
Soon I began to understand how little the other teachers cared for their students and I realized that I was the last resort for them. Not in a saint-like, martyr kind of way, but simply that I would have to be the one person who refused to place blame on them for not learning and that I would have to find and introduce a different way of thinking and teaching into the mix and prove to the other teachers that all children can learn.
And so gradually circumstances started to change. Once my attitude and determination shifted, so did my environment. I was handed the secret blessing of teaching science to the third grade. I LOVE science. This coming from a musician and writer may seem strange, but I truly do LOVE teaching science. It is hands down one of the best subjects to teach. It is through this subject that students learn to question, wonder, think critically and interact with each other and the world around them. Eventually I was given full reign over the subject and took advantage. We began to conduct science experiments (with home based materials), and that one class soon turned into three.
The third grade was seen, and is still seen by certain teachers, as a group that was incredibly thick headed, and slow on the uptake. When I first taught them and attempted a lesson that was *GASP* not from a textbook, I was told that I had to slow it down for them and make it really easy because they wouldn’t be able to keep up. And in fact, in the middle of my lesson, I was told to stop there because it was too difficult for them. Hearing teachers disparaging their students so frequently to the point where they just stop trying is something that breaks my heart.
But now, three months and multiple science experiments later, that very same third grade group can explain to you about the water cycle, about the density of water, about Pangaea, volcanoes, tectonic plates, and why we have seven continents now and where they originated from, IN SPANGLISH!
The absolute pride that I feel for this group cannot be described with words. The progress they have made has been nothing short of phenomenal. We have managed to go weeks without using pencils, paper, or textbooks in our classes, and as you can imagine, the results clearly show that they were not at all necessary.
I still have a long way to go, though unfortunately my time in this school is rapidly coming to an end. Those teachers that said the group is incapable still feel that way, and have even gone as far as to say that they all failed their science exams. One teacher who is a comrade in this battle against negativity is also slightly tinged with it, saying that they will forget a lot faster than they have learned.
But I refuse to believe that this was all for nothing. My greatest hope is that these children have gained something and will continue to gain something that can never be taken away from them: a love and wonder for learning. I hope that they have seen that learning can be engaging, fun, interactive. And though I may not have been able to change the mind of the other teachers or help them to understand how crucial their role is or how to believe in their students, I have been able to leave my mark on this school.