I don’t think my culture shock kicked in until I started teaching in Los Andes. Having just graduated from Penn State with a degree in teaching children, I felt relatively comfortable with the teaching techniques that I was taught: keeping a class quiet, maintaining students’ attention, writing a detailed lesson plan, and creating good classroom transitions in between activities. I came with vision of what my classroom should look like….a vision that took years and many thousands of dollars to construct.  Needless to say, after three weeks here that vision has been all but thrown out the fuckin’ window!
         The first major difference in my school here is that students remain in the same classroom for the duration of the school day. So, instead of having one classroom that my coteacher and I can call home, we are forced to play a road game every period. The students are the esteemed top seed playing with home court, which makes the teachers the scrappy wild-card contenders.  It’s also a school of Pre-K through 12th (yep!), and I stop in to help out/teach each class once a week (26 classes in total, two for each grade). Although this took a little while to adjust to, I’m starting to get the hang of it. Whenever I enter the room the students are quite welcoming. I’m consistently greeted by students that want to give me a high five and talk to me about the day. That’s about the only consistent thing in the classroom though, cause once that lesson begins, it’s anybodies guess as to what the hell’s going to happen.
A teaching mini-game.

To master teaching, one must master whack-a-mole.

       At anytime a kid may just get up from his or her seat, and move to another part of the classroom.  It’s an instinct— I don’t think it’s a conscious decision most of the time they do it, these kids just have a random ticker that goes off on average once every 10 minutes. As a teacher, you honestly can feel like you’re playing whack-a-mole cause the second one kid returns to their seat another one leaves. This dynamic and the noisy nature of a 35-40 student classroom can make teaching a lesson feel like a lost cause.

       I once saw an interview of Dave Chappelle where he stated that sometimes he practices his stand up on the side of a highway. As the trucks fly by he nearly has to yell to even hear himself.  This is the type of vacuum he trains himself in, so that when he finally hits the stage, he is unaffected by the crowd. Whelp, if it worked for him maybe it can work for me, because everyday has a few stretches where it feels like I’m talking on a giant overpass. Noise wise, the classes can be a damn cacophony. I don’t take it personally, because if I did I would have resorted to the fetal position by the third day. These are good kids, they just really enjoy dicking around during English class.

Sex Addiction hotline, Sexual Habits hotline, Relationship Problem hotline.... I thought the numbers were false until I called the hotlines, and realized it truly was a dream come true.

Sex Addiction hotline, Sexual Habits hotline, Relationship Problem hotline…. I thought the numbers were false until I called the hotlines, and realized it truly was a dream come true.

       A few days ago a seventh grader walked up to me during class and asked me, “Y que significa “pussy”” (what does pussy mean?). Caught off guard by the question, I began to chuckle. The student gave me a blank stare and asked, “Porque te ries?” (why are you laughing?). He stood there with a look of pure astonishment. I told him to go back to his seat, and the second he did he cranked up a signature ‘jackass smile’ (term coined by my mom) and gave his buddy a high five.   Ten minutes later he returned to ask me what a slut was, which I ignored. I guess Karma finally worked out from all of the needless prank phone calls I made in high school (crack open a copy of 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens. There is a sea of free, 24/7 psychological help hotlines in the back that are golden.)

       Classes of younger students tend to be a bit more cooperative. I teach every grade a lesson once a week, and the most fun class to teach is  Pre-Kinder (ages 3-5). The kids in the class are extremely cute (spanish-speaking kids have a +5 adorable factor). If I’m sitting on the carpet, without giving any warning or indication they jump on me to give me hugs. They also like to ask me shamelessly simple questions (I’ve been asked how to say Mario Bros. in English MULTIPLE times).

Common cookie bag in Chile.

Common cookie bag in Chile.

        The lesson for Pre-K are also a lot of fun to teach. As part of the lessons, my co-teacher brings in a puppet named “Cookie.” Not only do I love the word cookie being used as a name for a puppet, but I love her pronunciation of cookie. Since spanish doesn’t have the “oo” sound as in book or cook, the “oo” sound in cookie becomes lower, as in spookie or Lord Dooku.  Because of this, anytime someone says ‘cookie’ here it sounds like they are doing baby talk. There are even spanish snacks where it’s spelled on the bag the way they say it, “kuky.”  It’s just some good, clean wordplay that they happen to spell and say cookie in a way that’s pretty kooky (BLAM, you’re welcome).

       Overall, I honestly wake up looking forward to the school day. As frustrating as the actual teaching can be, the other half of the job is just smiling, high- fiving people, and asking them how they are. The second I step out of the bus onto campus, everybody and their grandma knows that I’m American. The point is not for me to get frustrated and pissy about the classroom climate. I’m here because want to leave a great impression of English, and foreigners in the kids’ mind…. maybe one day they might be struck with the same curiosity to explore another country. At the end of the day, I’m just your friendly neighborhood gringo.