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A Day in the Life of a Teacher in Guatemala

So, what’s it really like living, working, and teaching in Guatemala? The only way to really know is to come and find out. However, to help you decide if you want to come and find out, here’s a typical Monday in the life of a person who teaches English at the Colegio Mesoamericano in Chimaltenango.

5:45 am

Alarm goes off. Time to get up and get ready for work.

6:40 am

You leave the house and walk about 5 minutes to the bus stop. You’ve learned by now not to react when you hear someone whistle or call out to you from a passing car on the highway. You catch the school bus at 6:45 and spend about 25 minutes cruising through town picking up students and other teachers.

7:20 am

You arrive at school, jump off the bus, punch your time card, and go to the room where you have your desk/prep area.

7:30 am

You gave the materials that you needed copied for this week to your coordinator on Friday, and she left them on your desk for you. You review the plans that you made for today and check to make sure you have everything you need for your first class. You go to the CRAM (library) to get a set of books that you’ll be using in class. After finding the books, you write the title and number of books down on your library materials paper and file it back where you got it from.

8:00 am

The bell rings as you walk up to the ninth grade classroom, where you teach a world history class in English to high-intermediate students from 7th through 9th grade. Since English class is one of the few times when students switch classrooms, it routinely takes 5-10 minutes for all of your students to get here. You shouldn’t have to wait more than 5 minutes, but students are students—always looking for a way to avoid coming to class. You can tell which students really like English class by how quickly they get to your room.

8:05 am

You begin class by introducing a new tongue twister. You’ve found that starting class with a tongue twister kills lots of birds with one stone: you get the students’ attention, you give them good pronunciation practice, and you can fill the time with good language input without starting the main lesson while  you wait for the whole class to show up.

8:10 am

Everyone’s here, so you quickly call roll and start your lesson. You’re teaching about ancient China right now and you’re using a National Geographic Then and Now reader as the text for this part of the class. You work on listening, pronunciation, and reading skills for about 15 minutes by having the class listen to you read out loud, then reading chorally, and finally having two to three students read out loud individually. Most of the students participate, but there are a few who will only speak out loud if you walk up and stand by them. You try to encourage the students to speak loudly and clearly, but many seem embarrassed at the thought of speaking English out loud.

8:25 am

You switch to a vocabulary activity based on the reading and have students work in groups looking up the new words. You hear tons of Spanish and very little English, so you remind the students that they should only be speaking English. It gets a lot quieter (unfortunately).

8:40 am

You’ve planned a special listening/speaking activity in an attempt to get the students to speak more. You know that they know a lot of English, because you participated in the conversation evaluation that your coordinator conducted with all of the students to help place them in English class levels for next year. You were really amazed by how much you students understood and by how much spontaneous language production they engaged in during the evaluations. You get the feeling that the students know a lot, but that they’re scared or lack the motivation to speak English in class. You hope that this activity will help.

9:20 am

Class is over. The listening/speaking activity went well—it got the students’ attention and you had them speaking to each other in English to complete the assignments you gave them. Their homework is to write in their dialog journal about how they felt about the activity and about speaking English. Hopefully everyone will do it.

9:30 am

You have an hour before your next class, so you take a few minutes to run down to the tienda (store) on campus to buy a snack. After eating a cheese quesadilla (your favorite snack) you work on final plans for your next class—a science class with the most advanced English students from 4th, 5th, and 6th grades.

10:30 am

The bell rings, signaling that recess is over, as you arrive at the fifth-grade room where you teach your “middle” English class—to kids in upper elementary school. You wait a few minutes for Miss Ceci, the fifth-grade teacher, to arrive and unlock the room. This isn’t a huge problem, since most of the students haven’t arrived yet anyway. Miss Ceci is a great teacher and you really enjoy talking with her in a mixture of English and Spanish about your plans for English class, ideas to try, how to handle student problems, etc. You also really appreciate that she stays in the classroom grading assignments while you teach, since she is willing to help with discipline problems as needed.

10:35 am

You begin class with your usual routine—reminding the kids that this is English class—no Spanish, no food, no soccer. They all say, “Awww, man,” a phrase that you sorta wish you hadn’t taught them, but at least it’s English. This class is a real handful—it has the most advance students from 4th, 5th, and 6th grades, but among them are also some of the biggest troublemakers. Fortunately, you received some good training on classroom management from your coordinator when you first arrived in Guatemala, so you have already established some classroom practices that minimize discipline problems. You call roll and make eye contact with each student, saying their name as you do. This helps them know that you know who they are and that you are aware that they are there.

10:40 am

You begin working on the new subject for this week—rocks and earth science. You’ve decided to teach descriptive adjectives and the construction “It is [adjective]” by having the students describe the characteristics of three rocks that you’ve brought to class. You intend to do writing, speaking, pronunciation, and listening activities using these objects and will build this week’s vocabulary list from the words that they use to describe the rocks. You also plan to take the kids on a walk tomorrow so they can find their own rocks to describe.

11:40 am

You finish all of your planned activities with 10 minutes to spare. 80 minutes is a long time for English class, but you’ve grown accustomed to having a couple of small activities to take up those spare minutes. It would be easy to just let the kids out early to play soccer, but you know that your coordinator is trying to eradicate that behavior from the program as part of the plan to help students take English class more seriously. You also know that the EFL program director intends to change to schedule to 40 minute periods next year, so you’re at least happy for the next group of North American teachers.

12:00 pm

You have 30 minutes before your last class of the day with the kids in pre-kindergarten. You check a CD and player out of the library and review your plans for this class.

12:30 pm

You arrive at class right as the bell rings. This class is only 40 minutes long and it’s mainly songs and games—things to get the little kids used to hearing the sounds of English. You’re amazed at how much they already know after 6 months of English classes—all of their colors, the alphabet, numbers from 1 to 10, and some animals. They also understand lots of classroom instructions like “Sit down,” “Raise your hand,” etc. You’re working on getting them to produce short phrases and sentences by teaching them repetitive songs. So far it’s going very well.

1:10 pm

Class ends and you hurry back to the English teacher prep room. You have your weekly English team meeting at 1:15, so you only have time to drop your stuff and go to the room where you all meet.

1:15 pm

You coordinator greets everyone and asks how your classes are going. She lets each person talk about their classes, the problems they’re having, and the successes. She notes down topics that the team should discuss to help overcome problems and also successful techniques that other teachers can use in their classes. You spend the majority of the hour talking about how to get students to speak more in class, a problem that almost everyone is facing. You also have a small lesson on teaching the past participle. You really like the interchange of ideas and tips between the local bilingual teachers and the North American teachers. Your coordinator ends the meeting with a bit of business, changes in the schedule for this week, and so on. She also lets you know that she’s going to be coming around this week to observe your classes.

2:10 pm

The final bell rings and everyone books it for the busses. You grab your stuff, punch your time card, and say good-bye to students and other teachers as you head for bus 3. You have to stand in the back of the bus for the first 10 minutes or so because there aren’t enough seats for everyone and students always have priority over teachers for seats on the bus.

3:00 pm

You arrive home. You’re tired, so you lie down for a nap.

4:00 pm

Your family has lunch waiting when you wake up. They always make great lunches, and today is no exception. Today lunch is a traditional Guatemalan dish called pepian, a reddish-colored stew made from chicken, potatoes, guisquil, and ground-up pumpkin seeds. With rice, tortillas, and fresh fruit, it’s a feast. You remind yourself not to eat too much—when the last group told you that they’d all gained weight, you didn’t believe them, but now you’re beginning to suspect that they were telling the truth.

6:00 pm

It gets dark in Guatemala by about 6:30. You and a couple other teachers decide to go to the gym, so you cross the highway and catch a city bus that will drop you near the gym. You work out and enjoy talking to the regulars at the gym. You’ve learned a lot of Spanish by hanging out at the gym.

7:30 pm

You’re home from the gym. You didn’t have much trouble catching a city bus to get home, but you know that after about 7:30 pm it’s hard to get one. You take a shower and sit down to think about plans for the end of the week and next week. You don’t do much planning—mainly thinking about how the students did today and whether you’ll have enough material to finish the week or will need to prepare more. You’re pleased with the students’ progress, but still frustrated at their lack of consistent participation.

8:30 pm

You go to bed, thinking that you’ll read for a little while, but you find it hard to keep your eyes open. You wouldn’t think that teaching is tiring, but it really is.

9:00 pm

By now you can’t stay awake any more, so it’s lights out and buenas noches (good night).