Tuesday, March 29, 2011

A Day in the Life of an ESL Teacher

The weekdays all start the same, with the maddening beep of my watch alarm at 6 am.  In the United States I would normally press the snooze button a couple times, but I haven’t figured out how to do that on my watch and I don’t trust the electricity enough here to get an alarm clock.  I get up with a groan and strip down to just a towel and make my way to the bathroom.  There are two options in Central America concerning the shower situation—either you can take a cold one or you can risk the electric shock of the bare-wire heated shower head.  In my case, I don’t even have the option to risk electric shock.  My showers are just cold.  The electric shower head is a regular plastic contraption with wires rigged to it to provide heat to the water.  I used one of these contraptions in Guatemala and every time I would touch the metal faucet handle I would get shocked.  Sometimes when I would first turn the power on, there would be a white hot spark shooting from the nozzle.  I am sure you can imagine how awful it is to get a couple thousand volts running through your body in the morning. 
When walking back from the shower barefoot with wet feet, I create mud footprints all the way to my room.  The only street that is paved in the city is the main strip.  The other streets are composed of fine dust particles that are constantly being picked up by the winds and deposited in layers all over the house.  Even if we attempt to sweep it up everyday, our efforts are useless.  So the ritual is to wipe the mud off my feet and get dressed.     

The bus comes at 6:30 am and you can hear it from a mile away.  The exhaust on the bus is loud because it is basically an American school bus that didn’t pass inspection.  There are 40 or so screaming kids on the bus all with their window down and heads out.  If you aren’t completely awake before getting on the bus, you definitely are after. 

First period starts at 7:00 with the ringing of the first bell.  Today, for the first two periods, I had 4th grade English.  Surprisingly, it went really well and the kids were all extremely attentive.  We were working on the present continuous tense—such as “I am writing a story”.  Adding –ING at the end of the verb is indicative of the present continuous tense.  In Spanish the present continuous tense is –ANDO or IENDO at the end of the verb—such as “Estoy escribiendo un cuento.”  I basically wrote a bunch of verbs on the board to start and had them add –ING to make it present continuous.  Then, I handed out a worksheet I made with a bunch of cartoons doing basic actions.  They had to write in complete sentences things like, “He is drinking water.”  After that, the students had to color the pictures.  I always like to incorporate some sort of artistic aspect to my lessons because I think this enhances their ability to retain information.  They may think they are just coloring the pictures but they are also continuing to look at the words written on the page and hopefully they will be able to recognize them better next time. 

Third period I continued with the 4th grade in art.  I pulled a present continuous worksheet off the internet that is about, “what they are wearing”.   So, the kids had to look at pictures and say, “She is wearing a blue shirt, green socks, and yellow shoes.  Then, they had to read descriptions and draw boys and girls wearing different color clothes.  These three periods went as well as they have in a long time.

4th period is lunch.  There is a little store set up that sells food to the kid such as tacos, enchiladas, baleadas, nachos, and empanadas.  The food is pretty cheap and really well done.  I usually eat some good authentic food at that store.  Lunch is a good time to sit with the kids out of the classroom and joke around. 

After lunch there are two periods until recess.  Today I had 6th grade art and then 4th grade music.  For 6th grade art I had the kids draw and color 3 different animals in their natural habitat—One animal from the sea, one from land, and one from the air.  I got a lot of really good art.  A lot of the kids took my suggestion to draw a shark in the sea, a parrot in the air, and a giraffe on land.  In 4th grade music there is a CD that comes with the English book with some cheesy music that the kids love to sing and make dances to.  Here is the song:

Look at Tom and Tim
They’re swimming in the pool.
Tim’s swimming like a fish,
And Tom’s acting like a fool.

What fun to be
Traveling, traveling
Across the sea

Look at Miss Slim
She has short black hair.
She’s wearing a swimsuit
And eating a pear.


The CD is great because they can pretty much entertain themselves making up dances.  The only time I have to step in is when there is a dispute about what dance move they should do next.

The next two periods of 6th grade English were a lot like 4th grade English.  I can do similar things with the 6th grade as I do with 4th grade but I just expect more out of them.  The sentences I give them are a bit more advanced with more adjective and adverbs.  We learned the present continuous tense just as the 4th grade did with sentences like, “The big, intelligent bear is walking in the forest.”  After we did a worksheet on the present continuous I had the students write a story that included 5 present tense verbs, 5 present continuous verbs, 5 future tense verbs, and 5 past tense verbs.  I put them into groups of three that I picked so it was the perfect dynamic. 

The last period I had 4th grade environmental education.  I try to lecture and ask questions to the students.  I always speak in Spanish to the students but write in English for them to copy down in their notebooks.  Today’s topic was oil and why the use of oil isn’t sustainable.  I described three problems with oil to the students—It is expensive, dirty, and nonrenewable.  The students typically can grasp problems like these really well.  I asked them what we are going to do when oil runs out and a couple students said, “everyone will ride bicycles!”  In science, I have found that the students think in a very linear fashion.  They are confronted with a problem and they say the most obvious thing that would seem to fix the problem.  I think sometimes this type of thinking is exactly what we need.  I was thinking about the possibility of hydrogen cars or solar powered cars and they suggested just riding a bike.  Pretty smart if you ask me. 

Last period ends at 12:35 and the kids rush out of the classrooms to get on the bus.  This is the hottest time of the day and sometimes my nerves are about shot.  After school we either take naps or go to the river and swim depending on how our day goes.  Today was definitely a nap day.  After we wake up or get back from the river we will typically prepare for class, eat dinner, read or mess around on the internet, and then go to sleep to do it all over again the next day. 

This past weekend we were watching a soccer game at the stadium and we were all looking for our students and couldn’t find any.  We all agreed that no matter how mad they make us, when they aren’t around we always miss them.

If anyone would like to contact me further about teaching English abroad please email me at patrickRmcgrady@gmail.com.  I would be more than happy to answer any questions you have to the best of my ability.  

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