Volunteering to Teach Abroad with CIEE
Well here I am, in week 5/9 of my time here in Portugal. Now, with 5 weeks already behind me, I feel like enough time has passed that I can finally comment on my experience "volunteering" to teach in the schools. So without using any words to describe how I feel about it, here is the beautiful Portuguese Cristiano Ronaldo to explain how I feel:
Maybe I should start off by saying that my experience is very different than what I hear from some of the others. So let me try to explain:
I volunteer at 3 different schools here in Samora Correia and assist with 4 separate classes: two kindergarten and two 1st grade. Each week, I dedicate 3hrs per class, making for a 12hr work week. (Not so bad, if I do say so myself.)
For each class, there is the teacher of that class and then there is the English teacher that visits daily during the English hour. While I currently work under 2 different English teachers, I only spend 3hrs with one and 9hrs with the other. While I get along quite well with both of these teachers, the one I work with most isn't always the most organized in her lesson plans... or the most cheery, which created a small amount of unnecessary stress in my experience the first couple of weeks.
While I'm by no means an expert in English immersion programs, I think part of the stress everyone has been feeling is due in part to the fact that most of the classroom teachers this year are different from last year. So, instead of already having one year of experience working within this project, they're having to start from scratch and learn as they go. Because of this, everyone is unfamiliar with each other as well. Which has, no doubt, created a lot of chaos and tension when it comes to implementing ideas and activities within the classroom. In fact, during my "observation" period the first couple of weeks here, I spent a lot of time court-side with the children as we watched the teachers bicker back and forth over disagreements. It finally got to the point that I felt the need to suggest a group meeting for all those involved in the project. Although I wasn't asked to attend, I was hoping the results who show that everyone finally cleared the air and maybe, just maybe, they found a way to work together.
Since then, things seem to be looking up. Thank goodness.
Another issue I've had, rather, a disappointment is that, thus far, I feel as if I'm not making as much of a difference as I had originally hoped to. In my role as the language assistant, I'm not responsible for planing any lessons, I never have to grade anything, I don't even have to think about the class if I don't want to, all I have to do is show up. I'm fine with that. However, what's disappointing is that once I'm in the classroom, I don't have much of an opportunity to really involve myself.
When I'm not observing and providing the occasional assistance with an unfamiliar English word or pronunciation, I walk around the classroom and comment on the children's drawings. Sometimes I watch them work as they try to write the number 6 a dozen times. A lot of the time, though, I'm helping corral the kids when it's time to line up for lunch or silencing the children when they're being too loud while the teacher is talking.
Occasionally, I'm able to administer an activity. For example, one week - only because the English teacher was late getting to the classroom - I was able to teach one of my kindergarten classes the Itsy Bitsy Spider. Last week, I was able to teach the kids the Hokey Pokey. This upcoming week, I was told that I will be given the opportunity to explain a little about Thanksgiving (the PG rated version, of course) and I'll even be able to help the kids create hand-feathered turkeys, like we used to do in school when I was their age. Other than that, I haven't had many opportunities to really... do much.
Granted, I know this hasn't been the same for everybody within the program. A few of the others have actually had opportunities when it comes to exchanging culture and providing knowledge over particular subjects. For example, one girl was able to be a part of a panel group discussion about the Syrian refugees, something relevant to her culture and experience. Another guy in our program recently had the opportunity to present to his classes over American culture, history, and a little about the life in the region where he grew up. So, that's not to say that being a part of this program we never get the chance to teach. Some do. It's just that for me, that opportunity only comes once every now and then.
Maybe the difference in my experience is partly due to the difference in ages groups that each volunteer deals with. Perhaps it is also due to the fact that, unlike me, the others are not working under an English teacher because for them, they are the English teacher. Maybe...maybe... All I really know is, I'm going to have to work extra hard to leave any sort of footprint here.