5th Grade Quizzes and a Little bit of Class Pride

 

Our school has one particular grade which causes a little more stress than any of the others. 5th Grade.

This class has around 40 student, all of who are around 10 years old. These students are so lovable but so crazy that it is almost impossible to get anything done with one teacher. Especially because there are eight or so of them who are significantly behind the rest of the class.

They aren’t just behind in English, but every subject. So five weeks ago, at the end of the last semester, all of the teachers came together to come up with a solution for those eight students. Part of the solution was to give them to me to teach.

This was a shock for me, not only because I usually teach 8th– 10th grade rather than younger grades, but because these were the students who needed more help than you could ever imagine. They know one word in English, Hello. I was only given 1 hour a week and also wasn’t given a space to work with them. We would switch between the computer lab (which doesn’t have a white board or even lights) and working outside. It was awful. Imagine trying to teach 8 ten year olds while the is a soccer game going on fifteen feet away? There was no focus at all.

I spent three weeks try to find a way for them to enjoy learning English and not pout the entire time because they were taken away from their friends. We played games and they would do well during class but, because I only got 1 hour a week with them and was told I shouldn’t give out homework because they won’t do it anyways, we had to start from square one each Monday afternoon.

Well last week, when I was told to go in an empty, dirty room to teach my class, I got a little fed up. I went and talked with the director about the state of the students, the lack of time and space we had and how, under these conditions, my students would be in the exact same place when I leave if things don’t change.

Well, this week I got my own space to teach in and my students stay after school for an extra 30 minutes a few times a week to further their learning. The progress in 3 days has been spectacular. Who know what desks and an extra hour and a half would do?

My students have their first quiz on Monday, and even though it is very basic, I think it is going to go really well for them. This might be the first time they ever see a 10/10 on any test they’ve taken. They have practiced and practiced and practiced this week and I think (I hope) they’ve got it!

One student in particular, who comes from a less than desirable home life, has completely changed his attitude this week and I can’t help but to think the environment has something to do with it. He worked extremely hard one day in class and got a 100% on his homework that night. I cannot say for sure, but I think it was his first even 100% and oh goodness was he proud. Every day after that he has come into my class with a smile on his face, he hasn’t gotten into any fights (which is a big deal for him), and when I post questions on the board he runs over and whispers the answer in my ear. He is finally proud of himself and I personally cannot wait to see how he does on his test on Monday. He is going to rock it.

So, here is a link to the quiz if you want to take a look.

Quiz- Basic English- 5th Grade

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Yup, That’s my Mom

The look of confusion people give me when I am walking around with my host family is hilarious. It is like watching a constant game of “Which item doesn’t belong”. It’s more than obvious that I look nothing like them, with my paler than pale skin, freckles, and blue eyes. There’s also the fact that I am a giant here. Taller than every female and 97% of the males in this country, I stick out like a sore thumb. And my accent is just icing on the cake.

But people seem to ask the question “is this your daughter?” to my host family more than you could ever imagine. At first, we would explain. We would go into the story about me being a volunteer and how I am living with them for a few months while I teach at one of the schools in town. But that story is pretty long, especially in another language, and got boring after a while. Now we just go with it.

“Um… yeah, actually, she is my daughter? Why?”

It wonderful to watch their faces contort trying to think long and hard about how that could ever happen. How they could possibly have made something that turned out looking like me.

After a few weeks we even started to make it a bit of a game. Constantly coming up with mew stories about our lives. My host mom, Alba,  now introduces me as her daughter just see how people react. Two young men at our gym are completely convinced that I am her biological daughter.

My host dad, Darwin, likes to tell people that I am his “daughter from another woman”. A few weeks back, he even want as far as to tell the man who is trying to buy his house that. Personally, I think that’s a pretty brave move on his end. Even though these were a few awkward moments that followed where the man tried to come up with something to say, he still bought the house.

But my favorite is when we ignore the fact that I am not Ecuadorian all together. When people ask if we are serious after Alba calls me her daughter and we respond with something along the lines of “yeah, why wouldn’t she be?” or “I really just don’t understand what you’re trying to get at here”. It is funny watching these strangers struggle to put into words why I couldn’t possibly be her daughter. They obviously don’t want to say anything rude, but they are striving for answers to the mystery.

Every one of these conversations makes our days just a little bit brighter and we walk away laughing. As time here s coming closer to the end, Alba tells me she doesn’t know what she is going to do without her new “daughter”, but I tell her not to worry because she will be getting two new ones from Germany in September.

A Weekend in Quito, Ecuador

I spend the majority of my time in Ecuador hanging out with my students, my host family, or the ladies from dance class. So when I went to Cotopaxi a few weeks ago it was unusual being with people between the ages of 18-27. Other than my host sister who comes home for the weekend, they were some of the first people my age I’d spent time with since I’d arrived in Ecuador in January.  So obviously we made plans for the weekend after as well.

We are all living in different parts of the countries doing different kinds of work. Some are on a wildlife reserve an hour south of the capital working on a project about trees. Some are living in Quito doing murals for the government. And then there is me, a teacher in Otavalo. We decided that because two of them had birthdays back to back that we would have a bit of a celebration in Quito for them. And to top it all off, the majority of this group is headed back to their home countries in a week, so we had to have a going away gathering too.

We made reservations at a hostel (The Blue House) near Plaza Foch for Friday night. All of my friends arrived in Quito before I did and found out the hostel gave away my bed! So I decided to just go to the hostel right next door for the night and call it good. The lady who ran the hostel was around 70 and referred to me as “mi preciosa” the entire time I was there. She didn’t mind unlocking the front gate for me at 2:30 am when I got back from our celebration and I had a room for 4 all to myself. I think the Blue House giving away my bed was a blessing in disguise because the people there were not the friendliest. That goes to show, some of the hostels that look great from the outside might not actually be the best in town. Look for the older people, that’s where it’s at.

I woke up on Saturday morning to find the sweet old lady telling me that I should come eat some eggs because they are good for my health. I happily agreed and joined her and her husband for some breakfast. She gave me some medicine for the cold I was getting and before I left she handed me a wooden bead bracelet and said “so you don’t ever forget me”. She won my heart and hopefully I will be returning to visit her again before I head back to Michigan.

As for the group, they didn’t seem to be doing as hot as I was the next morning. Probably because they did get a breakfast made with a grandma’s love like I had. We went on a hunt for coffee near Plaza Foch, but it proved to be difficult. Plaza Foch sells more beer than it does coffee. We spent the rest of the day doing a bit of shopping and a lot of eating before we all returned that night.

It’s interesting what having a language in common can do while you’re abroad. Even though I only meet most of these people the weekend before, our common language tied us together pretty quickly. None of us are native Spanish speakers and are dealing with the same types of struggles here. We can all relate to having communication difficulties and it helps to know you’re not alone. And, hey, now I have friends from all over the world to visit when I travel.

 

I also want to say sorry because I completely forgot to take any pictures from this weekend. This is all I have….

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Festival, Waterfalls, and Bed Sheets full of Potatoes.

The school I work at here in Ecuador has a very high percentage of indigenous students. The majority of my male students wear the long braided hair and classic white linen pants with their uniform every day, while the girls have their long skirts and frilly white sleeves under their school sweater vests.

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Luis Ulpiano de la Torre, the school, has been working very hard this year to try to include aspects of the indigenous culture into some of the school pride. Meaning that the native language is being taught, we celebrate national native language day, and we try to have festivals for some of the important indigenous holidays as well. One of which being Pawkar Raymi, a celebration on the first day of spring.

Our school is lucky enough to be the place of a pretty sacred indigenous sit in Otavalo. If you take a path behind the school for 3-4 minutes, you will find yourself at a small waterfall next to a river that is used by the native Ecuadorians for ceremonial purposes. This year, on the first day of spring, our 5th grade class participated in a traditional Pawkar Raymi ceremony. The young girls and one boy preformed a dance for Pawkar Raymi and the students, teachers, and families participated in the tradition of sharing of food.

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A large white sheet was laid across the ground and every person at the ceremony came forward to throw a bowl of food down onto the sheet. Mainly potatoes, corn, beans, and a bit of chicken. Food was placed until no more could fit. It was all mixed together and re-passed out. Anything that could hold food was being eaten off of. Plastic bags, old tupperware, and mugs. There was more than enough food to go around.

To my knowledge, this was the second Raymi celebration our school has hosted this year and I think it has become one of our new traditions. The students had a ball and it was refreshing to see them dedicated to somethings within the school. They truly felt represented this week and that can do wonders for a student’s sense of pride in their culture, the school, and their education.

Healthy Eating, English Lessons, and some Awful Cake

One of the parts of working in an Ecuadorian classroom that has been difficult for me is the strict curriculum. Each student has a textbook (full of mistakes, might I add) and the teachers have to stick to it. We have to have a specific number of grades and assignments recorded for each semester, we have specific projects we have to complete, and the government even tells us which weeks we are allowed to give tests and quizzes. Personally, these are decisions I would like to make rather than the government. The government doesn’t know my students specific needs. It makes it extremely difficult for students who do have specific needs, which happens to be the majority of my students.

But anyway, this unit of the English textbook for grade 9 says that we need to teach about food vocabulary, and how to talk about healthy eating. It is not the worst unit, but there are so many other things I can think to teach that would be more useful.

In the past two weeks my students have studies the names of different foods, practiced speaking about meals and meal times, and then this week it was time for that project… In groups of four, my 9th graders had to find a healthy cake recipe, make it, and present the recipe and process to the class.

They all showed up on Monday morning with their cake in one hand and recipe in the other completely read to explain what they had made the night before. As the teacher, I was pretty excited. I was going to try all five of the cakes my students brought in! Sounds like a pretty good day to me, eating cake and grading presentations. Nothing could go wrong! 

Except for the fact that four 9th graders had to translate a “healthy” cake recipe. I really should have thought what could go right? A “healthy cake” is probably gross to begin with. Then add a bit of language confusion and a pinch of 14 year olds.

Let me tell you. Those cakes tasted more like horse food than they did cake. If their cakes were being graded on taste rather than effort they all would have failed. But I’m not that mean. Let’s get real though, whatever you were trying to translate probably wasn’t “apple juice”.

The idea of eating 5 pieces of cake immediately turned from a nice treat to a chore. I was shoving chunks that were visibly uncooked into my pockets and trying to hide my face from the chefs. I learned a lesson this week. Always check the translation before they go home to cook.

Cotopaxi and other Adventures

To say my experience visiting Cotopaxi was an adventure is an understatement to say the least. I asked my school director if I could leave a few hours early to catch a bus at 11:00 so I wouldn’t be traveling at night. From Otavalo I knew it was going to take quite a while to get there, especially travelling on a bus. I left my house at 10:45 to get to the bus, at 12:00 I finally got on the Cita Bus that should have taken me right there. My host dad even went with me to the bus stop and talked with the driver about exactly where to drop me off. A few hours later (and still an hour later than I imagined because the bus was late) I was dropped where I thought I would be able to get a taxi right to my hostel. It didn’t take long after I stepped off the bus to realize that my bus driver had completely forgot about me and drove about 45 minutes past my stop. He didn’t even bother to tell me either. I was in the middle of nowhere with no possibility of getting a taxi to my hostel, because it was still another hour or so in the other direction. So I decided to hop on the next bus going to the direction I had just come from until I reached the nearest city, Machachi. On the bus I called the number for a taxi driver who told me to “find the horse statue” and said he would meet me there. 30 minutes later I had found the horse statue and Raul, the taxi driver, had found me.

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Raul was just a regular, middle aged, Ecuadorian man who works directly with the hostel I was heading to, but man was he funny. Because the ride was a pretty long one (around 50 minutes) Raul asked if he could bring his lady friend, Olga, along with us. So the three of us were finally on our way. It was an oddly clear day, which is pretty rare for Cotopaxi. Raul would continuously stop the car and say “OH you have to get a picture of that! Go on, I’ll just wait here for you”.

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At one point Raul pointed to a pretty small mountain to the east of us and said, “Yup, there’s Cotopaxi” and started to give me a brief history to the volcano. I was surprised because it was so small. Did I travel all this way for that? But I believed him because he said he had lived in Machachi his entire life. He knows more than I do, right? Then I head quiet Olga pipe in from the back seat. She was laughing and said, “Are you kidding? Cotopaxi is behind us. Raul, I think that’s just a hill over there”. When we both turned around to see the giant snow cover volcano behind us Raul was just as shocked as I was. He had lived there his entire life and it was as if he had never noticed it before.

It was around 5:30 when I finally arrived at The Secret Garden and I really needed a bathroom and a bottle of wine (in that order). I meet all my new roommates for the weekend and we headed to the hot tub for the night, which was only interrupted by dinner at 7:30 and the search for more wine a few times. We all went to bed around midnight with the terrible thought that we would all have to wake up at 7:00 am the next morning (mostly likely feeling all the wine from the night before) to do a 6.5 hour hike of Pasochoa.

 

Luckily, we were happily awaken at 6:15 the next day feeling refreshed and ready to go! I was more than shocked. We even had time to sit in a hammock, drink a cup of coffee, and write for an hour before breakfast was served.  If that isn’t success, I don’t know what is.

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We left for the hike, with a group of about 20, around 8:30. We were all given a pair of mud boot to wear instead of our hiking boots and were told that “it can get a little wet”. Personally, I thought that the boots would be a bit of an overkill, but boy was I proven wrong. This was, without a doubt, the hardest hike I have ever been on. We reached around 4,200 meters and we walked through rivers to get there. We arrived at the top of the summit in about 3.5 hours and the weather was absolutely beautiful. It was warm and pretty sunny, which is unusual for this region. I started hiking in 3 layers that morning, one of which being a thermal set and it only took about 30 minutes until I was down to just my t-shirt.

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We stopped at the top for lunch and someone had to mention how lucky we were that it hadn’t rained. Not even 3 minutes later it was down pouring and like 35 degrees. So happy I brought a pair of gloves with me. We were all thinking well, at least the hard part is over, we reached the top. But have you ever tried to hike down a mountain in about 6 inches of mud for about three hours? It was not easy.

And we are a few hours in, and a good chunk of my water bottle is gone. I really had to go to the bathroom. I’d like to say, it is MUCH easier to pee in dry bushes than wet ones. Is that rain or pee going down my boot? I don’t know. I don’t even care. I just want to get home. Whoever wore those boots after me should probably watch out.

We slipped and slide all the way down. I’ve never seen so many men do the splits. It was like Olympic gymnastics on the side of Pasochoa that day. At one point I managed to slide a good 10 feet down on my belly before I could pop back up and yell “we’re good”. My blue clothes returned brown and soggy.

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Compared to that, the rest of the weekend seemed pretty dull. Other than the compost toilet. There is nothing dull about a compost toilet.

There was more wine, food, hot tubs, and hammocks. I meet a bunch of people from other countries and we headed out on Sunday afternoon. I made it back to Otavalo around 7:30 that night completely exhausted and a little sore from the day before. I’m not sure if it was from climbing for six hours or an injury from falling down the side of a mountain, but it only lasted for a few day so I’m not too worried to find out which.

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Drunk Students and Other Shenanigans

This would probably be a fun title if I was talking about my senior year of college, but I’m not. I’m talking about my eighth graders.


 

The majority of the students at the school I am teaching at come from less than ideal home situations. Almost all of my students are in extreme poverty and come from single parent households. I have 15 year old students who live on their own. I have one eighth grader who told me here mom is 22 years old. I have a 15 year old student who has a 2 year old son. And I currently am teaching a pregnant eighth grader. To say that some days I go to school and am appalled at the things I hear and see would be an understatement.

In the schools I’ve been in back in the United States most students have some type of goals they are working toward, whether it is college, the military, or even simply not being grounded by their parents in their near future. These goals form a type of respect in the school system. Students know that acting up in class will have a negative effect in their life. There universities will get notice that they got suspended or, if they aren’t aiming for college, they know there will be a type of punishment when they get home. Students tend to have a respect for the school, the teachers, their peers (for the most part, I know we are still talking about teenagers here).

As much as this school tries, any type of punishment here is highly difficult. My students are not planning on going to college, they don’t have any type of stable household that notices their misbehavior at school, and they only show up to school for the free breakfast and to see their friends.

When I first arrived and saw students messing around with no punishments I was shocked. Why aren’t the teachers doing anything, that student just hit you with a water balloon? How can the director just let this happen? I was told by one of the more season teachers at the school that she watches all the new teachers come in and feel like they can help, but after a while they realize that nothing is to be done. So they just let it go.

These students don’t have the same type of respect for the school and the people in it as the students in the United States do because they do not have these major goals. If they get sent to the director’s office their life will not change in any type of way. What type of punishment can I give to a student who truthfully doesn’t care? Nothing seems to be getting through and that makes my job extremely difficult.

Students come to class without their textbooks fifty percent of the time. Between 3 and 6 students out of classes of thirty complete their homework each day. They run around, scream, pop balloons, and play games while people are teaching. Students don’t work during class time and think it is a joke if a teacher actually confront them about their actions. We are getting to the point where three of the eighth graders this week were openly getting drunk in class and the teacher didn’t notice until the boy physically passed out and had to be carried off by four of his classmates.

How are these students supposed to value their education if they are in a class where a teacher cannot pay enough attention to even tell when they are drunk? When the teachers don’t care if they pass or fail because they just pick the best grades of the semester to record and show the administrators? When the teachers don’t push them to do their best? Or when the teachers feel that it is impossible to make any kind of change in the school?

This week I was frustrated with my students. They were late to class, they were passing notes to their friends instead of listening, they were having water fights in the bathroom, and they were getting drunk on school property. But honestly, should I be mad at them or should I mad at the teachers that sit there and watch without moving a muscle?

I am only at this school for three months. It is very difficult for me to make changes in three short months. But some of these teachers have been here for years and just let it slide. They talk about the terrible education system this country has and how they want change but instead of doing anything I sit at their desks and knit while their students keep on with the shenanigans.

I have learned a lot about education in the past years. I have been show what good teachers look like and I have been given opportunity to know exactly how to act in a classroom and I have learned by people who have set good examples for me. But sometimes seeing the opposite is the best learning experience you can ever receive. I now know exactly what it looks like to give up hope on an education system, on a school, and even on the students and it is heartbreaking.

Let’s Talk about Food

When I first arrived in Ecuador I was blown away by all of the food. There was new food on my plate every day. And a lot of it. I was utterly amazed at how much my host family and friends were able to eat in one sitting. And they did it quickly. I would be half way done and completely stuffed and they would be sitting with completely empty plates ready for the next round. I would sit down for lunch and see a large bowl of food and think Oh I can do that, today and right when I had taken my last bite they would set down another plate filled with chicken, rice, salad, and corn on the cob. Let’s not forget the natural fruit juice and coffee as well.

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I learned my first day here, (it didn’t take long at all) that not finishing all of the food on your plate is offensive. I have been trying my hardest to be a part of the clean plate club every day since, which has naturally left me with the “post-Thanksgiving dinner” feeling every day for about a week. Eventually my body got used to the excessive about of food I was shoveling into it and now it just seems normal. Honestly, I should enter an eating contest when I get home to show off this new skill.

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Overall, the food here has been more than wonderful. I’ve been eating a lot of chicken and there is white rice with almost every meal, but there have also been plates of shrimp that have almost made me cry because they were so delicious. I’ve fallen in love with yucca. Especially the kind that grows in Intag. And the bread here cannot even compete with the bread from the States.

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So here is a little run down of what a usual day look like for me.

7:30 am- Breakfast

Break with cheese, jam, or Nutella.

Fruit- apples, pears, papayas.

An egg in some type of form.

Homemade juice. The flavor changes daily.

Tea or coffee.

9:30 am- School Breakfast

The government gives each teacher and student a breakfast every day at 9:30. All classes stop for 15 minutes in order to do so. Each day we are given some type of “cookie” and a vanilla flavored milk that doesn’t need to be refrigerated.

* By “cookie” I mean the worst salt cookie you could imagine or a bubble gum flavored granola bar. But they call them cookie. Personally, I think it is putting shame on the cookie name, but who am I to judge someone’s culture??

* I tried the milk once. Never again.

2:00 pm- Lunch

Lunch changes a lot depending on the day. During the week is it usually some type of meat. Chicken or pork is the most common, but we do seem to have fish at least once a week. There is always white rice. Usually, there is something made from corn. And there is a “salad” of some sort. My host mom calls mix of veggies a salad, which I am more than okay with. There is also more homemade juice and tea or coffee.

On the weekends, lunch is a little more developed. Usually starting with a soup and ending with a slice of torta. My host mom likes to go all out on the weekends.

7:30 pm- Dinner

Reread the lunch section.

Torta de Naranja

Since I have been here in Otavalo, my host mom is determined to teach me how to cook. Personally, I think her expectations of my cooking abilities were a little high when I arrived and she thinks she needs to make up for some lost time. And by lost time I mean the last 22 years of my life when I was supposed to be learning how to be a good wife. She was highly disappointed in the fact that it takes me a significant amount of time to peel a peach and that I was never taught how to quickly pick each individual corn kernel off of an ear of corn.

Now many of my weekends are filled with my host mom running around the kitchen while I sit at the counter and practice my peeling skills. Normally I wouldn’t like to detected an hour a week to peeling fruit, but the look on her face when I finish a whole bowl and ask for further directs is worth the effort. It is obvious to tell she is a natural born teacher.

This past weekend she decided to teach me how to make Torta de Naranja. In other words, Orange Cake. She was determined not to touch a single item in the kitchen during the process so I could say “I made it completely by myself” or in her words “Hecho de Emily”.

So here you all go. It was very easy and I didn’t even screw it up.

Torta de Naranja

  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup fresh squeezed orange juice
  • 1 cup oil
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3 eggs
  • ½ cup almonds
  • ½ cup dried cherries
  • ¼ chopped apples
  1. In a blender, add sugar, orange juice, oil, baking soda, and eggs. Blend until smooth.
  2. In a large bowl combine the liquid mixture from blender with flour, almonds, dried cherries, and apples.
  3. Butter a baking dish. Tap flour on the inside of baking dish over the butter; dump out extra. Pour in batter.
  4. Bake at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes.

 

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