(shout out to Andrea for the creative title )
Last week, BECA coordinated a professional development day for all of us at a bilingual school in San Pedro called Happy Days. (Yes, this English name made me laugh at first, too). Happy Days is one of the most prestigious and most expensive bilingual schools in the city, and therefore, open to the exclusive class of families who are able to afford it. Our administrators had reminded us prior to this trip that the goal of our observations was to focus on the teaching methods, the discipline systems, and the classroom procedures we saw—in other words, the practical things we could actually take back and apply to our own classrooms. We were warned not to pay too much attention to the physical resources this school had, at the risk of becoming frustrated about what we lack. Still, we couldn’t help but be awed by the giant outdoor pool for swimming lessons, the library and computer lab specifically for the preschool and kindergarten students, and the air conditioners in every room.
During the morning, I spent two hours observing a kindergarten class of about twenty students, taught by a Honduran fluent in English (most likely a graduate of one of the San Pedro bilingual schools herself). After reviewing some sight words and phonics, the students proceeded to watch a letter video on their flat-screen TV and then dance to several songs on the game Just Dance, including One Direction’s What Makes You Beautiful. During centers, each student had their own math workbook, rather than handmade worksheets or games. Not once did the children fight over the puzzles or clay they were using, probably because they are accustomed to having toys of their own at home and do not feel as possessive of the ones they get to use in school. In all the classrooms we saw, the teachers hardly ever used any behavior management systems, if there were even any in place at all. When I left the class at snack time, all the students were sitting down to watch Frozen and eat the baleadas, pastelitos, or cereal their families had paid for.
In stark contrast to the Happy Days visit, yesterday, all of us from Santa Mónica were able to walk over to our neighbor, the public school in Vida Nueva, to see what a typical day is like there. They provide two sessions of classes daily for students through ninth grade, with the average class size being about 40 compared to our 25. They do not have a computer lab or a library, and there appeared to be very few materials available to use in classrooms other than the whiteboard, notebooks, and pencils. While we complain about the heat, many of their classrooms do not have any fans. Being the English-speaking gringos we are, we all felt a bit like animals in a zoo, with the students staring through the windows at the novel sight of us and hoping for handshakes as we walked by.
Reflecting on these visits afterwords, I found that I did not feel at all jealous of the resources Happy Days teachers could utilize and offer their students but rather grateful for those that we are lucky enough to have at our school. I felt a strong sense of pride for Santa Mónica, for the effective and successful teaching we have all been able to provide our students, despite our minimal resources. We think outside the box when creating reusable center activities. We sing and dance even though we do not have a TV to provide us with videos. We are fortunate to now have one brand new computer lab, which the older grades have started to use on a weekly basis. We see and talk to parents of our students all day long, while they take part in the smooth functioning of our school. To be honest, not one of us could probably make it through the day without using our fine-tuned classroom management systems, but our students have spirit. They get excited about books and puzzles and new crayons and tell us on a daily basis they are happy because they are in school. Overall, my observations at Happy Days and the public school proved to be a confirmation for me that I am delighted to be teaching at a school like Santa Mónica, where we feel we are making the biggest difference and also gaining the most from the community.