Colleen Scheidel - Oaxaca, Mexico
On May 31, 2010 I departed for the trip of a lifetime. Along with eleven other classmates and two professors from Central Michigan University, I was dropped off at the airport and began the long flight to Oaxaca, Mexico. I have always loved traveling and had wanted to participate in some type of Study Abroad program before graduating. For me, the Oaxaca Midtier Experience was a perfect fit. I learned so much about myself and my teaching style by having had the chance to live and teach in a foreign place. The school, La Salle, was amazing. The teachers and administrators at the school were unbelievably helpful. The opportunity to come to this school every day for three weeks was one I will never forget.
The first day my group walked into La Salle our breath was taken away by how organized, structured, and just plain different this school was compared to elementary schools in the United States. La Salle is a bilingual, private school that houses grades one through nine. Their primary school consisted of what we would call first through sixth grade. I was fortunate enough to be placed in the fourth grade, room B, with my classmate Kristin. On that very first day we took a tour of the school and were able to meet with our host teachers. Miss Esmé talked with Kristin and I about herself and her life and wanted to know what we thought of Mexico so far. Our first response: It is so hot here! The vast temperature difference was just one of the many things we had to get used to now that we were living sixteen degrees above the equator! The school, the routines, and the way class time was structured were all new things for us to learn.
The structure of the school was quite open compared to schools in the States. The building was three levels, and the hallways were completely open to the outside. No windows, just wide open space. The classrooms were very structured. Desks were set up in rows, and were never moved from their places until Kristin and I began to teach a few lessons. Lights were rarely turned on because of the massive floor to ceiling windows on one side of the room. The outside play area was divided into specific grade level sections. At lunch, the students would eat outside and could play in their designated areas. Many of the boys chose to play futból in their spare time, while the girls preferred to sit and chat. It was such a sight to see how these kids play with each other, talk with one another, and enjoy games just as much as American children do. Once the bell rang signaling the end of lunch, or afternoon recess, the students would all line up at the same gathering area they did every morning before school started.
Routines were executed with great precision every day. As children arrived at school in the morning, they would come to the gathering area where they would line up with the rest of their classmates. Boys were in one line, girls in another. They would check their uniforms, make sure shirts were tucked in, hats were off, and they were standing quietly and uniformly in line. Typically it was the principal of the school who would lead all students (grades one through nine) in a morning song. This was always done in Spanish, so us students from CMU rarely learned what they were saying. However, we did learn one chorus and on the last day the students and teachers invited us to sing along with them. Now, I'm not usually one to get overly-emotional at the little things but this was something different. This one moment of the day was so touching that it brought tears to my eyes. As we were singing their morning song, "Allegre la mañana que nos habla de tí...." I looked around at all the beautiful faces, looking at each person I had met and gotten to know over the past three weeks, and it was sad to know that this was our last day at La Salle. While the teaching style was drastically different, the people were very much the same. The students in room 4B were so funny and caring and active that it was hard to believe they could sit through the lessons the way they were structured.
Typically in all schools throughout Mexico, the teacher lectures all day and the students take notes. That's it. That's the extent of their lessons. The students are never given the opportunity to move out of their seats, work in teams, or try any other type of learning style. When Kristin and I began planning our four lessons we were to do, we wanted to get the students up and moving. After my first solo lesson, we found out this concept was going to be much harder to accomplish. I was utterly disappointed with my first lesson because I felt like the students weren't listening at all and they weren't learning anything from me. It is a terrible feeling to think you failed. I was told that all I can hope for is to learn something from my lesson and move on. These students were not used to working in teams of six. They had never done something like that before. Therefore, for the next cultural lesson about Michigan I had the students work in pairs. The lesson went amazingly well! Each pair loved creating their travel brochure about the places they wanted to visit in Michigan. Miguel and Qui-Que wrote that they wanted to go to Mount Pleasant so that, "We can visit Miss Colleen and Miss Kristin." How sweet! They were all so creative and loved every minute of the activity. They even asked if they could have more time to work on their projects after the time was up.
While the school and atmosphere were difficult things to adjust to, I will never forget the awesome experience of teaching at La Salle. Experiences like Alejandro dancing up the aisle in his classroom, Oscar and Fernando presenting Kristin and I with a Beta fish as a gift, Carolina and Mariana talking to us at every lunch period, the surprise party our students threw for us on our last day, watching Benito and the other boys play on the futbol field, smiling back at Enrique who was adorable with his missing front teeth, and many more experiences, especially with the students at La Salle, will stick with me forever.