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  • Writer's picturestrykerk2

Teaching in Chile vs. The U.S.

Well well well… It’s been a minute since my last update. Since then, I’ve been busy doing this thing called life. More on that to come.

Something I wanted to share is that I accepted a summer school teaching position for the month of July. It’s been very interesting going from teaching in Chile to The U.S. While I completed all of my undergrad fieldwork and student teaching in The U.S., I still had a lot to adapt to after coming back into it with a real grasp on teaching.

Some friends abroad have asked me what is summer school; what’s the purpose? Usually, specific students are selected to attend summer school because they are academically low and require more instruction before moving to the next grade-level. Summer school isn’t for the entire summer, so they definitely get their very necessary rest period. As for the teachers, it’s usually a struggle to get enough teachers to teach summer school, since most are burnt out from the school-year and just want to hibernate. For that reason, the monetary incentives for summer school are pretty sweet. Some summer schools operate Monday-Thursday 8-2pm, mine is Monday-Friday 8-12.

Another important thing to note is that many kids attending summer school actually depend on the breakfast and lunch provided by the schools. For many urban school districts, school vacation periods are a time of immense stress for families. They suddenly go from having to provide one meal to their children, to three. Many schools even continue to provide breakfast and lunch for children throughout the entire summer, which I personally think is amazing.

Going into it, I wasn’t really sure what to expect, since I’ve never done anything like it before. I was asked which grade I preferred out of 1st, 2nd or 3rd. I decided 2nd would be my best bet since I knew that the summer school students would be very below grade-level. After speaking with several family members who all have taught summer school, they mentioned that many students don’t show up to summer school, I was expecting to cruise by with a 6-student class.

That first day I started with a class roster of 28 students, with only 6 that actually showed. Throughout the day and even up to the end of week 2, I was receiving new students. I’m now up to 20 students that actually show up (although there are some I admittedly wouldn’t mind if they took a day off).

I was surprised at how easily I jumped back into teaching. After taking 6 months off, I wasn’t sure how those first days would go. My teacher instincts came flying back, like riding a bike. I felt reawakened, like I was finally back on track in life, fulfilling my purpose. What a satisfying feeling that is, one that I’ve missed.

My class has been a little chaotic. We have 3 second grade classes in summer school, and my class is by far the most difficult. I have several students that require special attention –and not just occasional redirecting, I mean they should have a 1:1 para with them at all times. On top of my difficult cases, about half of my class are ESL (English as a Second Language) students -although, I’d consider about 7 out of my 10 ESL’s to be bilingual rather than ESL. I have 2 that don’t speak a word of English, so it’s fortunate that both myself and my paraprofessional speak Spanish. It has been wonderful speaking Spanish on a daily basis, I’ve really missed it!

In terms of instruction, things have been an organized chaos. Basically, the entire curriculum for summer school has been mapped out. I literally just need to follow a script, which I don’t particularly enjoy for several reasons. For one thing, we are required to follow the same exact daily routine for the entire month, which is so boring. If the teacher is bored, then the students are absolutely bored! I try to make it as fun as possible, by making games out of the content or switching things up a bit, but in general, I feel my hands are tied. The curriculum calendar is quite unrealistic considering how low the students are in English and/or math and it doesn’t take into account how the behavior and social-emotional issues that require constant attention affect these lessons. Needless to say, it’s been a bit stressful.

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned teaching summer school is that I can’t save the word by myself. I can have the best intentions, but I physically cannot do it alone sometimes. I have to decide, should I spend the entire 60 minutes of a lesson chasing a hyper-active student around the room to redirect him, or should I use those precious minutes to work with the other 19 students? It’s a hard pill to swallow (no pun intended); you truly have to pick your battles and see the bigger picture.

Some of my more special friends include:

  • A boy on the Autism spectrum with severe ADHD and hyperactivity –he can’t stay seated or focused for more than 2 minutes; he has to be moving constantly. Also my one of lowest students.

  • A boy with severe emotional issues. He can’t manage his frustration appropriately so literally everything I say results in him talking back to me, huffing and puffing and eye-rolling.

  • A girl who goes to sleep when she doesn’t want to work. She slept the entire day for the first 2 weeks. She’s either sleeping or running around the classroom playing.

  • A boy who is extremely intelligent, however if he doesn’t take his medicine, he cannot sit still. He’s like a wind-up toy that never unwinds.

The other challenge I’m facing is the level discrepancy between my students. I have students who cannot read and other students who are reading at a third-grade level.

One of the most shocking things I’ve encountered teaching so far, is how ill-concerned the district is with writing. After coming from a school that primarily focused on writing (aka Writer’s Workshop), I cannot believe there is absolutely zero time set aside for writing. This is truly mind-boggling to me. I’m sure Common Core ties into this somehow, but I definitely don’t want to get into that here. The lack of writing instruction directly shows up in their handwriting, which is often times illegible. Can you imagine a third-grader that can’t write?!

Something that has been so wonderful that I didn’t experience teaching in Chile is the school resources. I’m not talking about books and iPads. I’m talking about specific people who you can call when you have a student throwing chairs and screaming. They’re called “behavior technicians” (which I find hilarious). Just during the summer school program alone, the school has 6 BT’s available. I was shocked when I had someone come to my classroom and help diffuse a situation, so that I could continue teaching. I’m so accustomed to not having any support because everyone was busy. I adapted myself to just “figuring it out” by myself. The school also has several actual police officers that monitor the halls and doors. Although gun-violence was not in issue in Chile, I feel at ease knowing that they’re there.

I also love the fact that the school is air-conditioned. I’m not sure how we’d survive the CT summer without it! We also have computers in the classroom, which is a commodity we didn’t have at my old school. I personally prefer the set-up of my summer school classroom, compared to my old rooms. I think they were skillfully crafted.

^^ My room connects to another second grade classroom, which is awesome! We share a sink and theres a giant storage closet

Some things I’ve missed about teaching in Chile are my co-workers. On that first day of summer school, it felt very evident that we weren’t a team, but rather individuals doing the same job. I miss that camaraderie. I loved how friendly my co-workers were; those who asked you how your weekend was, those who said good morning to you. I also miss my students. My current students are “too cool for school” so to speak, and it’s extremely frustrating. Side note: It's been really confusing going from "Miss Kim" to "Miss Stryker". Sometimes when I refer to myself in third-person (which is a lot actually...) the kids are like "Who's Miss Kim?"

I have to recognize that teaching summer school is an entirely different animal than teaching during the school year. During the year, your class is more balanced in terms of difficulty levels and behavior/emotional issues. That being said, I personally feel that sometimes teaching summer school can be even more challenging than the school-year, depending on your class. Nonetheless, this has been such a wonderful experience for me. I’ve learned to appreciate and even question teaching practices I’ve experienced both abroad and now in The U.S.

Life Update:

In terms of the job search, it’s still going on. My anxiety has gotten much better, and I’ve come to accept the notion that I’ll get where I need to be when I need to be there. I’m still actively pursuing a teaching job in Western Europe. My Achilles Heel is the fact that I don’t have an E.U. passport. European International schools are more likely to recruit an E.U. passport holder over me because they don’t need to get them a visa, and they can still be considered international. Believe it or not, hearing this information came as a relief to me. Before understanding what was going on, I was applying to tons of jobs and not receiving any responses. I started to wonder if something was wrong with me!

I’m aware now that it’s definitely not me, just the system. Now, I actually receive several weekly e-mails asking for interviews for international teaching positions, the only issue is they’re not where I want to be. I’ve gotten offers to go to Shanghai, Moscow, Kazakhstan and Colombia among others. I even had an interview for an International School in Rome and I killed it! At one point, I was pretty sure I was going to have to uproot myself and move to Rome in less than a month. Shortly after, I received an e-mail from the head of the school saying that they unfortunately could not continue with my application because it was too late in the game for a visa. I have no hard feelings about it though, it was great practice and Rome is really expensive!

In the meantime, I’m considering finding a long-term substitute teaching job. I don’t want to commit myself to an entire school-year here in The U.S. in case something comes up. I’ve also been doing a lot of pet-sitting, house-sitting and babysitting on the side. A lot of sitting! Through the “sitting”, I’ve confirmed that I’m definitely meant to be a teacher and not a nanny! I didn't anticipate how difficult it would be going from having your own classroom where you make the rules to having to follow other people's rules.

Any way, my plan is to just keep on keeping on. It’s going to happen, it’s just a matter of timing!

Also, León is living his best life.

Chao for now!

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