Sunday, January 22, 2012

Another Paper Airplane??

Little Eleancito’s face after having made his favorite thing in the world it seems: Paper Airplanes.

Vacation English Camp: A 9-Day Rollercoaster of Language

It’s finally over. Two weeks of hard, solo work with 60 plus students has come to a close.  Lots happened, both good and bad.  

            The idea was planted in me by a counterpart of mine that offhandedly said that there should be some kind of prep work for the students coming into the first year at the institute.  Before this, the students had never received any kind of English education.  If they knew anything, it probably came from watching movies with subtitles or the occasional thing that an older brother or sister taught them.

            Originally I had hoped this could be a two-person job with me and a counterpart, but what with the professors taking full advantage of the break, it quickly fell to just me.  

            I remember how it felt when I first showed up to the class room.  I thought at most I’d have 15 students.  I had 32 the first day and it kept growing until I cut it off at 63.  

            I learned in the first two days that I lacked in classroom management.  Part of it is there being one of me and over 50 of them.  Their ages ranged from 11 to 15 and they saw right off that I was an inexperienced teacher and keeping some order in the classroom became exhausting.  

            But they learned quite quickly, and we accelerated through topics like, classroom objects, colors, personal introductions and even the alphabet.  Looking back, I think the class was, despite its flaws, a great success.

Tests proved to be a beast.  I had never written or given one in my life that was more than a swimming test in a Boy Scout camp.  I divided it into written and oral.  Giving oral exams to 60 plus students was mistake number one.  I started at 930 and wasn’t finished until 3 hours later even when I was taking them two at a time.

Grading drew out another experience that I would not like to relive.  On the whole, the majority passed well and those that failed were kids that really couldn’t care less about the class as something more than a hang out.  However, there was one girl that tried so hard, came every day, participated in every activity, but she just couldn’t pass a test to save her life.  Even with a very generous helping of extra credit, she couldn’t make a passing 60 average.  

When she started crying and ran out of the class after I told her I just couldn’t pass her, I never felt so terrible.  I felt like I had failed her more than anything.  But this is the reality of teaching classes of this size.  Some are going work their butts off and still not make it.  If I “pity pass” them, I’ve disrespected the hard work and talent of those that earned the passing grades.  And after that they would be less motivated to keep up those good work ethics.  

So after nine classes, every one of my students will be going into first year English a little more prepared, some better than others.  But in the end, learning languages is always a work in progress, and no matter what grade someone gets, it all comes down to successful communication.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Monday, January 2, 2012

Ometepe New Year

I could hardly put down my travel guide for the entire time we were on the ferry moving about six knots towards San Jorge.  La Concepcion loomed overhead with her summit enveloped in clouds.  Ometepe Island, our destination, was about to fulfill everything that I had been reading about and much much more.  

            Once again with my beautiful girlfriend and more than generous “suegros” (her parents), we were off again on another adventure.  We had gotten up extra early that morning, woofed down some quick breakfasts and started driving down to Rivas, Rivas to catch the first ferry we could.

            The ferry, La Reina del Lago, came into port, dropped her large back doors like a draw bridge over a mote, and we all poured inside.  La Reina wasn’t a particularly big ship, and the crowd of Nicas and Gringos had me wondering if we’d all fit.  But fit we did and for the next two hours or so were spent elbow to elbow with the other passengers as we watch the twin volcanoes getting closer and closer.

            Oscar, Kathya’s dad, was smart enough to bring the family truck along.  It cost quite a bit more but it was a saving compared to the prices of public transport on the island, plus we’d be in much better control of when and where we went.  Since we were only going to stay one night that mad things much easier to maximize our time.

            Here’s a little info about Ometepe.  The island sits in the western half of Lake Nicaragua.  It gets its Nawatl name, Ometepe, from its twin volcanoes that make up the island; the name means Twin Mountain.  Its beautiful forests and jungles and amazing wildlife have earned the island a place in the top ten natural wonders of the world.

            After checking into our hotel, we immediately set out to explore.  The first place we went to was a swimming hole called Ojo de Agua.  The Nicas on the island only swim in the swimming holes such as this one.  The lake is the domain of bull sharks.  But one look at the crystalline waters of Ojo de Agua and I was quite content to swim the day away right there.  There was even a rope swing, but unfortunately as with any attraction there were lines waiting for it.  

            The next day began with a breakfast of packed fruit and coffee.  The hotel staff were also carrying out uneaten food out behind where we were sleeping and I heard Kathya’s parents say that they we feeding the monkeys.  I wasted no time grabbing my camera and  rushing to the scene, and sure enough, there were about eight or so spider monkies coming down from the trees taking the leftovers and gorging on the fruit.  I even made a major naturalist “no no” and fed one of the braver monkies by hand.  It was totally worth it.

We eventually left our furry friends to eat and headed out to the swampy nature preserve of Charco Verde.  On the beaches of the island facing east, the waters hardly move and nothing could be heard but the forests around.  We trekked back into the preserve until we could go no further due to the thickening of the brush in our path and the mud on our shoes.  There supposedly is a witch doctor that lives in the area but we weren’t lucky enough to spot him.

            Finally it was my turn to pick the next destination.  With my obsession for history and antiquities, I made Kathya and the others go to an archaeology museum that was devoted completely to Ometepe finds.  At first, the more than doubled price for me as a gringo had me a bit put off but as soon as I started seeing art and artifacts, I was immediately placated.  Among the many pots, tools and other things typical of a museum, I saw an object that was about as long as my forearm and had some sort of joystick like grip on one end.  I asked the one of the guides what it was, and she seemed a bit embarrassed.  “It was a tool for the women, for when their husbands leave to go to work or war for a long time…”  That’s right, it was pre-Colombian dildo!  The other guide was much more enthusiastic.  I asked her what some of the little holes on shaft were for.  She plainly answered, “they’re for putting toys on it.  No pain means no pleasure.”  I won’t lie.  When she said that, my first thoughts were, “I can see what you’re into.”

            Finally the time had come for us to retreat from this amazing island escape.  Whether it be for the beautiful crystal waters of Ojo de Agua or the ancient ceramic lady toy, I know I’ll be remembering this little island adventure for a long time and hopefully return to.