Here we go again!

Woohoo! Back to the library with renewed energy and enthusiasm! Thank goodness, because I’m going to need it!

I arrived in the community on Monday afternoon to find that, unfortunately, the substitute teacher I told the students they were going to have didn’t work out. It’s a bummer, but I had a feeling that was going to happen. The most difficult part is that not all of my students know that classes have started again. I have seen most of the younger kids, but the older students come from further and haven’t gotten the message yet. That makes lesson planning just that much harder because I don’t want half the class to miss the new material. So we’ll be reviewing for a while.

I’m also not in the classroom right now. The building is currently only used for English classes, which means it hasn’t been used for a month and is a mess! I want to go in and clean it, but no one wants me to do it by myself and no one has time to help me. So no classroom for me! haha Luckily, the library recently constructed a covered area to the side of the library that I can use. It works just fine!

On Tuesday we had visitors from California who helped the level one students make tie-dye t-shirts! They LOVED it! And we got to practice colors and words like please and thank you! The kids did great!

And the level three boys fell in love with the two American girls who came to help. They wanted to learn how to say things like, “You’re really pretty.” and “You have beautiful eyes.” I told them they needed to take it slow and converse first. In Nicaragua shouting “hey, lady!” is acceptable, but not in the US. I explained that they will have more success if they ask questions to show they’re interested in the girl as a person. This might be the most practical English lesson I have ever taught. Even my troublemakers paid close attention!

Currently, I am procrastinating in figuring out a solution to the printer being broken. My plans for the night class included printed worksheets, so I’ve got to think of a new way to use the material. It’s always something and it keeps me on my toes! Although, just once I would like a day when everything goes according to plan! *sigh*


Some Updates

In my time off, I’ve been updating and reorganizing the blog. I’ve updated the “About my Adventure” section, as well as added a few pages to give you a better idea of what my classes are like. The name of the blog has also changed. I think it’s a better fit for what I’ll be writing about now.

Check out some of the new changes and don’t forget you can ‘follow’ the blog to get updates sent right to your email!

I’ll be posting more often once I get back to Nicaragua in a few weeks!

Oh and by the way, I graduated yesterday!


Small Successes

Well, I have been teaching English for two months now, and let me say this is definitely the most challenging endeavor I have ever taken on. Don’t worry! I am happy, I like my job, and I like my students! I’m not having a change of heart. However, some days I come home from class at 7:30 pm and only have the energy to crawl into bed. And I want to give you a realistic picture of what my life has been like for the past two months.

Everyone always says the first year is the hardest, so I try to take everything in stride, but I also don’t think I set myself up for success when I agreed to teach five different levels and classes without an established curriculum. (Rookie mistake!) It takes A LOT of time to write lesson plans and class materials for five separate classes. I have Mondays free for planning and I plan all morning during the week, but still it’s not enough. Sometimes I take the whole weekend to plan to try to get ahead, but that usually backfires because something will happen in class the next day that forces me to change the rest of the week’s plans. (The examples run from the typical: that activity took waaay longer than I thought it would or I have to pause the lesson to remind students why it’s not okay to call each other idiots to the completely unforeseen: I don’t realize that my high-schoolers don’t know how to identify the subject of a sentence (in Spanish) or half of my students stop showing up for two weeks to participate in a different library project.) Plus, without the weekend away from teaching, I don’t have the opportunity to chill out and re-energize for the next week. I’m lucky I have an awesome boyfriend who is cool with vegging out with a movie and some pan dulce! That lazy escape over the weekend totally saves me!

It’s a crazy job and I’m stressed out more often than not, but my classes have had some small successes:

1. All my students greet me outside of class in English.

2. All my little kids know their numbers in English and can count on the fly (even outside of class!)

3. After implementing a “star student” poster campaign with the elementary school students, there have been noticeable changes in behavior. Some of them will tell me, “Miss Lindsay, I’m going to be a star student today!”

4. My adult students are kicking butt at English! They know so much, and they started with basically nothing. They can write paragraphs about themselves with very few errors! I’m so, so proud of them!

5.  The elementary school students practiced and performed three songs at the library’s mother’s day event.

Okay, so maybe that doesn’t seem like a lot, but given the fact that some days I have kids running through the classroom screaming with giant canvas signs over their heads to try to get attention or students who get up in the middle of class to have conversations with their friends, I’m not all that disappointed in what we’ve been able to do. Still a lot of room for improvement, but I will be taking some time this month to prep some new class policies and plan out goals for each class.


Slow and steady!


Ending on a Good Note (and Getting to Stay!)

Last week I wrapped up my internship with Casa Verde. I finished the university guide I had been working on and I took five of the Fenix students to Managua for a college visit. We had a great time visiting la Universidad Politecnica de Nicaragua (UPOLI) and la Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Nicaragua (UNAN)! The students met with admissions officers, toured campus, and got to talk with students and faculty about the university. Check out the photos below.

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It’s hard to say goodbye. I feel like I’ve had to say a lot of goodbyes during my last six months in Nicaragua. Having the benefit of getting to know many different communities comes with the reality of having to say goodbye to many wonderful communities. I form my relationships slowly, and sometimes it would feel like I was just starting to connect with the community and it would be time to leave.

But this time I get to stay.

I was offered a position teaching English in the Limon library, Puertas del Saber. The library is a non-profit organization, separate from Casa Verde, where I was interning.

In my new job (yes, my first teaching job!) I will be teaching five English classes. Two for elementary school students, two for high school students and older, and one for adults who want to learn English they can use in their jobs. One of the main industries in Limon in tourism, which is why the final class is important.

Officially, the job started this past Monday. I’ve been planning like a madwoman, as there is no established curriculum to use. We currently have 4o students enrolled, and I think we’ll get a new wave of interest on Monday, since Friday was the last day to register. (That’s just kind of how it is in Nicaragua!) In general, people are really excited about the opportunity to learn English.

And I’m pleased as punch I get to stay in one community for more than a few months! I love walking around Limon and hearing kids call out from their yards, “Hi Miss Lindsay!” I’ll be taking a month to go home, see family and friends, and graduate—oh yeah graduation!! I’ll return in July and stay until December, which is when the Nicaraguan school year ends.

I feel like this is my big opportunity to put together everything I’ve been learning through my degree and do something really good. All my experience in the classroom—tutoring in the middle school, student teaching in the high school, and solo teaching in Managua—has prepared me to take on this monster challenge. Maybe I should be a little panicked, but I just feel really happy. I’m so eager to get in the classroom. It has been my dream for a long time to teach English in Central America.

Although my internship has ended, I’ll do my best to keep up with the blog. Tuesday is the first day of classes. I’m sure I’ll have a lot to say about that!

Profesora Mariana

Each Tuesday and Friday, after lunch, I walk in the hot afternoon sun to the library. I am armed with my notebook, pens, white board markers, and usually a few posters. When I arrive, there are already students carrying tables and chairs outside. They place everything in the small spaces of shade: the wall of the library, a nearby tree. Luckily, as the number of students grows throughout the afternoon, so does the amount of shade. Two students are in charge of carrying the large whiteboard out and hanging it on the wall. Students arrive in packs, say hi to their friends, goof off a little bit, and then take out their homework. They sit at the tables by grade: seventh graders with seventh graders, eighth graders with eighth graders, and so on.

Sonia the director of the library with Profesora Mariana
Sonia the director of the library with Profesora Mariana

Directing what would otherwise be chaos is Profesora Mariana. When I arrive, she gives me a smile and a kiss on the cheek. “¡Lindsay!”  “How are you, Mariana?” I ask. “¡Aquí bien!” she responds. Usually dressed in an embroidered blouse and skirt, with her hair a little askew from a morning filled with teaching Spanish at the secondary school, Mariana is a force of order and discipline. “¡Aprovechen el tiempo, chavalos!” she reminds the students. “Take advantage of your time!” “¡Guardá el celular, mama!” she tells one of the girls. “Put your phone away!”

IMG_0718The students have a lot of respect for her–and with good reason! Her 30 years of experience have helped her develop a perfect balance of care and discipline. She is able to get the 30+ students started on their different assignments, check in with individual students who missed class or are struggling, and spar with the jokesters of the group.

It is hot outside of the library, even in the shade. Many of the students leave school, go home for lunch, then come straight to the library to do more schoolwork. The number of kids who show up is a testament to how vital the tutoring program is in their lives. The library offers them a dedicated place to study and the resources they need to do the work.

Mariana encourages her students to continue learning and growing, and she does the same. Although her schedule is already filled with teaching commitments, she wants to learn English.

“I even bought a book to start on my own!” she tells me and practices a few phrases from memory: Hello, how are you? Nice to meet you. See you later.

Mariana is a person who never stops. She never stops teaching, she never stops learning, she never stops fighting. One day she came to tutoring looking awful. She had spent all morning in Rivas at the doctor’s office, sick as can be. “Why are you here, Profesora?” I asked. “You should be home resting!” “All of these kids come a long way to work with me. I couldn’t let them down.”

Mariana is an exemplary teacher, the kind I aspire to be. Her relentless hope for her students and for her community drives her to push on with a profession most people would say is to difficult.

You can’t teach a class of 60 kids.

You can’t get kids to show up to do more work after school.

You can’t teach without books, computers, desks, etc.

But Mariana does.

The Education Challenge

Here’s a glimpse into the challenges of being a student in Limon:

School starts at 8 am and ends at 12 pm Monday through Friday.

  1. Classes can reach upwards of 60 students, so some students sit on the floor.
  2. Parents are expected to buy their children’s textbooks, but most cannot afford to do that. On average only five students in each class are able to purchase their textbooks.
  3. Kids are responsible for supporting their families. For boys that can mean holding a job and contributing their salary to the family. For girls that can mean being the primary caretaker of their younger siblings, being responsible for making the family’s means, or doing the family’s laundry.
  4. Weekends aren’t for resting and hanging out. They usually just mean more work.
  5. The average level of education for adults is mid-secondary school.
  6. Few, if any, families own computers or have internet access.
  7. Homework for most classes is copying passages from textbooks.

In spite of all these challenges, students want more for themselves. All twenty-four of the students I work with in Formación Fénix want to pursue higher education. The problem is they don’t know how.

An activity I did with the Fenix students to get them thinking about their educational goals
An activity I did with the Fenix students to get them thinking about their educational goals

Right now I am working with five Fénix students to plan a college visit. In two weeks we will be traveling to Managua to visit la UPOLI and la UNAN. The students will meet with admissions counselors, as well as professors from their chosen departments. They have written questions they want to find answers to, such as what they can do to be good candidates for scholarships, what classes are like, and what the process for applying is.

I am both excited and nervous about the trip. I want to give the students the independence to make this trip their own. So many times in school here it feels like students have to figure out what the teacher wants from the students. Students aren’t given the opportunity to think about why they want to do something.

While it would seem like giving students independence would mean less work for me, it actually means more. It means asking the right questions in our group meetings, following up and checking in casually, but often. I want more than anything for these students to have a successful visit. I want them to ask good questions. I want people to listen to them and be interested in the work they are doing. I want them to be able to picture themselves studying at a good university. I want them to realize they have to work harder to get there.

Because right now I’m worried about them. They don’t have good grades, and they don’t have the motivation to work to improve them. We had 35 students come to tutoring today, and none of them were Fenix students. The goal of the visit is to inspire this motivation. We’ll just have to wait and see.

There’s only so much I can do. The cover letter workshop I did today attracted a total of zero willing participants and two unwilling participants. I taught outside on the porch because the students refused to come inside. These are skills that they need to have. And they know they need them. But they’re not ready to work for them yet. My hope is that the university visit will jump start that process. Otherwise, I’m going to need a new plan!

Getting Settled

Now, at the end of week three, I am feeling much more settled into the community here in Limón. While I’ve been in Nicaragua for five months, I’m changing communities pretty frequently. I was at la UCA for the longest, 3 months. Then I was at NPH for 15 days. Then I had a break and did some traveling with my mom and our friend Lisa. Next I was in La Concepción for two weeks of Spanish classes. And finally, now, I am in Limon for two months. For an introvert, it’s recently been exhausting having to start over socially every few weeks, especially in a different language! But luckily this is my last stop in Nicaragua–at least for now. The next logical question is, of course, what’s next? But I’ll save that for a different post. Right now it’s important to focus on where I am right now. After all, I practically just got here!

Here are some excellent experiences I’ve had since coming to Limón:

  • getting to see the sunset at the beach nearly every night
  • playing frisbee on the beach with some of the Nicaraguan kids who work on the fishing boats
  • seeing five day-old puppies that live across the street from me
  • trying to catch and hold baby pigs with Eric (we were unsuccessful)
  • making Valentine’s Day cards on the beach with Morgan and Angela
  • going with the Manos Verdes students to see their garden and find cow pies to feed to their worms
  • talking outside with my host mom while she sells tajadas

My projects are starting to pick up speed! Tutoring has started attracting a regular crowd of students, I finished writing my first computer workshop, and there’s potential for me to teach English at the library one day a week! Next week, at the Formación Fénix meeting, I’m going to be doing an activity to help the students think about what they would like to study after high school. I’m planning on working with small groups of students to help them advocate for themselves by calling and emailing universities to better understand the programs they offer and what students need to do to be admitted. The activity will help me understand the student’s interests, as well as give them an opportunity to formally make longterm goals. Plus I think it will be fun! This next week will be busy, but I’m looking forward to it!

Here’s a look back at all the wonderful communities I’ve been a part of since coming to Nicaragua: