There are a lot of things to get used to here in Nicaragua. Some of them are really easy: the food (check!), sun (check!), cold showers (check!), crazy driving (check!). All of the easy things are external changes; I just needed to make up my mind that these things were okay. The harder things require an internal change, require me to give up some control and comfort.
School has really been the hardest part of being here. If you know me at all, you know that I am a type-A person. I like things organized. I like a clear plan. I want to know why I am learning what I am learning and why I am learning it the way I am learning it. I like being prepared for class. I like being responsible for myself. And I like when my classmates are responsible for themselves.
In Nicaragua, I have to rely heavily on other people. I have to constantly ask for clarification. Assignments are structured differently (or sometimes not structured at all!) I can’t read the readings as fast as my classmates, so when we do a reading in groups (yes, sometimes three people read one packet together at the same time!) I am the one slowing down the group. Sometimes I panic because I can’t remember if desafío means challenge or advantage (and that makes a big difference!) Class discussions can be a disaster for me! I if I stop paying attention for half a second (which is easy to do in those hot classrooms) I get lost. Everything takes so much more effort here, and sometimes it just feels like too much.
Sometimes I try to contribute in a group discussion and my group just kind of looks at me funny. I have the answer in my head, and I cannot find the right words in Spanish. Or sometimes I have absolutely no answer in either language because the question just does not make sense to me. It is times like this I get really overwhelmed. It’s enough to make me want to cry sometimes. And I have.
What am I doing?
Do I really know Spanish?
I feel like an idiot.
I was reflecting one day after a particularly rough group meeting, and I thought about how thankful I was that I have had many experiences where I have felt intelligent. I have had over fifteen years of experience in a context I thrive in, the American classroom, but how many people have spend their whole lives in a context that doesn’t work for them? They must feel pain and frustration similar to what I feel—probably worse! They may have only had a handful of experiences where their way of thinking was praised and rewarded.
I can tough out this time in my life because I know that I am smart. But how awful it must be to go to school each day and have no one recognize the value of your way of thinking. How frustrating it must be when the language you think in doesn’t translate well into the language your teachers think in. How many brilliant ideas are we as a society missing out on because we think that all intelligence should come in the same neatly labeled box and contain test scores and a five paragraph writing sample?
Sure I can’t be type-A here, but I also can’t only be type-A when I become a teacher. I have to be type-A-Z and probably also type-57. Or at least design my class that way. Everyone deserves to know that they are smart—that their way of thinking has value. Maybe it’s better at math problems than essays. Maybe it’s better at making split-second judgment calls than long-term goals. Maybe it can convey feeling though music but can’t pass a standardized test.
And yes, it is important to be able to write, read, do math, and plan for the future. Just because something is difficult doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try hard to get better at it, but the greater point here is there is no one correct way of evaluating intelligence. And I, for one, am very grateful for that!
Now let’s all try to convince our politicians!!