Teaching Abroad at Colegio Menor in Cumbaya, Ecuador has been incredible. I am currently working in a kindergarten classroom with children who are being taught completely in English, rather than Spanish. As I have learned about Ecuadorian culture throughout the semester, I have seen more and more of the culture imbedded in the curriculum and everyday events. The school is modeled after schools in the United States and is often referred to as an “American school” by people who I have spoken with about my Practicum. Because of this, I initially had trouble finding Ecuadorian culture within the classroom. Upon entering the classroom, you feel as though you are in the United States. There are centers set up such as dramatic play and art as well as a circle area with calendars, a class schedule, a class chore chart and weather charts to use during morning meetings. The students receive an incredible education here, but I wondered, how can students live each day immersed in Ecuadorian culture, and then enter an environment modeled after the United States and adapt accordingly? I knew there had to be some essential elements of Ecuadorian culture imbedded within the “American” style school day.
In Ecuador, the concept of time is completely different than in the United States. People in Ecuador consider time in the present and the past, rather than the future. Their concept of time is like the waves of the ocean. It moves forward to the present and then cycles backwards towards the past. Generally speaking, Ecuadorians live in the present and do not worry much about deadlines or plans for the future. They are more relaxed in the present and are in no rush to go towards the future. The teacher in my classroom paces the class much differently than teachers do in the United States. The flow of activities and lessons seems less forced and more natural. I can tell she makes sure to give lots of wait time to her students. If the lesson goes five minutes over because students needed more clarification, that is totally okay. The teacher often moves around the schedule depending on how students are progressing each day. The teacher even paces her words slowly, but naturally, giving the English language learners the clarity they need to comprehend the lesson. Due to high stakes testing (among other factors), classrooms in the United States seem much more rushed to me. In my opinion, children of this age, who are adjusting to being in school, need a pace like the one I am finding here in Ecuador in order to be more in control of their own learning and discovery, rather than rushed toward meeting a lesson objective.
Ecuador is home to great biodiversity. In a country smaller than the state of Colorado, you can find the Galapagos Islands, the Amazon Rainforest, and snowcapped active volcanoes such as Cotopaxi. My classroom is called Antisana, which is the name of one of the volcanoes in Ecuador. Ecuadorians take pride in this biodiversity and learn in school how to protect nature. Nature is also utilized at Colegio Menor as an educational tool. The school resembles a college campus, filled with green space, flowers, and plants. My classroom looks out to a huge soccer field of rich green grass. I spoke with my CT about how the view of green space and the sun that shines through the room are used to stimulate the children’s minds while relaxing them and readying their minds for learning. Preschoolers at the school are in a program known as “Play Group”, where most of their learning is achieved through self-guided outdoor activities. Unfortunately, we do not always have an appropriate climate for such activities in Boston. However, when possible, I think teachers should try to incorporate nature into lessons.
Family relationships are very important in Ecuador. Because of this, I feel that my CT makes family involvement a huge priority. She often uses arts and crafts activities that students can bring home to share with their families. She has pictures of each student’s family in the classroom as well. Parents are super involved, which is normal for a private school, but even in the public school that I volunteer in, parents are very involved as well. Teachers often send home homework for the parents and students to do together. When learning the English alphabet, my CT utilized the names of each student’s parents to play an alphabet game. In general, the family is brought into the classroom much more than I have seen in the United States. This seems to motivates the students and makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom.