Volunteering in two drastically different first grade classrooms in Quito has been eye-opening experience for me in so many ways. El Colegio Menor is a private bilingual pK-12 school entirely in English and Carlos Aguilar is the local public elementary school conducted in Spanish. The classes have very different teaching styles and subject content but their primary focus is on the students. I am learning so much from the way the teachers care for their students as people with innate dignity and worthiness as their first priority, regardless of the inequity and injustice in their situations.
Colegio Menor seems very much like elementary schools in the United States, and even more endowed than most. Everything (except the Spanish classes) is conducted in English and the teachers use methods, materials, and curriculum from the US. The school is very well-resourced. My CT taught for a few years in Miami, so her teaching style is similar to other teachers in the US, although she is a bit more affectionate. She talks to students politely, rarely if ever raises her voice, and seems calm and capable. My CT has specific objectives and plans for all of her lessons and often teaches each lesson with an instruction period and then practice time. The students seem to be at grade-level (for the US) for the most part.
Carlos Aguilar, the local public school, on the other hand, is a very different environment. I am in a first grade classroom there as well, but the classroom seems almost out of control often and the teacher is very stressed. Everything is conducted in Spanish. The teacher yells a lot and almost every two minutes asks for “silencio” or “callense” (be quiet), and even tells the students to pretend to sleep on their desks so she can have silence. When students are in the wrong place at the wrong time, she sometimes physically moves them to their spot, which is discouraged in the US. The lessons are planned out but they do not have very many resources at all. The classroom is tiny, the students don’t have workbooks or computer, and the room is sparsely decorated. The lessons are a lot of activities but do not seem to introduce a lot of new material. Today, for example, the students painted a worksheet yellow to learn about primary colors, they played with lego like toys, and did some physical exercise to learn more about their bodies. The students are below grade level (by US standards) and the lessons, at least from what I saw today, do not sufficiently address them. Despite the more challenging and stressed atmosphere in this low-income school, the teacher never gives up and brings energy to each acticity. The students are very warm and affectionate, ask lots of questions, and love school. When I first walked in, at least half the class surrounded me in hugs and bombarded me with questions about where was from and what my name was. I like working at this school as I feel like I am helping the students and the teacher a lot, despite my imperfect Spanish, and because the kids are so loving.
I enjoy working at both schools in different ways. My experience at Carlos Aguilar in particular has impacted my understanding of “Promoting Equity and Social Justice.” Despite the under-resourced environment, low-income population, and below-grade level performance, these kids deserve and need the best possible conditions to learn, as well as those in other schools like Colegio Menor. The students’ background should not influence the quality of education they receive. Seeing the huge discrepancy between the two schools that are less than 10 minutes apart made me realize the huge income divide in Ecuador and the unequal distribution of resources. As a teacher from Boston College that focuses on promoting equity and social justice, I want to try to do what I can to help the students succeed, regardless of their background.