This semester, I have had the opportunity to student teach at Escuela Fiscal Mixta Carlos Aguilar in Cumbaya, a town in the valley outside the capital city of Ecuador, Quito. This school is just a short walk from my university and located in one of the wealthier suburbs of Quito, but the population of students at this particular school is very poor. I have spent two mornings a week in a fifth grade class at Carlos Aguilar. There are many differences between Carlos Aguilar and schools in which I have previously attended or student taught, but also some similarities. Overall, my experience has been very positive and I feel very lucky to have this opportunity.
To begin, the teaching style in Carlos Aguilar, specifically my fifth grade class, is very different from the way I have been taught to teach in Lynch and the strategies I have experienced sophomore year during my pre-pracs. My CT has been a teacher for nearly forty years and it is very clear that she has a strong routine. However, for many reasons, instruction is very different here. Before I go into reasons for this, I think it makes the most sense to start by describing the way a typical lesson goes. First, my CT tells the student what subject they will be doing, and they all take out the corresponding workbook and textbook. Then, she reads the heading on the page, the paragraph below, and then asks them all a question that corresponds directly to the heading of the topic. After students begin raising hands, she calls on one, listens to them reread what she had just read, does this with at least three more students, and then has them copy word for word what they have read into their notebook.
I believe that there are many reasons for this teaching style. First, the class consists of 39 eight- and nine-year-olds – while it is a fifth grade class, in the US they would be in third grade. Also, the levels of the students (especially in reading and writing) range from not being able to copy a sentence to being able to write a full paragraph. There are some who cannot read nor write and others who go can write short paragraphs. With only four hours together a day and a large class size, there is little opportunity for individualized instruction.
Although the teaching style and classroom size are very different at Carlos Aguilar from many schools in the United States, there are many aspects of my fifth grade class that parallel schools in the United States. The materials they use in the classroom are distributed by the government, and while in general teachers in the United States stray from curriculum more so than they do here, there is a great similarity in the dependence on the books. The students were learning about hemispheres and with them living on the equator, I would have thought it would be the perfect opportunity to make the connection. However, the book did not go into any of this nor did my CT, and that is something I have seen many times before in schools where there is stress to get through material in order to prepare students for standardized testing, in the United States.
A second similarity between teaching at Carlos Aguilar and teaching in the United States is very simple – the kids are always kids. There is innocence and rebelliousness in each student in my class, and that is something that is universal. They get into fights, they distract one another, and they would rather be talking than listening. My CT has to manage all of this, and while her manner of doing so is different from the classes I have been in in the United States, what she does is effective.
In the conversations I have with other BC students here in Ecuador about how my day went at Carlos Aguilar, and even just about being abroad in Ecuador in general, I have realized how easy it is to generalize the United States into one description and the same for Ecuador. While this makes contrasting the two much easier, and can help me to explain any discomfort I have, I have realized that this does not get me anywhere. They are most definitely schools in Boston that have more in common with Carlos Aguilar than they do with the public schools I attended in my suburb of Boston where I grew up. I am so glad to experience something so different from what I know that is a true reality for many, both in Ecuador in the United States.