Tuesday, July 27, 2010
Ben B., March-June 2010
Looking for a volunteer opportunity in Buenos Aires, I Googled "volunteer Buenos Aires," and one of the first things I found was the Conviven blog. I had never taught children before, but it seemed like a nice way to try something new and develop my own Spanish. I talked to Tez, the Volunteer Coordinator, by email, and three weeks later I arrived for my first day at Conviven.
I was given two classes, one "intermediate" class of six ten year-olds and another class of teenagers and adults. (There was only one class for students this old, and it was structured a little bit differently because it was an outgrowth of an individual homework tutoring program.) We were given weekly themes to teach, along with ideas for what to include in each theme. For example, the theme of one of the weeks was "professions." Suggested words to teach included "painter," "doctor", and "firefighter" and suggested activities included making posters about what the kids wanted to be when they grew up. Other than that, we could design our classes and lesson plans in any way that we wanted.
This freedom was both exciting and somewhat stressful. It took about a month of experimentation for me to develop a teaching pattern that seemed to work. Another challenge for me at first was maintaining classroom order. The kids were very sweet, and there were no serious behavior problems, but, like all ten-year-olds, they often preferred to talk and play with each other instead of to listen to their teacher. My first approach was to try to win them over by being laid-back, nice, and appealing to their reason (which was hard given my limited fluency in Spanish.) This didn't work. With the help of Bella, an experienced teacher and leader at Conviven, I eventually realized that it was important to enforce structure and be strict, even about small things. This actually improved the atmosphere in the classroom quite a bit, and I could tell that the students were having a better time.
By the end of my three months, I was very happy that I had the opportunity to work at Conviven. It was heartwarming to see the kids enthusiastically run into class and get genuinely excited about doing vocabulary practice worksheets. And I was just as excited to come to class myself. The hour-long commute was tiring sometimes, but every hour I spent teaching the kids was a joy. Although the kids exhibited no obvious signs of being poor, I knew that they faced significant challenges outside Conviven, and I was happy to provide a positive, if small influence on their lives.
A surprising development of my time at Conviven is that I learned that I liked to teach kids and have begun to consider changing my career to include this. After leaving Conviven, I believe very strongly in its mission, both that of the center as a whole and that of the after-school English program in particular. I strongly encourage anyone to give it a try.
-Ben B. Seattle, USA.