I can’t believe I only have a couple weeks left in Chile! I am not even close to being ready to go home. In the last couple months, my cooperating teacher and I have transformed the classroom management system in our classroom. I am a firm believer in positive reinforcement. I created “Caught Being Good” cards for the students. Any time I saw a student following the classroom rules, being respectful, and/or helping others, the student received this card. Students could choose to sit in the teacher’s chair, wear silly socks, use a pen all day, eat a snack during class, and many more. Surprisingly, many students wanted to sit in the teacher’s chair! I can’t say I blame them; their wooded chairs do not seem very comfortable!
A major curriculum insight I am learning here is the importance of connectedness. At this school all subjects relate to each other. For example, we are currently learning about the solar system in Science. To reinforce vocabulary, the story problems in Math have planets and other important vocabulary. In English, the students had a spelling test on the planets and they are also learning about time. To teach time, we talked about days and how the Earth revolves around the sun. Also in English, students are also learning to use “have and has”, to reinforce this concept; students are used “have and has” to describe the planets. In History ,students are learning about people who researched and created theories about our Solar System.
Currently, the school is working on better connecting Sports, Music, and Art. I love how all the subjects are connected. Students have an easier time learning new material because the same content and vocabulary is being reinforced all day! I truly believe that learning best takes place when students can make connections from their everyday life to school and the new content they are learning. It is also imperative that subjects are connected so students understand that validity within each subject and better comprehend the material.
In addition, The Mackay School is working toward the constructivist approach to learning. The constructivist approach is a part of the PYP learning system, however infusing this pedagogical style and way of learning into the classroom has been a challenge for some teachers who are used to direct instruction or “drill and kill!” My cooperating teacher wants to infuse inquiry in to lessons, but struggles letting students take charge of their own learning. Our classroom is slowly transforming in a positive way, where students are able to discover the world around them through connections and inquiry. I have learned that it is imperative as an educator to trust your students. We need to trust they are learning and allow them to take charge of their own learning and work at their own pace.
Over this three month time period I have grown, not only as an educator, but also as a person. I have learned to trust myself. In the past, I have always doubted my abilities, questions my theories, and lacked a great deal of confidence in my teaching. People on the outside never noticed this, because I knew how to cover this fear up. When I first arrived at The Mackay School, I thought to myself, “What on Earth, did I get myself into.” I am I smart enough for this? Can I handle this? What if a fail? Well, I sucked up my nerves and really surprised myself. I established phenomenal relationships with all my colleagues and rapport with all my students. Over this three-month period I 100 percent infused myself in the Chilean culture and infused elements of my beliefs about education from the United States into the classroom. Our class now has a morning meeting, a word wall, community building activities, and more games to enhance content knowledge. My team has become more open to assessments outside of a test! For example, our students are working on power point presentations about different landforms. More importantly, the boys are working in groups to discover this information and present it in and interesting way to their classmates!
Prior to this experience, I never realized how much I held myself back because I was afraid to fail or afraid to be rejected. I always had great ideas for the classroom, but I never articulated them, because I worried my ideas were not good enough. When I arrived in Chile, I realized these boys needed me to overcome my fear of failure. The boys were itching to work in groups, get out of their desks, and discover the world around them. For the first time in my life, I introduced my ideas. Some ideas were accepted and others were rejected. However, the boys are now learning in a safe and positive learning community and working collaboratively. That is all that matters to me!
Today, I was offered a job at The Mackay School. I will be returning to Chile in March and teaching a fifth grade classroom. This experience has absolutely changed my life. The thought of leaving my third grade students in three weeks rips my heart out! I learned from this experience just how much I truly love being in the classroom and helping students grow. I am a child advocate and I believe every single student is able to learn; my job is to figure out how. In Chile I learned how to be an effective teacher. I learned how to trust my instincts and my heart. I also learned, it’s okay to fail, but it’s not okay to give up. “Don’t be afraid to fail. Don’t waste energy trying to cover up failure. Learn from your failures and go on to the next challenge. It’s OK to fail. If you’re not failing, you’re not growing.”-H. Stanely Judd
Thank you for reading about my experience. If you are questioning teaching abroad, is it because you are afraid to fail? If so, book your tickets now! This experience will change your life. I promise.