Looking back at last year, 2014 was an interesting year for me. There were two components for me that I think are worth explaining. The first part has to do with moving to a new country, the second with teaching in general.
I know this is a teaching blog, but I want to explain the impact of being in a new country.
- Moving to Chile
First of all, moving to a new country has been interesting. I did not realize some fundamental facts about South America or Chile before I arrived, concerning the climate, the history, geography, and the language, which probably seem obvious to any body that has taken a passing interest.
The cycle of the seasons being inverted was not even apparent to me, or the profound effect of this on world commerce. I work with a food supplier, and the fact that it is summer during our winter is crucial to what is in season. That is, what they export, and when they export depends on what is not growing in other countries.
Furthermore, the legacy of Spanish colonialism, while somewhat similar to the legacy of other empires, presents a completely different and new historical context to live in. All the street names in British influenced countries reflect the legacy of the British empire. Whereas here, you will see new names relating to a different history of colonialism and independence against the Spanish rule. One thing specific to Chile, that is of great interest is that some of indigenous tribes here, were never completely defeated by the Spanish, and therefore have maintained some degree of autonomy. It has been great fun to go to the museums and landmarks, and read about some of these events which have been completely new to me. Today, I was reading about the wars of independence, the dictatorships, and progress towards democracy that occurred in most Latin American countries. In Chile of course, the coup occurred when Allende’s socialist government was deposed and replaced by the Pinochet dictatorship.
There are other things, specific to Chile that were simply facts I did not know. It takes two hours to travel the width of Chile, but the length of the country spans the entire continent of South America. There is a mountain range, a desert, several islands, and a vast coastline. The climate of the country changes several times because it is so long. The fact that it sits on a tectonic plate means that it has frequent earthquakes. Which means that although Santiago is an old city, many of its oldest buildings have been replaced several times. This and many other things that are plain and obvious to Chileans are completely new to me. Right now, it feels like there is a lot yet to see.
I will admit that for me a great deal of the excitement has been to learn a new language. Before November of 2013 I did not speak a word of Spanish, other than words that all North Americans are familiar with. I would limit it almost exclusively to Mexican food, and a couple popular songs. At this point, just a little over a year later, I do not consider myself a fluent speaker. However, I can piece together the central messages of most newspaper stories when reading, and I can have extended conversations with people who take the time to speak with me. My Spanish is still limited, even broken; there is much to learn, and it is a continuous struggle to keep learning. “Pero yo siento que yo puedo comunicarme y esta es un habilidad que sin ese viaje, yo no tuviera.” That is to say, I feel that I can communicate, and this is an ability that I would not have without this trip.
My main conclusion about moving to a new place to teach with a different language, is that I understand the struggle my students are going through, and will more accurately understand what various people immigrating to Canada go through, if I ever teach there.
I will say however, that I feel I have only scratched the surface of what can be done here. This is really exciting.
2.My First Year Teaching
Concerning the teaching, although I had heard horror stories about the first year of teaching, my experience was not at all negative. I think this is partially because I was not teaching large classes of young students in the public school system. Perhaps it was because Instead, I was teaching small classes of adults in corporate settings, most of whom do not see learning as an obligation, for a small modern teaching company. I think this set up took a lot of the pressure off my mind. I am sure there are great joys to teaching young students in a public school setting, however I also assume it can be quite stressful in the first year, especially in terms of discipline and classroom management.
I have taught many lessons on many subjects, but I have to say one of the things that is a great pleasure, are the small moments of collaboration between the teachers. The Language Company is a modern company with 50 or so teachers who all have different students. They travel to the students not the other way around. In the office, and on the internet, we often share with each other and benefit from the resources there. This in short, has been a great thing.
In terms of my success with teaching, I feel that it is a very long process learning a language. Consider that it may take a day or a week to introduce a verb tense. However, it may take a life time to really master a language.
From my own experience, learning grammatical rules is only a first step. You need to learn many new verbs, each one with their particularities and differences in actual application. This can take years. So, although I see progress in my students, what must be considered in teaching is that you only see a snapshot of each students’ progress. You are there to introduce them to ideas, and get them to practice them in a very limited time frame. You do your best, but you can only encourage them to start a journey that may take them a very long time to complete. In fact, it can be argued that with language, the possibilities to improve your understanding and capabilities are infinite. It should be obvious, that native speakers such as myself are still learning the scope of how they can communicate despite having exponentially more experience. Patience and time are key to the learning process.
The imperative that lessons should be built to be authentic and communicative that I learned in school, is more difficult to attain than I thought. I am most proud of lessons that I designed specifically for my students, because I feel these have been high points in terms of seeing their motivation.