Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Grand Master Fass and the Funky Four

I had a really fun day today at San Pedro High School. I had no idea what I would be teaching because I was unable to get up with the department head, Miss Usher, on both Friday and Monday to find out what my schedule would be for this week. When I saw her today, she told me she had been out on both days because she had to have an abscess removed and the doctor told her to take three days off; she decided she only needed to take two days off, so she came back today to teach. When I met her, she told me that I would be working with her today.

She started talking about the plans for the day and she asked me to perform a rap about ants for her class. Where ants fit in with the curriculum I'm not quite sure, but I was in no position to question her. I had started working on the rap last night because she had mentioned last week that she might want me to do this rap in class. It just so happened that she wanted me to spit hot rhymes about ants in class today. 

Along with this lesson on ants, I was responsible for teaching a lesson on ways to speak on the phone. I had to provide certain phrases that one might use (and not use) when speaking to others on the phone. We then explored the way a conversation might go when speaking to someone else on the phone (e.g. you greet the person, identify who is speaking, the reason you are calling, if you need to leave a message, and say goodbye). I don't know why I needed to teach this, as many students know and love to speak on the phone. However, as I mentioned before, teaching form one English is really like teaching them another language. I have to teach the basics of how proper grammar is used in everyday situations.

This sheds some light on the reasons for my ant-rapping lesson. Students have been compiling materials to create an formicarium, otherwise known as an ant observatory. The purpose of this lesson is to teach students how to follow directions in English, as they must first make the formicarium by putting wood together, glass on top of the wood, and then they must fill it with sand and soil, and then they must find the ants. All of this teaches them how to follow step-by-step directions as well as how to work together. This falls perfect into my inquiry project, which I've decided to study cooperative learning across cultures. 

Cooperation is an important part of Belizean school culture. Aspects of the school are in the hands of the students. For instance, students are given roles every week. Some students must take roll for every class, while others must clean the classroom after school. That's right, you read that correctly, students must clean the school. We don't have custodians, so the students are responsible for their own mess. When a student gets a detention, instead of sitting in the cool air conditioning for an extra 45 minutes after school, students must rake the compound and make sure that the school looks clean. It is amazing to see how clean the school can look when students take some responsibility (whether they choose to or not) for the cleanliness of the school. This doesn't work as well with my project on cooperative learning, but it does make an interesting statement on how students learn to be cooperative in school, something that often seems absent in American schools.

Anyway, back to my teaching. After teaching students to speak on the phone, I had a chance to share my rap. Students seemed to get into it. I made them keep the beat, while I performed the rap from the book. After I performed, I split the class in two and made them "rap battle" to see who would do a better job. Some students and classes were shyer than others, but overall I was very pleased with how well the students handled this lesson. All-in-all, I probably looked a little foolish, but the students seemed to appreciate the fact that I was willing to check my pride at the door for their sake. I had a really good day of teaching today. Below I have included a video of myself rapping for my last period class. The sound isn't great, but it is cool to see how the students interacted with me. Ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch check it out...

Monday, March 30, 2009

Finally, a Boring Day

Whenever I speak to a fellow teacher, one of the old adages they often tell me is, "Well, at least there's never a dull moment when teaching." Whoever said that is a liar. Today we had to sit and proctor tests for the standard six students (the equivalent to our grade eight) that determine whether the students are allowed to go to high school next year or stay in standard six. Some of us were excited to get a little break from teaching, since our experience thus far has been non-stop. However, I think we all would have preferred to teach today. We had to be at school at 7:15 am and we sat and watched students take a test until 1:45 pm, with a measly 45 minute break in the middle of the day. It was honestly like watching paint dry all day. My sole responsibility was to remind the students how much time they had to finish each section and escort the boys to the bathroom to make sure they weren't cheating. What a boring experience.

Before students could take their tests they had to bubble in their names. I was stunned at how many students struggled with this portion of the test. Now, I don't think that bubbling in one's name is necessarily a pre-requisite skill for entering high school, however there is a certain amount of basic logic attached to writing letters in a box and then filling in the correct bubble that corresponds with that letter. I literally helped one student fill in his name for two minutes because he would just fill in random bubbles. I fear for those children who struggled with their name. They might be in standard six one more year. 

The one nice part about today is that I had plenty of time to just sit and think, which is something I tend to take for granted. As I sat in the room with 25 students, I looked around and saw something strange: a student with a similar complexion as me. Of course, when he asked me a question, I realized he had a creole accent, but seeing him made me think about the situation in which I'm in. I found out that of the roughly 420 students at San Pedro High School, about one of them is Caucasian. It is a completely different situation for me to be a member of the minority; I can't honestly count the number of times I have experienced this on one hand. 

When I teach here, I am staring at a sea of faces that look completely different from me. Often we tend to gravitate toward those people who are most like us, but I don't have that option when I'm in the classroom. As a result, I really need to to get to know my students in order to find those similarities that aren't so easily apparent based on appearance. 

To give you a little background on me, I had decided that I wanted to be a teacher after my senior of high school. I had a wonderful senior year of high school and I knew I wanted to affect students the same way my teachers had affected me that year. In short, I got into teaching to teach students like me. One of the stunning changes I realized during my internship at Laney is that I really got to enjoy those students who were very different from me. This feeling has only been strengthened during my short stay in Belize. While the differences between myself and my students are physically evident, the students have made me feel so welcome that it wasn't until today that I realized how different I was from them.

I can recall the application process I had to go through to earn a spot as a teacher in Belize. During my interview, Dr. K asked me why this trip was so important to me. After reflecting for a second, I recalled an important lesson I had learned in my critical theory class one semester. Jacques Derrida, a literary critic known for his work dealing with structuralism, had a concept he referred to as "binary oppositions." The idea behind this theory is that our world is organized in greater or lesser relationships, i.e. black is black because is not white, man is man because he is not a woman. Power is then distributed amongst those different groups. One thing I hoped to learn during this experience is what American education was by seeing exactly what it wasn't. While I'm learning this, I'm also learning a lot about what and who I am, by seeing what I'm not. Teaching in a school built on a different culture than myself has provided me with the time to reflect and think introspectively on the person I am. I have thought about the advantages I have had as a white, middle class male in a society that gives me every advantage possible. Being in a developing country and seeing the struggles people are forced to experience on a daily basis makes me appreciate where I have come from as well as makes me appreciate those students who I teach. I think this will be an invaluable lesson for me as a teacher.

Alright, that was my little moment on my teaching soapbox. I apologize for how sugary some of that might have been. If you get a cavity from reading that, I'll pay for your dental bill. I just thought it would be useful to share my candid thoughts as I had the time to think about it. I promise I'll have more stories of teaching and misbehaving students tomorrow as we enter back into the classroom.


Saturday, March 28, 2009

First Week in Review

As any good teacher will tell you, one of the most valuable things you can do is reflect, so here ya go. After one week of teaching in San Pedro, I feel really good and, more than anything, fortunate. I've realized a lot about culture in which I was raised as well about the world. Having never really left the country before this, being immeshed with the people of another has made me realize many similarities and differences. 

First of all, people in Belize are very pleasant. They bend over backward to make sure we're happy. We haven't paid for a dinner yet this week because everyone wants to cook for us and show us their homes. The cuisine is different and delicious. I haven't come upon a meal that hasn't challenged my taste buds and showed me a different way cooking. Although, last night we had barbecue chicken, cole slaw, and dirty rice and it was as good as any southern cooking I've ever had. Honestly, everybody has treated us with such kindness and care that you would think they all work for the department of tourism. They don't ask for anything back in return, simply that if some day they make it to North Carolina, we show them the same hospitality. 

The prospect of them coming to North Carolina isn't so far fetched since teachers at San Pedro plan a trip together every year during a four-day weekend, which leads me to my next point: teachers in San Pedro are very tight-knit. I've already explained the functions they have for birthdays, but I forgot to mention the trip they plan every year. All year they plan a trip by fund raising in numerous ways. One such way is that students pay for dress down Fridays. They pay a dollar to wear flip-flops, two dollars to wear a t-shirt, one dollar to wear excessive make-up, etc. Students don't mind, because they get to wear something other than their all-white uniforms and I think they understand that it is another way to help their teachers. Another example of their fundraising is that they had a barbecue hosted by the Lions Club. Community members, students, and teachers all take part in this event, and it becomes apparent that everybody rallies around the teachers at San Pedro High School. The teachers have taken trips to Mexico and Miami in the past and this year they plan on going to Las Vegas. Like I said, teachers here like to have a good time and really love the company of their fellow employees. These fundraisers force them to work together for a common goal and they all put their effort into this cause because they have high standards for this trip. Community is a large part of the culture here.

One last point that I am pleased with is the fact that my teaching has already begun to change. My students at Laney could attest to how much I loved to use technology in the classroom. At the very least, I would have PowerPoint presentations every day which explained what students would be writing about for their daily journals. Here, I don't have that option. There is one LCD projector for the entire school and almost everyday the fuse is blown, so you don't know when you will have electricity. Margo found this out the hard way when she took her class to the computer lab to look at National Geographic's site on volcanoes, only to find that there was no electricity. She had to think on her feet, and from what I heard, she did a good job of taking her plans and making a successful low-tech lesson. It stinks that students don't get to use the computers, but you have to constantly be on your feet if you are going to risk using technology. Subsequently, I have decided to stay away from the technology. My decision was made up before I even stepped on the plane for Belize. I wanted to challenge myself to see that I could teach without using some of the technology that I found myself using as a crutch. I think technology is an ally for any teacher, especially with students who need constant stimulation, but I have really had to revise my teaching strategies to account for the lack of computers, LCD projectors, SmartBoards, and digital imaging projectors. 

Like any week of teaching, this first one has had its ups and down, successes and failures, high points and pitfalls, but overall it has been a learning experience. I have taken advantage of learning from everyone: the teachers at San Pedro High, the students, and my fellow teachers who are going through the same thing as myself. I am yet to feel abandoned, intimidated, or nervous about my experience in the school, in large part to the support that I have with everyone who I am teaching with, both at the high school and the elementary school. This journey has piqued my interest in other cultures and in the stratified views our world has with regard to students and education. I should be so lucky to have another week such as this one. 

I'll be blogging as more adventures come my way. I have to go now because in about an hour, Belize will be celebrating Earth Hour, in which we turn off all of our electricity along with the rest of the world. 

Thank you to everyone who has been writing me supportive emails during my time here. It can be difficult being away from home for this extended period of time. It means a lot to me that I have so many people who have been keeping up with my experience here and are actually interested in the new and strange things I'm seeing. 

Take care,


Friday, March 27, 2009

The Wild World of Concept Mapping

Yesterday was another fine day here on La Isla Bonita. The task I was given was to teach introductory paragraphs and thesis writing to third form classes. I felt rather confident teaching this topic, as it was one I taught at Laney. I don't think that students in America loved it that much (particularly because they had a standardized test attached to their essay writing), so I didn't get too excited about teaching it. However, I had some fun with it, and the students did as well.

I began class with students writing a short journal on a time in which they got into an argument. We then discussed how we argue and how one wins an argument and then applied similar principles when writing an argumentative essay. We then had a debate on who the best artist or group is. Students got into it and surprised me by naming primarily American artists like Slipknot, Disturbed, Linkin Park, and Tupac. Not so surprising was the fact that probably the most popular artist was Bob Marley. 

I then introduced the students (and the teachers) to circle mapping to begin planning writing. This was a concept that nobody had heard of. For teachers in New Hanover County, ideas like concept maps are pretty basic and old shoe, but I think I might have blown their minds with them. I read students' theses last week, and they were simply one long sentence separated with a barrage of conjunctions and semi-colons. I decided to teach the idea of the introductory paragraph, which separates what students were writing for there thesis into three to four sentences. I was really impressed with the work they did. I understand that things are different here with regard to writing and grammar, so I don't know if what I taught will be something they will continue, but it is certainly a new perspective on teaching for both myself and the other teachers.

Something that never ceases to amaze me is how outgoing the young female students are here. I don't know if it's my pasty white skin, my generic brown eyes, or my bed-head hairdo, but I the students make me feel like a celebrity. I have had several girls ask to take pictures with me and I (along with my cohort) will be sitting and class writing observations, only to look up to see a group of faces staring at me. We quickly realized that this island is rather small, and we really can't go anywhere without being recognized as those "teachers from America." To make things worse (or better, I suppose) we just had two articles written about us in the local newspapers. When I went to the breakfast bar this morning to get my OJ, the guy behind the counter said "Hey, I saw you guys in the paper!" in which case he told Kristen that she should sign her picture for her students who keep asking for her email address: for what purpose, we haven't figured out.

Another cultural difference that became apparent yesterday is that teachers here at San Pedro love to have fun. Now, I'm not saying that teachers in North Carolina don't, because I had fun everyday with the teachers at Laney, however, these teachers love to celebrate everything. The teachers had a collective birthday party for all of the teachers with March birthdays. I don't think it was a requirement to attend, but every teacher was there from the school. The way high schools are organized in America doesn't really lend itself to interdisciplinary relationships; the history department is on one side of the building, the English department is somewhere else, and who knows where the math department will be from day-to-day, seeing as many float. At San Pedro High School, all of the teachers know each other and hang out during the day and sometimes during the evenings (that is, if they aren't teaching at the junior college as well). Now, probably the biggest reason for this is that the staff is made up of only 31 teachers, where as the faculty of most high schools is at least twice the size, maybe even three times depending on where you are. This makes relationships amongst teachers a little more difficult, but it is fun to see how much these teachers enjoy each other's company.

Now, back to the faculty birthday party. I don't know if their goal was to make the Americans look like fools, but we sure did our best to ensure this would happen. The party began at 3:30 pm and we were so tired that we needed to go back to our hostel and relax a little to recharge our batteries. When we got back to the school, we were just in time for musical chairs, in which case Kristen pushed me and I fell out of the chair and landed on her foot; this is the first foolish thing I did. Next, the teachers chose two groups of four and the teacher had to teach us how to dance salsa and meringue. I quickly was reminded of my lack of dancing skills as both the men and women in my group could move their feet and hips in ways I couldn't even fathom. At one point, they made us go out on a cat walk and show off our skills. I chose to educate the teachers on some of my personal moves including ones I've now entitled "the rump shaka" and " the monkey." Don't ask me to repeat these flashy steps, as I don't think I could. After embarassing ourselves, it was finally time for the pinata. We had a pinata that was shaped like a mermaid. I don't know if they did it in our honor, but instead of the traditional fruit-flavored hard candy, and corn-shaped lollipops (which I'm a little scared to try), they had Reese's Peanut Butter Eggs. Evidently the pinata had been sitting out in the sun a little too long, because all of the chocolate had melted by the time one of the teachers cracked it open. This didn't stop me from eating them: it was a little reminder of home.

After the party, I had expected to go home, but Alberto insisted that we hang out with him. John, Dr. K, and myself decided that we wanted to watch the basketball games, so Alberto took us to a sports bar. When we entered the bar, they were all watching football (aka soccer) and we had to request that they put on the basketball games. I felt bad until a guy came in wearing a Villanova jersey. We played a lot of pool and had another nice evening out on the town. Of course, I was just in class and one of the students (who I have never met before) said "Mr. Will did you have a good time at the Royal Caribbean bar last night?" Apparently he saw us out last night. I'm telling you, this island is too small and we stick out like a sore thumb. Now I know why Brad Pitt gets so angry with the paparazzi. Look for us on the local Belizean TMZ.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Craziest Birthday for a One-year-old

So last night was another cultural learning experience. Gustavo, the dean of the junior college, told us that he was going to have a birthday party for his one-year-old son, Gustavito (which translates to "little Gustavo"). We had a cab called for us by one of the teachers that was going to pick us up at 6:30 pm. I learned an important lesson last night; there is a concept called "Belizean time" which means that if you have an appointment at 6:30 pm, that means that you can count on having that appointment around 7:00 pm or thereabouts. The same can be said for teachers. Today I was taking roll during homeroom and the teacher who was supposed to take over the class for first period wasn't there. Margo, one of the science teachers traveling with me, started to realize she might have to take over the class because her partnership teacher didn't show up on time. He had dirt bike troubles and showed up 15 minutes later...no big deal. That is just the way Belizean time works.   

But I digress, the cab ended up showing up 45 minutes late and we travelled to the north end of the island. It is not a particularly nice area as there are many shacks and trailers in this part of town, but we were there to celebrate an infants birthday, so it couldn't be that crazy...right? Boy was I stunned. The party was in Gustavo's front yard. There was a canopy and balloons, and a lot of beer. We knew where the party was, because they had a sound system blasting reggaetone music that would put some of the clubs to shame. Mind you, this is a Tuesday night and they are playing music that was entirely too loud for the front yard, let alone a neighborhood. 

As soon as we got to the house, people kept handing us plates of food. We had several dishes: chips with a spicy chicken dip, tamales wrapped in banana leaves (for extra flavor), conch ceviche, and sausage marinated in lime (strange, but really good). I ate so much food that I didn't even save room for cake. Probably the most fascinating part of this experience was the fact that they kept handing us beer, one after the next. I started to wonder if the teachers would be taking the day off on Wednesday, because they kept drinking and drinking. We were being responsible and decided to leave somewhere around 9:00 pm, which is even a little late for a school night. However, some of the teachers were trying to convince us to stay later. We then found out that those were the teachers who don't have to come to school until 9:00 am or 10:00 am. When we got to school today, it was obvious that some teachers were nursing a hangover because they decided to shoot some pool after the party (which ended around 1:00 am) and then they decided to go to the disco. They are a tough bunch to keep up with. 

Birthdays are obviously a big deal (even for a one-year-old). On Thursday the teachers are hosting a party for the people with birthdays in March. It will be held at the school, but apparently there will be a lot of food and some liquor as well. They don't mess around in San Pedro. 

I wanted to clarify a few things that I wrote in my last blog. Many people having been asking about the student population here, so here are some of the facts. School here is not paid for by property tax. Students must pay roughly $400 per term (and there are three terms in a school year). Kids are required to attend primary school, but they do not need to attend high school. However, almost all students do attend school (about 95%). However, whether or not they will graduate is a different story. For instance, first form is comprised of four different classes of roughly 35 students. Forms two thru four have only three classes of the same size. It was explained to me that roughly thirty students will drop out or fail first form. However, most students who make it to form two will make it to form three and almost everyone who makes it form three will probably graduate. One of the major issues that the schools are dealing with is that some students attend school, but cannot afford to pay. Instead of turning these students away, they will allow these students to continue coming to school, which is great, but funds are already low.

It has been an amazing experience to teach in classrooms without air conditioning, without technology, and without even the luxury of marker boards. Throughout the day I will usually end up sweating and then I'll erase the chalkboard and I'll be covered in chalk dust. I thought that my classroom at Laney was dirty because it wasn't cleaned everyday, but I've never come home feeling dirty and dusty before. This has really given me a new perspective. 

Speaking of new perspectives, the lesson I taught today was dealing with Wuthering Heights. The teachers like me reading to the students because they can hear the story in a different dialect. However, at one point we let the students read. Believe me, you've never experienced Emily Bronte until you've heard her words read in a creole accent: unbelievable. I always here a british voice in my head when I read this novel, but this put a Caribbean twist on it. I don't know that it's ever been read quite like this.

I realized that yesterday I didn't get to share one of my favorite aspects of San Pedro High School: the cantina. Instead of a cafeteria, they have a little shack where wives of the teachers come to cook and teachers operate during lunch time. On any given day you can have some of the more fascinating foods that I've mentioned, like fried whole fish or cow foot soup, or you can have meat pies, hamburgers, or fried chicken. It is a very different situation. We don't have any "free or reduced lunch" at our school. Many of the students who can't afford food, typically don't eat or wait for someone to share whatever they won't eat. Miss Usher usually ends up buying meals and drinks for those students who can't afford to eat. It is apparent that those students truly appreciate Miss Usher because she cares enough to use the
little money she makes (and believe me, teachers here don't make much money at all) and give it to her students and she is the only teacher who sits with the students during lunch time. It is one of the most endearing interactions I have ever seen between a teacher and her students. Above is a picture of the cantina.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Cultural Connections

So, today I had the pleasure of working with Miss Usher, the head of the English department here at San Pedro High School. Miss Usher is 59 years old, and has been teaching forever. As a result, she is only responsible for teaching form 1 students...the freshman. In this respect, every student goes through Miss Usher if they want to make it to form 2.

She teaches English language, which I was excited about at first, because I have increasingly realized the value of grammar. However, I was stunned when I realized that language is really a class to teach these students who speak a mixture of Spanish, creole, and Garifina, and teach them how to speak proper English. The be
st way to describe it, is that it is similar to the way we treat students in high school who are learning Spanish, French, or German; we provide them with scenarios
, practice listening comprehension, and explain rules and then we practice them.

Today's objective was to work on listening comprehension. We were reading a short dialogue about dogs and animal cruelty. I asked students what they knew about animal cruelty and they explained that dog fighting is a tradition that they have in Belize, however most students are adamantly against it. I then read the dialogue between the two characters in the book and students had to tell me who would agree with certain statements about the mistreatment of dogs and taking animals and putting them into captivity. I took this opportunity to then extend it to their personal opinions and thought that I would use a technique I learned in graduate school where students show their opinions by getting out of their seats and going to a side of the room that has the words "agree" or "disagree" posted on the wa
ll. It was apparent that this was a new method for students that they had never seen before, nor had Miss Usher. I found the same issues I had with my class at Laney were present here in Belize: some students wanted to talk during the activity, while others were more quiet or disengaged. However, the students seemed to enjoy the change of pace and I even got an ovation after class. This support is very helpful to me and makes m
e excited to wake up in the morning and go to school.

Lunch was also full of excitement. Today we had a fight break out in the auditorium where students eat lunch. I had missed it, but Miss Usher told me that it was part of a typical problem at the school: gangs. And which gangs do you think might have caused these problems? That's right, the bloods and the crypts, the same ones we have in our schools in North Carolina. However, unlike New Hanover County, San Pedro does not have a gang task force, nor do they seem to have any support from the city police.
I got an email today from one of my professors, Dr. Smith, and he had a few questions about my school, which made me realize that I really haven't described the envir
onment in which I'm teaching. First of all, I wake up in the morning and take a stroll down the beach while watching the sun come up: not a bad way to start your day. After twenty minutes, I reach the school. The beach is literally the backyard of the school, as you can see by this picture on the left. Kids in San Pedro are required to go to school to about the age of sixteen and they have two options: they can go to a Catholic school or a public school. The Catholic school does not cost any money, however students must pay to go to public school. I'm no
t sure on the cost right now, but from what I have heard it is not very expensive. At our staff meeting yesterday, we realized the struggle of making families pay to send their students to school, as many bright students cannot afford to attend school because of fam
ily or economic issues and those who can afford, sometimes don't care. 

The most obvious characteristic of the school population is that all students must wear their uniforms Monday thru Thursday and teachers wear khaki and white those days; Friday is "rag" day when the students and teachers can wear more casual clothing. The o
utfits are all-white clothing with the boys typically wearing white dickies and a button-down shirt with a patch of the San Pedro High School emblem. The girls have to wear a white dress with a small tie that is either, blue, yellow, green, or red. I believe the ties tell what form they are in, I will have to check on this. You can see a picture of my students listening intently to one of my stories in the picture to the left. By 
the way, if you look closely through that window behind me, you can see the ocean, not too shabby.

I included a picture of the school in my last blog and you could probably tell it didn't look much like any school we are accustomed to. It has thirteen classrooms and one staff room where the twenty-five members of the staff have their desks. Interestingly, students do not move from class to class, the teachers are the ones who move. Students have a homeroom and that is where they are expected to stay all day long. It is no wonder they are so antsy by the time we get them for 8th period English. Oh yea, I should probably tell you 
that classes are only 45 minutes long and there are eight periods in a day. It has been a change of pace to work on the traditional schedule, but I can see the advantages and disadvantages of this schedule versus block scheduling. To the right is one of my classrooms. They have these things called "chalk boards" where people use chalk to write on these slate boards. Apparently, this is what we used to use before white boards. Teachers have to bring their own chalk, and they are very territorial; they don't like to share it. It's like gold to them.

The curriculum is very much driven by the test students must take in order to get into college: the Caribbean Examination Council, or the CXC. I have noticed that when teachers at the high school have approached me about teaching a novel they have said "Don't worry about reading the novel, just read the analysis in this guide and use the guided notes." I don't know if this is how they typically teach, but I have seen a trend that many of the lessons are built around these pre-built curricula which is reminiscent of the prototypical direct instruction many of us tend to move away from. While I don't think students here would succeed under student-based instruction, I will be working on ensuring that the lessons I present will have some activities that students might enjoy, rather than simply reading from a script. The trick is, how to do this without coming off elitist and inadvertently stating that our way of teaching is better than theirs. So far, the reception has been successful from both teachers and students, so I won't try to rock the boat too much. I'm just trying to show a different way of teaching.

The curriculum is also driven by religion. You can't find a classroom that doesn't have a crucifix hanging on the chalkboard. Students take classes like math, science, and English, but then they also have to take classes like life choices, which outlines healthy living rules, and religion. You can tell that morals and religion are closely tied to public school.

These are the differences that I have noticed. I'm sure I'll find some more small things to discuss as I spend more time here. I'll be in touch with more tales of Belize. Until later,


Monday, March 23, 2009

My First Day Teaching at San Pedro

Whew! What a day. So today was my first day teaching at San Pedro High School. My cohort and I got to the school around 7:25 am today to begin the school day. Today was my first day teaching classes, while my colleagues in the science department were observing. To the left is an image of the front of San Pedro High School.

For my first day, I was partnered with Miss Kristina Romero. For our lesson today, she was working on listening comprehension using the short story "The Lottery," by Shirley Jackson. Miss Romero gave me a broad overview of what she had planned to do today; my responsibility was to tweak it and make it a lesson I wanted to teach. For those unfamiliar with the story, "The Lottery," it is the story of a village that has a lottery to see who will be killed for the annual sacrifice to appease the gods for the upcoming crop season by stoning the "winner" of the lottery to death. As a result, I thought I would a lottery in the beginning of class, and after reading the story, see what the reaction was of the student who won the lottery. They had a good time with the activity and students laughed when they realized they won the lottery. Of course, in lew of throwing stones at the students, I gave the winner a candy bar.

The classes in which I taught this lesson were three Form Two classes (sophomores). This was the age group I taught at Laney, and I noticed that there weren't too many differences. I had to read the story in class, because Miss Romero explained to me that students wouldn't go home and read it for assignment (aka homework). I was pleased with how attentive students were. It became apparent to me that, while maybe the information isn't new or any more exciting when I present it, the mere fact that a different voice with an American accent was in the classroom captured their attention. While they don't have "honors" and "on-level" students here, there are huge gaps between the engagement in certain classes. While one class could be very conversational, another would struggle to answer any questions. It was fascinating.

During lunch, we were served the fish we had caught on Saturday. Gustav's wife came in and fried the snapper for us and the teachers and put a spicy habanero, onion sauce over the whole fish and served it with sauteed onions and squash. This was a delicious treat for lunch. Just as a side note, my most interesting meals have probably come at the school. On the first day, I had cow foot soup with tripe. I've never really eaten the organs of a cow before, but it was delicious. On another day, we had dirty rice with fish fingers, which I suppose is the closest thing to chicken fingers and french fries that I have seen. I'm doing my best to hone my culinary pallet during this trip. I don't know if Taco Bell will ever please me after experiencing some of the gastronomical adventures we have experienced in Belize.

After school, we had a staff meeting. It was astonishing how similar the hot button topics were at the meeting as compared to those at staff meetings in North Carolina. They were arguing about school dress codes and attendance policies, something we struggle with everyday in the States. While everyone had an opinion, no solutions were presented and no decisions were made. It was frustrating to sit there and listen to some of the arguments because they were all too familiar.

After the staff meeting, we had to hurry back to our hostel because we were being interviewed by the San Pedro Sun Times. They were excited about us being here and it was obvious that the newspaper was familiar with Wilmington and recognized us as members of their sister city in the States. I would be interested to see how many people in Wilmington know that we have a diplomatic partnership with the country of Belize. I have a feeling the answer would be very few. Overall, I feel that they really appreciate us being here in Belize because this is one of the few connections Wilmington has been able to make since we developed this relationship in 2007.

Alright, I need to be off to get some sleep tonight. It is late and I need to prepare for a lesson on animal cruelty (how that is connected to language arts, I couldn't tell ya), so I'll let you know how it goes in my next blog. Until then,


Sunday, March 22, 2009

Teach a Man to Fish...

What an amazing day I had yesterday. The dean of San Pedro Junior College, Gustav, asked us if we would like to go fishing. Of course, this was an opportunity we did not refuse. John, Kristy, Dr. K, and myself were the lucky ones who went on this trip.  We had to wake up at 6:30 am to go the boat of Captain Guerro, who was the first tour guide on the island of San Pedro. This trip was fantastic because they took us through every step of the fishing process. 

First, we picked up Gustav and a carpenter of the school, Alberto. Next, the captain took us to a site where we would catch the bait. He finds the bait by searching for where the fish are surrounding the water. Our bait for the day was sardines. 

Next, the captain took us into the middle of the Carribean Ocean. He's been doing this for roughly 45 years, so he knows where the hot spots are. Now, anyone who knows me understands that I am not a big fisherman. The last time I went fishing was probably when I was seven and I had my child tackle box with beginner's rod. I was never successful, but on this day we couldn't go a minute without one of us catching a fish. After an hour of fishing, we caught 95 fish! They made it so easy. Mostly we caught snapper, but we also caught two grouper, one of which is endangered and we had to throw back; the same for the one puffer fish we caught. 

Once the fish were caught, the captain filleted the fish on the boat and Alberto made us a delicious ceviche on the boat, which is tomatoes, onions, cilantro, and fresh fish. They then squeezed fresh lime juice over the fish which, according to Alberto, cooks the fish. We actually saw the fish change colors from opaque to white. I was surprised to see that it actually cooked the fish on the boat. Then we got a chance to eat it with tortilla chips. Oh my goodness, it was so delicious. I've never had something like it before, but it is a very traditional dish here in Belize. It is something I will do my best to replicate when I get home to the states.

After the boat trip, we came back to the dock, where I thought our day was finished; boy, was I mistaken. When we got to the shore, Alberto began cleaning the boat for the captain and then they took the fish and put them on a stand next to the dock. Alberto and Gustav started cleaning the fish. I have never cleaned a fish before, but I had seen it on Top Chef and I was intrigued. However, I don't like touching slimy things so I was a little leery about touching the fish. When it was my turn, they showed me how to scrape the scales off the fish, gut it, and put three slices in the body. If you happen to grab a fish that is still alive, you have to take the knife and stick it through his brain...I purposely looked for dead ones so I wouldn't have to do that. I was very proud of myself for cleaning the fish, because this is something I would have never done. It was quite an experience. Gustav told us that he was taking most of the fish inland to sell, but he was going to give us ten fish for them to cook for the teachers on Monday at the school. This made us feel really good about our work.

Again, I thought our day was finished after the cleaning of the fish, but after taking the fish to the captains house to put them in the freezer, Gustav and Alberto invited us to play pool with them. Of course, we didn't want to refuse so we went to, literally, a whole in the wall with two pool tables and slot machines in a back room. After hanging with the locals at this little dive bar, we were ready to go home. This was a great way to end an amazing experience. After that, I was ready for a nap.

As a sad side note, I got an email from my Mom today that told me that my childhood dog, Murph, had passed away. This was very sad news for me, especially being so far away. Anybody who knows me, knows how much I loved him. He was a wonderful dog. Luckily, I got a chance to say goodbye to him before I left since I didn't know if he would live long enough for me to make it home. Everyone show your pets some love today. 

Until  my next adventure,


Friday, March 20, 2009


Hello again. Today is day three of my super fantastic Belizean adventure. This was a very invigorating day because this was my first day being immersed into the classes of San Pedro High School. As aforementioned, the head of the English department there is Miss Estelle Usher and she is primarily responsible for showing me the ropes. 

I started the day by waking up at 6:30 am. I had anticipated hitting snooze a few times, but once that alarm went off, I was too anxious to go back to sleep. I left early and took my stroll on the beach which leads to the high school; what a gorgeous sight. I got to the school around 7:15 am and the only teacher there was Miss Usher. She likes to chat with the students as they walk into school, something the students really seemed to appreciate. They all joked around with her and she hit them back. Around 7:45, students were all filing in and Miss Usher invited me to the morning prayer, which I don't think would every work at public school in America. After that, it was explained to me that I was more or less just going to be passed around to all of the teachers in the English department all day. 

This school operates on nine periods of 45 minutes. So I felt like I was constantly moving. The teachers introduced me as Mr. Will and I spoke a little about myself, where I'm from, what I'm doing here, and then let the students ask me questions. Most of the students didn't have much to say except for the students in Miss Usher's class as she told them that they looked stupid if they didn't ask me questions. As soon as one person asked a question, the others followed. A lot of students wanted to know about what I did on my free time, if I actually chose to teach at San Pedro, and why I wanted to teach. They were very curious and interested in American culture; this made me very excited.

All-in-all, students are very similar here as those in the states. Students have their own styles, cliques, and would rather talk then listen to the teacher. Students are working on their dreaded five paragraph essay, reading Wuthering Heights and learning grammar and how to interact politely in society: not so different than the Standard Course of Study in North Carolina.

Something that makes for an interesting divide in the culture are the three languages spoken: Spanish, Creole, and English. Spanish and English are pretty standard languages, but the Creole is fascinating. The only way I can describe it is jumbled up language that sounds a lot like the Jamaican characters in "Cool Runnings." Miss Usher and almost all of the students speak it and when she yells at child she says, "whatchaboy!" which translates loosely to "What are you doing boy?" You'd think I might be able to deduce what they're saying, but for whatever reason, I can't get a hold of it, and students know this. I totally heard them speak in Spanish or Creole and giggle when I was in the front of the class, in which case I just smile and laugh with them. I can only imagine the horrible things they're saying about me.

This was a tiring day, but I am excited. I will be working with five different teachers, helping to teach different elements of Language Arts, so I have my work cut out for me this weekend. I will be prepping to teach "The Lottery," Wuthering Heights, thesis and planning for essay writing, The Mystic Masseur, and listening comprehension: that's just Monday thru Wednesday. I will be busy grading papers from Miss Usher's Form 1 as well this weekend. I'm going to be busy, but in the end, that's why I'm here. I'm terribly excited and fascinated about this opportunity and can't wait to dive into the school and the culture. 

Until the next blog,


Thursday, March 19, 2009

First Days in La Isla Bonita

Okay, I suppose the best thing for me to do is first set-up this blog. The idea behind this weblog is to share with those interested in reading my experiences while I am here in Belize. For those of you who don't quite understand what I am doing, I'll fill you in. In January, I began the final step of receiving my teaching license by teaching some fantastic students at E.A. Laney High School in Wilmington, NC. I taught there for ten weeks and absolutely loved it. I learned so much about teaching, about students, and myself. After this wonderful experience, UNCW gave me permission to finish my internship in Belize. I will be here for five weeks indulging in the culture, the sun and beach, and education. So thats where I am today.

Yesterday was absolutely crazy. The morning began in Charlotte where we were staying at a Best Western. Our flight was at 6:00 am, so we decided to get up and moving around 3:00 am. This was a God awful time to wake up and as a result, I wasn't really with it. Subsequently, I got into a shuttle for the airplane and proceeded to lose it in the van. After calling the Best Western and searching for it, nobody seemed to find it, so I was really starting off on the right foot (I'm gonna need a job when I get back because I don't think I can afford to live without my iPhone!) I decided not to harp on this issue and just let it go; I wasn't going to let a small issue such as that to bother me.

Once at the airport, we boarded a plane to Miami, went from Miami to Belize City, and then took a puddle jumper from Belize City to the island in which we are staying: San Pedro (aka La Isla Bonita). By the time we reached our destination, Pedro's Backpacker Inn, I was ready for a nap. However, soon thereafter we had to visit the elementary school to meet with the principal and staff for those who would be working there. I was excited because the school was very cool and the principal, Addy (a Hoggard High School grad...weird) was excited for us to start; but, I got the feeling that the teachers were a little less enthused. This took some wind out of my sails about the experience because it seemed like they really didn't want us there. After leaving the school, we returned to Pedro's.

Pedro's is a little hostel. We happened to get the four "deluxe" rooms, which means we have air conditioning and a TV, living large. I'm not complaining, it has everything we need. We live 10 feet from a pool and 20 feet from a bar and pizzeria. It has everything we could want, 
especially since we plan on being out living it up in San Pedro, rather than in our room. Last night Peter, the owner of Pedro's, treated us to pizza and we were happy to eat it. It was actually good, and I tend to be an elitist when it comes to my pizza. We all had a good time, but none of us lasted past midnight, especially with the two-hour time differential here. 

Today, we woke up at around 10 am and got some grub from the locals. We thought we would be able to get breakfast from a local "deli," but surprisingly their breakfast hours are much like that of McDonalds. Subsequently, we ate some local lunch at 10 am. We had beans and rice (not to be confused with rice and beans, which allegedly is a different meal altogether) with curry chicken and plantane. To wash down our meal we had some watermelon juice, which was very refreshing. 

After breakfast, we spent some time taking it easy by the pool and watching the first round of March madness (I was soooo happy we get all of the American TV stations, so we won't miss any of the games). I was anxious today because we were meeting with the principal of the high school and the staff. This was an interesting experience.

When we got to the school, we were introduced to Emile, the principal of San Pedro High School. As soon as we got here, he took us to the auditorium (an outdoor basketball court with wooden canopy) and he told us he was going to hold an assembly to introduce us to the WHOLE SCHOOL. This was actually very fun. The crowd was roughly 350 students dressed in their all-white uniforms. After our trip advisor, Dr. Kubasko, spoke a little about why we were here, they let us all introduce ourselves. I was stunned at all the cat-calling these students did for the young ladies teaching science. I was a bit flustered when I introduced myself and I got a loud standing ovation, mostly from young Belizean girls; rarely have I ever seen such enthusiasm for language arts! We taped our introductions, and this is the warm welcome we received.

After the assembly, we met the staff. This was so wonderful. We met as a big group and discussed what our goals were for this experience, and then broke into our two respective groups. I'm the only English teacher on this trip, so I will be responsible for cycling around and working with five different teachers over the next five weeks. One of the most exciting parts about this afternoon was how receptive the English department was of me. Two of the teachers have bachelors degrees in teaching and the rest have high school degrees. They are very much willing to learn what we teach and one teacher has already asked me for a good alternative to the five paragraph essay (honestly, that is still something we struggle with in America, so I look forward to tackling this issue with someone else over the next few weeks). 

Miss Estelle, the head of the department then took me aside and showed me the school. She explained to me that instead of grades, they have "forms" and there are four "periods" in the day: A, C, E, and G. It seems as if I will be working during all four periods. She also explained to me some other important details. For instance, Miss Estelle has received permission from parents to hit them any way she sees fit. I don't expect to hit any students, but she told me she does it to teach them respect and how to behave so they will be success as they enter the second, third, and fourth forms. 

Miss Estelle also expressed that race is a touchy subject. Students have some resentment about their skin color, particularly black students. They don't like to be separated by color (as anybody wouldn't), but apparently school does not provide a discourse for racial issues. This is a subject I won't touch with a ten foot pole. Tomorrow they have asked me to come to school that I can meet the students and teachers to be acclimated. Miss Estelle suggests I come early so I can talk to students about their personal lives in the morning. She is under the impression that they young men will be more willing to open up to another male, especially if I take a vested interested in their lives early. This is something I will try to do.

This blog is running quite long, so I'm going to stop here for today. We are about to go to dinner. I will be writing in the next few days to let you know what I'll be doing. I can't wait to fill everyone in with this excitement. It is truly a feeling I have never experienced. I send my best to everyone and hope that all is well.