"No, it's fifteen."
"Sure, why not."
It's definitely a challenge, especially when you don't speak the same language. But it forces you to teach in other, often more funny ways which help you and the students to laugh and break the ice - and hopefully therefore makes it more memorable.
With my first group we offered English classes to our community 3 times a week. It was originally planned that we would teach every afternoon and make the organic gardens every morning. Whoever had decided this had clearly never taught anything before. Luckily we worked out that we would probably need some time to prepare so cut it down to 3. But this was still ridiculously exhausting and stressful.
We were given a pad of A4 paper, a handful of marker pens and told to do our best.
We went on a search for somewhere to teach, first asking the local school who said they didn't have any spare space or time. After more searching we settled on the "casa comunal" (community hall) in the village we were working in, Bendicion de Dios. The community had organised themselves and built this one room brick building from scratch. The only problem was that once finished they realised they had no actual use for it, so seemed happy when we turned up to borrow it a few days a week.
The room was empty except for a bit of extra roof on the floor that one day hoped to fix the hole in the roof. The cement floor was covered with dust, but after a morning of cleaning we sorted that. We had no tables or chairs but luckily borrowed a white board from the women's association.
And so we began. We understood we were never going to leave behind fluent English speaking Salvadorans so we aimed at passing on simple conversational English and keeping all classes fun to inspire them to keep learning.
Frustrations with teaching..
We had between 20-30 students ranging from 1-31 years old. If I'm honest. it was often more about crowd control then any sort of teaching. Plus trying to ignore Margarita, the little blonde girl who seemed to only be able to say one thing, "gringa".
We also had to compete with the "cool guys" who began by staring through the window throughout the whole class distracting all the younger wannabes, but by the end they felt confident enough to come in and directly ruin our classes by hovering over each group of students and making comments or play fighting.
I do understand this is part of a deep rooted problem.. Youth unemployment and macho-ism. These guys are bored and their pride stops them from participating. We encouraged them to be part of the class, but I'm still not sure what or if there is anything we can do to help improve the situation for them.
Overall the classes were a success. The students learnt something.
Every cloud has a silver lining..
The proof is in the pudding. My next group decided to conduct a survey in the community to see what kind of activities the residents were interested in receiving from us and I was happy to see that English lessons were requested again. We decided to offer English classes once a week and it was touching to see my old students return, still eager to learn. Especially when my new group of volunteers were greeted by "Hello, how are you?" "I'm happy".
This time round the classes have been well attended again and going well. We've covered animals and body parts so far. My highlight so far has been our little student Jose singing "head, shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes..." in his spare time.
Progressio ICS Team Leader, Rebecca Gissing-Simms, reflects on the ups and downs of teaching English in El Salvador
Photo of Progressio ICS volunteers Dani Riley and Aasim Shaffi teaching in El Salvador