Thoughts on Teaching About the USA, Kids, and Teaching in General Post #1

All of my students lately have been very curious about life in the United States, and I have tried to be as honest as possible without completely trashing my native land, which has proven to be…difficult, to say the least. For such a big country, and with such a small history, we still have a long road ahead of us. About a month ago, while drinking Toña on a Nicaraguan beach, two of my companions got into a discussion about which country has the best quality of life. One guy adamantly upheld that the United States has the best quality of life, and his adversary argued that European countries had a better quality of life. I won’t bore you with all of the argument specifics (although I did take notes so I do in fact have said specifics), but at one point, the defender of the great American (USA) lifestyle postulated that because the US Dollar is on reserve and recognized all over the world, the USA has the best quality of life. Which is basically like saying that McDonald’s is the best restaurant in the world, despite the amount of grease and the severe lack of…you know…real food, because its everywhere in the world.

Either you have money or you don’t-you don’t have ‘better’ money because its green and made of paper. Is life easier if you have US$2 for lunch, as opposed to C1.000 colones or £1.20? The shape, color, nationality of your money doesn’t mean you come from a better quality of life. The criteria for a good quality of life doesn’t stop at currency, but that’s not what this blog is about so, shut up, Kate.

One thing my students have asked me a few times is if I find it offensive to be called gringa. I try, as best as I can to explain (elicit) that some people might, but I’m not. “Why, teacher?” they ask. Well, I’ll tell ya, kids (this next part is paraphrased and more specific than what I tell them-its not verbatim what I say). I was born with this inherent, tricky little thing called privilege. More specifically: white privilege. I didn’t earn it. I got it because I was born with white skin. As someone who is white, particularly a white USA’n, I don’t have to worry about being watched/followed in stores, getting stopped on the street to check my citizen status, or face other ridiculous hurdles just to live my life in the supposed, self-proclaimed “melting pot” that is the United States of America. My right to vote (at least for the past 90 years-not too long ago if you think about it), to drive, to go to college, to have a career, and to live a good life in the country are not impeded by the color of my skin.

I much prefer being called gringa/white girl when walking down the street to “baby girl/honey/sweetie/etc.” If you are a stranger, I am not your baby girl, et al, and I think its safe to say that you only have one thing on your mind. I am, however, unfailingly white and if you are shouting “White girl!” at me, you could just be warning me about that open manhole I’m about to fall into. So, go right ahead.

Sometimes I’ll ask my students if it bothers them that most people in the USA call themselves Americans, as if “America” doesn’t expand across both North and South Hemispheres and the majority of the Western Hemisphere. The USA is just one part of North America, and then there’s Central and South America to take into account as well. If I’m lucky I’ll generally get a blank stare from my students when I pose this question to them, and it usually sustains itself long enough for me to clap my hands together and say, “Alrighty, back to page 28.”

Some people will humor me enough to wave their hands midair in a “so-so” kind of fashion. Sometimes, if these people seem interested enough in hearing more, I’ll slowly talk/act out how most people in the USA think (*points to head*) they are better (*thumbs up*) than any other place in the world (*waves arms around in a circular motion*). These students are sometimes surprised to hear that, which makes me wish I could snap my fingers and say softly, “You didn’t hear that.” One student that works in the airport says every one from the USA she encounters in her job is usually happy. “That’s because they’re in Costa Rica now,” I told her.

It’s not that I’m trying to make the USA look so bad (we do that quite well on our own without trying anyways), but if anyone really believes the USA is perfect as is, I have some sloths I can sell you for $1million dollars.

And then there’s the kids.

I love teaching. I love kids. After teaching kids, I love alcohol. The kids are adorable, and I love when I can tell they’re having fun in class. Unfortunately that is usually about as long as their attention spans last…which is about 2 minutes.At any given moment, you might also hear me say the following statements:

“Stop pretending to slam your nuts against the chair.”

“Get out of the hammock.”

“Stop pretending the table is a drum and your cup is a drumstick.”

“Get out of the hammock.”

“Don’t swing on the pole.”

“Get out of the hammock.”

“Don’t stand on the table.”

“Get out of the hammock.”

“Stop pretending to die.”

“Get. Out. Of. The. Hammock.”

I have about 7-9 kids in each class, and my second class has about 4 four year olds, who participate but also contentedly hum and draw swirls and shapes in their school notebooks. Sometimes my second class gives me hope that they are absorbing information when they all count to ten (in English) when I elicit it from them. But when I ask them how old they are, ALL of my students will think for a bit, as if they’re drawing the English I’ve taught them out of the depths of sugar induced ADD, and answer, “cuatro.”

In a game of identifying colors, most of the students are able to identify the colors in English, but there are still moments when a few students who, when its their turn, will proudly shout, “rojo!”

Last week I very quickly went from good teacher to “mala maestra” because I vetoed football. It’s not that I’m against them having fun. In fact, I figure the more they’re playing games and running around the more tired they’ll be for the lesson, so I can get more English into their lesson. Well, with ten minutes left and no one cooperating in the Bingo game they had just expressed excitement about, and with one girl just humming along doodling in her notebook as I pleaded desperately with her to make the bingo chart her classmates had made, walking around and helping other students complete their charts. Slowly, as they realized that there would be no football, they started to unravel. Eventually I got them lined up (while they shouted “mala maestra” over and over) and outside to their parents, that much closer to sleep and booze.

During my second kids class, after snack time and with one hour left in my day, one little girl dropped a cheeto-like snack on the floor. Looking up at me before getting out of her chair, she looked like she was about to pick it up. Nope. Instead she stepped on it, afterwards looking up at me with a proud smile, like she was saying, “Look what I made.”

Last night, one student passed me a “note” in class asking me out to lunch. It was on a small whiteboard that I had used for team races at the beginning of class. The note even had a box for me to check Yes or No. He’s made other comments like “you are beautiful”/”I love you”/”you are intelligent” but he’s always looking for cheap laughs at other people’s expense, so I usually murmur “thank you” before moving on. The note, however, took me back-I’ve always seen it as a joke at my expense, but do you really think you’ve given me good reasons to go out with you even if it were appropriate and not against the rules? Yeah, I’m just chomping at the bits to delight even further in your clearly stellar listening skills….now open your book to page 40.”

As frustrating as it all seems, these guys make me laugh, and I enjoy teaching them. It’s all pura vida, after all, isn’t it?

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