This week's blog is from an outstanding member of the MIS faculty, Mr. Ashley Scott.
No really. I’m asked that question every time I explain what I did during the summer. It comes right after “Aren’t you glad you get to relax without students?”
I guess the idea that I, a teacher, would spend my summers not only in another country to learn Spanish but also to teach children English is a foreign concept to many of my family and friends. The idea that I would use my summers to not only become a student but to also volunteer my time to teach is probably not what most people envision when they think of their child’s teacher. Well, their child’s teacher doesn’t work for MIS.
I’ve gone to Guatemala for the past two summers. Four weeks the first year and three and a half weeks this summer. I didn’t go to tour. I didn’t go to walk the ancient ruins. I didn’t go to relax at the beach. I’ve gone and will continue to go to learn, teach and fellowship. But lets be clear, the most important reason I’ve gone is to learn. At MIS, I’ve finally found a professional environment that values growth and understands the importance of every teacher’s need to occasionally try on the shoes of a student.
Spanish is the last thing I learned in Guatemala. Both times there, I lived with Mingo and Kina Tuch who taught me about family. They have six kids (including me). I can’t express adequately how close the Tuch family is. During the birthday week of the town I lived in, San Pedro, there is one day where everyone in the town celebrates until 3am. When I say 3am….I mean at least 3am. There are ferris wheels, musical groups, cannons, street food and other carnival rides.
On this day, family members come back home. So, imagine my surprise when I came home for dinner to a house full of 40 people. Every one of these people spoke to me (in Tz’ utujil at first then Spanish), hugged me and welcomed me to the family. Outside of my own family, I had never felt that much genuine love.
Clemente, mi maestro, facilitated my Spanish lessons. Clemente taught me patience. When I arrived in San Pedro the first year, I thought I knew some Spanish. Ok, let me explain…knowing some Spanish words does not constitute knowing Spanish. I failed my pretest and immediately became discouraged. I know my face showed defeat. My ego definitely felt it. But Clemente would say, “poco a poco, hermano. (little by little, brother)”. Through each conjugation, each new verb, present tense and future tense and each past tense (I won’t even mention the verbs Estar and Ser) he was extremely patient and supported and motivated me. And boy did I need it. Many times I spoke to myself and decided that I wasn’t coming back the next day. I wanted to quit. Before the day ended, he would give me another tip that would help, meaningful homework I could practice and words of encouragement I could rally behind. He taught me how to be a better teacher.
After school, I would volunteer with Los niños de lago (The children of the lake). Los niños de lago is an organization that provides social and educational support for underprivileged Guatemalan children ages 6-16. After loading my head up with Spanish, I would attempt to go and teach English by using my newly acquired Spanish. Let me just say, their English was far better than my Spanish. My Spanish speaking consisted of me repeating my self several times until someone would just nod his or her head in hopes I would just stop.
In my attempt to teach English, I was laughed at (often), asked about my hair more times than I can count (es su pelo real?), asked if I know President Obama and tricked into several soccer games. We couldn’t start the day without me giving Elisa a hug, telling Omar that we would play soccer after our lesson and allowing Veronica to see my pictures in my phone. Most days, we never started on time and sometimes we didn’t finish the day’s (formal) lesson. However, what we learned from each other was invaluable. Yes, I learned more Spanish and they learned more English in an authentic real world scenario but we also developed relationships. They began to trust me and I began to trust them. I learned to take risks. I fumbled around Spanish like bull in a china chop. I butchered the language and was self conscious about speaking until I heard the students speak English. They were not afraid, embarrassed or hesitant. So I threw caution to the wind and just spoke.
Yes, I go to Guatemala to learn Spanish, but that’s not all I learn. I learn how to be a better dad, the skills to be a better teacher and courage to try new things even if I could possibly fail. I learn how to be a better human. So, “Who goes to Guatemala to learn Spanish?” Hago y tu debo también (I do and you should too).