This is going to be a long post. You know why? Because good moments should be savored.
This past Wednesday and Thursday, Emily and I led a workshop for over 40 English teachers and Peace Corps Volunteers in Barranquilla. This was a feat. Everyone take a deep breath…yeah. Relish it.
Emily and I are pretty constant partners in crime/life/Volunteer service, and we hatched the plan for this workshop many months ago. Reflecting on the encouraging success of our Saturday classes, we thought about how we could expand our work to reach more teachers in Barranquilla and continue providing, you know, quality stuff.
So we decided to hold a taller, or workshop, and to open it up to all English teachers in Barranquilla public schools. We scheduled it for this past week because it’s an in-service week, when there are no classes, just meetings. And we chose topics that were appropriate for the beginning of the year: Curriculum Design, Evaluation, and Classroom Materials Creation.
If you’ve read about my past ups and downs in Peace Corps work, you’ll recognize already that the success of this workshop is a big deal. Downright miraculous, I would say. I mean, I’m expecting folk songs to be written about it.
Some really cool things:
1. Emily and I hoped to get 40 teachers to attend—we had exactly 40 people the first day, and even more the second. Do you know how hard it is to get grown adults to cross town to attend an optional training for their work? And how hard it is to get grown costeño adults to attend? Yeah. Over forty people.
2. And they came back a second day. I should add that we did the whole workshop in English, which is no small thing. I really admire the Colombian teachers for hanging in there, with great attitudes, for two whole afternoons in English—I know with certainty that it was a mental workout for almost all of them. These are folks who often have very low English levels, and may be embarrassed or discouraged about interacting with native speakers. It makes me feel proud that I can create a comfortable environment that is welcoming to the people who need my assistance the most.
3. Even after working an entire morning in their schools. Let me explain this one—most teachers work either the morning shift (6:30 to 12:30) or the afternoon shift (1:00 to 6:00) at their schools, depending on whether they are in high school or primary. So many of our teachers went to their schools from 6:30 to 12:30, and then showed up to our workshop from 2:00 to 6:00. I am at the same time really impressed and really honored that the teachers were that generous with their time and interested in becoming better teachers.
4. We saw a lot of familiar faces. We invited all of the teachers from last year’s Saturday classes, of course, and most of them came. Emailing that invitation, and then receiving reply after reply saying, “Yes, of course, and when are Saturday classes going to start?” was amazing. When people are eager to give you more of their free time…that’s a good feeling.
5. We also reached a lot of new teachers, who had never had direct contact with Peace Corps before. The Secretary of Education sent out an email invitation to most of the English teachers in the city, and either people were naïve enough to show up for anything, or they had heard enough about Peace Corps or about Emily and me to show up. Emily and I had made a small splash at Barranquilla’s district-wide Bilingualism Week last year, and I’m cautiously optimistic that people are starting to recognize us as, you know, awesome people with something good to offer teachers.
6. A lot of the new Volunteers came with their counterparts. I remember my first week at my school, a year ago, and how awkward those initial relationships with my counterparts were. I can’t speak for the new Volunteers, but I feel like the chances are high that this workshop helped them get off on the right foot with their co-teachers. The Volunteers were also a huge help; they really made it much easier for Emily and I to run the workshop smoothly.
7. We successfully collaborated with the Secretary of Education. Collaborating with the local school district may not seem like a big deal…but it is. Peace Corps Colombia is very new; we’re still building relationships with really key organizations like the local government. And, I don’t want to take too much credit, but I do think that Emily and I really made a positive impact. Our workshop made the Secretary of Education look really good, and it was entirely Emily’s and my initiative. And if the Secretary of Education has a better idea of what Peace Corps is and how Volunteers work best, then I think our relationship will be much more fruitful for future generations of PCVs.
8. We had a project that really grew out of our own vision. Emily and I drew upon a lot of resources, but we designed and executed this workshop ourselves from start to finish—scheduling, planning, picking dynamic activities, making an amazing packet of resources for the teachers, creating PowerPoints, pitching the proposal to the Peace Corps office and the Secretary of Education, securing a location, publicizing, actually leading the workshop for two afternoons, and then doing the follow-up. It was a big project.
9. We did it on a shoestring. In good Peace Corps form. The Secretary of Education donated space, a video projector, and photocopies. The Peace Corps office donated some paper and loaned us markers, tape, and crayons. The teachers paid for their own transportation. Emily and I pitched in about $10 for snacks (cookies) for the teachers…and dozens and dozens hours of womanpower. There was, effectively, no budget for this training attended by close to fifty people.
10. We received rave reviews. Surveys say…the teachers loved the workshop. They said all sorts of nice things—that the workshop as helpful, dynamic, interesting, fun, relevant; that they would recommend it to others; that they want to come to future Peace Corps events to improve as teachers.
And more will come. We’re planning to hold more workshops in the future, visit some of these teachers at their schools (where there are no Volunteers), and expand Saturday classes.
This has never happened in Peace Corps Colombia before. This is laying groundwork for future generations of Volunteers. This is building Peace Corps’s credibility in the Colombia.
This workshop made me feel really…accomplished. Like I’m on the right track. In terms of work, this is exactly what I’m here to do: build relationships with Colombian English teachers and help them become better teachers. And we’re at the point, Emily and I, that we have teachers who have heard about us, who have seen that we do, and who are eager to work with us. The first teacher who showed up for the workshop (an hour early) actually said to me (in slow, intentional English), “I’ve heard of you. They say that you are the best. They say that you are a very simple person…but the best.”
That makes me feel like a celebrity. An exhausted, extremely stressed-out celebrity, but a celebrity nonetheless.
End of savoring. No, just kidding. It’s probably going to last a little while longer.