Monday, June 22, 2009

Teaching English in an Inner-city School

I want a job that makes a difference. One of the hardest things I experienced in Guatemala was walking by children begging for food on my way to my academy. Little boys, hardly more than eight years old, daily approached me pleading for some bread or water. To see this, and then enter into the ridiculous affluence of the academy was such a jolt. I saw horrifying levels of poverty each day, and then entered into this little land apart, where everyone had plenty of food, cars, fancy houses, and security. I saw small children with torn, dirty clothes begging for a ten cent piece of bread, and then taught an hour long class to an affluent businessman who could pay the school $20 an hour (the equivalent of $100 an hour here). I couldn't reconcile it.

I came from an inner-city public school, where I had to scrounge crayons up off the dirty floor and break them in half, so that every kindergartener had something to write with. I saw children with distended stomachs from the parasites in the impure water they were drinking. I held a little boy whose legs were bowed with rickets. To see that, and struggle to teach just a little English through the violence and the hunger, I couldn't feel right just teaching the rich.

Anyone reliable enough to keep to the system and show up to class on time could teach the students at my academy. When you have a comfortable classroom and a set method of instruction, it's not so hard. You earn a comfortable wage. You don't worry about your students stabbing each other or hitting others with chains. You don't get kicked by angry, abused children. It's just a whole lot easier emotionally.

It may be selfish, but I wanted to be somewhere where I was needed. I crave job satisfaction, and fulfillment. The public school was tough, but I was making a difference. It was worth struggling to make rent every month and working crazy hours. I felt fulfilled.

I also discovered that I can put up with a whole lot of craziness as long as I was content with my work. I can cope with students who never seem to do their work when I know that there is a real reason behind this behavior. Many of my students didn't have school supplies at home. Rather than students who just came to English classes as a way to ward off boredom, these students were struggling just to stay in school when economically it made more sense for them to be working.

I couldn't justify staying in Guatemala after I was shot at when all I was doing was teaching the affluent. They had many ways of learning English. Maybe it's a horrible thing to say, but since they didn't need me, it wasn't worth the risk. I may have stayed if I felt my work was making a difference. Whether that is foolhardy or not, I don't pretend to understand.

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