Wednesday, 31 March 2010

My TEFL experience in Argentina

I am Teaching English as a Foreign Language at local primary school through a volunteer agency called i-to-i. They organise your placement and accomodation, and then provide a support team in-country. I´m not sure what I was expecting when I signed up to do it, but I knew I wanted to travel for a long period of time, and it seemed a good way of giving something back at the same time. I chose TEFL because it seemed to hold the most interest for me compared to other projects such as conservation, community, or sports.

It has been an interesting experience, there have been positives and negatives. Sharing a house with other volunteers has been great, I think I prefer it to a homestay as some of the other volunteers struggle to make themselves understood with their hosts. Posadas is a really nice city and I have felt very safe walking around on my own. Travelling to different places at the weekends with the other volunteers has been really good too, as I´m not sure my Spanish is good enough to get by on my own.

On the negative side however, my teaching experience has not lived up to my expectations. To start with I was only given two days of school a week, which I discovered is not really enough for the students and teachers to get to know you, and accept you as part of their school. I have found it very difficult to connect with the kids and impact on their English lessons. I wasn´t expecting the English teachers to have such a low level of spoken English, they struggle to understand me, and we end up having a very difficult conversation, partly in English and partly in Castellano. In addition, the teachers have been striking over pay, so my two days a week has become one or not at all.... The teachers are very poorly paid here, about 1,000 pesos a month, about 166 GBP, so I understand why they are striking, it´s just bad timing on my part.

After the first week, Veronica, the i-to-i co-ordinator, did find me 2 extra days a week at a private English language school where her friend teaches. The classes are much smaller than public school, about 8 pupils instead of 20. That has been a much more enjoyable experience, as Carlina speaks fluent English, I was able to participate more in class, and she could explain games etc to the children in Spanish first. I played pictionary with the children on the whiteboard, splitting the class into two teams and giving them names of animals to draw, they really enjoyed it. The children seem to enjoy the novelty of having an English person in the classroom and at the end of lessons, a couple of the girls came over and kissed me on both cheeks, the traditional greeting and goodbye in Argentina, which was nice.
I had a breakthrough with Lorena´s class on my last day at public school, I got fully involved in the lesson, did the writing on the board, most of the speaking and even played bingo at the end. I got a note from one of the girls who wrote I love you in English, so that was great, I was finally getting somewhere but now I am leaving.

I am doing TEFL again in Peru, but will have 8 weeks there, so I expect to be able to contribute more in that time. There is another volunteer starting the project at the same time as me, so hopefully it will be a better experience. I am going to view my Argentian teaching experience as a warm-up for my Peru project.

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