STEP

I’ve been semi-busy for the last month, but I thought now might be a good time to sit down and tell you a little bit of what I’ve been up to.

As TEFL volunteers, one of our responsibilities is to serve as English teachers in a program called STEP (Striving Towards English Proficiency). This program givesNicaraguan English teachers in different departments the opportunity to study English on the weekends so they can improve their English proficiency. Peace Corps Volunteers teach 2-12 classes per semester, depending on how close they live to the STEP site. Because I live in the department of Matagalpa, I was assigned to teach 3 classes in August and will teach 5 or 6 more between now and December.

The Nicaraguan English teachers took a proficiency test to determine what level they’ll start at, and STEP Matagalpa is currently teaching 3 of the 5 levels. Students who start in the first level will take classes for 2.5 years before they finish the program, so it’s quite the commitment. Many of these teachers already teach 5 or 6 days a week and give up their only free day to attend STEP classes. Many of them have to travel long distances (4+ hours on the bus) to get to class. It takes me 2.5 hours to get to the department capital where we have STEP, and I’m exhausted every time I make the trip! I feel incredibly lucky that these students are so committed and that they show up full of energy, excited to practice their English (from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. every Sunday!)

I teach the third level, so my class already has an intermediate high English proficiency. I’ve had so much fun, because we can have discussions completely in English, but it can also be a little challenging because I have to teach more complex grammar (some of which I’ve never had to think about because I’m a native speaker and it comes naturally for me). We are encouraged to use a lot of dinámicas, games, and different methods to teach the content. It’s more fun for all of us, and the students get ideas for activities they can implement in their own classrooms.

It typically takes me a good 10 hours to plan for one day of STEP class, but I feel incredibly accomplished when the day is over and when my class does well on their tests. 

Here are a couple photos from my class last week. We have a lot of fun!

Access Camp

Steven: Does anyone know what this animal is?

Me: Steven, do you know what this animal is?

Students: REINDEER!

Steven: No, it’s really big! This is a moose!

Me, stealing microphone: No no no no it’s not. This is a caribou.

I’ll be honest, I don’t even know where to begin with this post. Access Camp was a wonderful whirlwind, and there is no way to fully explain how awesome it was, but I’m going to try.

The Access Program is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State and gives students the opportunity to study English. For 2 years, students attend Access classes 2 hours/day, 5 days/week in addition to their regular school day. About halfway through the program, they have the opportunity to attend an awesome summer camp! I had the privilege of being a counselor, and it was the best experience.

These kids are so dedicated to learning English, and they have made awesome progress in their year of study. When I first saw the lessons for the week, I was nervous. Self-esteem? Social media addiction? American holidays? These are high-level topics that I could never dream of teaching in most foreign language classrooms, but Access students are rockstars. They have devoted a lot of extra time and effort into English, and it shows.

This was also the first time that the camp was held at a real camp, and I got to share a cabin with fourteen wonderful girls. We woke up around 5 a.m. every day, took freezing cold showers, and slept in bunkbeds. It was exhausting, but so much fun.


Steven, Freddy, and I also taught lessons to the 29 students in our state group. Our state was Alaska! Steven and I chose it in large part because we couldn’t agree on anything else (he’s from California, and I’m from Missouri.) Also Alaska is the bomb, and choosing it gave me an excuse to show everyone beautiful pictures of mountains and bears and caribou and moose.

We had a packed schedule from about 6:45 a.m.– 10 p.m. We played games, watched and gave presentations, had a talent show, learned about addiction, self-esteem, and other important topics, and participated in daily electives.

The elective that I helped teach was ULTIMATE FRISBEE. We had so much fun teaching students how to play and watching the games! (Also, when the teams were uneven, I got to join. No big deal, but I threw the first game’s winning pass into the end zone.)

A lot of boys came up to me afterward and said, “So you’re a strong girl?!” or “You like to play sports?!” Now, there are plenty of girls in Nicaragua who enjoy playing and watching sports, but it is often a male-dominated space. I like using casual conversations as an opportunity to reinforce that yes, girls can enjoy and excel at “boy” activities.

During our self-esteem lesson, we showed the Verizon “Inspire her Mind” ad, hoping to start a discussion about how listening to the negative words of others can impact the way that we choose to live our lives. It sparked a wonderful conversation between Nicaraguan teachers and students. They talked about how they had felt societal pressure to be wives and mothers and to avoid male-dominated fields of study.

One of my students in the Alaska group talked about how she wants to be an engineer like her dad, and said that a lot of people have told her that engineering is a man’s field, but her dad supports her and tells her she can follow any dream that she has.

Similarly, in a conversation about people we admire, I talked about how all of my parents support and believe in me, but I talked specifically about how my dad grew up during segregation and had barriers that I’ve not had to face, but he always believed that I could do anything I wanted.

Some of my students talked about their admiration of Martin Luther King Jr, Barack Obama, and Nelson Mandela.

They talked about how social media allows them to communicate with people far away, but said it can also distance us from the people who are close.

I really, truly appreciated the opportunity to talk about some of these issues with my students. I know that the Access classroom is not the typical English classroom. I’ll spend most of my class time teaching grammar and vocabulary (hopefully in fun, student-centered, communicative ways!) but I’ll rarely be able to have these sorts of deeper conversations in English with teenagers.

We also had some fun, active sessions. First aid! Survival skills! Self-defense! Not to brag, but Alaska made a pretty solid shelter and fire.



I was blown away by these students, and I’m hoping I’ll have the chance to be a part of Access Camp next year.

Oh, I almost forgot to mention something important. Ambassador Laura Dogu came to see our final ceremony. (Remember last month when I had Thanksgiving at her house? What is this life, y’all?) There’s a picture of the two of us somewhere on someone’s memory card, but I’m about 90% sure that I wasn’t looking at the camera when the picture was taken, in traditional Jade fashion. But not to worry, a lot of the kids got selfies with the ambassador, because she is the coolest.

There are a lot of other wonderful pictures from camp, some of which are included in this video slideshow. There is so much that I’m forgetting to say in this post, but my mind is still spinning from the experience, so I hope you’ll forgive me.

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2FAccessProgramNicaragua%2Fvideos%2F1401127529911909%2F&show_text=0&width=560

Teach ’em how to say goodbye

A couple weeks ago, finished teaching English classes in my training town. I taught my last class, and then a few days later, after a workshop for the local English teachers, my counterpart  asked me if I’d be back the following week, because the kiddos wanted to say goodbye.

At that point, I was feeling ready to move to my new site, but I wanted to go to the classroom one last time to see my students, so Amanda and I agreed to go see them for a few minutes.

It was overwhelming.

I was not always thrilled with my teaching, but my students are wonderful. On that last day spoke to me a lot in English and Spanish, and we took a lot of photos, and they presented me with gorgeous gifts. I felt appreciated and welcomed into their community, and now it’s almost time for me to leave.

I’m excited to be starting a new adventure in a new site with new teachers and students, but I’m definitely going to miss the life I had in that community.

Also, I’m very nervous to transport the gifts they gave me. They’re very fragile and the bus to Matagalpa is bumpy.

So excited about these gifts from my students: Nicaragua tank top and a gorgeous but blurry olla de barro.

These kiddos are the sweetest.

Practicum week reflection

Tonight is my last night in Estelí. A quick overview of the super official stuff I’ve been doing:

  • Saturday: Arrived in Estelí and co-planned my lesson with my awesome Nicaraguan counterpart.
  • Sunday: Hiked.
  • Monday: Taught a few hours of 9th grade.
  • Tuesday: Observed several classes, taught for a couple hours.
  • Wednesday: Observed a class about natural disasters, had an earthquake in the middle of class.

Anyway, I’m going a few thoughts on my practicum week experience.

Saturday, I had to wake up before 4 am to travel to Estelí. I had to ride in a moto taxi, microbus, and a big bus for several hours, and for the 3ish hours that I rode on the big bus, I had to pee SO BAD. The fact that I didn’t pee my pants on the bus is one of my greatest accomplishments.

We arrived in Estelí and I observed STEP classes (classes that build the English proficiency of Nicaraguan English teachers.) Afterwards, I co-planned with my new counterpart, who attends STEP classes every Saturday. It was an incredible experience. My co-planning antes de practicum week was essentially just my counterpart writing an objective on the board and expecting me to do the rest. I’ve basically flown solo for the last six weeks.

This week, actually planning a lesson with another teacher, collaborating and sharing ideas, was increíble. Teaching together throughout the week (actually teaching together) was a completely new experience for me. At times it was frustrating when lessons didn’t go exactly as planned, but I feel like I got a much better idea of what the rest of my Peace Corps service will be like.

My counterpart this week was so wonderful. She’s worked with a volunteer for a couple years, and at this point she’s teaching almost entirely in English. She’s open to new ideas and really wants to collaborate. It was a fun challenge, and I’m excited to be placed in my site and get started in a new community.

I’m halfway through training. Only 6ish weeks left 😀

Thoughts on Class #2

I taught my second class today, and I feel like it went well! At the beginning of the class, my counterpart teacher gave a review of the material (in Spanish). After that, I gave a tiny bit more review (in English) and wrote the basic info about the future tense, and wrote some sample sentences for reference.

Then we did a relay race!

I taped sentences to the board, and a person from each team had to go get one, read the question on the paper, and write their answer and show it to me. Then the next person from the team repeated the process.

My kids were awesome, and (I think) they all answered at least one question. They’d help each other, and I know in at least one case, one girl from the team was writing everyone’s sentences. Honestly though, I am counting it as a win, because the class was engaged and mostly participating, and there’s only so much you can do with 45 students.

The objective that my coteacher gave me was for the students to write the future tense, and I thought my activity was perfect, but afterwards, he asked, “what do you think is more important: writing or speaking?” and later he said, “next time, have each student speak the sentences aloud. They have trouble with pronunciation. Sometimes they say ‘school’ like ‘eh-scool’ and this is not okay.” 

My thoughts were as follows: 

  1. The objective for today was to write, so I focused on student writing.
  2. I don’t have time to nitpick pronunciation. If I can understand the words they’re saying, that is what matters. I don’t expect them to speak like they were raised in the Midwest U.S.

I understand the value of having a native English speaker in a TEFL classroom, but I still don’t think I need to put so much emphasis on pronunciation. I want to make sure they actually understand what they’re reading, writing, and saying. 

I have to teach at least 3 more classes with this teacher, but I’m sure I’ll end up teaching more. He is very by-the-book, and I try to bring some spice to class, but there’s only so much I can do.

Here’s a photo of the dialogue that I’m to teach on Thursday. I think it’s hilarious.

First class

Y’ALL. I just taught my first class with almost no preparation (because between Spanish homework, sleeping, and reading for various Peace Corps training, there’s hardly any time for lesson plans. 

I was so nervous, and I’d barely done any planning with my co-teacher (the band was playing right outside the door the whole time, and the profe spoke 95% in Spanish.)

One of the Peace Corps Spanish language staff attended my class, and afterward she asked me if I had teaching experience, and she was shocked when I said I didn’t. I told her I was nervous, but she said she couldn’t tell.

I think all of my male students have crushes on me. At the end of class, they asked if I’m married, how old I am, if I have a boyfriend, and if I am on Facebook.

The girls were obsessed with my eyes (and hair, once I took it out of the bun.) They also gave me a paper fan and thank God because I was sweating through my shirt in front of that class.

It’s 9th grade, so their English is far from fluent, but they were a good and attentive class. I taught mostly in English but explained some sentences and concepts in Spanish. I’m so glad the first class is over with, because now I know roughly what to expect for the next few months. In November, I’ll be placed at my official site with new teachers, but for training I’m feeling decent (thank god, because last night I was feeling hella overwhelmed.)

Tonight, my training group is starting a community English class, so the day is far from over. I’ll keep you posted!