Thursday, October 15, 2009

Teaching at the University of Azuay (Debby)

Although I wasn't exactly looking for a job, within two weeks of being in Cuenca, I was offered 3 different jobs teaching English. No one asked for a resume or credentials; just being American was good enough for them. The first job offer came on the Wednesday before school started the following Monday. It was at an all girl's Catholic high school downtown and they were really desperate (their teacher had just found out she was pregnant and decided not to teach this year). I met one of the other English teachers in the afternoon and within 15 minutes I was in the Head nun's office with a firm offer. When I asked about books and the curriculum, they told me not to worry. I was flattered and tempted to take the job to 1) help them out in a desperate situation 2) to witness firsthand a typical Ecuadorian high school and to work with teachers from here and 3) because even though I'm on my sabbatical year I must admit I love teaching and here it was September and my natural instinct was to jump in the classroom. There were some minor details however. One -I would have 6 sections of 45 kids each! The other was that classes started at 7 a.m. every day... And finally there was the mandatory uniform (with heels!!) that I would have to wear. After reading some quick e-mails to my family and colleagues at Lakeside (thank you Vicki, Paloma, and my brother David!!) who blatantly told me I was crazy to consider working full time and after having dinner with Don that evening and realizing what a time commitment I would be making and how much I would be missing out on family life and exploring Cuenca and surroundings, I politely declined.

The second job offer came from my Ecuadorian "sister". She asked me to run the English program at her daughter's preschool. That was a no brainer. Nothing against preschoolers, but been there done that with my own kids.

The final offer I accepted and I'm very pleased that I did. I'm teaching English to tourism students at the University of Azuay 6 hours a week. The time commitment is minimal and it's exciting for me to be teaching college age students and be in a university setting. The hiring process, if you could call it that, was unbelievably informal. I talked with the Dean of the school on the Friday before classes were to start on Monday. He "interviewed" (once again if you could call it that) me and another woman, Anne, from Vancouver, BC and told us he had 2 positions and would call us over the weekend. Neither Anne nor I heard anything so we called our initial contact Sunday night. She said "of course you have the job - see you tomorrow!". No books, no curriculum, just some eager
students. Fortunately both Anne and I are experienced teachers and have quickly put together a course description, a curriculum, and I ordered books and had them by the second week.

About a month after classes started, Anne and I were invited to an orientation for new professors. We didn't know quite what to expect, but we were thinking it was an occasion to meet the President, mingle with the new people. The orientation turned out to be a formal presentation; the funniest part for us was when one of the Deans went to great lengths to explain the symbol of the school (the shield) and then he went on the play the University hymn at a very loud volumn. It was a Monty Python cultural moment. I knew if I looked at Anne, I would burst into laughter so I just focused on all the other tremendously serious faces in the room... Ecuador takes their symbols and hymns very very seriously.

My students have all studied English in high school but their pronunciation is horrific. Most English teachers here really don't speak that well and teach primarily in Spanish. The situation is improving slightly, however, and there are more and more English teacher training programs to help teachers. Don and I have been very impressed with Mia and Nikki's English teacher, however. Mia is in the highest level of HS English with kids much older and she is actually challenged. Nikki's class is really easy for her, but that's OK with us - it's the one place where she can really shine as her Spanish catches up to her native language. My sense is that since their school is private that the expectations and the quality of the teaching is a lot higher than in a typical public school.

I love my commute 3 times a week, even if it isn't on my bicycle :( The University of Azuay is a 20 minute walk from our apartment, along the river. I pass by a really cool, old neighborhood of iron workers who are always in the midst of some project. I also pass a modern park with a beautiful sculpture and an iron works museum, as well as the "Quinta Bolivar" where Simon Bolivar spent time when he was in Cuenca.

One of my projects for Lakeside is to conduct interviews with young people about life in Ecuador and I'm psyched to have a ready and available pool of 20 year olds who I can interview for this project. And I have to say it's really fun to run into my students downtown every now and then and hear "Hey teacher!" - it makes the city feel like a small town to me.

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