Educating is Teaching to Live Better
Teaching is at once unforgiving and rewarding. In the Dominican Republic, sometimes I feel like the challenges far outnumber the rewards. But people still choose to become teachers, to submit themselves to the various tortures of the public education system, and, in spite of all that, to change the lives of kids. I got to meet a number of these people at a conference last weekend. Escojo Enseñar (I Choose to Teach) is a relatively new Peace Corps initiative aimed at teacher training, and this year was the second conference. It was a massive success! The teachers and administrators that each volunteer brought were intelligent, motivated, and contributed a lot to every discussion. After a bit of a lucha during the week leading up to the conference, I finally got two teachers from my school to come. Rudy and Clara were great! Multiple volunteers told me they were really impressed with my teachers; I’m proud of them and glad I could convince them to come.
The theme of the conference was “Building a Culture of Achievement.” On day one we were treated to welcoming remarks from Jacqueline Malagón, the ex-Minister of Education. She was incredibly motivating, and it was great to hear her stories about fighting for the reforms that she headed during her time in office (one story even included a hilarious Joaquín Balaguer impression). In fact, the title of this blog post came from what she said when asked to come up with a slogan for a Ministry of Education project (“Educar es enseñar a vivir mejor.”). I think the Dominican teachers in the audience were really impressed with her talk, and her opening our conference might have given us a boost in credibility.
After the awesome welcome, we jumped right into the charlas (presentations) and talleres (workshops). Volunteers facilitated themes including classroom management, multiple intelligences, learning styles, planning, and working with parents. We had a lot of opportunities to get up and move, whether it was through a dinámica or by going to different breakout stations to put theory into practice. There was a lot to cover crammed into an action-packed agenda—on Saturday we went from 8:00am until 8:30pm, with a few breaks for snacks and meals! But the energy of the conference kept up the whole time. Everyone was excited to be there and participate. And it helped that the location was a Jesuit retreat center with beautiful grounds that ended in cliffs overlooking the sea. It’s easier to learn when you feel relaxed and comfortable and can hear the waves. And the two sunsets over Santo Domingo were nice too.
On Sunday the conference wrapped up with the presentation of our manuals and DVDs as well as training on how to use them to teach the information in our own schools. See, the purpose of the conference is to give the participants the knowledge to go back to their communities and give charlas of their own to the teachers who couldn’t attend. My teachers have been awesome about taking up the role of multiplicadora—this week we gave two charlas and have three more planned. There is a good energy in the school, and it felt really good to watch Rudy, one of the teachers who went to the conference, as she facilitated information about classroom management to the rest of the teachers in my school. I’m excited to keep riding this momentum and help my school seguir pa’lante!
On Sunday, after we had received our certificates, traded numbers and emails, and said “Nos vemos,” most volunteers went with their teachers back to site. I stuck around to visit with two of my friends from William & Mary. They had been in Santo Domingo for the past week or so doing public health outreach and helping run a free clinic. I met up with Betsy and her mom in the park, where we got lunch and talked about Haiti. Betsy’s mom lives and works in Haiti, and Betsy works there every summer running a camp for kids in Port-au-Prince. It was really enlightening to compare our experiences on different sides of the same island, see what was similar, and learn about the often stark differences. Then we found my friend Bruce wandering the streets in search of empanadas. Alex also chose to stay, so we grabbed a room and hung out with the William & Mary SOMOS crew until about 1:00am. It was really great to see some of my college friends again for the first time in a WHILE, and to have the chance to share our experiences in the Dominican Republic. Third Goal in action!