Teaching in Zamora, Ecuador

January 2015

We’re nearing the end of our stay here in Zamora, and as such, I’m becoming rather sentimental about the town and the school. I’m going to miss it all a lot.

Green mountains, Zamora, Ecuador
Green mountains, Zamora, Ecuador

Applying for the teaching job and arriving in Zamora

I didn’t warm to everything at the beginning. When we first arrived, it wasn’t what I expected or necessarily what we had been told the job would be. Before we got the position, we had sent out our CVs to about a zillion different schools all over South America. After a couple of frustrating weeks left waiting, only a handful of schools had replied, and only one offered us a job at all. The school was called Fine-Tuned English and is based in Loja, a city in the south of Ecuador. The job wasn’t to work in Loja though, but in their smaller school in a much smaller town called Zamora. Only one job of 20 hours with 4 groups was offered, so the two of us would have to share the hours. We were told that the school taught all ages and there would be opportunities to pick up more hours. We were basically replacing a teacher who was leaving in the middle of the term, so they were very keen to have us start straight away. No one else could offer us a job until January or February, so we were very lucky to find something half way through the teaching term. We jumped at the chance!

We interviewed on Wednesday, accepted the job on Thursday and arrived in Zamora on the Saturday. It was our first time in Zamora and it was definitely a small town like they had said. The first thing we noticed were the surrounding green mountains that enclosed the town. On our bus journey down, we had travelled through the green valleys, passing waterfalls and following the river until we reached Zamora, la ciudad de aves y cascadas (The city of birds and waterfalls). It was certainly a beautiful landscape. We walked down to the river and watched hummingbirds and other brightly coloured birds flying around us. Zamora was also very quiet. It was Saturday night and there were very few people around and we struggled to find somewhere for dinner. It certainly was very different to the party atmosphere we had been used to in Montañita.

 

Teaching at Fine-Tuned in Zamora, Ecuador

It’s been lovely working at Fine-Tuned English in Zamora. It’s a very fun and outgoing atmosphere to work in and the other teachers have been very kind and welcoming. More importantly, the students are polite and friendly, always calling out to us ‘hello teacher!’ whether in school or around town. We have been fortunate enough to have taught most of the children at one time or another, so we are familiar with most of the faces we see around school. It’s fantastic being welcomed so enthusiastically into work as we set foot in the door every day!

We have only been working here part time, which means we only have two of our own classes each. The students are divided into four categories: ‘tiny kids’, ‘children’, ‘youth’ and ‘youth intensive’, which are roughly decided on age and level of English. Within each category are several different groups.  I have ‘Children 3’, which is a group of eleven 6-8 year olds and ‘Youth 6’, which is a group of nine students between the ages of 14-18 years old. I’ve been very happy with both my classes and the kids have been extremely welcoming and patient towards me as their new teacher. I do realise that we have been working in a private school here and class sizes are smaller, so perhaps I’ve had it easy compared to your average Ecuadorian school! The most difficult part for my kids has been getting used to my British accent, as they have been taught mostly by teachers with American accents. In the beginning, I’m not sure they understood a word I said! Perhaps Rory had it worse though, with the children having to understand his Mancunian accent!

Fined-Tuned English kids at their Christmas concert
Fined-Tuned English kids at their Christmas concert

 

When we first arrived at the school and we were finding out which classes we were taking, originally it was decided that I would take both the ‘children’ classes, and Rory would take both the ‘youth’ classes. When I was told this, my heart honestly sank and filled with dread! Perhaps an over-reaction, but very true. The reason behind this, we were told, was because I had more experience with that age group and I look ‘really sweet’, so I would be more suited. The experience part was not exactly correct as I am trained in teaching secondary school kids, aged 11-16. It was clear to me that because I’m female, I would be better at looking after young children. For those who know me, this is not the case. Give me sarcastic, moody, bad-attitude teenagers over needy whiney kids any day! Anyway, in the end, after a bit of persuasion from Rory and I, we managed to rearrange the classes so we were all happy.

The lessons are about fifty-five minutes long, depending on when they decide to ring the bell and what time the kids feel like turning up. Often, lessons are more like 40 minutes. We base the lesson on a text book, which we are expected to work through, completing a unit every half term. In the beginning, I was quite strict on making sure I stuck to the timetable and completed a page a lesson, as we were instructed. I soon realised that this wasn’t always effective (particularly with students coming in late or not attending class at all!) and the students weren’t enjoying the lesson as much. I now work through the book, but am more flexible depending on the needs of the students. In the end, I create the end-of-unit quiz, so I can adapt the learning as necessary. The lessons always begin with a game, then usually a reading or listening activity, and then more games or activities to finish off.

Each class is expected to complete some kind of project each half term, which also involves an assessed presentation to the class. As I mentioned, there is a quiz, or end-of-unit test, every half term. On top of that, they also have mid-term exams and end-of-term exams, which are set by the main school in Loja. So, lots of assessments, quizzes and exams, just like in England. I would also briefly like to add, likewise in England, you cannot fail the students, even if they are lazy and refuse to work. This makes the school look bad and the parents complain. God forbid. Pass your students and everyone is happy. I could easily discuss this issue further, but perhaps best not to get me started. I could rant on about it forever…

In terms of resources, the classrooms all have a whiteboard and projector, so we can hook up our laptops and show presentations or videos. Sometimes, we’ll go on YouTube, listen and study the lyrics to their favourite songs in English. With the younger kids, we’ll sometimes watch short episodes of ‘Horrid Henry’ or other English cartoons. We often make our own resources, although these tend to be handwritten or handmade. We have to ask the boss to do our printing, so it’s not always convenient and also, we don’t feel too comfortable asking for yet more printing to be done.

Fine-Tuned Zamora is a very small school with about 300 students. Whilst we were there, there were five full-time teachers and us two part-timers. Erika is the lady in charge and she has two admin/accountant ladies, Yolanda and Doris, helping her. It is a well-organised school, by Ecuadorian standards, but very different to how things are run at the schools I’ve taught at in England. Teachers are expected to have their lessons and the unit planned, just like the short and medium term plans that are expected in English schools. They have a long term plan with dates on the calendar, but it’s a paper copy and so it doesn’t really get updated.

Colleagues at Fine-Tuned English Xmas do
Colleagues at Fine-Tuned English Xmas do

 

We are always notified of things at the last minute. We are told a day or two before whether we are doing catch-up classes on Saturday morning. Meetings and events at the main school in Loja (2 hours away) are advertised only a couple of days’ in advance. We are sometimes required to cover other classes too, which we are always very happy to do as it means more money. However, we are often told about this a few minutes before the lesson and then handed a piece of paper with a couple of notes to explain what to do with the class. Again, we got used to this, but it was just very different to how things work back at home.

So I’ve learnt that the ability to be flexible and to think on your feet is invaluable here! I can’t help but make comparisons with ‘how things work back at home’, but, really, the best advice is just to be open and accept that you’re not ‘back at home’.  I think all these differences for us in work practice and organisation are quite normal in Ecuador and it’s just how things work here. And to be honest, it does work. As we have only been working part time and life is super laid-back here, we did not mind the last minute change of schedules. Also, it makes the job a bit more interesting and fun!

Overall, it’s been challenging and great, and definitely a much more positive experience than teaching in a secondary school in England. Here, I have been observed once. I was told what needed to be done on the first day of arriving and from then on, I was left to get on with my classes. It has reminded me how much I love teaching. Back in England, it always felt that teaching was the least important part of being a teacher. Here, in Ecuador, I have not had to deal with all the other tedious time-consuming bureaucratic tasks that overshadowed my ability to teach effectively. How refreshing to simply be a teacher and teach!


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