Tuesdays are my sweaty days. Granted, most days are sweaty in the humid Bolivian jungle, but on Tuesdays I make the mile and a half walk from the NPH campus to Unidad Educativa Milena Paz Antelo II, the local high school. I teach English to 140 students. 40 of those students come from NPH and the other 100 from the surrounding community of San Ignacio.
Going into the school year, I had the expectation of co-teaching with two other language teachers, but quickly found that their expectation was I would teach by myself. This was a shock to me. Putting together an entire lesson plan the night before my first day was not what I had envisioned.
I was terrified that the students would mock my Spanish and therefore reject my teaching. Though being completely fluent in Spanish would be preferred, I decided to make my lack of fluency as much of an asset as possible. I did this by addressing the fact that I, too, am learning and practicing a language. I declared that our classroom would be a safe space where we could all learn and grow without judgment. While my Spanish is the butt of many a joke, my students are engaged in class and we help each other learn. Now, my students start class by greeting me with “Good afternoon, Professor Lina.”
Although I love my job and students, this new job has not been without its challenges. The extreme lack of resources, the general rambunctiousness of teenagers, and adding 100 names and faces to the ones I am already learning at the home have made me feel like pulling my hair out more than a few times.
I have experienced the high of hearing students putting into practice something I taught them and the low of having a student tell me that almost everyone in the class cheated on an exam. I have been surprised by how much I enjoy watching our kids interact in an environment outside the home and I am incredibly lucky to be given a glimpse of another facet of their personalities.
Although it feels like I migrate through a color wheel of emotion on a daily basis, I can truly say that I wouldn’t trade this job for any other. It is daunting and empowering to think that I am representing NPH every time I leave the hogar (home). I strive to bring Father Wasson’s visions of love and sharing not only to our children at NPH, but to every one of my students and the community that I am slowly becoming a part of. I am both profesora (teacher) and tía (aunt/caregiver). While it is a fine line to walk, I am happy to walk it every Tuesday morning.
Children’s names have been changed to protect their privacy.