November 5, 2018
I grabbed a chocolate chip granola bar as I rushed out the door. I made my way down the crowded street to the bus stop, glancing anxiously at my watch every few minutes. No surprise, I was late again. The city bus rolled up to the curb and people were packed inside like sardines in tin can. A few people at my stop tried to squeeze their way onto the bus, just barely fitting inside the door. I waited at the stop, finally pushing my way onto the bus that followed, also jammed-packed with people — but that’s typical Santiago.
I got to the school just shy of seven minutes late. It’s a tiny school in a quiet, residential area of the city. There are less than 200 students from grades K through 12, and I’m the only foreigner who works there. I started at the school about two years ago and it was tough as I didn’t speak much Spanish, but I’ve improved and gotten used to things with time.
After getting inside, I took a quick stop in the bathroom to powder on a bit of foundation and load my lashes with black mascara, hoping to look at least a little bit older than the high school students. Being only 27 years old, I’ve learned it’s important to find a balance between being relatable and gaining respect.
It was Monday, which meant I got to assist in the kindergarten classroom all morning. I teach every age group in the school, although the kindergarteners are secretly my favorite. The kids filed in one at a time, wandering to the carpet area of the classroom. Like every morning, they had silent reading time, even though most of them just flipped through the pictures while giggling and whispering to their friends. Around 9 a.m., the head teacher began the daily morning routine and sang a few songs, one of which is always annoyingly stuck in my head. It has a quick, catchy beat and helps the kids learn the months of the year in Spanish.
Soon, the students went to work on various projects and activities. I wandered over to the Arts & Crafts corner, where a smiley, wide-eyed five-year old sat coloring a picture of a jungle with markers. I sat next to him, and he enthusiastically showed me what he was making. We sat drawing and chatting together for almost twenty minutes. The reason I help out in the kindergarten is to enforce the students’ use of English, so I speak to them as much as possible. Some love it, others aren’t as enthusiastic. But I guess it is like any other subject in that way.
Shortly after, I went to the snack area where a few kids were munching on small sandwiches and dry cereal. I helped open juice boxes and sweep up the many crumbs and pieces of food scattered on the floor. A couple of kids had trouble sitting still and I had to remind them countless times to sit down and eat. With kids, sometimes it feels like their behavior is on endless repeat. They keep doing the same thing over and over again. But even in the most frustrating, “want-to-pull-my-hair-out” kind of moments, I do my best to stay calm.
Not long after snacktime, the kids got their backpacks, which were stamped with their favorite cartoon characters, and headed outside for a short recess before their parents came to pick them up. Around this time I got a short break before starting my afternoon classes. I walked to the kitchen to heat up my leftovers from the night before. Today was raviolis stuffed with spinach and ricotta cheese, smothered in red tomato sauce. I took a seat next to the other teachers and ate a quick lunch – it tasted pretty average today.
My class in the afternoon was a standard English class with 7th and 8th grade students. This class can be challenging as there is a huge variety of English levels amongst the kids. Some students speak fluently, while others can barely form a sentence. To be honest, I have yet to figure out the best way to deal with this. Luckily, today was an easy day as the kids were taking a reading comprehension test. I had the students separate the desks and hand in their phones. As soon as it was completely silent, I handed out the exams. I answered a few questions here and there and then waited quietly for the kids to finish.
I tend to work really hard at school so I don’t have to take any work home. I decided to grade the tests and luckily managed to finish them all—God bless multiple choice. It’s always interesting to see how students do on a test as it gives you a sense of what each person actually understood. Today, the tests were all over the place — with some students doing very well and other failing brutally. I had a nice surprise though: a few students did much better than I anticipated.
I put the exams in my cubby and went towards the kitchen to begin after-school cooking class. The students are young so I usually try to pick recipes that don’t require the use of a stove or oven. There’s nothing that scares me more than a child cutting a finger or burning a hand. Today, the kids were making ice cream in a bag, which is not dangerous, and they were extremely excited.
After washing our hands, we added cream, milk, vanilla, and sugar in one plastic bag and then placed it inside another bag, which contained ice cubes and salt. Then we shook and shook until our arms grew tired. It went okay for the most part, minus a bit of whining and the fact that it tasted a little more like a milkshake than ice cream. Clean up time was also a bit of struggle, but we got it done.
The bell rang and the day was over. I waited for the parents to come and waved goodbye to each child as they went. After the last student left, I quickly grabbed my backpack and headed straight towards the bus stop. It was a long day, and I was ready for some hot dinner and a Netflix series.