Learning a thing or two as a teacher in summer school in Belize

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Some of the Holy Cross summer school students and volunteer teachers gathered for a group photo around mid-week.
Some of the Holy Cross summer school students and volunteer teachers gathered for a group photo around mid-week.

A diphthong is not a bikini designed for safe swimming.

Of course, you know that.

And I know that.

But honestly, if someone came up to you and said, “What’s a diphthong?” would you know?

Tatiana holds up the note she wrote to me, thanking me for teaching this week.
Tiana holds up the note she wrote to me, thanking me for teaching this week. Earlier in the week, on a day when we finished our module early I had her write a story about one of the other teachers. I told her to send the teacher on an adventure. In no time at all Tiana had three paragraphs and the teacher headed for Caye Caulker on an amazing adventure. 

I didn’t. I haven’t even heard the word since college.

It came up this week while I was volunteering at summer school at Holy Cross Anglican School in San Mateo, a San Pedro neighborhood built on dreams and stilts over the lagoon.  The question came from another volunteer who was filling in, at the diphthong table, apparently. I knew it had to do with the combination of letters but couldn’t recall a thing beyond that. I now know it is the combination of two vowels in a single syllable.

My excuse was that I was responsible for teaching hard and soft C’s and G’s and the ph sound. And, hey, that was hard enough.

In summer school, information is broken down into small bits and taught in modules over short periods. It is a great way to convey a lot of information while fighting off boredom. Just as the students are giving you the “dead to me” look, it is time for them to jump up and move on to the next module.

Brilliant.

Friday is test day at Holy Cross summer school.
Friday is test day at Holy Cross summer school.

All I had to do was repeat over and over that a soft c — which sounds like “s” — and  soft g — which sounds like “j” — are followed by one of the vowels e, i or y. And ph always sounds like “f.”

Invariably, a student or two would ask “What about ‘get’ “?

This was a pretty sharp bunch.

I would reply that “the English language is filled with exceptions,” when what I really wanted to say was “English can be really stupid.”

More test taking on Friday at Holy Cross summer school.
More test taking on Friday at Holy Cross summer school.

I went all Sesame Street on them when I asked them to imagine a T-shirt that says:

With e, i or y

I’m just a soft guy

Since these were mostly math-loving kids, I created some formulas for them, too:

C + e, i, or y = “s”

G + e, i, or y = “j”

ph = “f”

Hard C = “k”

Hard G = “g”

Did it work? I think so. Mostly.

Intense concentration on testing Friday t Holy Cross summer school.
Intense concentration on testing Friday  at Holy Cross summer school.

These are clever, bright, eager-to-learn kids, mostly from the toughest neighborhood on the island. Some, who were quiet and seemingly shy, were killing it on the daily spelling bee contest.

I learned that I have a lot to learn as a teacher. I only had to hold the attention of three kids at a time. I can not imagine what a real teacher must do to keep 30 and 40 kids in thrall.

On the last day of school for this week, one little fourth grader handed me a folded piece of notebook paper. Inside was another folded paper on which she had written a thank you letter for teaching, in the most exquisite handwriting imaginable.

It said, “Goodbye. I will miss you thank you for teaching” And it was signed “From your best friend: Tiana.”

I’m going to keep that note for a long, long time.

A mural in the main courtyard of Holy Cross Anglican School, in the San Mateo neighborhood of San Pedro, Belize.
A mural in the main courtyard of Holy Cross Anglican School, in the San Mateo neighborhood of San Pedro, Belize.

 

Another farewell on Friday, to the volunteers who won't be back this coming week. I'm "Mr. L4." That was the module designation for the stuff I taught.
Another farewell on Friday, to the volunteers who won’t be back this coming week. I’m “Mr. L4.” That was the module designation for the stuff I taught.
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6 thoughts on “Learning a thing or two as a teacher in summer school in Belize

    Bill said:
    July 4, 2015 at 7:49 pm

    Great post Robert, I love what you did. We moved to San Pedro back in November and I would love to contribute to the community in a similar fashion but I am having a hard time finding organizations or places to help out in a meaningful way. Would love to chat if you have time sometime.

    Like

      robertjhawkins1 responded:
      July 5, 2015 at 7:33 am

      Hi Bill,
      Love to talk some time. I am blessed to have Gail Neal as a neighbor. She devotes countless hours to Holy Cross’s education programs. During the school year she runs a remedial English grammar and reading program out of the library. It can always use volunteers. The school also has a volunteer coordinator for other efforts.
      Trash cleanup is becoming a great way to volunteer. We now meet the First Friday of the month north of the bridge to clean the beach and roadside. In the south side the Neighborhood Watch seems to be involved in a number of civic minded projects. The Phoenix resort sponsors a beach cleanup on Saturdays. Gary Greif of the Town Council probably knows of more.
      I am surprised that there is not a support group for the Polyclinic, our 24/7 emergency medical center. People on the island spend an enormous amount of time volunteering and fund-raising for cats and dogs — what about people? The good people at the clinic badly needs support and I wouldn’t mind making that a project for the rest of 2015.
      Anyone think that might be a good idea?

      Like

    maggie said:
    July 7, 2015 at 2:57 pm

    My husband and I now live in San Pedro. We, too, are having trouble finding the volunteer opportunities. Clinic supports sounds great – how?

    Like

      robertjhawkins1 responded:
      July 7, 2015 at 3:00 pm

      Hi Maggie,
      I’m not really sure. Once I get back to Belize I will look into the Polyclinic and ask them how people can help them.
      Thanks,
      Bob

      Like

    johnhenryeast said:
    July 9, 2015 at 7:24 am

    Maggie the Polyclinic is always looking for volunteers but they (understandably) have to be approved. The person to contact at the Polyclinic is Mr Owen Vellos. He is the Administrator.

    Like

      robertjhawkins1 responded:
      July 9, 2015 at 11:52 am

      Thanks, John! You are always the man with the info! I’ll contact h when I return and ask if there are ways to help!

      Like

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