Sunday, May 8, 2011

May 8, 2011

Greetings and Happy Mother's Day to anyone who is a mother by virtue of having raised a child, or to anyone who has ever mothered anyone in time of need.  We wish you all a lovely day and many more lovely days ahead.  Here in Guatemala, Mother's Day is celebrated on a specific date every year, May 10.  At the school where I am observing, an entire week of intermittent bits of time have been devoted to preparing outstanding Mother's Day presents and highly decorated cards.  The children are working fastidiously, and with great care, to create these extraordinary gifts.  The teachers of the younger children in particular, spend additional time putting in the details of these painted boxes.  On Monday, May 9, the mothers will come to the school to receive the gifts, enjoy some nicely prepared snacks, participate in a program of songs and small plays, then take their children home, where the next day, everyone will stay home in celebration of mothers.  As I watch scores of mothers carrying their children on their backs, while working in the market, holding the hands of others on the way to school, on motorcycles with two children on the way to school, or nursing them in the parks, between jobs in the square, it is amazing to see the outpouring of love and respect for mothers that is observed.  Buen dia de la madre.

This past week has been one of work and study.  I have worked on understanding the Guatemalan mathematics curriculum by pouring over the textbooks they produce for teachers and students. There are a number of interesting discoveries I have made in the area of whole and rational number. A huge emphasis is placed on the understanding of base 10, which is understandable, since their entire measurement system is based on metrics.  The interesting discovery is the terminology of sistema decimal applied to whole number.  This interesting, since this is considered a rational number concept, hence a possible disconnect for learners coming to the U.S.  The linguistic difference is potentially a problem, but that is something I will have to continue to explore when I get to the U.S. later.  I did speak to one of the teachers, in my broken Spanish, and learned that most of the parents in public schools, where she taught for years, do not help their children with homework, since they themselves do not have more than a third grade education, and can neither read nor write.  Likewise, I have spoken to some wealthier parents who also do not help their children with homework, since they are busy with their work, or do not understand the math concepts themselves.  I have not witnessed tutoring programs, like in the U.S., so learning is up to the child, which, if they don't get the math concept when it is presented, just don't get it, and the downward slide begins and continues for all time.  When I speak to people here about their schooling and mathematics, most reply that they quit understanding at a very young age, and avoid math regularly.  It's all been interesting and the learning has been incredible.  I am working with a couple of curricular folks to figure out some potential assessment methods and possibly some action research projects for the teachers who are interested.  It has been a good week at the school, to say the least.  I will continue to go there through May, then hope to begin observing in public schools in July.

We have continued our Spanish lessons full tilt. Tom has become very relaxed in his lessons and is enjoying them immensely.  I,  however, have hit a high level of frustration with some new ideas that have been brought into the class.  I continue to improve my speaking and understand better, but because of the log jam we are experiencing, my class has stalled out at past-tense verbs of various kinds. There are assumptions made and missed opportunities, which I hope to overcome, since I don't have enough Spanish speaking skills to explain to my teacher why I am stuck. She, as do the teachers in the country, only knows one way to teach, drill, so I try to muddle along with considerable error as my learning style now, getting through the seemingly never-ending list of verbs I don't know, but am expected to conjugate with skill.  Ah, the life of a beginner.  I persevere, because this is very important to me.

The people we met several weeks ago, who are traveling across North and South America, taking pictures, and writing stories, have been staying with us this weekend. They generally stay in hotels they are rating, or with friends they know, but were without a place for a few days, waiting for replacement credit cards to come into Antigua.  Because they are driving across the continents, they have a large, very comfortable truck, so the four of us took a road trip to a town just south of Guatemala City, Amatitlan. There is a lake there, and it turns out, a beautiful spa, the Santa Teresita.  We all enjoyed the hot springs baths, a massage, smoothies, and in general, a relaxing time at the spa. The building is a very tall, all small stone structure, with many swimming and soaking pools.  We were the only non-Guatemaltecan people there, and were received with kindness and grace, as we are everywhere.  Eric and Karen, the couple we traveled with, took us to a place in Guatemala City for ceviche. We shared a dish of very fresh, very tasty fish, then returned to Antigua in the dark, which is a bit treacherous, since the roads are so curvy, unlit, and filled with folks on a Saturday night, driving a bit recklessly.  It was a grand adventure.

Today, we'll Skype with Adam and Catherine and my mom, and enjoy the new blue, smoke free skies of Antigua, and who knows where the wind will blow us next. 

I hope your day is a good one, and that you and yours are doing well.  Love Jeanne

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