I give you three stories.
One Friday in mid-January, things were going as usual at the elementary school where I teach, Joaquin Chiriboga. That is, until recess (recreo). I did what I normally do at the beginning of each recreo: visited the snack lady, who has a permanent posting in the school courtyard where she sells things as delicious as 10 cent choco-bananas, 15 cent bags of chifles (fried plantain chips), 10 cent fruit cups (pineapple or watermelon, or, if you’re feeling crazy, mixed), and 40 cent plates of rice and meat- all of it very freshly prepared. Once I had my fruit cup in hand, I made my way to a bench where the teachers normally sit and enjoy their free time. Kids swarmed around me and asked me questions about my life at home and how to say random words in English (this usually happens), but the teachers were nowhere to be seen. After about five minutes of being the only teacher in the courtyard, I decided to find out what they were doing. I made my way to the office, where a meeting was taking place. They invited me in, and for the next ten minutes, I listened to some boring details about changes in the way the finances would be handled.
Then, things took a turn. Just at about the time recess was supposed to end, one of the teachers said “Well, today is a very special day. It’s the 70th birthday of our coworker Manuelito [again with the ‘ito’ thing]!!” We all clapped and then began singing Happy Birthday. Then, a cake appeared, along with cups of coke. About thirty minutes later, the dancing began. Thirty minutes after that, one of the teachers left school with an empty box and returned with a box full of bottles of beer, and it just went downhill from there. Basically, the students were left unsupervised for 2.5 hours, they had no more classes that day, and the teachers all got buzzed before noon- in the principal’s office (he was partaking in the festivities too!).
Second story: Valentine’s Day at my high school, Once de Noviembre. We were informed that we would not be teaching our last three classes, because there would be a Valentine’s Day program, ran by the student council. When the program was about to begin, all teachers and students went outside and waited for things to start. Romantic music was blaring out of these huge speakers while the student president announced that the students needed to form a large circle. I knew what was coming: dancing. Yes, I was asked to dance by one of the seniors. No, nobody else was dancing- they all refused, so it was kind of awkward.
But the reason I’m including this story is because of what happened next. Because the students were refusing to dance (it brought me back to my middle school days), the council angrily announced that they would have to move on to the next activity ahead of schedule because of the low level of participation. They said they would need a male representative from each grade level. I was not prepared for what came next. Each of these representatives (almost all of them were, as we used to say at Med-o-Lark, more being volun-told than volunteering) then had to walk up to the microphone, face the entire student body, and declare his love for one of the girls at the school. You can imagine that nobody wanted to do this. And it lead to some terribly awkward situations. There was maybe only one declaration that was authentic and heart-felt, and the girl turned the guy down.
Story number 3: As you know, last weekend was Carnaval. I thought schools would be off for the entire week, but they were only off Monday and Tuesday. There have been a few school days where school is technically in-session, but there really aren’t classes (like the day my school put on the program I mentioned in my last post- Elección de Niña Carnaval), and I wondered if Wednesday- Friday of this week would be like that. I asked the teachers, several times, if we would really have classes. They swore up and down that, yes, there would be classes. Last week, the director of Joaquin Chiriboga (where I work Thursdays and Fridays) announced to the student body something like “This year will NOT be like other years. Wednesday through Friday of Carnaval week, we are having classes and all of you have to come. Is that understood?” After all, Carnaval in Guamote is pretty crazy. It’s one of the few places in Ecuador where the holiday lasts for 8 days, so he did need to drill this into the kids’ heads.
I think you can see where I’m going with this. Thursday, after preparing lessons and packing my supplies the night before, I got out of bed at 5:15. by 6, I was on the bus to Guamote (an hour trip). I arrive to the school just after 7 to see NO children, only teachers. I ate breakfast with the teachers, talked for a bit, then left at around 8:30 because I was told “No, there are no classes today!” like I was being told “DUH! Why would we have classes today?” I also didn’t have to go to school today, because, guess what? No classes.
Obviously, there are differences in the way schools work here. In my next post, I’ll continue with more broken down, Venn diagram sort of observations I’ve made of the differences and similarities between public schools here and those in the US.