The Handyman

>> Monday, December 29, 2008

Whenever we have a problem with our house, we call up our landlady and she calls her favorite handyman and he comes over. The following Sunday. He works construction Monday-Saturday, and his only day off is Sunday, so if we have a problem on Tuesday we're out of luck until Sunday.

This guy is really nice and shows up on time (or early!), but unfortunately he's not all that handy. He really only stays long enough to make the problem worse. We've been trying to get the light in one of our bathrooms fixed for over 3 months and even after coming most Sundays he still can't fix it. He just complains about the wiring and tells us all he needs is a part that he'll bring next week. Before it worked once every ten times we hit the switch. Now it just doesn't work.

Yesterday he was scheduled to "fix" the light but we had an emergency in the kitchen that was more urgent, so I asked that he bring his plumbing tools. There's a pipe sticking out of the ground that doesn't serve a purpose, but if too much water collects in the sink, water gushes out of the pipe and floods the kitchen.

He came to look at it and decided that the best way to attack the situation was to take the pipe out of the ground and investigate. It didn't help. It really only facilitated faster flooding. He couldn't fix it and told us he'd be back... next Sunday. Before he came we our kitchen would flood once every ten times we used it. Now it just floods.

In our old house we didn't have a kitchen sink, just the lavandero (like a washboard), but we've obviously become spoiled and don't want to wash dishes in our "washing machine" any longer.

We called the landlady and reportedly he's coming on Tuesday. We've decided that once he's here we'll lock the door and not let him out of our sight until the problem is fixed.


Magdziarz Family Visit

>> Sunday, December 28, 2008

At the beginning of December, my parents made a trip down here to visit us and finally see for themselves the things we've been talking and blogging about for the last year and a half.

We started the trip in Masaya, and the first day went to Coyotepe, the old political prison up on a hill overlooking Masaya.  There were many dark passageways and a lot of bats, but if nothing else it made our house seem much nicer in comparison.

After that, we made a trip to Nicaragua's zoo.  It isn't very big, but for some reason Paul and I are fairly fond of it and like to take our visitors there.  The zookeeper gave us permission to pet the parrots that were out, and even the animals that are in cages are close enough to reach out and pet.  So far I've been able to resist, but one of these trips I'm not going to be able to stop myself and I will stick my hand through to pet the adorable three-legged jaguar.  We'll let you know how that works out.
One of the most, um, charming parts of the Nicaraguan zoo was the old lion that they had.  We were shocked to find a new, spry lion with a mane and everything in his place.  A zookeeper told me that the old lion died about 8 months ago, and that this one came fairly recently.
Paul and I got a nice new camera for our joint Christmas present and my parents hand delivered it, so all the pictures here are taken with that.  My mom also got a camera recently, so we spent a fair amount of time fiddling with camera settings (this is her camera):
We also made the mandatory trip to Masaya's old market to look for souvenirs. 
Our last stops in Masaya were to visit my counterpart, Carmen, and Paul's counterpart, Romel.  We ate some really delicious homemade ice cream, and visited with Romel and Azalia.  Their kids, Jeycob and Natalia, get cuter every time we visit:
After spending the first three days in Masaya, we went up to the northern part of the country to León.  Paul and I had never been there before and weren't quite sure what to expect, but it turned out to be great.  We started at Las Peñitas, a little town right on the Pacific.  The hotel was really cute (though it did lack televisions in the rooms), had amazing seafood, and was right on the beach.  Dora went with us (of course) and this time voluntarily let the ocean touch her a couple of times:
We had fun exploring up and down the beach and climbing on the rocks, and we came upon one section that was full of seashells.  There were lots of kids on the beach selling shell necklaces, so they were looking for shells to replinish their inventory.  They ended up giving all the shells to my mom, and even providing her with a sack to transport them all home in.
Obligatory sunset picture:
After leaving the beach town, we went to the city of León.  León has the largest cathedral in Central America and the third largest in all of Latin America (after Mexico City and Lima, Peru).  The legend is that the architect mixed up the plans as he was coming over from Spain, so León ended up with the much larger, nicer cathedral that was intended for Lima.   I'm not sure if this is true, but it makes for a nice story.  We climbed to the roof of the cathedral and got a nice view of León and all the surrounding volcanoes.
We ended the trip by passing through the Pueblos Blancos (white towns) and seeing the Laguna de Apoyo lookout in Catarina and buying nice pottery in San Juan de Oriente on our way to out last destination, Granada.  We stayed at Casa San Francisco, which is probably our favorite hotel in Nicaragua.  They also just opened up a roof terrace that had nice places to sit and watch the sun set or hang out and eat Eskimo ice cream,  both of which we did.
We went on a boat tour of the isletas near Granada in Lake Nicaragua.  There are something like 365 little islands, and the islands now house fancy weekend homes of wealthy Nicaraguans, regular homes of regular Nicaraguans, and monkeys!  If you're interested, we saw a little island for sale that could be yours for the small price of just $400,000 (monkeys optional).  Here's the boat we went on:
It turns out that Dora doesn't really like boat rides.  She spent just about the entire time curled up like this. 
The only time Dora was not hiding was when we saw the monkeys:
Dora does not like monkeys.  In fact, she growled at the monkeys and then kept close watch for the rest of the trip to make sure that no monkeys were going to try any funny business.  
Dora notwithstanding, the rest of us enjoyed monkey island and watching our tour guide feed them bananas.  Normally they coax the monkeys on to the boat so the people can give them bananas and take pictures with them, but the boat driver was too afraid that Dora and the monkeys would fight.  Unfortunately, I think the experience was a little scarring for Dora, because now she really dislikes babies and growls any time she sees one.  We're open to suggestions about how to teach Dora that monkeys and babies are two different creatures.

We ended the trip by visiting the edge of the Laguna de Apoyo, but were disappointed that the water was really high so there was no beach.  It was still nice to sit and relax by the water and wind down.  Back in Granada, my mom and I climbed to the top of another church belltower and took some pictures of Granada's scenery.
This was my parents' first trip out of the U.S., and Nicaragua had louder fireworks, bumpier roads, slower restaurant service, and more scenic routes than I think they were expecting, but they were great sports and I think we all had a great time.  We took a lot more pictures during the trip; you can check them all out (and see how we're doing with our new camera) at Flickr.
Thanks for coming, Mom and Dad!



>> Saturday, December 27, 2008

Our friend Katie, who came at the same time as us and lives about 20 minutes away, is spending the holidays in the US, so we've been watching her dog, Luna, for almost two weeks now.  Luna and Brown Dog always loved playing, but they were a little rough for Dora.  Now that Brown Dog is on extended leave without pay, she and Dora play together really well and have become good friends and partners in crime. Over the past couple of weeks Luna has really grown on us, too. Not that we didn't like her before, but it took us a couple of days to figure out the quirks in her personality. For example, she will only lay down on soft surfaces, she won't go to the bathroom on anything but grass or dirt (which is in short supply around here) and she is very talented at retrieving things from the kitchen counter. Now, though, I think we've come to a mutual understanding and get along just fine. Plus, she's really photogenic and a pretty good dancer.



>> Friday, December 26, 2008

Christmas in Nicaragua has been, well, different. Most volunteers are in the US visiting family and others have friends or family visiting. We're watching a friend's dog, so we couldn't really go anywhere more... festive. We put up a string of lights in our front window to add some holiday pizzaz, and I'm pretty sure it worked.

Here Christmas is celebrated on Christmas Eve, so that's when most people do their presents, Christmas meals, and (if they're not Evangelicos) their drinking.  Fireworks increased in intensity and frequency all through the day, and then at midnight people just went all out--it was definitely wilder than any 4th of July or New Years fireworking we had seen, and was even more dangerous since fireworks are homemade and taxis continued to drive over the lit fireworks on the roads. We went outside to see (some of these fireworks actually sparkled, and weren't just the horrible bomb sounds) but had to plug our ears and come inside because it was so loud and there was too much fireworks shrapnel flying about. Dora and Luna were not happy.  Things continued like that (with the addition of awesome music) until 4 am when everything became silent--just about the time that most Nicaraguans start waking up.

We bought a new camera as a present to ourselves that Holly's parents delivered, but since we don't really want to accumulate more cheap, low-quality stuff from here and we want to save our money for nice things when we move back to the US, we didn't really have presents for each other on Christmas day. Holly did have one gift to open from a former student, though (it was a shirt). We got a laser pointer for a neighbor friend, but it never even worked (see above about how everything here is low-quality).

We had been planning Christmas dinner for a while because we had to make a special trip to buy some supplies in Managua, so I was pretty ready for a good meal and it didn't disappoint. We had been hoarding some instant sweet potatoes that we brought back from the US when we were there in July, and the Magdziarzs brought some instant mashed potatoes. That along with some chicken, salad, and broccoli made for the best meal we've had in a long time (if you don't count Papa Johns).
We were hoping that Brown Dog would show up on our doorstep for a Christmas Miracle, but I guess she doesn't know about Christmas Miracles. We still haven't heard anything yet, but we're hoping for either a New Years Miracle or a Holly's Birthday Miracle (both well-established traditions). 

We hope that everyone had a good Christmas--we definitely thought about and missed our families and friends and are looking forward to being home in plenty of time to spend the holidays with them next year.


Still Searching

>> Tuesday, December 23, 2008

No updates on Puppy Search '08, but we did get the posters up around the neighborhood. Now everyone knows that our dog is missing and thinks we're crazy for wanting her back.

P.S. I tore that number strip off myself to give the illusion of interest  :(.



>> Monday, December 22, 2008

I guess Santa was all out of lumps of coal to give us so he just stole our dog instead. Brown Dog was out on Saturday to go to the bathroom and wandered away. Usually after a quick visit with all of the neighborhood kids she comes right back inside. We thought she would be even more eager to come back because her best (dog) friend Luna is staying with us while our (human) friend Katie is in the States, but she never did. We spent most of Saturday afternoon and Sunday looking for her but so far no luck. We printed up some posters to put around the neighborhood in the hope that she'll see them and come home.

We'll keep you updated.


Thanksgiving 2008: Getting Gnatsy [updated]

>> Saturday, December 06, 2008

[Edited with more pictures!]
We spent Thanksgiving with most of our TEFL group and a few people from the new group at a campground in Buenos Aires, Rivas, right on Lake Nicaragua. A map for your viewing pleasure:

We all met in Granada to do our grocery shopping, then a big group of us (people and dogs) staked claim in the back of a bus to Rivas.  We met up with the rest of the group, and rode in the camp owner's van to the campground.  Here's the whole gang (minus Cella and Nicole, because they were in the front seat).  Shortly after this picture was taken, Luna vomited on the floor... thank goodness I packed a roll of paper towels.
We were soon met with a surprise when we stopped in the middle of the dirt road leading to the camp and had to get out; the road was flooded, so the van parked at the edge of the flood and we all traveled the rest of the way with luggage and pets in a horsedrawn cart.  Here are Paul, Marcella, Katie, Dora (on Paul's lap), Brown Dog, Luna (Brown Dog's BFF), and me.  This picture was taken  just as the horse cart jerked into motion, so we were all a little shocked:
 When I say campground don't be misled--we actually stayed in a brand new guest house that was 100x nicer than we expected.
When we looked out our window, this is what we saw:
We got to go horseback riding, though the horses could sense our inexperience and pretty much behaved as they pleased:
The wind coming off of the lake was super strong and so the waves of the lake made it sound like the ocean. The lake level is the highest now that it's been in something like 50 years, so the nice beach was covered with water. All along the lake this time of year there's a constant cloud of gnats that get into everything, but as long as you're in the wind it's not much of a problem.

We took the dogs with us and Brown Dog and Katie's dog, Luna really liked the freedom. Dora was mostly terrified by it and rarely left our side. Whenever we left the main house area the dogs would always follow along:
The two bigger dogs spent most of their time wrestling, but sometimes they would wander off and come back mysteriously scratched, sopping wet, or, in the case of Brown Dog, covered in horse poop. On the last morning there I found a mysterious dead chicken and can't shake the feeling that the dogs were somehow responsible:
The TEFL group that we came in with originally had 20 people and now we're down to 13, so now whenever we get together we pretty much forget the things that used to annoy us when we were in training together and just enjoy each others' company. Since the camp was in the middle of nowhere and the road out was flooded, there wasn't anywhere else to go and we were forced to talk and hang out.  Surprisingly it wasn't awful.
It was Thanksgiving and everyone pitched in and got food for a huge feast. Everyone spent the day either preparing food or watching other people prepare food.  The camp had a really nice industrial kitchen, so it was perfect for making a feast for 17.
When it was time to eat, I think there was a pretty impressive buffet. Turkeys are ridiculously expensive (at least 6x as expensive as in the States) so we ended up with chicken, stuffing, broccoli casserole, macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, salad, and cornbread.  Our boss also came with her husband and supplied us with pumpkin and pecan pies and wine.
Being away from family on Thanksgiving will definitely make us appreciate future holidays, but being able to spend it with friends is probably the second best thing. Plus, this view didn't hurt:


We Got a New Dog

>> Monday, November 24, 2008

All right, so it's the same dog.  But without complaints about having hair in her eyes!


Nica-Style Elections

>> Monday, November 17, 2008

After all the excitement about the presidential elections in the U.S. we haven't really mentioned the Nicaraguan elections.  On November 9th, Nicaragua held elections for the mayors country-wide.  There is no state/departmental government here, so the municipal governments and mayors are quite important.  Unlike in the States, campaigning here is prohibited for the last few days before the election, and the sale or public consumption of alcohol is also illegal during the 24 hours before and after the elections take place.  We missed school the Friday before the election and Monday was a national day off so that the ballots could be counted and the results finalized.  Peace Corps Volunteers aren't allowed to participate in any political events, and we normally just try to stay home on days that have a lot of political excitement in the air.

On Monday afternoon, we heard the familiar blaring horns and marching bands passing by the street, so we looked out the window and saw a parade of Liberal Constitutionalist Party members cheering as they passed, so we assumed that the PLC had won the election in Masaya:
A few hours later, however, there was another parade with the Sandinistas claiming victory.  We knew, then, that someone was either very confused or that there was trouble brewing.

In the last week, there have been widespread protests in Managua with at least two dead and lots of smashed car windows.  Here's an excerpt from a Time article about the elections and the causes for the protests, "Why Nicaragua's Capital is in Flames":
The last time rival political forces fought one another street by street for control of the Nicaraguan capital was three decades ago, in July 1979, at the culmination of the Sandinista insurrection that overthrew the Somoza dictatorship. This week, the streets of Managua were once again aflame amid the boom of mortar rounds, as the Sandinistas and their rivals battled for control — but it was the erstwhile revolutionary movement that now stands accused of being a dictatorship.
Our travel in Managua has been restricted and I haven't seen any sort of violence in Masaya, so we've all been safe here.  We'll keep you updated on the recounts and the upcoming final results.


Supernanny Part II

>> Sunday, November 16, 2008

Discipline:  Students need consistent discipline and consequences that are carried out.

In addition to a lack of a routine, Supernanny would probably take issue with the discipline that takes place at my school and, in particular, the consequences for bad behavior.  Students are constantly being threatened that they're going to "lose points," but this never actually happens.  Many teachers like to say that students are mal educados, literally meaning badly educated, but it implies something more like poor manners or being poorly raised.  Really, though, students are really quite smart--they realize that there are no consequences for bad behavior, so there's no reason to stop.

I am a very big believer that decisions and actions should have consequences, and that people should follow through with the consequences that they set.  This simply doesn't happen at school, and the students all know it.  In Nicaragua, students are assigned a classroom and the teachers move from class to class.  The students, therefore, are responsible for sweeping and mopping their classrooms before school begins and during recess.  This rarely happens.  Sometimes the vice principal will come into the classrooms that aren't clean and tell the students that they're all losing five points off their grades, but everyone knows this is an empty threat.

What happens, then, is that the students do their cleaning during my precious class time.  It's impossible to teach class or even have students copy an exercise in their notebooks because they have to scoot their desks around so that the whole room can be swept and then mopped; we normally lose about 30 minutes of our class time from the first class of the day and the first class after recess because the students haven't cleaned.  And why should they?  They can either spend their coveted recess cleaning the classroom, or they can enjoy recess and then be rewarded for it by getting to spend class time chatting and scooting desks instead of taking notes or learning. 

I think the whole cleaning process is silly to begin with; this is a dusty place, so the classrooms are going to get dusty.  There is a lot of trash that gets thrown onto the floor, but I believe the focus should be put on teaching the kids to put their trash in trash cans in the first place.  I became very tired of wasting so much class time with the cleaning, so I convinced my reluctant counterpart that instead of rewarding them for having a dirty classroom by letting them clean (they really do enjoy it--they all fight over who gets to sweep and mop), we should instead tell them that they have to clean before school and during recess like they're supposed to, and just make them suffer through a dirty classroom if they don't.  I really thought this plan was going to work and, even if it didn't, I can teach just as well with a few wrappers on the ground.  The plan lasted only about two days, however, before the principal came into the classroom and said they had to clean right that minute; I suspect that my counterpart asked her to come.

The grading systems that are used here are a big part of the problem.  Teachers are not able to decide how to distribute their grades; instead, this is determined for them by the Ministry of Education.  For the final grades, 37.5% of the final grade comes from the August partial exams, 37.5% of the grade comes from the October partial exams, and 25% of the grade comes from the final exam.  So teachers have no way to actually enforce attendance, participation, or homework for the last month of school or for any of the grades that actually go on the permanent record.

For the rest of the year, the partial (quarterly) exams must compose 60% of the grade with 40% of the grade that can be determined by the teacher.  There's no syllabus, so this last 40% can be determined in any arbitrary way.  Teachers usually take attendance every day, though it's never figured into final grades.  Participation is also not very common.  Homework is supposed to be a large part of this last 40%, but I have never seen a teacher collect homework to grade it.  Instead, the students take all their notes, do all their classroom exercises, and do all their homework in their notebooks, and then my counterpart generally does a "notebook check" about once every two months to determine their homework grade. Obviously, it is impossible for her to check two months' worth of work in 50 notebooks and precisely record how many of the assignments have been done and if they have been done well all in the 45 minute class period, but that is what she pretends to do.  Students figure this out and know that they only need to scribble a few notes and do a couple of the exercises to get their points.

This frustrated me to no end, so I decided to hold students accountable for the homework I assign.  At the start of class, I would go around to each student, check their homework assignment, and write down their name and student number if they had actually attempted to complete the homework.  I then gave my piece of paper to my counterpart to record in her gradebook whether they had done the work and should get the points.  The first day I did this, about 10 of the 45 students completed their homework.  After assigning a little bit of homework for every class for about a week, I was up to about 35 of the students actually making an attempt to do the work.  This proved to me, at least, that students are capable of doing the work and will do it if they know that they will be held accountable.

Copying here seems to be as much a part of the culture as gallo pinto; students do it all the time, and teachers are either unable or unwilling to make it stop.  The copying is shameless and poorly-executed; students normally just give their notebooks to another student to copy from, and make no effort to even hide it if a teacher comes by.  Paul and his counterpart once assigned students to physically describe their family members; a large number of students chose to write, "My sister is short, fat, and handsome."

When I made my homework reforms, I also instituted a rule that if I saw students copying or loaning their notebooks to another student to copy, neither student would receive credit.  I am sure they all assumed that this was another of the countless empty threats, so they proceeded to shuffle notebooks around and copy.  As I was making my way through the aisles of desks and recording homework on the first day, I saw one student copying from another student's homework, drew a sad face by both exercises, and wrote that they had copied.  Students were shocked when I refused to write down their names and student numbers so that they would get credit for the work.  After word got around what I had done and that I was serious, I never caught students copying homework during class again.

Copying is perhaps worst on tests.  With 50 students pack into a small classroom, it's impossible to situate desks so that students cannot see each others' papers.  All the teachers tell students not to copy, but none follow through and do anything if they see copying taking place.  When I have to proctor exams, I tell the students that they cannot talk, that they should look only at their papers, and that they should guard their papers so no one else can see.  I also tell them that if I see them copying, I will give them a warning the first time, then take the test away the second time it happens.  Again, being used to hollow threats, the students normally ignore me until I take a test away from the first student that won't stop copying.  Then they realize I'm serious and that there will be consequences for not following directions.  This always seems to shock the students and even my counterpart, but I would happily agree to stay at home during test time if enforcement of the rules poses too much of a problem.

Supernanny says that "positive attention and praise are the most effective rewards for good behavior, but sometimes it's important to give your child boundaries and let them know that certain behavior is unacceptable."  Students aren't mal educados for not following the rules, they're smart for knowing that rules will never be enforced with the stated consequences.  Each time I made it clear to students that I would follow through with enforcement of my rules and that I don't make empty threats, their  behavior improved markedly.  I think the problem here is that this is the way things have been for so long that no one is willing to change and try something new, even if it might improve the classroom conditions or the education students receive.
This is my fourth year class along with my afternoon counterpart, Carmen.  They're by far my favorite students, and none of my above complaints apply to them.  Carmen is also always willing to go along with any of my weird ideas, and then is actually willing to admit if they work.  I'm actually a little sad that the school year's ending and I won't have this section anymore.


Our Neighborhood Park

>> Tuesday, November 11, 2008

We try to go to the park or on some sort of walk every day so that the dogs can work off some of their energy and be admired for all of their cuteness by all of the onlookers.  Yesterday the park that's very close to our house was full of people swinging, playing soccer, and spending time with their families.


Supernanny Part I

>> Sunday, November 09, 2008

I'll admit, one of my guilty television pleasures is that I like to watch Supernanny on Friday nights.  I love how Jo is able to manipulate the kids into doing exactly what she wants, and that she isn't afraid to let the parents know when they need to shape up.  It's almost the end of the school year here (everyone is ready for summer vacation!) and I realize that my school could use Supernanny's tough love.  I try to channel Supernanny myself to varying success, but here are two lessons that my institute still needs to learn:

Routine: Students (and teachers) need a routine to be able to thrive.

One of the most difficult things for me about being in Nicaragua is that seemingly no one here likes to plan ahead.  As a student, the first week of school I always looked at my academic calendar and wrote into my agenda our days off, exam days, and other important dates, and then I was always looking and planning ahead.  I realize that I fall at one extreme end of the spectrum, but Nicaragua falls on the other; there is no yearly calendar, and most decisions about schedules happen the day before.

The exam schedules here are sort of strange.  Teachers don't get to choose when they have tests in their classes, or how much their tests are worth.  Instead, about six times a year we have exam weeks where each day every student has one exam at the exact same time; the English exam may be Tuesday during 3rd hour, and every teacher administers the English exam to his or her third hour class. There are "partial exams" about every two months, so in April, June, August, and October, which cover the previous two months' worth of material.  Then there are semester final exams that occur in July and November.  We just finished our October partial exams last week, and teachers are still working on getting their grades submitted.  The last day of the semester is already set for either November 21st or November 28th (depending on who you talk to), and teachers will need time before that date to get all their final exams graded and grades figured.  That leaves a maximum of three weeks to finish any outstanding topics for the class (the topics that must be covered are dictated by the Ministry of Education), review for the final exams, conduct the final exams, and compute grades.  And, remember, we just completed one set of exams last week.

I had been worrying about the end-of-year schedule for weeks now because there just isn't enough time to get everything done.  On Wednesday, the principal's office finally decided that it needed to make some decisions, so they announced that all teachers' final exams must be submitted for approval the following day... not a lot of time considering that many teachers teach five different grade levels.  They announced that the final exams will begin on Tuesday, but they had not yet announced the schedule for the exams, though this is usually posted a week or so in advance.  Further complicating matters, school was canceled Friday and is canceled on Monday for the mayoral elections nationwide.  I don't have class on Thursdays, so I didn't see if they finally did post the finals schedule for students, but I suppose we'll all find out on Tuesday.

Days Off
As I said before, there's no academic calendar that says when there are days off.  Some días feriados are easy to predict, like for Nicaraguan independence day, but even then you never know exactly how many days off you'll have before and after the actual celebration.  Many other days, though, just show up out of the blue.  Two weeks ago, we were about to begin our partial exams on Thursday.  At the same time, there was a big band competition coming up on Friday.  Band here is really the only extracurricular activity, so it's a pretty big deal; the whole school was already on an emergente, shortened schedule so that the band could have time to practice; though I was trying to take advantage of what little time we had left to review for the tests, the classes were all shortened from 45 minutes to 30.  Then on Tuesday, they decided to cancel school on Friday so that everyone could attend the band competition.  This meant that all the exams had to be moved up a day, so I lost yet another day of classes that could have been spent reviewing.

Other times, we don't even get a days' notice of a day off.  One day in September, I went to school and found students playing outside and several teachers just sitting in the teacher's lounge.  It turns out that there was some activity that had caused school to be canceled, but neither the students nor the teachers had been informed that they didn't need to come.

Even if there is school and it isn't raining and the teachers come and the students come, that doesn't mean I can actually be teaching English.  On Tuesday a teacher came into my class about ten minutes into it and told all the students that it was time to walk to some sort of cultural activity across town.  Other times we waste a ridiculous amount of time as my counterpart collects money from all the students to make photocopies for their exams, and still other times random people (unaffiliated with the school) might come in to make announcements, advertise their computer classes, or ask for money to help care for a sick child.  I had a teacher in high school that hated school assemblies or other activities that took away her class time; then I thought she was overreacting a little bit, but now I understand completely.

Class Length
Classes here are supposed to be 45 minutes long, and we have English class three times a week.  The bell in my school isn't automatic, so its ringing depends on a secretary or teacher remembering that class is over.  Sometimes the bell ringer gets a little too enthusiastic and class is only 20 minutes long; other times, no one remembers to ring and class may be nearly an hour.  This makes it impossible for us to pace the class and make sure that we're at a stopping point when the bell is about to ring.

We also frequently use the emergente schedule, which allows for the school day to finish early.  These classes are supposed to be 30 minutes long, but can range from about 15 minutes to a full hour, depending on who's there to ring the bell.  The shortened schedule can be used for anything from giving the band extra time to practice to allowing for a staff meeting.  Often, for really important events like teacher parties, the school uses the double whammy of a shortened schedule, and then cancels the last few class periods just for good measure.  The shortened schedule is most popular during exam times.  Your guess is as good as mine why we would be shortening and canceling classes during the last few days that teachers have to review with students.

Supernanny says that "sometimes, all a family [school] needs is some structure and some practice at working together to get them back on track."  If the teachers can never know if we're going to have class and how long it's going to be, it's impossible for us to plan activities and make sure that we cover all the topics that we need to.  I rarely have time to assign homework, because either there isn't enough time for students to copy it off the chalkboard or because they have too much time and everyone completes it in class.  Similarly, students and teachers need to know when they will have school, when there is no school, and when the exams will be so that they can at least pretend to care about studying.

From the very first days of training, we've heard over and over that we must be patient with different cultures and that one culture isn't "better" than any other.  Most of the time I buy that or at least understand it, but this has been beyond my comprehension.  Even after just one year here, I already know that we miss days for independence day in September, that we have band competitions, and that we have shortened classes during exam times.  I can't figure out why no one sits down and establishes an official calendar with dates so that everyone can plan ahead.

Stay tuned for Part II, Discipline and Consequences.


Yes, We Did

>> Saturday, November 08, 2008

Even a few days after the polls in the U.S. closed, we're still a little in shock that the election is over and that Obama won.  I think because we were so far away geographically from the campaigning, we paid particularly close attention to what was going on.  We woke early up on (most) Sundays to catch Meet the Press, watched a lot of Anderson Cooper 360, and were always reading the latest blogs about what was happening in the campaigns.  Since January, we've always had some caucus, primary, debate, or interview to be looking forward to, and now it's a little sad that the whole thing is done.  Needless to say, we were holding our breaths until the election was officially over, but now are extremely proud of Obama's historic victory; we're now even more excited to return to the States eight months from now.

 After conducting informal exit polls Obama garnered approximately 100% of the votes cast in Nicaragua. All of the norteamericanos I know sent in absentee ballots and even all of the Nicaraguans that talked about it were big Obama fans; in our classes when we asked if students knew what big event was happening in the U.S., all of them knew about the election and many even yelled out "Obama!" 

To gear ourselves up for election night, we ordered some all-American Papa Johns:
It was at 11:00 when they officially called the race for Obama, though we were pretty sure what was coming after Obama won both Ohio and Pennsylvania.  Dora celebrated after the race was called:
 She simply could not contain her excitement:


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