By WorldTeach Colombia Volunteer Martina Boyter

I suppose it’s time I share a bit about a major part of my day-to-day and the reason I’m here… teaching!

I teach English at Institución Educativa Antonia Santos, a public colegio (high school). Antonia Santos also has a primary school, but I only work with the upper grades, sixth through eleventh. My heaviest focus is on ninth and tenth grade, but I get to work with other grades as well, either in class or through my English club!

It’s common in Colombia for schools to have two jornadas, or schedules, per day. A solution to overcrowding.

What does a two-jornada school look like? The mornings and afternoons are completely separate – same school, rector, facilities, but different students and teachers. I teach in the afternoon, so I’m typically at school from 1 until 7 pm every day.

If I showed up bright ‘n early at 6:30 am, I’d be inside an episode of the Twilight Zone. First, because I’m not familiar with the madness of a 6 am waking hour here – not sure what that would be like. (That’s a fib – I have seen 6 am twice here. Once to catch a bus out of the city for holy week vacationing, and the second time because the party was all but slowing down.)

And second, because during the morning jornada, the only person I’d recognize within the white and blue walls of Antonia Santos would be Kristen, the other WorldTeach volunteer placed at my school and in my neighborhood.

Kristen is awesome. She’s from Boston, and did the corporate job thing for 13 years before jet-setting to travel the world for 2 years and then landing in Cartagena with the WorldTeach group that arrived here last June. With six months under her belt, Kristen was extremely helpful when I first arrived – showing me around our neighborhood Pie de la Popa, the best places to eat, and the days when the cute security guards are working at the (air-conditioned) mall. Obviously we don’t see each other at school, but we get lunch or ice cream together once or twice a week. She’s got a great ear for sharing victories and frustrations in the classroom, and bouncing off of each other lesson ideas and hacks we’ve discovered for managing a class of 30 loud, energetic 14-year-olds.

I digress.

There are three Colombian English teachers for the PM jornada. The teacher who I work with, who is also my mentor and a proponent of bringing native English speakers into the classroom to deliver an immersive language experience, is Argemiro. From the beginning, I knew that collaborating and communicating well with Argemiro would be crucial to succeeding. And luckily, Argemiro and I make a kick-butt team. He’s been a great resource for teaching strategies in general but also for school- and culture-specific questions and situations that I have encountered. For example, how to balance a class in which 95 percent of the students are generally below an A1 level in English, but with two students that over perform and need more advanced work. Or another example, learning that the kids were laughing because the word for ruler, “regla,” has a lovely double meaning, “menstrual period.” Oh, to be 14 again…

So I’m three months into teaching and it’s been an incredible journey. And honestly, every day the kids are teaching ME. Some days, they teach me street slang, which they find hilarious coming out of my gringa mouth. But more days, they teach me about life, attitudes, world views or myself. They are eager to learn English (Some won’t admit it. Because high school. But I know the truth.) and also eager to learn about life in the United States and the rest of the world. I wish I could give it all to them – which is impossible – but what I can give them is the resources, encouragement, and safe, fun environment to practice English. And to use their English to open more doors to get to where they want to be in the future.

*Sigh* My heart is getting heavy writing about this! Not in a bad way. Just overwhelmed with all that I want for my students. And all that I want to convey to you about school here.

I can say that I’m lucky to have many resources that other schools do not have. Antonia Santos has a Bilingual Classroom, in which I get to hold most of my classes. The room has air conditioning (the other classrooms do not), laptops for the students to occasionally use, and a video beam! It’s a life saver to be able to project visuals on the board because I seldom make paper copies for the students – we don’t have a printer for teachers at school, so I go to the tienda across the street to pay for copies if I really need them.

It’s also an aesthetically rockin’ classroom because the peace corps volunteer before me painted murals on the walls. She beat me to it  -__-

This post originally appeared on Martina’s personal blog, which can be found here.