Tag Archives: school

Abandoned School

If Stephen King were to set a story in a spooky old school, this would be it. I was in Orford, NH and pulled into the driveway of a newer school building to reprogram my GPS. Losing the signal on backroads is getting to be routine. Signs at the school directed me to exit out the back of the school property where I found this old school building.

It was built in 1851 and was then called the Orford Academy Building. It was in use until 2002. From the back, I could see the bell is still in the tower. An article I found in the local paper said the town is trying to work with a developer to convert it into ten senior housing units.

Looking at the back of the building, it’s amazing how nature just begins to reclaim things that we don’t continue to maintain.

If You’re Not Doing Something All the Time…

Milford street - img_8697

A couple of years ago, I heard a cast member of one of those outdoor reality shows say that in the wilderness “If you’re not doing something all the time, you’re doing something wrong.” The same applies to trying to do an eighteen-month graduate program in a year.

We are halfway through the first semester. I’m enjoying it and learning so much. The faculty are wonderful. It is a small program, and there is a benefit to that. The classes are fun and the assignments are interesting. For example, the image above is from a class this week in which a guest lecturer talked about and demonstrated her use of origami to teach English.

Still, taking graduate classes for the first time in fifteen years has been a bit of an adjustment. In addition to the usual reading, tests and papers, we are required to journal, spend fourteen hours observing in at least three different classroom settings, contribute to discussions online, prepare lesson plans and perform teaching demonstrations. My background managing projects is coming in handy. I pretty much viewed the semester as a big project and developed a plan for workflow. It is allowing me time to get my assignments done without feeling overwhelmed. This helps to focus me on learning rather than just getting assignments done.

So, my life is busy. The football game is still on the television on Sundays, but I don’t get to see much because I’m usually editing papers or something. We still have time for an outing here and there. I’m trying to fit fall chores in between assignments and doing a little bit at a time. Life is good and in less than a year, I’ll be a teacher.

The Price of Admission

At the point at which I left my job to start a new career, I was ready for a change but I was also at the top of my game. People inside and outside of the college routinely called me for consultation. I could prepare reports and written materials quickly and effectively. I was always on top of issues and out ahead of problems. I could talk extemporaneously about the nature of our work to visiting professionals. A couple of years ago, I was asked with five minutes’ notice to join a panel discussion in front of over a hundred people at a conference; sure, no problem.

Last weekend, I opened my textbooks for my new career and started reading. There are all these strange new theories that I am trying to wrap my head around. Some sections of text have to be read two or three times to figure out the nuances. There is new terminology and acronyms that I am trying to learn and remember. By the way, ESL seems to have rather dull acronyms; so far, they don’t spell out any cool words.

I’ve gone from expert to novice, but that is the price of admission in starting over with a new career. It’s also the excitement of starting over. Even though I’ve had some experience as a volunteer teacher, I don’t know the theory behind why the teachers do what they do. It’s fun trying to figure out how everything fits together and start to consider what theory best fits how I perceive people’s learning. Becoming a novice again may be the price of admission, but I’m hopeful that it will be a good show.

This image was made a couple of years ago in Albany, New York

On Helping

Helping can be a tricky business. You need to know what you’re doing and ask questions.

Since I arrived, I’ve been struck by the generosity of the Salvadoran people and have wanted to share things with them that my wife and I make at home. I brought canned blueberries to make muffins but the house here lacks an oven. I was going to make the toffee that we make at Christmas, but some ingredients were difficult to source. Finally, I thought of clusters made from chocolate melted in the microwave mixed with peanuts and raisins and then dropped in bite size morsels on a cookie sheet to cool. I decided the occasion to make them would be a fund raiser to be held this week at the school during the Father’s Day Celebration. Little sales of food are a common way to raise funds. I would donate the candies and they could set the price.

The people here could not understand what I was talking about making, so I bought ingredients to make a test batch to show them. All of the ingredients could be found but the chocolate cost two to three times as much as in the US. Even though I’ve seen chocolate growing on trees here, they export it for production. I have to purchase Hershey’s chocolate chips imported from the US.

Very Raw Chocolate Growing on a Tree in the City
(Some very raw chocolate, still on the tree)

Undaunted (as usual) and full of a desire to help, I went forward with making the test batch. The teachers loved them. “Que rico!” (How rich!) was the verdict. They asked how much to charge for them at the fund raiser. I deferred to them and also asked if there was a cheaper source of chocolate. The teachers talked amongst themselves in rapid Spanish and then one turned to me and explained, “The chocolate is a nice idea but very expensive. We appreciate you wanting to help but we would have to charge a dollar for a couple of these treats. That is a lot of money to these girls. If you really want to help, you could donate $10 and we could use the money to buy a fruit salad the girls could afford.”

Sure, they could have sold the candy for less money but that may have had problems also. In the end, I thought it best for me to observe the local customs and traditions and gave $10 for the fruit salad. Before we go ahead and help, we always need to make sure that the help we plan to give is the help that is needed. And the fruit salad was Que rico”.


These are some of the girls of the Centro Escolar Margarita Duran de Santa Tecla. If I walk around the courtyard with my camera, there are always students asking to have their photos taken.

Some readers have commented that the school and the girls don’t look different from the US. Others have asked about the dynamics of the school (class size, subjects, etc.) Below are some of my observations and answers to questions that I’ve asked.

-Centro Escolar Margarita Duran de Santa Tecla is an all-girls public school. The students attend classes for grades 1-9, from ages 6 to 15. Most girls stop there education after Grade 9. There are options both public and private to attend high school, but it is complicated and often viewed as not necessary.

-The girls either attend the morning session (7:00 to 12:00) or the afternoon session (1:00-5:00). The staff in the morning and afternoon are also different. From my observations, the girls in the morning have the advantage in terms of getting a higher quality education. In the morning, everyone is fresh and the weather is reasonably cool. By afternoon, it is hot and some of the girls are tired from working in the morning. Isn’t it odd the way in which your schedule can affect your educational outcome and thereby your life?

-Subjects include: Mathematics, Language, Computer Skills, Social Studies, Science, Art, Physical Education, Values, and English.

-I’ve had class sizes ranging from 18 students to over 30 students.

After observing the students for a week and a half, I was left with some questions. Joaquin Batres, the Teaching You coordinator and the person managing my trip, was kind enough to answer some of my questions. I am paraphrasing and these are not direct quotes.

Q. This is a public school, so it is free?

A. Yes and no. School is free and the government provides the school uniform (including socks and shoes) and some basic school supplies to start the year.
Things not paid for by the government include:
– School books (Some individual books can cost as much as $40)
– A uniform for physical education class, costing $22-26
– Computer class is a special class and there is a fee of $35 per year.
– Students can receive a light meal, such as arroz con leche (milk and rice). The food is provided by the government, but the other ingredients to make it palatable and someone to prepare it is not covered. –
There is a fee of $10 per year for this.

Q. How difficult is it for the families to pay for these things?

A. It depends on how much they earn, which is largely a function of the type of job they have. Joaquin provided the following list of types of jobs and the corresponding monthly earnings:
– Trades and services: $251.70 –
– Industrial work, such as factiories: $246.60
-Textile and clothing industry: $210.90 (Note: These are largely factories making clothing for companies in the USA and other developed countries. Joaquin listed Nike, Adidas, and The Gap as companies currently making or having made clothing here.*)
-Coffee Farm worker: $129.00
-Other agriculture: $118.20
-Sugar plantations: $109.20
-Cotton plantations: $98.70

Q. How do the families afford the costs?

A. Some pay a little bit at a time. Sometimes, they can’t pay or can’t pay for everything. That is why you see girls playing sports in their school uniform instead of the physical education uniform. Some girls can’t afford the books. (Note: I’ve seen some students who lack notebooks and whole classes using copied materials instead of books.) Some girls are not able to attend computer classes. But all of them can attend the basic classes; they just may not be able to afford some or all of the items above.

(Note: Teaching You is spending their program fees (e.g. the money I paid to come here) not for Joaquin’s salary but for students who have educational needs. They also sponsor a summer school program for a group of students likely to be able to get scholarships and do well in further education, and a few scholarships so that children can attend better schools and high school.

Joaquin often excitedly announces that someone is interested in coming to one of the Central American programs and if they do, what he can get for the students with the program fee.)

Q. So why the emphasis on learning English with Teaching You?

A. English is a critical job skill. If a girl can learn to speak English well, she can get a job at a call center and earn $400-500 a month. That is a very good wage in this economy and can lift a family to a better life. (Note: The caveat is that they must speak very well to get this type of job. My first weekend I met two men who worked at call centers. Their English is so good, I mistook them for being from the US or Canada.)

So why show such happy faces here? As my friend Ariela told me, you can describe the educational system here but don’t make them sound miserable. They are not. I see a lot of smiling faces, despite the problems and challenges. But they could have better lives.

*The following link supports the list of companies either having made or currently making clothing in El Salvador: https://glhrcentralamerica.wordpress.com/2012/12/11/el-salvador-garment-workers-face-growing-poverty-under-cafta/

Note: All dollar figures are in US dollars, which is the currency here.

Thank you to Joaquin Batres for his help with this post.

El Salvador

El Salvador

This week, I’ve been writing about my decision to return to school to become a teacher of English as a Foreign Language and how that has led me to spend the next eight weeks teaching in El Salvador.

The decision to teach abroad came about because I wanted to spend some time volunteer teaching in a place where English was not the native language. Until the past few months, I vastly underestimated how challenging it is to really learn a language. Now, I’ll be able to see what it’s like to live in a place with only a passing knowledge of the language. It seems important to have an understanding of this before embarking on my new career. I chose to teach in Latin America because many people in the US who are learning English as a second language are from there. Living there would help me to better understand the culture. It would also give me a chance to improve my skills in speaking Spanish as well as in teaching English. After searching around a bit, I found a teaching placement in El Salvador.

Many people have questioned why I chose El Salvador, which is neither a popular destination nor known for being the safest place. The placement agency that I chose is called Travel to Teach. They would provide me with an opportunity to teach (as opposed to other service work), have a very sustainable program, and espoused values on their website that were consistent with my own. They offered positions in four Latin American countries. I chose El Salvador for a few reasons. One was a chance to try to experience the community. I would live and work in a small city in which I could walk between home and my placement. The idea of trying to fit into a community and live with a local family was greatly appealing. Reading about El Salvador, I was struck by the number of people who said how friendly and helpful the local people are. Also, while there are safety concerns, people from the U.S. are not intentionally targeted and the risks in many other countries seemed roughly similar. Tomorrow, the adventure begins.

Back to School

El Sr. Diaz

Over the past couple days I’ve described how through volunteer work, I became interested in an encore career in teaching English as a Foreign Language and announced my plans to teach in El Salvador this summer and then return to graduate school. There was one small problem; a pre-requisite to obtaining my degree is having 2 semesters of a language in college. I did not take a language in college.

With plans to begin graduate work in the fall of 2016, I decided to complete two semesters of Spanish over the 2015-2016 school year. I enrolled in classes at Concord’s community college, NHTI. It was odd being back in the classroom; especially because this was an undergraduate class and the majority of students were thirty years younger than me. Heck, their parents were younger than me. It helps if you can manage to not take yourself too seriously

The best part of the course was the teacher. Sr. Diaz is from Columbia and has lived in the U.S. for about twenty years. He has been an educator at many different levels, from grade school to college. In addition to his being an excellent teacher, I found myself liking him on a personal level. We shared the same values of giving back. He often spoke of his “mission trips” to provide aid in Latin America, often bringing students from the U.S. with him.

It was both a surprise and a delight to learn that he had submitted my name as the person to receive the 2016 Excellence in Spanish award from the college. He said he chose me both because I will actually use my new language skills and contributed to the Hispanic community both here and in El Salvador. The photo above is the two of us with the award.