First Week at SENA: Week 226

Happy 58th birthday SENA: Manizales, Colombia

Now that I have been at teaching at my center for a few weeks, I can look back on the first week with wisdom. A few observations on teaching at SENA, a technical college in Colombia:

The cafeteria is awesome. I might almost be 30, but picking a seat in a cafeteria still dredges up old anxieties. When I was younger it was all about having the cool friends to sit with. Now that I am older, it is finding the perfect empty table.

There is only one cafeteria at school and for this reason it can be quite busy during the middle of the day. During my first week I happened to see a long queue snaking outside the cafeteria and decided I was better off finding an alternative location. Outside the school gate was a food cart that I had never tried, so I decided it was as good a time as any to give it a go.

They were selling arepas (kind of like a corn pancake), which I love, so I ordered one and rounded off my meal with a cup of salpicón (fruit cocktail). The salpicón was refreshing, but the arepa was a bit of a shock. It ended up being served with a paper-thin meat patty, covered with an inch of sauce, and sprinkled with potato chips. It was the worst thing I had ever tasted. I was not disappointed when a bug happened to land on my food and then promptly drowned in the sauce.

Since then I have gone to the cafeteria for all my meals and it never disappoints. For roughly USD $1.80 a meal comes with juice, a bowl of soup, meat, rice, salad, potato/plantain, arepa, and a small desert. And you know what? If all the tables are taken, it just means it’s a good time to practice some Spanish.

The students clean the room. The school does have janitors, but students are expected to clean the room just before class ends. They sweep the floor, tidy up, wipe down the desks, and empty the trashcans. On Wednesdays and Fridays they are also supposed to mop. All this responsibility makes me feel like I had it easy when I was a student.

Happy 58th Birthday function at SENA: Manizales, Colombia

Classroom supplies. I had been warned that there could be very few supplies available, so I was quite happy to realize that 5/6 of my classes had computers and internet in the classroom. Another thing I was warned about was the lack of classroom space. While this has been a problem for other SENA teachers, I have been lucky enough to have no classroom-availability drama. The biggest downfall- there are absolutely no books for any of my English classes.

My specific department within SENA, Automatización, also has an equipment office. This is where I go to checkout laptops and cables, pick up print jobs, and find someone to unlock my classrooms. Most importantly, this is where I learn all my palabras groseras. Those are the words you don’t say in front of your colleagues. I learned this the hard way.

Adults are just as demanding as children. A full day of teaching kindergarten was exhausting and I kind of had this idea that technical college would be easier. I quickly realized though that while the type of work is different, the quantity is identical. Kindergarteners are so easily distracted by a song, dance, a crayon, or a funny voice that if the lesson is a bit half-baked, it’s not the end of the world.

Young adults, on the other hand, don’t think twice before telling you they would like to, “go to the home.” They have so many more opinions, “emergencies”, and cell phone distractions.

I spend a lot of time thinking about my lesson plans at home and coming up with creative ways to keep their attention. The upside to the extra effort though is that my students are a ton of fun. I hope to be the kind of teacher that they enjoy working with and if, at the end of the day, they think learning English is enjoyable, then I’ve done my job.

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