Please note that this information is based on our personal experiences only – and things may be different for other volunteers! Please help future volunteer teachers by updating this guide with any additional information.
Background to teaching in La Libertad
The school in La Libertad teaches students from the age of 5 to 12 years of age. School classes are only taught in the morning. After the age of 12 children who continue their education must to travel to the village of Macedonia which is a 45 minute boat journey. Beyond 15 years of age they have to travel to (or potentially stay) in Leticia to finish their schooling. The school in Macedonia teaches English, although the emphasis seems to be on reading and writing rather than spoken English. There are currently 138 students living in the village; however it is unclear whether this includes students who travel to Macedonia for schooling.
There are five teachers who teach at the school and who, during term time, live in the school complex.
Recommended skills, experience and commitment
Experience of teaching, and especially of teaching English as a foreign language, is obviously hugely beneficial if coming to teach in La Libertad. However, if you do not have experience there are large amounts of online resources that can help in preparing lessons plans and giving general guidance (it is recommended as much preparation is done before arriving as there is no way to research additional information while in the village).
As important however is having the enthusiasm, confidence and classroom presence to be able to engage the students and hold their attention throughout the classes (and make them come back for more!). Given the large number of students two teachers in the classroom are more effective than one!
In terms of commitment, it is suggested that one month should be the minimum time spent in La Libertad as a volunteer English teacher.
Setting up classes
On arrival in the village, it is recommended that a meeting is held with the village chief (cayuco) to confirm the location and timing of classes (Gustavo can help arrange this). During our two week stay in the village we taught between 20 and 40 students for two hours each day (2 – 4 pm) in both the Moloka (the village meeting place) and, during school term, in one of the classrooms.
The Moloka is spacious and not too hot; however it is difficult to display materials which the students can easily see. Half way through our two weeks we moved to teaching in one of the classrooms which is smaller and a lot hotter but the space is more conducive to teaching and there is a white board on which you can write and stick up materials. The classrooms remain locked when the teachers are not in the village.
During our first few lessons we had 40 students attend daily ranging in age from 5 to 15. In an ideal situation we would have split the class according to age or ability, but the cayuco was keen that we taught everyone together (although we ended up teaching the one or two interested adults separately). We continued to teach the children and teenagers together by ensuring we had enough extra activities to keep the more advanced students occupied, while we gave extra tuition to those who needed it.
It is useful to meet with the teachers on arrival and explain that you will be teaching English and when and where you plan to teach. The teachers can also publicise the English classes with the students. Also, it is useful to understand what other events may be occurring in the village in case these conflict with the planned lesson times.
You may want to enquire whether the teachers may be interested in learning English themselves so they can continue teaching the students while there are no volunteers in the village.
The vast majority of students have notebooks and pens but it is worthwhile to bring a supply of paper and pens to each class. We used large poster paper and marker pens to write up and display most of our teaching content. We occasionally used sweets and stickers to reward good work, high levels of concentration or after team games. In general though the level of motivation is pretty high and rewards were not expected or really needed. We sometimes used balloons and flashcards as teaching aids and for games. There are no electrical points in the classrooms that we know of and many of the desks have built in seats making redesigning the classroom for games a bit difficult.
You can purchase poster paper, marker pens, coloured pens, notebooks etc in Leticia, but any other teaching materials such as textbooks or educational posters would be better purchased in either your home country or Bogota.
Our Teaching Experience
During our two weeks we taught between 20 and 40 children each day. It was unclear why class attendance would one day drop to 20 and the next day be back up again. In general weekend classes were not that popular and I think the novelty of having foreign English teachers did begin to wane by the end of the second week.
Holding the students’ attention for two hours a day after the vast majority of them have already done five hours of school can be difficult. Depending on the lesson we sometimes finished class after an hour and a half and had the last half an hour for any students who hadn´t finished or had questions etc. Generally however, students were well behaved and enthusiastic.
We tried to incorporate as many different interactive activities and games as we could into the lesson but soon found any games which involved a couple of volunteers and the rest of the class watching or participating from their seats didn´t work as the vast majority of students got distracted and lost interest. Also some students don´t like leaving their seats and having to move around a lot. Almost all students are shy about speaking English especially in front of the class.
The students seemed to enjoy writing and reading based activities the most, and we just made sure we walked round each student giving them an opportunity to practice their spoken English one on one. This of course was only possible as there were two of us teaching together. Some of the younger kids were only able to copy out English sentences rather than construct their own, and we found among some students the writing ability (even in Spanish) was poor.
In general, careful preparation is required for each class to ensure the teaching covers the language elements (reading, writing, speaking and listening), there is a mixture of “work” and games, and that the varying levels of ability are catered for.
The following vocabulary and grammar points were taught during our two weeks of classes. Not all students attended class each day, and the level of understanding differed greatly between students. It is safe to assume the students have very limited English especially spoken English.
· 1 – 20
· Basic colours
· Basic animals
· Family members
· Basic Food
· Basic emotions
· “My name is..”
· “Where are you from?”
· “I am from..”
· “How are you?”
· “I am…”
· “I have…”
· “I like…”
· Pass ball around room, when shout “stop” have to answer question
· Maze game (directions
· Secret code
· Write sentences about what you like
· Circle words on the board
· Colour corners
· Word search
We had a couple of adults who attended our first couple of lessons and one in particular (Pablo - who is a local guide) appeared to be really interested in learning English, however he was only able to attend a few lessons. In general there seemed to be less interest from the adults in the village. The indigenous language is Yagua, and some of the older generation do not speak Spanish or at least are not confident in speaking Spanish. We sensed that they felt learning English was too much for them (many adults are not confident in writing and reading, even in Spanish).
The cayuco mentioned adult education classes were taught in the school in the evening and that potentially English could be taught as part of that programme. However during our stay we never saw any adult education classes taking place. Perhaps this is something which can be discussed with the teachers.
For those volunteers who are qualified teachers or have previous teaching experience, you will have plenty of resources to hand. For those who perhaps need a few pointers or websites for resources, we used the following:
We left a bag of teaching resources in the guest house in La Libertad, which unless the children have helped themselves to should consist of:
- Poster paper
- Maker pen
- Bag of pens
- Coloured pens
- Small pack of smiley face balloons
- Printed colour flashcards
- Spanish dictionary
- Simple English Grammar guide
- Some of our teaching posters to give you an idea of what we taught