Interview With Maggie, A Former Sapientis Teacher In Puerto Rico

plaza-de-las-palomas-1-4201.jpgMaggie taught in Puerto Rico through the Sapientis program for two years, working in a public school often liaising with a local teacher. Challenges abounded, but the best part was forming relationships with her students – especially when they realized that she was on their side and wanted to encourage them to perform to their potential – and they did. Being in such close contact with kids also opened her eyes to a vastly different culture.

The most frustrating part was dealing with cultural norms, such as parents who were less than fully involved in their children’s education and perhaps didn’t even see the value of it. In many ways, Maggie said, she found it more difficult to work with the parents than the children.

She also pointed out that “Teaching abroad is much more challenging because usually, we don’t completely understand the expectations and roles of the education system – we have our own perceptions and experience from our home country. But “abroad” incorporates much more than just the classroom: what is acceptable, how people are used to being taught, is it effective, etc.”

In an email interview with Maggie, who is currently enrolled in a graduate program in the US, I was able to pick her brain for some tips for teaching children. As my own experience teaching kids was…uh…mixed, I’ll defer to her here:

  • Keep your head up and maintain a positive attitude: if you can affect the long-term goals of just one or two students, in this case by encouraging them to finish school or even go to college, this is huge.
  • “It’s really important to go into the classroom being strict, having rules, and establishing your presence as an authority figure. If you are “nice” from the beginning, you can’t get back the authority, and kids walk all over you.”
  • Teaching takes a ton of patience and this can be hard to truly grasp until you’re actually doing it, but try to keep it in mind.
  • “I would say it’s important to relate the material to the kids – find out what interests them, what they like, what motivates them, and use that. The problem is when teachers use materials they have been using for 20 years that’s no longer relevant – it doesn’t make sense and it makes class boring. It’s important to be creative and make kids think outside the box.”
    • Looking to the future, how has this experience shaped Maggie’s career goals? Her graduate program is in a different but connected field, and she says, “While I know I don’t want to be a teacher, I understand the value of education and the challenges that people in this field must face, like the drop-out rate and the lack of parental education. There are lots of social factors that have huge significance in education systems – and the education system will not change if people’s attitude toward education doesn’t change. “