A Year in Guatemala

Guatemala is a beautiful and culturally rich country nestled in the middle of Central America. However, due to political turmoil and civil war, Guatemala is also one of the poorest countries in Latin America. Because of the country’s poverty, Guatemala has the lowest literacy rate in Central America. Many rural teachers do not have the money or resources for training, so Guatemala welcomes foreign volunteer teachers who are receiving formal training elsewhere, like Leah Anderson.

Leah is studying secondary education in the McKay School, expecting to graduate in 2014. She decided to gain valuable teaching experience in Guatemala after falling in love with the country when her parents took her there as a 12-year-old. Her parents were volunteer English teachers at the Colegio Mesoamericano School in Momostenango, Guatemala. Her family lived there for six months, and Leah dreamed of returning. In 2008 Leah’s dream came true when she went back to Guatemala and taught for a year at the same school in Momostenango.

Leah taught English to Kinder, Prepa (kindergarten, preschool), first, second, and third graders. For Leah, “teaching such little kids was fun because they learn to just adore their teachers.” Leah and the other volunteer she worked with had to plan all their own lessons with minimal help from administration.

Teaching in a developing county presents classroom challenges because many of the schools do not have many resources. Leah found creative ways to work around these challenges. “We often resorted to homemade worksheets, simple art projects, or reusable props,” Leah related. “For example, one of the most entertaining units was the one on clothes. I bought cheap second-hand items from the paca (a huge street market of reject clothes from the United States): gloves, boots, hats, scarves, sweaters, etc. We learned the vocabulary and then enjoyed fashion shows put on by the kids. Everyone wanted to participate, and it was a great way to practice adjectives, numbers, and colors. They took turns trying on the clothes, identifying what their classmates were wearing, and laughing at each other and at themselves.”

Leah found that laughter was important in her classroom to engage the students without tangible materials. Leah taught a lot of lessons through songs and games. “When they learned about animals I took them outside to play ‘Duck, Duck, Goose!’ but we changed the words to ‘Dog, Dog, Cat!’ Then I let the students choose other animals, making sure to include scary facial expressions for ferocious beasts and small voices for harmless creatures,” Leah said. “During our unit on families, I taught them the song We Are a Happy Family. Singing, coloring, choral responses, and games were a huge part of my lesson planning. The kids had fun, I had fun, and everybody learned–what more could I ask for?”

After spending a year in Guatemala, Leah came home grateful for her experience. “I learned a lot since I was mostly on my own for planning and resources, which was a great way to learn how to teach,” Leah said. “The experience was important because it provided an opportunity to learn from mistakes and see all the things we studied and practiced validated in a real-life situation.”

Leah came to BYU to finish her bachelor’s degree, but she stays involved with Guatemala by raising money each year to send to the Colegio Mesoamericano School in order to sponsor students.