Westmont Magazine A Teaching Experience
Katie Schick ’06 Shares Lessons Learned as a Student Teacher in Costa Rica
One of the biggest challenges of living in Costa Rica is my inability to communicate. It’s frustrating to not speak the language and be incapable of articulating my thoughts and feelings. As a result, I have been doing my utmost to improve the situation. I diligently practice Spanish with my host family, I attend Spanish classes, and I attempt muddled conversations in Spanish with my friends.
I distinctly remember one day when I headed to the local supermarket to buy body wash. I strutted into the store, for some reason feeling very confident in my newfound Spanish-speaking skills. I boldly threw out a “gracias” when a man opened the door for me. I even greeted a store employee with a “buenas.” Yes, I was practically a Costa Rican native. Things were going very well.
I started perusing the aisles for the much-needed body wash, but was unable to come across such an item. I mustered up all my Spanish-speaking knowledge (an endeavor that lasted only seconds) and strode over to the nearest employee. Conjugated verbs whirred through my head, along with the lyrics from some old Shakira song. In my best Spanish accent, resembling some strange mix of British and other languages of unknown origin, I asked, “Donde esta la sopa para el cuerpo?” Spanish speakers will instantly recognize my mistake. Although reminiscent of the English word “soap,” sopa actually means soup in Spanish. That’s right, I was asking for “soup for the body.”
The employee looked at me with a very puzzled expression. I figured she was probably new at her job and unaware of the location of body wash. So I tried again. This time, I made washing motions with my hands to further reinforce my point. At this moment, another employee had walked over to watch the show. I was getting more and more flustered by the minute. Did they not carry soap? Didn’t anyone want to smell nice any more? Didn’t they care about my hygienic needs? Then – it hit me.
“Jabon” was the word for soap. “Jabon” was what I wanted. I immediately ceased my frantic hand-washing motions and dejectedly uttered the single word that had created this whole mess: “Jabon?” I don’t know how the employees managed to contain their laughter, but they promptly directed my attention to the soap that was, in fact, right in front of me. Oh, what a feeling. My insides were a mix of embarrassment, defeat, annoyance, and greater insecurity in my speaking skills.
This rather trivial incident embodies a crucial message. C.S. Lewis sums it up perfectly when he states: “Experience: the most brutal of teachers. But you learn, my God do you learn.”
In my mind, there is no substitute for authentic experience. You can read all the textbooks you want and complete the multiple choice tests, but it all comes to nothing without experience. Learning requires you to get up from your seat and actually do something.
I think learning closely parallels faith. “Faith is dead without good deeds” (James 2:26), just as learning is empty and meaningless without the experience. You can’t just claim to have faith if your life does not exemplify it. Along the same lines, I don’t think that anyone can claim to have learned something if they have not lived it or applied it. Learning is so much more than an intellectual exercise.
As a student teacher, I have found I can’t improve my teaching abilities through reading a detailed how-to manual. Trust me, I’ve tried. The only way to learn how to positively impact my students is to put myself in front of the class and just do it. Yes, there is a big chance of failure. Yes, there is plenty of opportunity for embarrassment and self-doubt. But the benefits of truly learning far outweigh all of these negatives. After my “soup for the body” experience, I wasn’t too anxious to try out my Spanish-speaking skills again. But I was learning Spanish. If I want to make progress, I must take the risk of experience.
Take the risk of experience. Let it be your teacher. Be willing to accept its difficult assignments, because you will receive more than a grade in return. You will learn.