Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A Word from a Teacher

A Word from a Teacher

If I came to Roatan Island on a cruise or guided there by one of the many budget backpacker travel guides, where would I spend my time? I would probably stay at a low cost hotel in West End, the cheaper touristy town. I might venture out and take a water taxi to West Bay, $200+ per room. Staying in West End I’d spend my days applying bug spray to ward off the incessant sand flies and soak up some rays with a Monkey Lala, an adults only smoothie. I would get to know some of the many island characters and hopefully get a chance to sing my favorite Karaoke tunes, ‘Crazy’ by Patsy Cline or Lauren Hill’s rendition of ‘ Killing Me Softly’. For sure, I would enjoy myself fully.

My greatest headaches might be a power outage or if the ATM runs out of cash or making change from 500 lempiras. I’d think Roatan is cool, lots of dive shops, interesting people and great seafood or Creole’s chicken. As a teacher, though, I would begin to wonder, as I did a year ago, where are the local kids? I met some of them jumping off the dock in front of Sundowners, but there’s got to be more, and more importantly, where do they go to school?

In fact, a about a year ago, I did wonder where the kids were and I was instructed to find Dave, the relaxed Gringo with a beard who plays sports with the kids in Sandy Bay. I found Dave and he invited me, last June, to play with the kids on the courts at Anthony’s Key, so I did. On that night, I saw potential from human beings which, even as a teacher and youth advocate for 10 years in Ireland, San Francisco, and South Texas, I was blown away. The kids were so eager to listen and play with someone new, more importantly, they were self-motivated to learn. As a basketball coach, I watched some of the kids rocket a line drive at the basket and make it almost every time. It was clear they had not been taught about follow through or flicking their wrists to ensure a good shot, but the skill and talent shined through.

The court was full. I told Dave that I was coming back to work with these kids after I had finished my teaching assignment with Teach For America, similar to a teaching version of the Peace Corps in the United States. I was teaching high school social studies in Brownsville, Texas at the Mexican border. Over 55% of the students from my school did not graduate, even with the $1.5 million of federal money channeled to our “At- Risk” student population each year. I was stunned by the contrast between the motivation of my economically disadvantaged students in the States and the kids on the court. What I saw with the kids in Sandy Bay, who are now my students, gave me faith that beauty exists in unexpected places and as human beings we want to learn, do our best; become who we are.

Everyone in Roatan, as in any community, has something to offer others. Something that keeps us connected. On a few occasions, when vacationers visiting the island came to play basketball or work on the English alphabet with our students, over and over they ask how they can help more or say that being with these kids was the highlight of their trip. Meeting our kids and catching a glimpse of life outside the tourist lane is powerfully breath-taking and thought provoking. Working with our kids and experiencing their unaltered excitement and curiosity can open anyone’s perspective.

These kids are driven by nothing less than their desire to learn and to find their value. I could cite numerous examples, but here I will mention only 1. We have a student who, we will call him, James. He is 13 and always avoided literacy class, on the picnic tables in the grassy area behind the basketball courts at Anthony’s Key. He would shyly grin and turn away when I asked him to work on English with me. In a few weeks, I visited his school, where most of our kids are enrolled, and found him sitting amongst other 1st graders. The other students were around the ages of 7 and 8. Although he looked so out of place, I felt an immense sense of pride about this kid, that he exposed himself for the prize of learning.

We wonder in awe about what drives these kids to get angry and frustrated when we tell them English class is full for the night and they will have to wait until Tuesday’s class. They were begging, one would have thought we held free tickets to Disney World in our hands- no exaggeration. We all place value on something, for our students in Sandy Bay, it is in learning how to value themselves and become better.

I could go on for pages, so I will leave you, the reader; HondureƱo, extranjero, island native, mainlander, tourist, restaurateur, fisherman, school teacher, massage therapist or baleada vendor, with this thought. When we struggle to understand how we can make things better, ask where the kids are.