The musings of an English speaking preschool teacher in a Spanish speaking country

The average four year old can stand on one foot for 9 seconds, peddle a tricycle, count 10 items and has the capacity to acquire 4 to 6 words per day, given access. They are learning everything from how to sit still for longer periods of time (we’re talking 10-15 minutes), how to wipe their own bottoms and quickly undo their pant buttons and how to do it in time.  They are finding out how to open their own juice boxes and insert the straws without creating an apple juice geyser, and how throwing rocks at their friends seems fun but can also hurt someone. They must learn that writing on the walls and not following the rules comes with consequences. They are learning basically everything through trial and error.


Teaching ABC’s and 123’s in English to Spanish speaking toddlers comes naturally to me. We are forever singing catchy songs and playing fun games. After just a few weeks of class, almost all of the children can respond to the question, “What is your name?” with “My name is (Fernando),” can rote count to 10, can recognize their own names and can recognize several English letters. They have already learned many vocabulary words like boy, girl, same, different, backpack, and classroom.  A few have even started saying word phrases like “a girl” or “my backpack.” It is truly amazing!


My name is Rachel.

My name is Rachel.

But a source of constant frustration for me as a second language teacher, is not in the academics, but in the area of the heart. It comes when I want to talk about the why, but my Spanish abilities sometimes end at the what.


I can communicate, “please don’t hit Camila!” but what I’d like to say is, “How sad Camila must feel when you hit her! You must be feeling very angry with her. How can you show Camila that you are angry without hurting her?


Instead of only knowing how to say, “Oh, no! Please don’t touch the plants!” I want to say, “Oh no! How can we keep our school looking beautiful for all the children to enjoy? God’s creation is so awesome and He wants us to take good care of it.” You get the idea.


There is a cliche that pops up often in the missionary world that says, “God does not call the equipped, he equips the called.”


God is equipping me in these heart matters in three ways:


  1. He sent a bilingual woman of God to be at my side everyday. Rosalina is my teaching assistant and she is such a blessing with these matters. She has a beautiful way with the children and they love and respect her.  She can remove a child from a sticky situation and have those longer-deeper conversations that I so very much want to have, but simply can’t. Her heart breaks for the children that so desperately need to know that they are loved and cared for. While we still have much work left to do, she completes me in the ways that I lack.
  2. He provided Spanish lessons. This is an answer to prayers! This year our school administration and missionary board is providing all staff with language lessons! So Tuesday and Thursday afternoons I have Spanish lessons with a small group of other missionaries.
  3. He gives grace. Period.


And whether it is in preschool or marriage, parenting or the office, His grace is always enough.

School Days

Three second grade cutie pies!

Where do I begin to tell you what it’s like teaching second grade in the Dominican Republic?  The best part is the same as teaching anywhere, I imagine… the kids.  They all have their own little personalities and keep me laughing all day.  When I asked one student, Genevet, to use the word “argue” in a sentence, she replied, “Ar-GUE a good girl?”  LOL!  I’ve got a lover, a whiner, a dancer, a crier, a singer, a suck-up, a brainy, a wild child, a tattle-tale and a wiggle worm.  Our favorite part of the day is any time we get to sing and dance—which is a lot!  There’s never a shortage of hugs and there’s no political correctness involved in giving hugs and kisses freely.  And thank goodness they are so darn cute, because the school definitely comes with its challenges!  For one—the heat.  Being the last teacher to join the staff for the school year, I guess means I got last pick on classroom spaces.  My room is nothing more than a lean-to on the side of the building made out of plywood with a tin roof.  I don’t have a thermometer, but I would imagine that in the afternoons the classroom is in the upwards of 95 degrees or more.  The room is adjacent on one side to the outdoor lunch area and on the other side the PE field, so there are times when I cannot even open the windows because of the noise.  I try to find any way to move the class outside in the afternoons to cool off a little, because with the heat like that, no learning is going on.  But oddly enough, the kids NEVER complain about it.  It has just become what they are used to.  That also probably explains why Dominicans break out the scarves and gloves when morning temperatures drop below 75.  Cracks me up!

The other challenge is the lack of resources.  While I once grumbled about Polk County School’s slow internet or all 60 student laptops were not functioning the way I needed, I now just wish for a dry erase marker that works and the electricity to stay on long enough to make copies.  There are no Smart Boards, document cameras, Power Points, heck, we don’t even have the old-fashioned pre-historic projectors.  When I say there was NOTHING in my classroom except desks and a white board, I mean there was NOTH-ING.  No books, no supplies, no education goodies like math manipulatives or hands-on learning things.  There is no shelving or cubbies for backpacks so we take about five minutes 3-4 times a day just to tidy up because they keep everything in the wire basket under their desks.  So you get creative, and thank God daily for Pinterest.  You can do a lot with bottle caps, Pringle’s cans and contact paper.  Next week we are going to make paper mache globes provided that my parents can send in the supplies on time!  What is the saying—fun is what you make it?  J

I have definitely had a lesson in perspective.  Should I ever be crazy enough to return to the classroom in the states, I will feel like a queen!  Though, I don’t get the feeling this is the full-time job God has called me here for, I am making the most of it while I am here and embracing the Dominican culture.  They take pride in appearance and have very specific expectations in the dress code and the tidiness of your classroom.  I am pretty sure that if American schools would reinstate recess (our kids get two a day) the ADHD epidemic would be greatly reduced.  And I haven’t even mentioned lunchtime.  What a scene!  There are parents everywhere everyday!  I only have one or two students whose parents don’t bring them a home-cooked meal to school everyday and spend lunchtime with them.  And the best part of MY day?  Passing two little towheads in the hallways who run to give me a hug and kiss everyday!  I know that this is the best part of their days, too.  School is only two blocks away down a rocky dirt road, so I get to have an entire hour to eat lunch with my family at home everyday!  So like anything, you take the good with the bad.

For two years, I had this verse taped to my refrigerator that I once handwrote, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward (Col. 3:23-24).”  Let me just say, it now has a whole new meaning!