So I’ve been living here for two months now and I have learned A LOT. Not just about education in Ecuador but about mathematics, myself, and working with others.
When I took the job, I was very clear in my interview that I had never taught pre-Calculus or Calculus. At some point in my education, I learned all of it because I have my degree in mathematics so I was sure that I could do the job. However, as all teachers know, learning something is much different than teaching it! So in the past two months I have taught my seniors Sequences and Series, Complex Numbers, Polar Equations, and now I have just started a unit on Matrices. Umm…what? I find myself up into the wee hours of the night reviewing the finer points of the math I have to teach. These kids are BRILLIANT so they ask really great questions which means I don’t only have to know the material that is part of my presentation, I have to know how it connects to the math they already know and try to guess the questions they will ask about those connections. No small feat. My juniors have learned all sorts of functions and polynomials and how to graph them by hand. No graphing calculators allowed in this school. So I had to re-learn graphing complex rational functions without the aid of technology. Now we have moved into exponentials and logarithms. (Thank heavens!) I can’t believe how much I have re-learned in the last two months. I am a much better mathematician for living here. I will come back to the US with a renewed love of the art of mathematics.
I have also learned that I measure my self-worth at work – not my personal life – based on what others think of me. Yes, it’s true and it’s not so healthy. I can take things in stride (as my blog motto brags) but only up to a point. My school expects a lot of me. A LOT. And Ecuadorians are not free with their compliments. I am told that here people are corrected when they are not doing a good job but are rarely praised when doing a good job. Ugh. Now, I am a person that will work my tail off if you tell me I’m doing a good job because I will want you to be proud of me. My battery runs on compliments. So the fact that I have heard very few words of encouragement for the last two months have taken a toll. Last week, I lost it. Considering how hard I work, how many hours I spend preparing lesson plans, and how many papers I grade, and how much I want to please my bosses, I needed a little praise but instead received more constructive criticism. Not because people are mean, but rather because it is a different culture. So I lost it. I got teary at work and had to take a moment to gather myself. I can’t remember crying at school since I was a first year teacher. I felt absolutely ridiculous about it. Thank goodness there are really supportive people where I work who jumped in and helped me out. What did I learn from this? I need to be better about giving myself compliments instead of trying to wring them out of the people around me. I am working on it but it’s definitely an uphill battle!
And last, I’m learning how to work with others. When I say others, I mean people who are reeeeeally different than me. I work in the math department at my school. I am the only English-speaking US-educated person in the group. I am the outsider. And it’s really important to me that my department likes me and respects me. I have had a great deal of success with some and less with others. What I’ve realized is that I have to be the person to reach out to others. People, no matter what their culture, appreciate it. And so I have tried – offering lesson plan ideas, showing people websites with cool math apps, and sharing my snacks! All of this has helped me learn to get over my shyness and be nice. (Yes, I am shy. I know lots of people won’t believe it but I am terribly shy about making new friends!!!!) I have made some new Ecua-friends and I even was invited to lunch with them. Success!
Oh Ecuador! You are helping me grow! Who knows who I will be when you are done with me!