Back in Bogotá

January 31st, 2010

Well, now that school is two-and-a-half weeks under way, it might be time to update my blog.

I teach the same classes this semester as last (plus another study hall), though my schedule has been reorganized, meaning I now have a class during first hour two more days a week.

I got back on Thursday, January 7, to Colombia’s summer, meaning the days were hot (into the mid to upper 70s) and the nights were cold (as low as freezing). Between the resulting frost and the current lack of water, the price of vegetables, fruit, and milk has gone up, and things are generally difficult on farmers.

More recently, the weather has been slightly cooler (though today got up to 70°F). Since changes in weather are accompanied by wind, that means I finally got to fly my kite again!

Flying my kite by the supermarket somewhat near my house

On Break!

December 19th, 2009

School finished up for the semester at noon yesterday, and I thought I was free to go.

But I was wrong.

In Colombia, there exists a wonderful concept that if a student fails the semester, he can still pass the class by completing some extra work (known here as recuperaciones). So while everyone was joyously leaving school, I spent the afternoon putting together recuperaciones for several students. (Yes, it’s possible to work ahead on such things, but only if one has the time.)

I also thought I’d be going to Prado, Tolima this weekend to enjoy some relaxation at a lake in “hot country.” I was wrong about that too—our ride didn’t work out, so now I’m still in Bogotá.

I wonder what else will happen to teach me that God’s in control of the future, and I’m not? I guess I should pay attention to James’s exhortation: “[Y]ou do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that'” (James 4:14-15, ESV).

It’s true: our life is fleeting, and we can’t hold onto it, but we have an eternal, all-powerful God who loves us and holds control over what happens to us. In contrast to the fleeting mist of an unsure life that we know, God offers us a secure, eternal life through Jesus Christ.

So, if it is the Lord’s will, I will be traveling back to Grand Rapids on Monday. I really anticipate seeing friends and family and enjoying two weeks or so (but not more!) of snow.

Tip Du Jour

November 23rd, 2009

Don’t bite too hard into unfamiliar food. Sometimes what looks like a piece of sausage is actually a piece of bone.

Hola Junior!

November 10th, 2009

Explaining the parable of the sower and the seed.
Explaining the parable of the sower and the seed (note in my hand evidence of how quickly the seeds grow).

Two weekends ago, I got to help out at a children’s ministry called Hola Junior! in the part of Bogotá called Cazucá. For my little part, I did a short skit of the parable of the sower and the seed with a little help from some of the kids. Then I explained the parable to the kids. I reminded them that we must receive the good news of the kingdom like good soil, rather than be distracted by the weed-like cares of this world or give up when trials come like the seed that fell on rocky ground. And what’s the good news we’re supposed to receive? That God has forgiven our sins because Christ died for them; that we should receive the good news of forgiveness and trust the Lord with our life.

I also helped the kids sing some songs. The younger group of kids did their best to make me feel like a rock-star; after every song we sang, they started chanting “Otra, otra…” (another, another…).

Many people who live in Bogotá have never been to Cazucá because it is such a dangerous part of town, and it most definitely is not a place a gringo is supposed to go (so don’t tell anyone I went). I figure that I don’t know when I’ll die: whether of old age, in a car accident in such a tranquil place as Grand Rapids, or being held up in Cazucá or anywhere else. The safest place for me to be is where God wants me, and if that happens to be a “dangerous” place such as Cazucá, then great! God has my future; I might as well trust Him with it.

I hope you’re all doing well. Things are going well here. Always busy, but well.
Mark

Parent-Teacher Conferences

October 19th, 2009

This past Friday and Saturday were the first-quarter parent-teacher conferences.

I survived.

Truthfully, I think the parents at ECA must be vastly different from parents at most schools, because these conferences went fine; I didn’t experience any of the things you’re supposed to dread about conferences. I don’t think that’s how it is for most teachers, particularly first-year teachers. I surely appreciate working with parents who understand that I’m trying to do what’s best for their children; that we’re on the same team.

Because I’m the ninth-grade homeroom teacher, I was given the “privilege” of having a completely full schedule of conferences. Apparently, it was necessary for me to meet with the parents of just about every student, not just of the ones whose grades were less than satisfactory. When all was said and done, I had held approximately 25 conferences Friday afternoon and Saturday morning.

And strangely, it’s now Monday again. It’s funny how the weekend passes by so quickly.

Reduced Class Load

September 27th, 2009

Last Tuesday was my last day teaching the honors section of Algebra II. I told my principal that I was running out of time to update my blog, so he agreed that the best thing to do was to find another teacher who could take the class.

OK, that’s not entirely true. The administration realized that I had an oversized load of classes, particularly since this is my first year teaching, so they found another teacher to take the class. I am certainly thankful that my academic load has been reduced by this five-days-a-week class. I enjoyed the challenge of teaching math, but I am glad to be able to concentrate on teaching computers now.

I also look forward to sleeping at night.

In other news, we had a fun fair at school yesterday to raise money for the building project. If you’d like to see the current progress of the new building, you can watch via a webcam the school has set up.

This week is the last of the first quarter and is followed by a week off for the students. We teachers have three in-service days that week to catch up on things and to prepare for next quarter.

Take care,
Mark

Four-day Weekend!

September 14th, 2009

This last weekend, we were scheduled to have a teacher retreat; something I was looking forward to, but something which I knew would also eat up a lot of time. However, thanks to a cold epidemic that knocked out many students and a third of the teachers at school, we got a four-day weekend and no teacher retreat instead.

All that to say, I had a profitable weekend. We were told to rest up, and I was diligent in that task.

On Thursday, I went to a tuba ensemble concert in downtown Bogotá with a friend. It was great. It was the concluding concert of a tuba festival that had been in town since September first, featuring Mel Culbertson as clinician. The first half of the concert was a new composition (I believe) for solo tuba (Mr. Culbertson) with piano, timpani, and brass ensemble. The second half consisted of a variety of pieces which included such varied repertoire as a setting of an “Ave Maria”, a couple of Sousa marches, a number from the Phantom of the Opera, the Beatles’ “Rock and Roll Music”, and a few pieces typical of various regions of Colombia.

Notice that tuba players’ Joie de vivre is universal (note the evidence of the following video). I think my favorite part is at 0:48.

You may notice that in most ensembles, the low brass section is significantly smaller than other sections. Now you know that this is to prevent any ensemble from having too much fun.

In other news, you can subscribe to my blog via RSS.

In the Swing of Things

September 6th, 2009

Well, I’m four weeks into school now, and I’m starting to feel like I have an idea of what I am should be doing.

I’ve realized a few things in teaching middle- and high-schoolers:

  1. They’re not adults yet.
  2. They’re not necessarily interested in the same things I am. They may even think there’s something more important than computers or math.
  3. There’s a fine balance between challenging your students and pushing them so hard that they want to give up. At least, I presume there’s a balance. I’ll let you know if I find it.

This week, we had open house. As it worked out, the one hour my students’ parents came to, I gave a test. I made sure I had enough copies for the parents to also take the test. Here’s a sample question:

Give the equation, in point-slope form, of the line that passes through (2,1) and is perpendicular to the graph of y = 3x + 31.

In other news, I’m learning the importance of balancing my personal life few hours of sleep with my school-work. I’ve had a few people remind me that I need to be realistic in the expectations I set for myself or I will get burned out here. They’re probably right.

Occasionally, I get a chance to do something that doesn’t involve grading or lesson-planning. One such occasion was last weekend, when a number of us teachers (and one non-teacher friend) went out to eat in honor of Suzette’s birthday. Here’s our happy bunch:

ECA Teachers eating out.

I hope you’re all doing well! Drop me a line and let me know how you’re doing. It’s always nice to hear about things back home, even if I’m not there.

God bless,
Mark

Moved In!

August 23rd, 2009

I have finally moved in to my own room!

Picture of the Castro home

I moved into the Castro home a week ago last Tuesday, after staying with three other wonderful families (the first live across the highway from where I am now, the second family lives about a half hour north of the school, and the third family lives about a half hour south of where I live now, which is about 15 minutes south of school [with good traffic]).

My room was previously a laundry/storage room, so things had to be moved out, peeling paint had to be taken care of, and a new coat of paint had to be applied before I could move in. There was also the issue of getting a bed frame, and then of getting a mattress, which came Thursday evening.

I enjoyed having a chance to stay with so many different families already while here. It was neat to be able to get to know a number of warm, hospitable people. Nevertheless, it sure feels good to have a permanent space; to unpack my suitcases and call a place home for awhile.

The picture above is of the front of the house. It’s in a conjunto (basically, a gated community) called Marantá. As you might be able to see from the picture, it’s two stories, plus a loft. The loft, which was my room while my bedroom was being fixed up, sits over the dining room and living room and serves as the office.

My room (queue the following video) sits on the main floor, just off of the kitchen. It’s a little small, but the bed fits, and I fit on the bed (mostly). Additionally, it has four walls and a door. I even get my own bathroom, though I have to take my showers in the downstairs bathroom, since that one has hot water by means of an electric water-heating shower head. Yes, I’ve found that it’s wisest not to touch anything metal while taking a shower.

Staying Alive

August 17th, 2009

Well, the first full week of classes has passed, as has the weekend, and I am still alive.

It’s the littlest of things that can make your day go poorly—things like the network not working so that you can’t (a) print a syllabus or (b) have all your students go to Google maps at the same time. Then there’s standing up in front of class and realizing you forgot to prepare a lesson for them (OK, that one hasn’t exactly happened yet).

Everyone who says anything about the first year of teaching says that it’s difficult. I guess they’re right, so I’m trying to survive.

Of course, I’m hoping to do more than survive, since there are also many things to enjoy about teaching as well. Certainly the most enjoyable is that I get to work with people. It surely is a privilege to be able to interact with so many students, other faculty, and staff each day.

Another thing I enjoy about teaching is that I can help students realize that the world is much bigger than they may have thought (e.g. there’s more to the Internet than Facebook, email, and instant messenger).

I’m looking forward to pushing students to learn more about computers. I’m teaching the tenth graders some web things: HTML and eventually programming (PHP) and maybe even databases (MySQL). We’ll see how far we get. I’m also hoping to introduce some of the younger grades to programming, including Alice and logo programming.

I don’t have any pictures of myself teaching yet, but here’s one of me near the top of a mountain that borders Bogotá:

Me on Monserrate.

I’ll try to write more about that weekend when I get a chance. In the meantime, you can see some pictures from that trip over here.