One Down, One to Go: Mr. Sean

By my final semester in college, I knew I wanted to take time off before going to graduate school. I did not have an exact plan in mind for how I would spend my gap years, until I finished my third service trip to Honduras with my university’s chapter of Students Helping Honduras (SHH). Often following our weeklong service trips, my friend and I found ourselves saying, “one week just doesn’t feel like enough, I wish we could stay longer.” Fortunately, it was not long after our last trip that a former SHH volunteer reached out through social media and I learned about BECA and that they were looking for yearlong volunteer teachers. Teaching for BECA felt like a fitting transition after spending my SHH service trips working alongside community members to build elementary and middle schools in resource-limited areas of Honduras. I liked the idea of not only pouring the cement foundation of a classroom but also playing a part in providing an academic foundation for kids in Honduras. Both my friend and I ended up applying to BECA, and have spent this year as the 2nd and 3rd grade teachers for the Amigos de Jesús Bilingual School.
 
Honestly, I never thought a group of 18 eight-year olds could intimidate me as much as my second graders did on the first day of school. They barely knew me and I certainly did not know them, and I remember feeling this cloud of discomfort looming throughout the class that first morning as I attempted to establish expectations, routines, and a safe classroom environment, all the while calling them by the wrong names. As I learned very quickly, my class is not shy in letting their personalities shine. At such a young age they have already established themselves as unique, enthusiastic, and inquisitive individuals. Our school is also unique in that it is located on the same campus as the Amigos de Jesús (ADJ) Children’s Home, which provides a safe and nurturing home to around 130 children with histories of trauma, neglect, or abuse. My class in particular has nine students from the children’s home and nine students from the neighboring communities. The boys and girls here are resilient and strong and as a result have built defense mechanisms that can often lead to challenging behaviors in the classroom. One the toughest obstacles I have had to overcome this year was discovering the distinct complexities of my students’ minds. Having to figure out what may trigger an angry or sad memory and cause a student to shutdown versus what will make a student light up with a smile and sense of self-confidence has proven to be emotionally frustrating at times, but also deeply rewarding. I love reflecting on where my students began this year and where they are now. The most shy and reserved boy has developed into an active, engaged, and hilarious learner that has found his voice. Likewise, I have seen two of the most defiant, young girls transform into excellent leaders over the course of this year, a trait I know they will use to challenge their peers and create change. My class has taught me how to have compassion and empathy, how to have follow-through and consistency, and how to embrace all of the good, the bad, and the ugly that come with forming trusting relationships.
 
Reaching this point in the year did not come effortlessly or without frustration. The job of a teacher does not end when the last school bell rings. There are after-school meetings, events, and papers to be graded. Not to mention the nightly lesson planning and crafting that comes along with teaching English, Math, and Science to elementary students. As someone who did not graduate with a degree in education and did not have a lot of previous experience, there was quite a steep learning curve that often left me feeling exhausted to say the least. However, I am extremely grateful for this year because it pushed me to find new strengths that I never would have discovered. Aside from the sizeable amount of time and effort that teaching requires, we are faced with frequent power outages, printer malfunctions, and limited supplies that force a person to become creative and adaptable very quickly. Without a doubt these circumstances have shown me that I am able to respond to sudden change with positivity and remain calm under pressure. Additionally, the ability to collaborate never seemed as pertinent to success until this year. I relied heavily on the support and experience of my teammates to keep me motivated, to show me creative teaching strategies, and to help me shape my classroom into a positive and productive learning space. We have been able to accomplish more than expected this school year because of our willingness to work as a cohesive team and it is that same willingness that has redefined my understanding for what it means to be a team player.
 
The school year is ending in just a few weeks and it feels like there is a never-ending list of things to finish in a short amount of time, but I have found a lot of comfort in the community here at ADJ. I have felt so welcomed over the course of this year and it has become a place that I can call home. At first I was not sure what to expect from living with the same children that I would be teaching everyday, but now I would not have it any other way. This living situation has given me a more complete picture of my students’ personalities since I get to spend time with them both inside and outside of school. I learned early on that one of the best ways to put a bad day at school behind me was to go play tag with my students. Each time their carefree, childhood innocence reminds me to give them and myself a break because each day in class we are learning a lot – about ourselves, about each other, about different cultures – and it’s not always easy. Ultimately, I could not have asked to teach and live in a more loving or beautiful place. Once I returned back to Honduras after winter break I knew 5 more months was not enough time and shortly after I applied to stay a second year. Next year, my role will change as I learn to navigate my new position as the school administrator. Although I will not be in charge of my own classroom, I am excited to take all that I have learned from this year and the perspective I have as a teacher into this position. There will be one returning BECA teacher alongside me here at ADJ and with her support I know we will be able to guide next year’s teachers to a successful year and further develop our school beyond its already strong foundation.  As I look forward into next year, I feel most excited by the opportunity to form new relationships - whether those are with students at the school, with the ADJ families and staff, or with the incoming team of BECA volunteers - I am prepared to be open, sincere, and enthusiastic while continuing to build a community I care deeply about.