The College of Saint Rose and UDELAS in Panama

A partnership about education, culture and the exchange of ideas

Determination and Work Ethic

-Liv Alvarado

Each day I try to pick a topic of interest about an experience or something cultural that has really jumped out at me.  After this weekend and the few days preceding, it was like a flood of inspiration washed over me.  The only problem now is to pick just one of the topics and write about it.  Every morning I am up by 7am, cook my breakfast and write my blogs. I sit outside in the front of the hostel and watch as the people walk by going to and from work or school. Sometimes as they pass they say “Hola.” (hello) or “Buenas.”  (Short for good day).  The hostel staff usually arrives between 730am and 8am to begin either class preparations or cleaning.  The cleaning lady is also one of my english students and her son accompanies here on Monday and Wednesday nights for class.  She is a wonderful middle aged Panamanian woman who works so hard sweeping and cleaning the hostel that I find my self cleaning when she is not here, just to make her job easier when she come in the following day.

When my blog work is finished for the morning, I get ready to go into town to teach.  One Mondays and Fridays I go to the orphanage to tutor the indigenous kids who are not allowed to go to school.  Mondays are for English lessons and Fridays the kids like to do math.  Recently we have been doing multiplication and the kids love it when they can find the pattern and get the right answer.  Some can multiply and find the patterns a bit faster than others, but they help each other to find the answers.  As the teacher, you merely present the information and the kids will take it upon themselves to learn it and when one “gets it” they jump up and immediately start helping their classmates who have not quite gotten it.  They are all so eager to learn.  Whereas most 12 year-olds in the US are playing video games and complaining about some modern inconvenience, these youngsters are determined to get the correct answer and will not stop until they do.  The stronger students constantly help the weaker students without any prompting from the teacher.  There is no sense of entitlement amongst any of the students. (In the orphanage or in Escuela Josefa in town).  It is simply amazing to see.

In addition to the amazing work ethic and determination to complete one’s work and do it to the best of their ability is the “no falta respeto” (no lack of respect).  Children and even most men have a level of respect towards women that can simply be accomplished by “una mirada” (a look).  Children respect adults like I have never seen since I was a child and rivals that of what my father tells me of his childhood in the 60’s.  In my classes in the US children/students have no respect for adults.  They will tell and adult to their face “you are not my parent/teacher (whomever) I do not have to listen to you.”  Children here would NEVER dream of such a thing.  I am a new person in the school to these students.  They do not know me, nor I them.  Yet when I see them doing something naughty or if they say something out of turn, get too loud or “falta respeto” (do not respect) their peers, “the look” is all they need and they apologize, sit up straight and and never do it again.

There is no talking back or giving of attitude to the teacher or adult.  Even at the end of the school day they police each other.  The older students take charge and direct the younger students in class to clean the classrooms.  There are no janitors in the schools.  The students do the most novel thing in the world:  clean up after themselves.  Under the direction of no one, the students take it upon themselves at the end of their last class to begin sweeping and mopping their classrooms.  They cleans the blackboards and take out the trash.  Not a sole tells them, they just do it.  At the end of lunch, they wash their own cups, plates and silverware.  If one of the sneaky ones tries to get away with not doing something, the other students will holler at them and call them out on it.  The sneaky one will return and do the proper thing. AMAZING.

The country may have a weak educational system, but they are doing something right in their schools.  Teenagers may be learning fractions when our students are learning calculus, but kids here stop at nothing until their work is done.  They value their education, have self-discipline.  There are kids who are blind in my classes or are autistic.  They have no “plan”  no assistant.  The other students help them and the teachers do not need laws to tell them how to teach to or help the disabled students.  All instruction is done through the natural goodness of one’s heart and from this is naturally fitted to the needs of the students.  There is no “plan” that says little Johny needs 3 extra hours for a test do to his disability.  No.  Out of common sense and compassion for their fellow human beings, teachers recognize that the blind student needs more time on assignments and they even stay late after school to help him.  There is no law, they just do it.  Even the young boy is determined to complete his work and not just finish it, but he will not stop until it is all correct.

Although weak in content, the educational system in this country is certainly doing something right.  Work ethic and dertermination are some of the best things that can be taught and learned and it is evident that they are successful at it (and do not need state mandated exams to prove it) when you see la gente (the people) from ages 5 to 100 showing up at work everyday, saying please and thank you and never stopping until the work is done and done to the best of their ability.

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