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Get down to work

17 Jan

Hands in!

¡En español aquí!

I came to México excited to learn how relación tutora (or tutoring relationships) really changed people. I had heard so much about the changes in the students, in the communities and was so curious to understand how that happened. But little did I imagine how I would change too.

I changed because I saw changes in the people that I worked with, and through, not just the work, but through the way each person worked on the team.

An experience in Veracruz taught me that.

In November 2011, I had the pleasure of going back to Tehuipango, Veracruz and this time to a primary school called Lic. Adolfo López Mateos. It was a bilingual school and most, if not, all of the teachers taught in both Náhuatl and Spanish.

I came, excited to work with the teachers, but also slightly worried because the school had been resistant to the relación tutora program when we last visited. I guess schools don’t like to be labeled “insufficient” or “schools that need focused attention.” The teachers and leadership are on the defensive, and feel the authorities don’t understand their situation. Things can get tense.

During the previous visit, the teachers were talking about some of their students who had difficulty learning. Some of them were at a loss at what to do. So along with Maestra Ruth de la Cerda and Maestro Román Fuentes, an advisor with an organization, Redes de Tutoría, we came back with the promise of observing some of their students, and above all offer some suggestions and then work in tutoría, along with Maestros Sandra Ortiz and Artemio Ríos.

At the back of my mind, I always knew that tutoría changed the people it touched, but I didn’t understand how or why.

Tutoría session

But it did. On that Thursday, I had the privilege of being in tutoría with a group of 5 teachers and also have them tutor me. And through the session, something changed. Through the dialogue, and through the excitement of wanting to learn and share, the cold resistance melted away, leaving a warm and joy of sharing a profound learning experience together. We were no longer “assessor” and “assessed”, we were just learning together. That’s the power of tutoría. The work itself immediately broke the barriers between us. You enter into a different kind of relationship. You became tutor and tutee – at the same time – you were both there to learn and to share, and there was a horizontality about that. I changed too. I learned to respect the work of the teachers as they taught me Náhuatl. Their faces shone with pride. We shared “aha moments” and I saw hunger in their eyes as we figured out the area of a hexagon. And I, who always ran away from math, started to discover how intricate and interesting math really is. It took me this long, and only in México to rediscover that joy. The teachers I was working with kept thinking about how to teach in their classroom, how to ask the right questions, and how the math problem we were cracking, called “The Bikini” or how the content Román was teaching about Spanish accents could be used in their classes. There was a thirst to get better, be better and we shared that. There was something different in the air.

During our debriefing session that night, the head of indigenous primary schools, Maestra Ruth felt the same. She said, “I’m really feeling good about this primary school, even though it was tough at first.”  She then turned to me and said, “There are great teachers here, right?” They were. And it was a great pleasure and having them as my tutors.

So many try to change schools from the outside, or try to change structure that never gets down to the actual practice as Professor Richard Elmore always say, when it should be the reverse – sometimes we just need to get down to work, and let the magic happen.

Primary 1 class at Lic. Adolfo López Mateos