Research Question and Guiding Questions for International Travel

How do the students value education/teachers in Peru as compared to American High school students?

I’ve spent the last decade of my life educating young people in America. The first 5 years were spent in the classrooms of an at-risk high school with some of the most troubled, mentally and behaviorally challenged students in Washington, DC. Those students came from the lowest socio-economic rungs of society and I loved being around them. Having grown up in public housing myself, I felt a normal affinity and compassion for my students. I just wanted to see those students succeed and overcome all of the obstacles that come with life in the inner-city.

It felt good to be giving back to my community. I didn’t feel like a stranger coming in to save any of them, but rather, a role model for what opportunities education could provide. My educational background had allowed me to pursue a career in computer information systems and now, a wonderful job as a teacher. More importantly, education proved to be my pathway out of the projects.

For the past 5 years, I’ve been an educator at a private high school in the suburbs of Washington, DC. The students typically come from middle-class homes with 2 parents.  None of them qualify for free or reduced lunch or receive public assistance. The majority of them are African-American or Hispanic. All are minorities. Demographically, the 2 schools that I’ve taught at are very similar.

The one similarity that led me to my guiding question involves the respect level that the students that I’ve taught have for their teachers. Despite the socio-economic differences between the students at both schools, there seems to be a strikingly congruent lack of respect for their educators. As I prepared to embark on my field experience to Tarma, I wondered how the students in that mountainous, isolated town would value those who devoted so much time and effort to instructing them. Additionally, how much value would Peruvian children place on education, in general, as compared to high school students in America.

When our cohort arrived in Lima, I wasn’t surprised to find a bustling city with many people moving hurriedly going along their way.  It wasn’t New York City, but there were a lot of businesses, cars, buses and pedestrians.  One major difference between a typical North American city and Lima was that the further you got away from central downtown, the more impoverished the neighborhoods, businesses and people looked.  Most of the teachers in our cohort wanted to bypass all of the formalities, embassy and museum visits and go right to the place that makes us the happiest- the schools.  We were eager to find answers to our guiding questions and most of us wanted to see what the schools were like outside of downtown Lima.

We had pre-arranged visits to a couple of schools where we sat in on classes and were given tours led by students.  The students were shy at first, but quickly embraced us as something like rock stars.  The level of respect and admiration was impressively obvious and not just for the 14 of us who were visiting, but for the teachers and administrators who worked in those buildings every day.  Classes transitioned and settled in quickly so that the teachers could get started.  Students filed into class, sat down, opened their books and prepared for the days lesson.  The most remarkable thing that we all recognized was the fact that every student stood up and greeted the teacher whenever he/she entered the room.  They remained standing until the teacher beckoned them to sit.  That’s something that I have never seen in an American high school.

One of the most impressive site visits was to a learning center on the outskirts of the city. The building was modern and impressively built. We arrived at about 5 pm as over 500 students began entering the building. It turned out that this was a center that offered language classes, technical courses and other training. Many of the students, who had been in school all day, would travel to this center to obtain additional language and learning skills. We sat in on one of the classes and participated in one of the English lessons. Most of the students had taken the bus ride that lasted no less than an hour to get to the center. They all wanted to learn to speak English. To them, English was the key to their future success. I have never seen so many students so eager to go to an educational after-school program that wasn’t compulsory.

After 5 days in Lima, my partner teacher and I were transported to our host community in Tarma (elevation 11,000 ft). We spent 8 days there. Six of those days were spent in the classroom of an all girls school for 5 straight hours interacting with and educating students. Elise and I created a lesson to introduce our host students to life in our parts of the Americas. We answered questions about our families, favorite foods, weekend activities, healthcare and even politics. Our host teacher, Clever, had to translate almost every word to his English classes. 5 classes in 5 hours with only 4 minutes to get to our next class. In Tarma, the teachers transition to a different classroom when the bell rings.

Each class ended with the students thanking us, shaking our hands, hugging us and taking a million selfies! No one was disrespectful to us or their teachers. We didn’t have to tell any students to put their cellphones away. Most of them raised their hands and waited for one of us to call on them. The feeling that we got was that teachers were respected in this school and the opportunity to pursue an education was considered to be a privilege.  We learned that these students only had English class for 1 hour per week. However, they were excited and all seemed to want to make the most of that hour.

After work, we walk about 3 miles from the school to our hotel.  Sometimes, our host teacher walked with us.  We noticed how many students ran up to Clever as we walked, hugging him or stopping us to let him know how they were doing.  Our host teacher was known all over the town and was greeted with great respect and admiration.  We could hardly walk 100 hundred feet without hearing someone (young or old) yell out “Professor” or “Teacher!”

Of course, I can’t judge the entire educational system of Peru on a 3-week visit, but there was one thing that was pretty obvious to me.  In the places that we visited, teachers and education were highly respected careers and institutions.  There was even a parade on the Saturday before we left Tarma that exemplified what I have stated.  Graduating seniors, high-achieving students and school administrators marched through the city center as onlookers waved and applauded them.  It was Education Day in Tarma and everyone in the city came out to show their support.  At that point, I realized that I had found the answer to my guiding question.