José G. Carrasco Updates on Teaching in Miami

Jose taking a selfie in his car.José G. Carrasco is a cool teacher. He is the one that all the students in the school look up to. José is friendly with his students, but they respect him because he exudes authority. He wants to inspire disadvantaged youth to transform their lives by providing them with a good education.

Are you teaching in Miami at the same school we last spoke to you about?

Yes, I am. On top of that, I teach adults ESOL three nights a week. This is a program where they learn trades and prepare for citizen tests. Those extra 10 hours of work are one way of keeping me out of trouble, I suppose. I always do private lessons here and there. This is to help kids who have a problem with math and science.

Following a divorce, you changed jobs to be closer to your two daughters. Do you still live near them?

My eldest daughter is no longer living in Miami. She is actually residing in my old Brooklyn apartment. Keeping her company there is a creature that used to be a pet of mine, Beyoncé the snake. Her younger sister, who just turned 22, still lives close by. She is in her final year of nursing school.

What do Florida schools need to do to narrow the gap with those in New York?

They need to be stricter. Florida schools need to fail their students who are not progressing. By the time of fifth grade, there should be progression. If there isn’t, it’s because they didn’t fully understand what was covered in the fourth grade. Sometimes, there are fifth graders making third-grade mistakes and that shouldn’t be happening. In third grade, you need to show you can add and subtract. If you can’t, you need to repeat the year until you can. Without this noteable progression, then students aren’t prepared for middle school. This is the biggest concern I have about teaching in Miami.

Jose posing with a student.

What advice would you give to prospective teachers?

Follow your heart. Learn your craft. You will find happiness. With these kids, from a low economic stratum, you have to be a teacher, a parent, and a psychologist. You have to do a lot of things for them to support their growth. It’s tough, but it’s a calling. Make sure you have empathy and put yourself in the same place as the kid. Be a facilitator. Believe in inclusion. Set the standard high. I’m the head guy in my school, and I tell my students that the limit is in their heads. They’ve got the same physiogenic tools as everybody else. They got 3s and 4s and kept their levels. We float together or sink together. It’s a family. I even go watch their games.

How do you get your students to memorize mathematical concepts?

You have to be inventive. What’s three times three? Use your fingers to show the students. Not everybody has the same launchpad. Some of them are subterranean. Some you can’t slow down. Don’t dumb it down. Make the classroom a level playing field.

I think when it comes to learning, you have to rationalize your teaching methods. I meet the requirements and want to make sure my kids use rationale. Why do you do this? You have to ask them a lot of questions. Teachers need to be inquisitive with their students.

What do you like to do away from school?

Travel. I went to Angola, a country in central Africa. While there, I was hanging out with my former students. They showed me around, and I even made it in the newspaper. They speak Portuguese which was handy for a Brazilian like me. I was chilling and may have caused some damage. I had a good time.

Previously, I kept pets, such as guinea pigs and snakes. My last guinea pig, Jiyma, I gave to one of my students. Her grandmother had cancer. She lived with her grandma, and looking after the guinea pig became something they did together. 

How painful was it for you to watch this year’s Copa América final? (Argentina beat José’s Brazil 1-0 in Rio’s Maracaña stadium)?

You can’t win them all. Kudos to Messi, though. It’s about time he won something on the international stage. We celebrated with gold medals at the Olympics. Dani Alves was immense in Tokyo.

It has been a while since we caught up with José. It was so reassuring to hear his warm, playful voice again. We could sense the same old, irrepressible José on the end of the phone. You can’t keep a good man down. He’s a credit to the teaching profession. We’re excited to see how teaching in Miami has gone for him.

by Dreams Abroad

Teaching at a University in Medellin, Colombia

Catholic School Medellin ColombiaLeesa and Lamon met while he was teaching at a university in Medellin, Colombia in 2015 while Leesa studied Spanish over the summer. The Spanish language coordinator at the time, Juan, introduced Leesa to Lamon. Juan worked directly with Lamon and Leesa, but at different times over the course of their studies at the university in Medellin, Colombia. Leesa attended one of Lamon’s classes while he was teaching at the university and thanks Juan to this day for this great connection.

Lamon describes his Spanish studies, English language teaching, and how he started out as an expat living in Colombia.

How did you learn Spanish after you stopped working at the Catholic school?

“After I finished at the Catholic school, I applied for and was awarded the Beca Cultura scholarship at EAFIT University. Essentially, the scholarship allowed recipients to receive language classes at no monetary cost in exchange for facilitating lectures about the culture of your home country. The scholarship was a six-month commitment with the option to extend it for an additional six months. The majority of my lectures were related to popular holidays in the United States, sports, and music.”

When did you start teaching at EAFIT University? How did the opportunity arise?

“I started teaching at EAFIT University in Medellin, Colombia after I completed my six-month commitment to the scholarship program. During my lectures, the language department observed my ability to present and manage a classroom. This ultimately led to a job offer.”

What was your best memory while studying at EAFIT?

“One of my best memories at EAFIT was during a Spanish class with language learners from all over the world: China, Japan, France, and Russia, if I remember correctly. It was a great experience because not one learner spoke the native language of the others, but we could all communicate in Spanish. I remember stopping for a moment to absorb what was occurring at the moment and feeling thrilled.”

Did you use the same method of teaching at EAFIT that you used at the Catholic school? Why or why not?

Teaching at a University in Colombia“Yes, I used the same method. When I started teaching at EAFIT, I realized from the first day that the university heavily supported and preferred the incorporation of technology and group activities. For me, it provided a great sense of relief and appreciation. As mentioned previously, creative methods of teaching were not well-tolerated when I taught at the Catholic high school.”

What was an important lesson you learned from working there?

“Don’t repeat words you don’t really understand! When I taught at the high school, my students gave me the nickname of Lamonda. At the time, I didn’t really know what it meant; I just assumed it was cool and perhaps the Spanish equivalent of my name, Lamon. For the next six months and even when I started teaching at EAFIT, I often introduced myself as Lamonda, and locals would always laugh. I assumed it was because my name was different. 

During a staff meeting with about 50 other teachers, I introduced myself as Lamonda. A dead silence punctuated with a few laughs. Later that day, a co-worker asked me if I knew the origin or meaning of the word and I responded by saying it was my Colombian nickname. Right then and there, after introducing myself to an entire room of all my co-workers as Lamonda, I learned that it means a big penis. So yes… for more than six months, I walked around Colombia introducing myself as a big penis and had no idea… Lesson learned.”

How long did you work at the university in Medellin, Colombia and why did you stop?

“I worked at EAFIT for five consecutive years. After my fifth year, I wanted to have more free time and flexibility to travel to the States to spend more time with my family. Teaching at EAFIT had many perks, but it also required a certain level of commitment to the university and my students. I didn’t have the option to move freely when I desired, which became a problem for me after five years.”

What did you do for fun while you worked for the university in Medellin, Colombia?

best memory at EAFIT“Salsa. During my first two years, I didn’t enjoy or want to listen to salsa music. As I immersed myself more and more into the culture, I learned to appreciate salsa and became a pretty good dancer. When I wasn’t working, I tried to find time to dance or take lessons to learn new steps and embrace my new-found passion.”

What tips would you give to someone who wants to move to Medellin, Colombia?

“Learn the language… even at a basic level. It will open up so many opportunities to meet new people and experience the culture.”

How did you prepare for your new life in Colombia?

“Three months prior to moving to Colombia, I committed to studying for two hours Monday through Friday; one hour in the morning, and one in the early evening. My morning started off with 30 minutes of listening to and repeating Pimsleur audio lessons. After, I would read about current events out loud and write down new vocabulary. In the evening, I would review the new vocabulary and write a sentence for each new word. My evenings concluded with practicing verb conjugations. On Saturdays, I would try to do something fun like watching a movie in Spanish or attend a language exchange event posted on Meetup.”

What did you do to adapt in your first six months?

“During my first six months in Medellin, I focused on functional/survival Spanish: How to order food; How to ask for directions; How to ask for my change back from a taxi; etc. During my first six months, I didn’t see an immediate need to learn vocabulary across the board, but rather an immediate need to learn how to survive in Spanish. I often walked around with a small pocket notebook and would listen for keywords that seemed to be important.”

How about after that?

“After six months, I had a really good foundation in survival Spanish but was not yet conversational. I started thinking about topics that I wanted to practice and would talk to as many people as I could about the same topic. For example, if I took a taxi with five different drivers, I would bring up the selected topic with each driver; or, I would sit in the park and talk to locals. Hint: Colombians love to talk. 

Talk to other expats! Speak to credible sources that live or have spent a sufficient amount of time in Colombia. If you don’t have a contact, there are plenty of groups on Facebook with experienced expats. Be sure to speak to multiple sources as everyone has a different experience and perspective of Colombia. AVOID OR BE CAUTIOUS WITH MISLEADING INFORMATION!”

How much did you miss the United States?

Move With an Open Mind“One mistake that I made early on was comparing Colombia to the United States; don’t do it. You will become miserable. When you make the move, it’s important to understand that both cultures are completely different. For example, in Colombia, things move a bit slower than in the United States. Going to the bank to make a deposit may require an entire day’s commitment versus the 15 minutes in the States; or, adjusting to putting toilet paper in a garbage pail versus in the toilet. Things may require some time to adapt to. Be patient with yourself.”

Why did you leave Medellin after five consecutive years of living there?

After living five years straight in Medellin, I felt that I had completed everything that I wanted to complete. My Spanish level had increased from A1 to C1. I had experienced life in another country and I had received a Grammy Nomination. Taking all those achievements into account and wanting to spend more time with my family, I decided it was time to leave and think about the next chapter in my life.”

Wrap Up – Teaching at a University in Medellin, Colombia

Lamon and I spoke during the first weekend of May, 2020. He was speaking to me from a finca in Envigado. I said: “Lamon, what is a finca?” After I Googled “finca Medellin,” we both agreed that I need to go back to Colombia to experience a finca. I hadn’t been there long enough. In 2015, I was working on finishing a master’s and didn’t explore Colombia as Lamon has described it. 

Speaking of long enough, Lamon arrived in Medellin on February 25, 2020, and didn’t realize he would not be able to fly back to the US after his Primeros Cinco event. Lamon had planned to fly to Colombia for his quarterly event and return back to the US per his usual routine. This time, he got stuck when the Colombian government restricted all flights coming in and out of Colombia due to COVID-19. 

Lamon is not sure how much longer he will be at the finca but he knows it will be at least until June 1, 2020. He is excited to announce that on May 16, 2020, his debut single Spotlight will be released. It can be found on Apple Music, Amazon, and Spotify. Be sure to check it out and find Lamon on his social media to send him your feedback. Catch up with Lamon Chapman’s first interview.

Latin Grammy music award

Working at a Catholic School in Medellin, Colombia

Catholic School Medellin Colombia

Lamon Chapman graduated from Hamilton College in upstate New York with a degree in Economics. He originally wanted to be an investment banker. However, Lamon decided to move to Los Angeles, California to pursue his musical dreams instead. He enrolled in music classes at the Musicians Institute. Lamon played for a variety of shows and bands while living in Los Angeles. 

He aspired to learn a different language while living in Los Angeles and thought that moving to a different country would help him with his language learning. Lamon decided to move to Ecuador for two months. He traveled from Quito to Guayaquil and everywhere in between. Then, he headed back to LA. 

Lamon decided that he wanted to become more fluent in Spanish and moved to Medellin, Colombia. A close friend of his told him that Medellin was going to be the next up-and-coming place for urban music. Lamon was ready to give his musical talent a new start. However, he also wanted to have another source of income while living in Medellin. After researching, he learned that teaching English abroad could be a good way to make extra income. 

Lamon volunteered at a library assisting immigrants with their English for six months. Prior to that, he had never taught English. After he received great feedback from his peers and students, he realized he was pretty good at it. That’s when he realized he had a skill for teaching others a language and for teaching in general. Soon after, he made his move to Medellin and lived there for five consecutive years, teaching and playing music. His first job while in Colombia was at a Catholic school for six months. 

Meet Lamon Chapman: 

How did you find your job teaching at a Catholic School?

“I found my job through an old high school friend. They were born in Medellin, but completed high school in the states.”

What was the process of getting hired?

“The process was rather involved. I had to pass a reading, speaking, and listening assessment; not to measure my competencies but rather to ensure I didn’t have speaking, hearing, or vision problems. Also, I had to complete a medical exam and a test in Spanish. Funnily enough, I just sat there during the Spanish test and didn’t take it because I didn’t speak or understand Spanish at the time.”

Who made up the population of students that you taught?

Catholic school“The boys that I taught were aged thirteen through fifteen. I taught four classes with an average class size of twenty. 

In Colombia, if you are single and teach at this particular Catholic school, you can only teach the same sex. For, example, I don’t have a wife, so they only allowed me to teach boys. If I had a wife, then I could have taught both girls and boys. The same applies to single women. If they do not have a husband, they can only teach girls.”

What did you like most about teaching these students? The least?

“For me, the blessing of being an educator lies in the opportunity to change someone’s life for the better and develop positive life-long relationships. There was always a sense of pride and achievement when a student would report to me how an activity or classroom experience benefited their life outside of the classroom. Whether it was translating for their parents at the customs office or simply instilling confidence to use the language, it always felt and continues to feel good to hear those stories.

The only thing I would say that I disliked about my job was being monitored constantly by nuns and priests.” 

What did you find to be the most challenging part of teaching at a Catholic school?

“I had a hard time adjusting to Catholic culture. Things like making sure all kids had dressed according to school standards did not come naturally to me initially. I also had a difficult time receiving negative feedback about group activities from the school administrators (nuns and priests). 

Side note: I never interacted directly with the parents… the school had a specific employee assigned to ‘parent relations.’ All the negative feedback came from the nuns that monitored each class and my superior; they didn’t support my decision to facilitate group activities. Additionally, they often reprimanded me for sitting down. They didn’t allow teachers to sit down.”

What are the differences that you saw while teaching at the Catholic school in Envigado, Colombia compared to volunteering at the library in Los Angeles, California?

South Korea classroom“Prior to teaching in Medellin, I volunteered at a library in Los Angeles. I worked with immigrants who had become US citizens and needed to learn English to live and function in Los Angeles. Volunteering gave me a better understanding of what it was like to teach a second language before moving to Medellin, Colombia.

My first teaching position in Envigado, Colombia was at a Catholic school. If I had to compare the two experiences (in general), here is what the main differences were: 

  • Security: Most schools in Colombia have armed security at the entrance. In the US, and at the library in LA, the immigrants did not have security guard protection.
  • Grading: If a student fails a class, the teacher must be prepared to explain why the student failed. They must also give them an opportunity to take a make-up exam and/or additional activities to pass the course. In the USA, if you fail a course… you fail.”

Explain the motivations of the groups of students for learning a second language. Were the motivations the same? How many classes did you teach?

“I taught at a bilingual school… so students were motivated to learn English because it was a requirement. They didn’t necessarily want to and this was the mentality for many kids at the Catholic school. I taught English, geography, world history, and ethics all in English.”

How did you handle classroom management for these classes? Was it regulated by the school because it was a Catholic school?

“I tried to incorporate group activities versus individual assignments into the classroom. I also tried to incorporate the use of technology in the classroom as well. Unfortunately, school officials did NOT widely accept the use of technology. I had to stop doing group assignments and I mostly assigned individual assignments without the use of technology per the request of the school.”

What advice would you give to someone who works with people from other cultural backgrounds?

  • Learn the culture
  • Learn the language
  • Be patient with the adjustment… CULTURE SHOCK is real
  • Accept the differences… don’t fight it or allow it to disrupt your experience
  • Don’t assume that everyone will understand your culture and viewpoints

Are you still living in Medellin, Colombia, and teaching at the Catholic School?  What happens next?

“Yes, I am still living in Medellin. However, I no longer work at the Catholic School. In 2016, I was nominated for a Latin Grammy music award. Since the nomination, I’ve taken my passion for music and talents to another level. This year, four close friends and I formed an entertainment company in Medellin: PRIMEROS 5 ENTERTAINMENT. Follow us at primeroscincoent. We plan and organize entertainment events that are changing the face of entertainment throughout Colombia.” 

At La Presentation College in commune 12 La América, approximately 150 students learn about caring for life on the road.
Photo by Secretaría de Movilidad de Medellín.

Looking Beyond Catholic School

Lamon stayed at the Catholic school for six months even though the odds were against him. His students misbehaved and he couldn’t provide student-centered lessons. Not to mention, nuns constantly corrected his teaching methods and conduct. Later in the school year, Lamon realized he was the first teacher to stay longer than two weeks. The other teachers congratulated him for his success and informed him that he endured the brutal challenge of teaching and disciplining this specific class of fourteen-year-old boys that no one wanted to teach.

Stay tuned for the second part of Lamon’s teaching English as a foreign language journey in Medellin, where he talks about his career of teaching English at a university abroad.

by Leesa Truesdell

Living Abroad and Teaching English: Part Three

In the interest of full disclosure, I have to say that the subject of my interview for this piece is, in fact, a close friend. Leesa and I met during the orientation week held by CIEE. We were both (as were many of us) overwhelmed by jet-lag, the newness of the place, the task ahead of us, the ungodly heat of Madrid in August, and the sheer amount of paperwork. At one of the pre-arranged get-togethers, Leesa and I found ourselves seated on either side of one of the orientation leaders (the lovely Lynnette A., a contributor to this blog and angel from heaven for newcomers to Madrid). Leesa mentioned that she was from a smallish town in Florida and it just so happened to have been where I had lived before. The ensuing conversation turned into a new friendship, fueled by adventures through Europe on planes, trains, and automobiles.

Despite a not-inconsiderable age difference (she being the age of my eldest daughter), we have managed to form a true bond. While I may have known Leesa well before, I learned even more about her during the following interview. Readers, may I reintroduce Leesa, the founder and fearless leader of Dreams Abroad. To catch up, take a look at Leesa’s last interview about teaching in the Community of Madrid. It goes over daily activates, lesson plans, and brainstorming ideas.

You’ve traveled a great deal since you began your adventure in August. What was one of your first trips?

“I went with a friend to Mallorca. While there, I saw the cathedral in Palma. It was the first Gothic cathedral I had seen since visiting Spain.”

Did you feel any sort of connection to Mallorca while you were there?

mallorca houses on the water“I would say that I did. I have relatives from Puerto Rico, and it was easy for me to relate to the island lifestyle. Although it’s nothing like the Caribbean, being on the water and, of course, having the Latin rhythm of life, helped me feel a connection. Going with a friend, and sharing this experience with her, made it even more special and impactful.”

You spoke at length about your “tool kit” in your first interview. Do you feel that you’ve added anything to it in your time here?

“I feel like I’ve added many things to my toolkit since I’ve been here. With regard to my profession as an educator, I certainly feel more empowered to speak and communicate more effectively in front of a class. I am able to understand the needs of students and can listen to what students are telling me. As I mentioned in the first interview, listening as a skill is very important to me; important in my own language and in Spanish as well. I’ve been honing that in both the classroom and in the interviews I’ve been conducting for Dreams Abroad. My writing has come a long way since I’ve been here. I attribute that to my focus on improving my listening skills.

In fact, I may have overcompensated on listening when it comes to my Spanish learning. I think I can understand 90% of what I hear in Spanish now. However, this has been at the expense of practicing my speaking, which is not where I’d like it to be. I meet now with a conversation tutor to try and practice speaking more.”

You came to Spain with an open mind. How’s your mind now?

“My grandmother passed away recently. Her passing has made me realize a lot about life. I’m trying to remember the good times while, at the same time, continuing to go with the flow. There was a point just after her death that I was really, deeply grieving and my mind wasn’t open. I had shut out this whole experience because I was feeling so sad. It got to the point that I was actually rejecting the culture of Spain and everything around me because I was so focused on my loss and the past. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was hypercritical of everything around me and could only think of the past when she was alive, and all that entailed.”

plaza major madrid spain abroad

You’ve now lived and worked abroad in both Colombia and Spain. How would you compare them?

“Colombia was my first experience living abroad. It will always have a very special place in my heart. It’s a loving, welcoming culture that’s full of opportunities for those who want to learn a beautiful version of Spanish. There needs to be a structure put into place, but I think that’s what makes the school system so unique.

Thinking about my time there makes my heart smile. I will always have such fond memories of Colombia. At the time, I was still studying for my masters. I was able to visit so many schools, meet so many children, and see so many classrooms. Each had unique methodologies with the same goal of trying to teach and learn English. None of them had a very high proficiency level at the time. Nonetheless, they were all trying to do the best with what they had. That is what made it such a great experience for me.

With Spain, when I arrived here I had already lived in a foreign country and so had already overcome any uncertainty or doubt about speaking in a foreign country. I didn’t have any fear of making my way through the city after having lived in Medellin. I love my school and the classroom that I have now. However, if I had to compare the two, I would say that at the school in Colombia is a model that needs to be developed and that’s a process that I enjoy very much. I love big ideas and creating, developing and forming things into their fullest potential and I feel like there’s still that opportunity there.
school teaching studying classroom-spain

In Spain, they are building a foundation in which there is a lot of controversy and negativity. It’s spiraling into strikes by teachers and students and there’s not one clear path. Educators, politicians, and the general public are not on the same page and there’s a lot of hostility as a result. Students remain in the system only because they aren’t sure what’s next for them and teachers remain in the system beyond their years of peak effectiveness.”

How do you like teaching at the secondary level?

“This is my first experience teaching at this level, which is around middle and high school, and I really like it. I especially enjoy working with the students who have studied and put in the time to attain such a high level as to put on a play in English! From casting to rehearsals, stage crew, and props… all in English — it’s been a really cool experience.”

How has it been with what you called your “new family” of friends that you met through CIEE?

“It’s been an interesting eight months. I developed some friendships that have come and gone and some that will last forever. Those that have come and gone have done so for a reason. The friends that will last forever have proven themselves through life-challenging situations. There are times when you need someone not even two weeks from now, or maybe even in the middle of the night. It’s then when the depth of a true and lasting friendship is proven. The size of my new, extended family is definitely smaller. It’s become refined through some challenges, but I still cherish the large circle of people I met during our 4-week program! We will always remain bound by that amazing, unbelievably hot month in Madrid.”

spain madrid teaching abroad

How are you doing with “Spanish Time?”

“It’s funny, we were just discussing this in one of my classes. Some of my students are planning hypothetical trips to different parts of the world and I asked them if they had taken the potential differences of time into consideration. Dinner time is not going to be at 10:00 PM everywhere! That is something that I will never get as an American living here in Spain. I still eat dinner at 7:00 or 8:00 PM. I still can’t adjust!”

Leesa is continuing to work on new ideas with the Dreams Abroad team for the next school year and is very excited to see where the journey will take her. She plans to return home in July to see her family for the first time since the death of her beloved and inspirational grandmother and will continue exploring new ideas for traveling, teaching, and living abroad. Stay tuned for the next chapters of Dreams Abroad. Please join our Dreams Abroad Facebook group to share stories and photos.

by Cate Dapena