Teaching English in Caracas
I taught fourth grade at Escuela Campo Alegre for three years from 1974-1977.
It is an international school that admits children who have a working knowledge of English. The school is set on a hillside in a very affluent part of Caracas called Las Mercedes. My classroom was on the ground floor and I had a door that opened up to a patio overlooking palm trees and flowering tropical plants. It was a lovely location.
The apartment where the teachers lived was only about 10 miles away, but due to the bumper-to-bumper traffic, the trip could take 30 minutes or longer. Fortunately the school provided a quiet van and a driver to take us to school and home again at the end of the day.
Mini United Nations
On the first day of school I stood at the doorway of my classroom and greeted the students as they came through the door. Zeus was one of the first to arrive wearing a black leather jacket and carrying a motorcycle helmet. I was relieved to know that his father had dropped him off, and that he had not driven himself to school. Zeus and several other students were from Caracas. Then there were students from the States, the UK, China, Japan, the Philippines, Canada, India, Australia and New Zealand. I had wanted to travel the world to meet different cultures, and here they were in my classroom. I had 30 students, all extremely well-behaved. I was surprised the students sat down, and waited for me to start the day. That had not been my experience in Buffalo, New York.
Due to the variety of backgrounds of the students, they each contributed so much to the classroom. We learned about Chinese New Year, Japanese culture, Venezuelan history, American Thanksgiving, the Indian festival of lights called Diwali, and about all the poisonous snakes and spiders in Australia.
Throughout my three years teaching at the school, I never had cause to send a child to the principal or to even call a parent. The parents were extremely supportive and involved with their children’s education. The school had a policy where parents could drop in any time they wanted to see what was happening in the classroom.
Candy and dinner
There was no cafeteria in the school so the children brought their lunches and we all ate together in the classroom. Several of the students had parents who worked for the American Embassy and they had commissary privileges. That meant they could buy American candy bars. Every once in awhile as a special treat they would bring in a candy bar for each of us. That was the highlight of my week!
One of the things I most appreciated about my three years teaching at the school was that the parents took turns inviting me to their homes for dinner. All of the teachers in the school enjoyed the same hospitality. On the day I was to go to a certain child’s home, I would often hear comments such as, “Miss Hutchison is coming to my house tonight!” I felt like a very honored guest. I got to know my students and their parents a little better.
I do look back upon those years as some of the best. The students were the biggest reason the experience was so positive, but I also enjoyed the way the other teachers shared. I always felt that we were a team creating the best possible learning environment.
The school is still in existence today, on the same campus, but has expanded and now includes a high school. So if you are looking for a job teaching overseas, Escuela Campo Alegre is a great school, but Venezuela is a lot more unstable than when I was there in the 1970s.
Next time I will tell you about exploring Venezuela and how I met Jungle Rudy!
Joanne Wilkinson is an Oxford resident. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.