Latin America loves holidays, and there’s a day for everything: secretary’s day, environmental day, tree day, state employee day, and the list goes on. Most of these holidays get little more than mention in red letters on the calendar, but this year one holiday has not gone uncelebrated, and that is Teachers’ Day.
The festivities began in the morning with Guajoyo’s first annual oratory competition, wherein representatives from each grade presented from memory a sort of Ode to My Teacher by memory before all their classmates. The first contestant was a kindergartner, who recited the poem completely from memory. The other contestants followed, filling the shady schoolyard with flowery words praising the virtues of teachers. For all the informality that characterizes the way these kinds of activities are pulled together, there’s a great level of formality in the diction at such an event. I found myself nervous as my turn came to approach the podium and announce the winners because of the high standard set by the presenters.
The afternoon would have seen classes as usually for 5th through 9th grade, but the students had organized a party for their teachers, complete with dance performances, games, a lunch, and all the DJing and emcee-ing done by students. I had the privilege of seeing the preparation process, as clusters of little girls of all ages put together dance routines to bachata and reggaeton songs, and the older girls went around house to house to find people to help put together the pieces to make up the lunch. The same organization that characterizes Guajoyo, giving it strength and resilience, is embedded in the kids here at the school. It’s the kind of thinking that makes people say “I want to see this thing happen, I should probably make it happen.”
The girls played the largest role in organizing the event, preparing the food, putting together dance numbers, emceeing the event, and even making sure prizes were brought to give to the teachers that won the games they put together. They were very proud of the event, and seemed to grow in stature as they took on leadership in putting on an afternoon of fun for their classmates and appreciation for their teachers.
When activities like these go on, classes are suspended for the day. The 7 teachers are all there is, there’s no such thing as a subsitute for days when the teachers have a meeting or other activity. And with only 7 teachers, there are no teachers dedicated just to extra-curriculars like dance, music, public speaking, and soccer. This week it was a teachers’ day celebration, next week there is a meeting in a community down the road, so there will be no classes for anyone all morning, and likely in the afternoon as well. These teachers work double, teaching the young kids from 7:30-noon, and then the older kids from 12:30-4:30. They have to be experts in multiple subjects and able to command the attention of kids of various ages. They are the counselors, janitors, coaches, librarians, chaperones, and friends. They show up to work in a building that has gaping holes in the roof without funds to buy things like paper and dry erase markers, and they work with kids who have other demands on their time and attention like tending to their families’ corn crops and training to become latin america’s next best soccer champion. And they show up to stretch young minds and open doors, and this week we told them Thank You.