Fermy, the principal and first- and second-grade teacher at El Rosario primary school recalls: “When CoEd came to ask if we would like to enter the Culture of Reading Program (CORP), I said: ‘Yes, I want to do it. I want to learn. I want to develop myself so that I never become stagnant.’”
Until that point, Fermy had used the teaching skills she learned during her high school training—the only training that was required to become a Guatemalan primary school teacher until just a few years ago. “Give them a book and tell them to copy: that was reading,” she explains with a distinct note of frustration in her voice. “They would keep copying all year. But you can’t just copy—you have to find a way to learn. One can know that they are writing, but not know whether they are doing it well or poorly.”
Not only were Fermy’s students failing to learn to read through copying, they also struggled to overcome their fear of voicing their thoughts and being wrong, which posed a great barrier to learning. “Fear is something very personal,” says Fermy. “A teacher can say anything she wants, but if a student can’t let go of his fear, the teacher cannot break down that barrier for him.”
CORP was the solution, Fermy says. The CORP activities her students participate in—such as acting out stories and even authoring their own stories—have naturally inspired them to let go of their fear as they become lost in the magic of learning. No longer do they shrink away when their teachers move to embrace them (a common expression of affection between teacher and student in Guatemala), or speak in voices barely above a whisper, like they did before CORP was introduced.
“The word corner, the books—they get excited!” Fermy says. “They even dance and sing when we bring out the puppet theater. And now when we read a story they continually ask, ‘What’s going to happen!? What’s going to happen!?’ And at the end they say: ‘Aaahhh!’”
To ignite this passion for learning, Fermy explains, she had to learn the proper techniques, even when it came to a seemingly simple exercise like reading a book aloud: “As a teacher you have to know the right way to read a story. If you rush, without pausing, and without doing any movements when there are expressions of emotion in the book [the students become bored]. But if the book says, ‘Wow! It’s time to jump!’ and you jump—then the kids really pay attention!”
“I tell my students: ‘We are all capable if we simply have the desire to learn. But if we don’t want to learn, we will become stagnant. We learn, and we walk through life, and life teaches us.’”
Empowered by CORP, Fermy not only teaches her students how to read—she nourishes their natural curiosity and teaches them how to learn from life itself. It wouldn’t be possible without supporters like you!