Voluntary Teaching Programs: Evidence from Enseña Chile
Kellogg/Kroc Undergraduate Research Grants
Voluntary Teaching Programs: Evidence from Enseña Chile
A difficult experience requires reflection, which the fast-paced university life does not always allow. The past three weeks since returning from Chile have been so fast, and I have not yet had sufficient time to process my summer. My head swirls with the stories I witnessed and questions about what my own role could be in this field. From interviewing both rejected applicants and alumni, I learned Enseña Chile graduates are more diverse in their approach and exposure to education; they operate not only as teachers but also pursue influential positions in government, business, nonprofits, and more. All applicants had a predisposition towards educational issues, however alumni emphasize how the program significantly increased their awareness and appreciation. A few participants did not feel as strongly about their experiences, leading to the question: what are the foundational aspects to a powerful encounter? What might the lukewarm participants have lacked, or are they just different? On the whole, I found many passionate educators in various capacities, struggled with the nature of the work, and found rich insights to answer my original question and more.
I successfully gathered 40 interviews with Enseña Chile alumni, rejected applicants, and current teachers. My survey received 19 responses, and I was able to sit in on one current teacher’s classroom. I was often bolstered when, at the end of interviews, the interviewee would express gratitude for my interest and excitement for the results. Many asked for the audio of their interviews afterwards. It was rewarding to feel on track, and that my research was viewed as important and relevant. I often felt satisfied at the end of a long day to have interviewed three, sometimes four affiliates, and have certain phrases and conversations ringing in my head, fomenting ideas and insights. It was simultaneously immensely rewarding to hear about the experiences of this population because I see myself pursuing a similar opportunity in the form of a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant Award. In a sense, I got to explore a plethora of ways that experience might play out, hearing the lessons learned and mistakes made along the way.
My greatest accomplishments occurred during some interviews, where both the interviewee and I would forget my phone recording, and use the interview guide to discuss educational issues as two friends hearing one another out. I remember sitting in a Starbucks one mid-day to interview a woman who transitioned from banking to teaching. She dove into an emotional memory of students calling to her in the hallways as great friends would call to each other. Her eyes welled up, her words quickened, and she began gesticulating passionately, trying to convey this profound encounter she had with these children. In another interview, a participant had a just as emotional but completely different story. The participant spoke coolly, with a straight face, repeating over and over, “It is not what they deserve. It is just not what they deserve.” Shaking her head, she would look over my shoulder, eyes fixated on some distant object, and recount her story. These conversations most strongly defined my experience, and in the end, I am simply grateful for the ability to receive these stories and to have them be received.
The most challenging aspect of this fieldwork was the repetitive nature of the questions and format. It was personally challenging to put as much emotion and focus into my twenty-seventhinterview as I did my first interview. Most surprisingly, I was challenged by the inconsistency of the respondents I received. I often found out in the middle of interviews that the person I was
interviewing was not a part of my target population, and would not qualify for my research. As such, my pool of valid respondents is around 30 instead of the 40 I accomplished, which is much smaller than what I had expected. These facts have caused me to worry about the validity and applicability of my research.
I also found the sense of fundamental separation I observed in the responses of some of the respondents disturbing. Often, the injustices of the education system happen outsideof the affiliate’s own lives. Alumni deeply engaged with their school on a professional level, but at the end of the day they returned to their affluent neighborhoods or hung out with college friends or fellow Enseña Chile teachers on the weekends. In that sense, the program is not as immersive as I had expected. There is a sense that these people approach these difficulties from afar, but are never directly impacted.
In regards to my conclusions, the responses I received from alumni and rejected participants were more similar than different in content. There was no definitive difference in the responses between each pool that would differentiate the perspectives of one group from the other. I found a strong number of those rejected had continued on to a career in teaching or tutoring. It is safe to conclude that Enseña Chile generally attracts people interested in education in some capacity, so the question would evolve to be to what extent Enseña Chile accentuates this already established interest. As such, while less Enseña Chile people were expected to teach, they were also expected to pursue positions related to education in government, organizations, policy or otherwise at a higher rate. The majority of alumni entered with a limited teaching background but with a desire to effect positive social change, and exited having decided to pursue a career in or related to education. As a side analysis, from the pace and depth of interviews, I personally ascertained the impression that the responses of the Enseña Chile people had a fuller body, and provided more readily available responses and thorough insights. As I am processing the data now, new questions have emerged. Are there common aspects among the most powerful experiences? What is the quality of these shared experiences: actions, community, and relationships? Will the alumni end up following their expected career trajectory? These beg a better understanding of the comparative experiences of the alumni. It would be immensely enriching to dive deeper into the experiences themselves. As I continue to contemplate these thoughts and give more shape to my conclusions, I plan on exploring further what the post-program desirability for employment Enseña Chile alumni have, in a project that would focus more on the “knowledge economy”. Moving forward with transcription and analysis, I will submit my findings to the Human Development Conference as well as prepare a summative document to send to Enseña Chile.
Experiencing the difference in student culture and attitudes towards education in the Latin American context has been of the utmost value in executing this research. I worked with an organization impassioned about the power of education, yet due to stringent inequality, Chile is inflicted with doubts and mistrust about the system, and to an extent, education in general. The work Enseña Chile focuses on is to create leaders and foment relationships within this system in order to improve these conditions. My contact and analysis is positive about the relational and formative aspect of Enseña Chile’s work. The teachers speak from their experiences, many found meaning where before they had little direction to their career, and all were challenged but positive about the program. As I move on in my own career, this exposure emphasizes the importance of first getting into the classroom and understanding what it is like to be a teacher to be able to continue in the field of education.
Adviser: Steve Reifenberg