Escuela Politécnica Nacional
(c) 1997 Ivan Gevirtz
by Ivan Gevirtz
Escuela Politechnica National (the "Poli")
Centro de Education Continua (CEC)
5th floor Edificio Ingenieria Civil
Ladron de Guevera, Quito
CEC: Ing. Jaime Calderon
Something Else: Sr. Sergio Puma -- Puma speaks English
Official WorldTeach Contact: Dr. Francisco Ron (Social Sciences)
He is on the 4th floor of the administration building -- where you get your checks
Location: Urban -- Quito is the capital city, and the school is located in the heart of Quito near the US Embassy, Coliseum Ruminauii, and the Catolica University.
Type of school:
The Poli is one of the country's best technical (engineering) universities. The CEC gets many of the Poli's students, and some outsiders. The CEC issues certificates.
Not more than 15 (supposedly)
Usually are between 18-28 years old. Some may be older.
Hours per week:
Between 16 and 20
Days per week:
4 or 5
Beginner I and II, Intermediate I and II, Advanced I and II, Conversation.
Supposedly they will also offer an Introductory class...
Interchange -- Students Book, Workbook, Teachers Manual, Casette Tapes.
There is a big TV you can use. There are also tape players. There is a broken VCR, and there are computers with Internet access. There are also overhead projectors, white boards and whatever else you need...
OK, let me first tell you that you win. The Poli is a great site, one of the best in Ecuador. The students are enthusiastic, and the location is great. It is located a block from the US Embassy, three blocks from the South American Explorers Club, and two blocks from the Coliseum.
The classrooms are nice, some are even carpeted. Each has a huge whiteboard, and an overhead projector. In addition, there are 5 tape decks (one per teacher) that you can use, a big TV, and a broken VCR. There are also many computers and printers, some with Internet access.
We used the Interchange book series. It is pretty good -- lots of activities. There is a students book, a workbook, and a teachers manual. In addition, it comes with cassettes to listen to. The books are good and very easy to use, but are weak on teaching grammar -- you may want to supplement materials here. The single most useful thing I brought down was a small students’ dictionary. I don't know if you ever had one of them -- it has a red cover, fits perfectly in a three ring binder, and is designed for school children. What is great about it is that it only has a few words, and the definitions are very simple. In addition, I can't spell, so it saved my butt a few times...
The Interchange books have tests which you can use. The tests are good, if you make sure you cover the grammar in class. What I wound up doing was using the book tests and giving them an essay as well.
Placement exams are very important. If the student was not enrolled the term before, even if he took classes in the CEC in the past, he should retake the placement exam. You should plan to give the placement exam before the previous cycle ends.
Other than that, resources such as paper, pens, white erase markers, erasers, staplers are available, you just have to ask the secretaries. One thing I found very useful -- The first day of each class each student gets a “carpeta” (folder) with paper in it, and a pen. I had them also give me a carpeta, one for each class, each cycle. This had all the paper I needed, and kept things like lesson plans and stuff very organized. And if you ever need more paper, just ask.
Photocopies -- Again, you win. There is a women whose sole purpose in life is to make photocopies. She sits in this little closet, sometimes listening to her clock radio, and just waits for you to ask for copies. And if you ask, they will get done, usually pretty promptly. When the machine is running. Which it often isn't. Actually they recently fixed it and it has been up since, so... If it is something important, ask for it in advance. An hour or so is best. If you ask a day in advance, the copies will happen and then will be lost. If you ask 5 minutes in advance, you are likely to succeed, but sometimes not...
So, you are in one of the best engineering schools in the country. You just have to remember that the country is Ecuador, and you will understand. The power goes out. The water goes out. There is sometimes TP in the bathroom. The markers go out (without replacements). And people are inefficient and sometimes unreliable. All year we were told various places where we could leave our books. And they would be safe overnight, or between classes, most of the time. The other times someone would go into an organizing frenzy, and lose everything. But usually things could get found eventually.
So, things at the Poli are pretty flexible. We pretty much made our own schedules, and had them correspond roughly to SECAP. But to get this, you have to be persistent, and even a little pushy ("So this is what we are going to do from now to then, with these hours"). We discovered a wonderful thing: Classes are 80 hours. Usually over 10 weeks. So, you can teach 1 1/2 hours a class 5 days a week, OR 2 hours a class 4 days a week with Friday off!!!
What we did was teach:
October 14 - December 19 -- 10 weeks.
January 13 - March 20 -- 10 weeks.
April 14 -June 6 -- 8 weeks.
the last session we taught on Fridays.
Class hours were 12-2 and 6-8.
Last session: conversation 4-6 and a regular class from 6-8.
When setting your schedule, schedule the placement exams to coincide with the second to last week of your previous term, so you can give and correct them before leaving for vacation. One caveat -- Ecuador loves strikes, holidays, special days, etc... these are great, free time off. But do not feel obliged to make up the hours. If you think there is a holiday (Dec. 5, carnival, etc.) THERE IS, and you don't really have to make up the time.
As I said, the students are really great. Classes are supposed to be under 15 students, and so you get to know your students. They are usually between 18 and 28 years old, with a few older people as well. Because of this age, they are a lot of fun to go out with after class. We had fairly regular pool (billares), fooshball (fubolin), bowling (bolos), movies, and dancing trips after work, the students love it, and so did we. Also, because 2 hours is a long time, we usually took a ten minute break after the first hour. There is a "cafeteria" at the end of the hallway with coffee and herbal tea. I had different students bring in a snack each day, and it turned into a nice little social break.
The only problem with the students is attendance. They are Ecuadorian. By the time they get to you, they have been living Ecua-Time for decades. When they come, they will come late. The best Policy is to be firm at the beginning. Let them know. The official Policy is 8 absences and they fail. I also noted lateness. If they were absent more than three times, and/or were late a lot, they got a lower grade. But be understanding. If they have a legitimate excuse, ask for it in writing. To pass, they have to get a 70%. You can decide how to calculate their grades.
One final comment about the students. In addition to having fun with them outside of class, they are great fun in class. They love games and interesting projects, and are great to talk to. And, I felt like I was really doing good, because these students will take their English, and with it try to improve, bit by bit, Ecuador. Because of this, I found that teaching creativity and things like that was just as valuable as the English they used with it.
The secretaries who work at the Poli are great. They are all young, energetic, and eager to please. They really are helpful, and more than anyone else, they know how to get things done and can help you with almost anything. They are by far your best people resource. Except for Catherine.
So this year we started with 4 teachers, and ended with 5. Two WorldTeach, and two from the British Council (The last one appeared suddenly, and to date remains an enigma). One of the volunteers from the British Council is named Catherine Glennon. She plans on staying here another year. She is super friendly, and a great person, and I am sure she will help in any way possible.
The other people are Senor Puma, and Ingenerio Calderon. Puma speaks English. And he speaks it a lot. He likes to talk. He talks a lot. About a lot of things. Some related to your classes. Some interesting ideas. Lots of future plans. He gets nothing done on his own. He is friendly and essentially useless. You have to please him, but the best method is to be FIRM. TELL HIM what you want, and what will happen. And then, maybe, it will happen. Calderon is new, and he has great plans, a great vision. And wants you to do absolutely ridiculous things. But don't worry, like Puma, he doesn't follow through.
Getting paid is by far the hardest part of the job. You get paid monthly. But it is always late. Always. And, amazingly, each time they have an excuse why it is only this month. And each month it still is late. A holiday, a strike, a weekend, a toothache, it doesn't matter. But you do eventually get paid every month, and can cash it easily. You have to go to the Administration building, to the tesorio. The hours for that are somewhat inconvenient, and are posted. The lady there is very nice, and will send you upstairs to Financerio, where you go and beg and they tell you a tentative date (end of the week). The following week you go to tesorio and she sends you upstairs again, and they tell you "Ya mismo" (right away), and it is usually there by that Thursday.
The Internet. One of the secretaries is named Visel. She can help you with internet access. We had full access -- an email account, netscape, ftp, telnet, etc... Well, email was really good, but internet access is VERY SLOW. The email address is: . I had each teacher make a bin in the mailbox so the inbox doesn't get too cluttered -- i will leave them there so you can use them. The best thing is it is quite reliable and FREE!!!
If you like climbing mountains, or would like to learn, the Poli has a great climbing club, the Club de Andinistno Politecnico. The current presidents name is Washington Chamorro. Washington and the other club members are very nice, and it is a lot of fun. They even have equipment you can borrow for free if you climb with the club. They meet on the top floor of the administration building (where you get your checks) on Wednesdays at 7 PM. Don't worry if your classes go till 8, you can show up late. The one problem is that the club is in Spanish, so make sure you can understand a bit before you show up. Their equipment is stored next to the CECs photocopy cubby, so if you see people with ice picks roaming the halls, you know who they are...
Finally, I want to wish you good luck. The Poli is a great site, and you will have a blast. You will be frustrated when thing don't happen, but when that happens, just imagine what your fellow volunteers have to go through, the ones that don't work at a highly reputable (efficient??) engineering university.
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