by Alex Lerma
Gracce Llanos has been an English teacher at Escuela Normal Superior La Hacienda for the past eight years in Barranquilla, Colombia. She graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in modern languages with an emphasis in English and Spanish. She is a native of Barranquilla and has demonstrated patience and love for a long career in teaching. She is currently pursuing her Master’s degree.
What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
I guess it was “Do what you like, but do the best you can.”
What led you to pursue a career in education, and why did you focus on English?
I always liked English. It was easy for me to learn how to write it, speak it, understand it and read it. I remember that my high school classmates would ask me for an explanation of a theme and I was able to help them with their difficulties and answer the questions they had. I knew I had a vocation, a gift to make others know more and be better human beings.
How should a person handle failure?
I think every failure is a step to success or to be happy. People should handle it as something that has to happen. Life is not always as fair as we want and we have to accept it. Many things can make us feel sad and not worth it, but strength and time show us they are experiences that help us to be great human beings.
You are a strong advocate on anti-bulling at school, why is it such an important issue to you?
I was a victim of bullying when I was a kid, and I felt that I was alone and nobody could help me. I know how a person feels when faced with that situation. When I started teaching, one of my goals was to help and guide students to be respectful of each other’s differences. It is an important issue these days, because today we have an incoming generation that can be so cruel to each other. In schools, students live and interact with their partners as a social process to learn to live in a society and handle real problems. We as teachers have to give them tools to become ideal citizens and coexist with all kinds of people, and to be respectful to have better management of social problems.
Our students always gravitate towards you with their issues and personal problems. They have mas confianza with you then they do with their other teachers. Why do you believe it is important to have confianza with the students? Is there a downside to that confianza?
I believe teachers must be a counselor to their students. Students need to feel they can be sincere and be as they are, and that nobody will judge them. It is important to have confianza with our students in order for them to feel free to ask and talk if something affects them personally and academically. As a result, students will have better academic performance. It may be a disadvantage to have confianza with students because of the responsibility that comes with information they give you when they talk about their problems; you could be legally obligated to do something.
How does one best face their fears?
First, by accepting you have fear and asking yourself why you have that fear. When you know the answer, that weakness and your strengths will help you handle your fear and go for it.
For the past two years you have been co-planning and co-teaching with a Peace Corps Volunteer as well as volunteers from other organizations, what have been the pros and cons of co-teaching and co-planning with volunteers?
PRO’S: You can have another point of view about teaching, and you can share another culture and interact with a foreign person.
CON’S: There doesn’t have to be cons if you realize that a volunteer is someone that helps you to improve your work as a teacher. In my case, Alejandro (in spite of not having a background in teaching) has helped me to do my job better.
As far as improving education, if you could change something in the education system here in Colombia, what would it be?
It would be the payment of teachers and the opportunity for teacher trainings. For students, it would be parents’ responsibility and commitment to their children’s studies. I’d also like structural improvement and more resources that teachers and students could use during their school day.
What is one thing Americans should know about Costeños?
Costeños are the best. We are kind, outgoing people and we are always going to help you if you need it.
If you were on a stranded island with no communication from the outside world and you could only take three things with you, what would they be?
A family photo, a knife and a lighter.
How does one make your favorite drink?
I like lemonade. You have to take lemons, squeeze them, add water and sugar, then add ice.