From Los Angeles to Las Cumbres: One Man's Pilgrimage through the Panamanian Culture

Erik Giblin, Panama Teacher Match Volunteer

I first visited Panamá in 1989 to see my Salvadoran aunt who had started her family there. However, I first experienced Panamá in 1979 as a child in Orange County, California through the loving and inspiring late Panamanian Archbishop Tomás Clavel. Clavel had been exiled to Los Angeles in the 1970’s after a change in the Panamanian government, where he spent his remaining years uplifting countless people, including my own family.

Little did I know that 38 years later I would return to Panamá as part of the inaugural cohort of Partners of the Americas’ Panamá Teachers Match program. Panamá Teacher Match connects American English teachers with Panamanian public middle and high school English teachers in an effort to increase English language capacity and provide valuable development opportunities for U.S. teachers overseas. I was assigned to El Colegio Monseñor Francisco Beckmann, named after Clavel’s predecessor and personal friend, whom he had served as a secretary for years before. 

El Colegio Monseñor Francisco Beckmann, which serves grades 7-12, is located in a socioeconomically marginal area just outside Panamá City, known as Las Cumbres. It is one of the largest public schools in Panamá and is highly competitive.  Here, staff, administrators, and teachers share a common love for children, as well as a belief that a strong education leads to freedom from poverty.   

During my five-week sojourn, I had the privilege of co-teaching 2500 students with 18 El Colegio Monseñor Francisco Beckmann English teachers in a variety of settings and sharing methodologies. I introduced several teaching techniques, including new games, thematic mini projects, and research using cell phones.

Popular teaching methodologies included games that taught vocabulary, such as Flyswatter and Avalancha. I developed a comprehensive PowerPoint for the school to use. The Panamanian teachers observed my teaching and evaluated whether these techniques could be used effectively in their classrooms.

To encourage ongoing communication between U.S. and Panamanian teachers, administrators and government officials, as well as facilitate partnership between Panamanian and US teachers, I created and maintain an open-access Google Doc folder that serves as an ongoing depository for ideas, methodologies, and communication aimed at building classroom efficacy.

At home, I teach Spanish to high school students, ranging from beginner to native speaking level.  I am working with teachers and administrators at my U.S. school to develop and propose ideas of how we might collaborate with Panamanian counterparts in the future.

The pilgrimage continues. I look forward to maintaining communication with my Panamanian colleagues and friends, as well as future generations of Panamá Teacher Match members, trusting that this strand we have started will continue to be woven into a larger tapestry that uplifts and unites all peoples of the Americas.

The strand continues! Applications for Panama Teacher Match 2016 are now open. Are you an American English teacher with dreams of teaching abroad? Apply now to spend your summer teaching English in Panama!