Living Appropriately: Musings From a History Teacher in Colombia


Well hello there, everyone–suffice it to say it’s been a while. Since I last made a post on this blog, I’ve changed both schools and countries; I’m now teaching at The Columbus School here in Medellin, Colombia. As is always the case when teaching abroad, it was a tough decision to leave one’s former environs and head to other pastures. But I had always wanted to live in Latin America, so I felt compelled to jump at the chance to live here in Medellin when the opportunity presented itself a little over a year ago. And I must say that it has not been a disappointment–I feel fortunate to be able to live and teach in this city, where the weather is pretty much perfect year-round, as well as having some of the most amazing biodiversity on the planet. After having lived smack-dab in the heart of the American Midwest for most of my life–where the winters are usually harsh and accompanied by plenty of snow and freezing temperatures for about a third of each year–it feels like paradise down here, where you can ride a motorcycle year-round and throw on just a t-shirt and a pair of jeans before stepping outside on any given day without giving it a second thought.

Anyway, there are a hundred different topics I could discuss in this first entry in nearly two years, but for simplicity’s sake I will just make this first post a brief summing-up of the past year teaching at The Columbus School.

After having primarily taught 10th grade World History at my last assignment in Taiwan, I continued along that same track this past year and taught World History to both 9th and 12th grade here at TCS. One of the fun traditions that I had started in Taiwan was to gift the small globe that sat on my desk throughout the year to the student who had the highest score on the end of the year global geography quiz (and a very belated acknowledgment here to Serenity Chen of ICA from the 2014-15 school year; I’ve misplaced the photo of me awarding the globe to you after I’d promised to mention it on this blog, but send it to me if you have it and I’ll post it!). So there was a student in my 9th grade history class this past year named Ricardo, who, it is fair to say, had a certain talent and passion for all things cartographical. A few months into the year I realized that a handful of my students played the same trivia game on iOS that I had been playing for a few years called “Quiz Up,” which has hundreds of different categories, including all sorts of geography games. So, long story short: Ricardo ended up beating me at the “Name That Country” game–in which you are only given the outlines of the country and then must choose it from 4 multiple-choice country names–probably about 75% of the time.

Now let me say from the outset that this is a very humbling thing for me to have to admit that, as a professional history and geography teacher who takes a certain amount of pride in what I do, I consistently lost in this game to a 14 year-old freshman who was in a history class that I taught (although, in my own defense, he had already played this particular game so much that he had already seen most of the maps multiple times over, but still…it is nevertheless a tad embarrassing to have to admit this in a public forum). But anyway, the bottom line is: Ricky’s got mad geography skills. So of course he inevitably won the end-of-year map competition and basically named every single country (all 196 of them!) correctly on the final exam. So for that, young Ricardo, you earn my highest marks of honor and respect. Cheers, Young Padawan (and to you too, Pedro…I can’t make an end-of-year Star Wars reference and not give you props for your consistent academic excellence throughout the year).


from left to right: Constantine (good luck in New Hampshire!), myself, Pedro the Dark Knight, and Ricky the Geography Jedi.

In other end-of-last-year housekeeping notes, I had the students create their own history posters after coming back from Christmas break, after realizing that my classroom walls were a bit too bare, and that this would be a nice, fun way to ease them back into the academic grind of the 2nd semester. And I gotta say, the results were absolutely fantastic–here are a couple of my favorite posters that the students made:


“Eppur Si Muove”: legend has it that this is what Galileo muttered under his breath–“and yet it moves”–after he was forced to recant his heliocentric beliefs in front of the Inquisition in 1633.

An amazing portrait of Stalin, composed by a talented senior, Isabella C.

An amazing portrait of Stalin, composed by a talented senior, Isabella C. (and yes, this is drawn freehand). 

And lastly, here is a pic of myself with a senior student of mine from last year, Paulina. Truth be told, I had some of my most challenging moments in my teaching career to this point with a few of my senior history classes last year, but she was one of the funniest and most uplifting students that I’ve ever taught and always helped me to end the day on a good note. So for all the times that you refused to let me end my day in my grumpy mode: thanks, Paulina….I won’t soon forget your positive spirit and energy.  🙂


Una estudiante muy amable: Paulina G.



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Andrew Leniton