Countable & Uncountable

As a foreign language teacher, one of the common topics that I cover with my classes every year is countable and uncountable nouns. As native speakers of the English language, we can distinguish automatically between countable and uncountable without needing to consciously think about it. For example, we know to ask, “Could I have some rice?” instead of “Could I have 43 rice?” Rice is obviously an uncountable noun, like milk, soup, oatmeal, etc. On the other hand, apples, cookies, and plates are countable.

While this seems pretty straightforward, some of my students struggle with the words that can be either countable or uncountable (depending on the context). For example, while “bread” is uncountable, “pieces of bread” is countable. Likewise, we can say “some water” or “1 glass of water.” Furthermore, sometimes (without realizing it) we count things that should technically be uncountable. For example, at a restaurant we might ask for 2 Cokes, even though we should technically ask for “2 GLASSES of Coke” or “2 BOTTLES of Coke.”

Unfortunately, our problem of counting what should be uncountable is much more than just a silly grammatical mistake. We waste so much of our lives counting things that are only countable because we made them to be. How often do we count the money we have in our pockets, or in our bank account? Why do we constantly check to see how many likes we get on a Facebook or Instagram post, or how many people watch our Snapchat stories? How much time do we waste by counting down until something begins (or ends)?

We place way too much importance on numbers. How can we let something so insignificant and man-made control how we feel or how we live? I have wasted so much of my time worrying about trying to count every little thing. I had thoughts like, “If I can just get at least a 90% in this class, I will feel successful” or “I’ll delete my Instagram once I finally get 100 likes on a picture.” Here in Ecuador, I finally began to slow down and just enjoy what I am doing without worrying about trying to find some temporary gratification through counting something. However, I still struggled at the beginning of my service thinking about the amount of time. As a time-defined job, it can be difficult not to think about our service in terms of time-length. I’ll admit, I had two countdowns on my phone all throughout our three months of training: the number of days since I had left the United States, and the number of days until my service ends in April of 2019. Our pre-service training was by far the most difficult part of my Peace Corps experience up until now. Sitting in our training center from 8:00 to 5:00 every day was not only boring, but it made me feel like I might have made the wrong choice to join Peace Corps. How could I have given up all of my amazing jobs (and job offers) in the States to be sitting in a room and not actually helping anyone? Although I have faced quite a few struggles throughout my time here, I have felt so much better now that I am actually working a lot and can see proof of small differences I am making.

While I know part of the reason I am so content is due to the circumstances, it is also partly due to how I have responded to my surroundings. I am definitely blessed to be living in a great little town and working at an amazing school, but I really think that I would not be doing so well if I had not taken matters into my own hands. Last year I worked with every single course in the high school, meaning that I did not feel like I got to know my students very well on a personal level. Even though all of the students knew me and liked to greet me every day in English, I felt like I didn’t really know them at all. I knew a few names, but I didn’t know what their lives were like. I didn’t know anything about their families, their achievements, their struggles, their learning styles, or their interests. I know that one of my greatest personal strengths as a teacher is connecting with my students, and so I made the decision to work with far fewer courses this year. It took me hours to plan my schedule perfectly, working with only the 8th-10th graders (called octavo, noveno, and décimo here in Ecuador) because they need the most help and are the most interested in participating in classes with me.

I also realized that I missed the feeling of having my OWN group of students. (We are working here as co-teachers, in order to make sustainable changes by teaching the teachers as well as the students.) It took a long time, but back in September I finally received my own six courses! I have been very busy lately, especially with the end of the first grading period, but everyone who knows me knows that I thrive when I am busy. I teach my six classes in the afternoon, and I also co-teach in the mornings sometimes. (Here in Ecuador, there is a morning shift and an afternoon shift at the bigger high schools.) This takes up a lot of my time, especially since I need to grade and lesson plan a lot more in my free time now. My English club has also been growing like crazy, since many students are interested after they realized how much fun they had at my summer camp. I originally wanted to cap the number of students at 40, but I feel bad turning away kids who are really interested in learning. While it has been very difficult working with 50+ kids, I know that it is worth it. I have also been working on most weekends lately. As a part of my English club, I am helping the students to plan their own lessons so that they can teach struggling students on weekends (both from our high school, and from another elementary school in the countryside that has very limited resources). We have also done a few English field trips, which have been very successful. Not to mention, I am also in the process of planning some Halloween celebrations for my classes and some English help for my teachers! Furthermore, I am hoping to plan some type of leadership club in the future.

With all of this stuff going on, I have been finding it very easy to live in the moment and enjoy every experience I have here. The “days since January 25th” tab on my phone has been replaced by “Halloween lesson plans” and “ideas for English learning field trips” and “best places to hike near Latacunga.” I am blessed to have so many students, colleagues, friends, and family members who remind me that numbers aren’t really important at all. So often we think of time as something that is concrete and obsolete, even though it’s not. As humans, we created the concept of time to make it seem like we have some sort of control over our lives, but this is a power that we don’t actually possess. I guess I’m probably going to sound like every motivational speaker when I say this, but the best way to stop worrying about time is to find something you are passionate about! Sometimes we are blessed to have jobs that give us opportunities to feed our passions. However, if that isn’t the case, there are so many other ways to pursue your passion: hobbies, sports, relationships, etc. Focus on what you love and you will never have to create another countdown again.

To sum it all up in one sentence: If it’s something that really counts, maybe you shouldn’t count it.

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