Category: teaching


Proud Parent 2

Hi guys! It’s been a while since I last posted, buuutttttt here’s a vlog about the second time that I felt like a proud parent. If you’d like to find out why I was proud the last time, then check this out. Enjoy! 🙂

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Before I came to Mexico, my only experience of an earthquake was in an earthquake simulation room at the Natural History Museum in London. It felt pretty ‘cool’ to feel the ground shaking underneath me and to see the walls and the items on the shelves swaying to and fro. I spent a little bit too much time there, which would be fine if I was with a family or if I was part of a school group, but I was a vertically-challenged adult all alone on a half day that I had from work. But little did I know that I would actually experience an earthquake for myself… kind of.

It really was the most uneventful occurrence. I just remember hearing some rattling as I was teaching my 5th Grade kids. I thought it was just a really heavy vehicle driving past along the road, so I didn’t even bat an eyelid. That was until a student asked me if I had just felt that.

“Felt what?” I asked. “That was just a really big truck or something dri-“

“No, no – teacher! That was an earthquake!” they all pretty much said.

As I quickly rewound what happened in my head, I realised that I heard the door shaking, but even then I kind of dismissed the idea that I had just experienced an earthquake, because according to the earthquake simulator that I was in, which must be true, (and the information desks around the display, of course), I thought that earthquakes were more dramatic. But a friend of mine likewise reported that her students also confirmed we had all in fact experienced an earthquake. Unless it was a really, really big lorry that made its way down to her side of the school, too, which I think is still a strong possibility.

Even though nothing happened during that incident, thank God, and I haven’t experienced anything similar since, it was an eye-opener. I am living in a country where earthquakes take place pretty regularly (well, more so than what I’m used to), where in previous years they have been pretty destructive. This information fed my fear monster that I’ve already spoken about on numerous occasions, and my imagination ran wild… until I forgot about it… and now that I’m writing about it, I’m reminded about it again. Curses.

Two weeks before I arrived in Mexico, I remember hearing about a hurricane that slightly damaged the area that I would be living in, and that freaked me out a bit. I have experienced strong wind, but the only damage I have personally seen the wind do was blow down a tree outside my classroom, which was the school news story of the day.

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Speaking of other natural disasters, I had always found it amusing that Mexican schools have a rain day. So whenever it rains, schools and parents are on the lookout to see if the government will suspend classes. And it’d always be a running joke on a Sunday night that the teachers at my school would wish for rain so that they didn’t have to go into school on a Monday morning. I thought it was funny, because if that were the case in England then there wouldn’t be any school, ever. Ok, well maybe for about a month, but that’s it. But then I understood why that happened when it rained heavily in September last year. Certain areas of my town were flooded, and school was suspended for about two weeks. Teachers at my school still had to go to school, even though no students were present, so be careful for what you wish for. But this incident will be explained fully in a later post.

And I just want to mention one more thing that happened as recently as this week. I know, I’m so behind, that this is actually surprising. As a teacher of the primary school, we have to escort the kids to their cars. But one day this week, I saw what looked like some sort of huge dust cloud blowing towards the school. But a teacher with a petrified look on her face told the teachers to get the kids inside the school – immediately.

It turns out that my ‘dust cloud’ was in fact a massive swarm of bees and they were hovering around the school gates. I’ve never seen anything like it before and we had to rush the kids safely into the closest classroom. The bees finally settled in a tree right by the school gates and formed a nest on one of the branches of the tree. It was a horrible ordeal because there were so many flying around the young kids. And I tried my best to look calm and collected even though I was screaming in my head, as only one bee terrifies me, much less a whole colony of them. I think I held it together though, so I’m giving myself a pat on the back.

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This is an example of what it looked like…

I guess the point of this post is that these personal experiences with nature has opened up my eyes to how I’m no longer living in my little bubble in London; I’m becoming more respectfully aware my natural surroundings.

As I’ve already stated elsewhere on my blog, one of the main reasons that I am teaching English is that it gives me the chance to earn money while I’m travelling. Obviously, my travelling is restricted to the holiday periods, because of the fact that I’m a teacher.

So for my first actual travelling trip during the Christmas holidays, I went with a friend by coach to Puerto Vallarta. It was far too expensive to travel by airplane, because there are only few domestic airlines, which then means that they can charge an arm and a leg for the ‘privilege’ of you using their services. And for some reason, even though there used to be more passenger trains, this is no longer the case. Passenger trains are restricted to certain areas in Mexico; only freight trains run up and down the country. So the most economical way that most people travel around Mexico is by coach.

Puerto Vallarta is located in the state of Jalisco, which according to Google Maps is approximately 734 miles from where I live. This was my first epic coach journey and it lasted around 21 hours. It was only when I was planning my trip that I realised how humongous Mexico actually is, because Puerto Vallarta is only kind of situated in the middle of Mexico; I would hate to travel by bus to Cancun. But my first bus journey (yes, I annoyingly am succumbing to using the American word for coach – curses) was very luxurious and comfortable. But this special TAP coach service set the bar far too high, and all my other coach journeys since have paled in comparison. As we travelled to Puerto Vallarta, I got to see the different kinds of landscapes that Mexico had to offer, and it was awesome to see greener surroundings in comparison to where I had been living.

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Once we arrived and had checked-in to our accommodation, my friend and I tried to do as much as we possibly could in Puerto Vallarta (P.V). We covered a lot of ground in a short space of time and we had a lot of fun. P.V. is a coastal town and a lot of activities focus on, but are not restricted to, beach life. We were there for about a week, and I think that’s more than enough time to see what the place has to offer. That is unless you are one of the Americans or Canadians, who like to ‘winter’ here for months on end, taking everything in at a laid-back pace.

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Sights

P.V. is a pretty, coastal town and it really doesn’t take a long time for you to feel relaxed. And in comparison to Cancun, it’s pretty cheap, and that’s why many Americans, Canadians and Mexicans choose P.V. as a holiday destination.

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The beaches are a pretty awesome sight as well. Just be aware that there is a beach with ‘pebbles’/big arse rocks on it, and then there are the sandy beaches as well. Also the waves can get pretty huge unexpectedly as well, as I’ve personally experienced. I just remember one minute that I was standing up in the water, I turned my back to the sea to say something to my friend (school-boy error), and then the next minute I was knocked over, surrounded by water, looking at the light so that I could get out of the water. As a new swimmer who doesn’t feel comfortable in the sea, that was a pretty traumatic experience for me, but I like to think that I played it cool.

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Excursions

There are many different types of excursions that you can go one to suit your taste. There are many stalls and many people walking up and down the beach who will try and sell you the best offer. Your waiter may even hustle in on the action, and claim to know someone who can give you the best deal. My advice would be to shop around different sources, and then haggle. But don’t expect a luxury service if that’s not what you have paid for. For me, the highlight of the trip was what we ended up seeing. Also If your excursion involves travelling from the Port then be prepared to pay a little bit extra to enter the port.

On our first excursion, while half of the people on board went to Las Animas, a beautiful beach that hardly had any people on it, we ventured on to a place called Quimixto to go horse riding to see a waterfall.

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Our next excursion on Christmas Day was to see the Marietas Islands, in particular Playa del Amor, also known as the Hidden Beach. We had a little detour on the way as there were some dolphins and whales that were swimming by, so we stopped to watch them. Once they swam away, we then continued on our journey to Playa del Amor. The beach is a beautiful place, and it was truly awesome to see it. But there were a few downsides though, which you should be aware of.

First of all, despite what photos show you, you will not be the only person on the beach. In fact, you will share the small beach with many, many people, which makes for a very crowded experience. What’s more, you’ll only have 15 minutes to enjoy the beach, as there are so many tour companies that have allotted times to visit the beach. Taking into consideration that you have to swim about 150m to get there, because it’s a protected area, so boats aren’t allowed past a certain point. This is fine, if not long and arduous, if you’re an ok swimmer like myself with a life vest. But it’s a bit more challenging if you don’t swim at all, like my friend and a few other people on the tour. But the tour guides were always there to help you if you got into trouble so that was fine.

The real challenging part of the experience was swimming through the cave. Whenever you tried to swim inside, the current would push you back. There were so many people there, so be prepared to get limbs hitting you left, right and centre. It was particularly dangerous because the water rose every so often, so you risked hitting your head at the top of the cave or you getting pushed under. Therefore you had to time your swim through the cave perfectly. For all I tried, I just couldn’t do it by myself, so a guy encouraged me to grab hold of his lifesaver with a couple of other people. “Fuerte, fuerte,” I remember him shouting. He was telling us to kick harder against the current. It was a huge relief to just be able to lie on the beach after having gone through all of that trauma. Little did I realise that I was walking around half-naked for a good few minutes until someone alerted me to that fact – how embarrassing. Regardless of all the negatives, it really was worth seeing Playa del Amor.

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The cave of doom

After our tour here, we went near one of the other islands to snorkel, kayak or body board. If your tour operator is anything like my one, then they don’t have enough equipment for everyone to kayak or body board at once, so you’ll have to wait until it’s your turn. I went snorkelling, but it wasn’t the best experience I’ve ever had. Even though the facilities and the resources weren’t great, the entertainment on the boat was excellent. I have videos, but I’m not allowed to make them publicly available.

Accomodation

We stayed in a place called Hotel Ana Liz. Even though it was a budget hotel, with our room costing around $390 pesos per night, the location was great. We were only a ten minute walk from the beach and we had everything we needed close by, including a launderette.

Food

There a many restaurants that you can eat at, and a few food stalls that can whet your appetite as well, and although many of them are really good, some of them are only ok. There’s one place in particular that had awesome food and superb service, and that was Bravos. Every time we went in there, we felt like celebrities. This, along with another restaurant that was a few doors away from it, if I remember correctly, quickly became our favourite place to eat.

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Entertainment

There is a lot of entertainment in the area, from groups recreating ancient rituals by the sea, to outdoor plays and comedy acts that you typically see in the evenings in a Mexican town.

There are also a myriad of bars and clubs along the beach, particularly close to the malecon. I particularly loved La Bodeguita del Medio, because of its melodious Cuban vibes, which I love.

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Overall, my friend and I had a great time in P.V. and my experience there is something that I would treasure forever.

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*Aside from the map and the pictures of Playa del Amor, the rest of the photos are mine.

Curiosity

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“Where are you from?

“I’m from London.”

“London?”

“Yep.”

“In England – really? That’s great! Why are you here, in Guaymas?”

That’s pretty much how my first encounter with Mexicans goes, word for word. Well, that’s if they didn’t already ask me if I was from Cuba or Brazil. And this conversation happens quite often, well, less so now here in Guaymas. Guaymas is a small town, especially when compared to London, so I’m pretty sure that most people in the town have already seen me going about my daily errands to ask me whatever questions they may have for me. Therefore it’s definitely not the best place to be if you are trying to avoid somebody, and I’ll talk about that at a later date. Guaymas isn’t even listed in the Lonely Planet Mexico guidebook. And you can see the confusion in people’s faces when I explain that I left my job in London to live and work in Guaymas, a place that they consider to be more ‘boring’ and less prosperous in comparison.

As I’ve already explained in an earlier post, my TEFL teacher friends and I stand out when we hang out together, because we are very clearly not from Mexico and because there isn’t much of a mixture of different ethnic groups here. Since my group of friends mainly consisted of females, we would mainly attract attention from males. Much to the annoyance, or amusement, of two of my friends, because no matter how much the guy persisted in his efforts to win one of them over, they wouldn’t budge, because my two friends are an item.

Quite a few Americans come and go through my area as it’s pretty close to the border and I am pretty sure that Mexicans assume my friends are from the U.S. Mexicans however, don’t have a lot of face-to-face contact with black people, so I’m told, and my friends have pointed out to me the fact that I get a lot of stares. People do come up to me and start speaking to me in Spanish. But when they see the blank expression on my face, they change tactics. So they’ll try and practice their English on me, or they’ll make gestures to try and communicate. For example, someone would gesture for me to dance with them if I was in a club, or gesture for me to take photos with them and all of their family members – as a group and individually, or one time a mother beckoned me with her hand towards her daughter and said (this was translated to me) that her young daughter wanted to hug me. …Yes, you read that correctly, she actually just wanted to hug me… I’ve been told that Mexicans don’t generally point fingers at people because it’s considered rude behaviour, so people haven’t necessarily pointed and stared at me. But you can obviously still point at people by using your words, as one man did, when he walked past me with his daughter in a touristy area in Guadalajara. This is the English equivalent of what he said: “Look child, an African!” I laughed out loud at this father’s statement; that moment couldn’t have felt more surreal.

Then there’s curiosity in the form of hair touching, which can be a pretty touchy subject for black females. Most black women I know would not allow anyone to touch their hair, full stop, no questions asked, because we are not exotic animals that you can stroke and because our hairstyles get easily messed up if someone runs their fingers through our hair. Heck, it even gets messed up if we run our own fingers through our own hair. But how would you know this golden rule if you don’t come in contact with people to tell you this? This is where I personally make exceptions. As much as my eyes twitched when the first kid in the school reached for my hair, I let them do this now without feeling the need to clench my teeth together out of apprehension; just as long as they ask me first. I give a bit more leeway with the younger kids in the school, as they can’t really form the sentences to ask me yet.

“Teacher – muy suave,” one girl excitedly exclaims every single time she touches my hair. Literally, every single time without fail, with the same intonation and everything. “Teacher – very soft,” she means in English.

And I don’t mind adults asking to touch my hair, as long as they ask. It’s actually a nice feeling when people tell you that they like the way you’ve styled your hair, when you know full well that it looks crap, but people don’t know any better because they haven’t been exposed to people with the same hair texture as you. Whereas if you left the house with that same hairstyle, your family and friends would probably die from not being able to breathe as they are laughing at you so much. Yes, I am the ‘you’ that is so often referred to in the above scenarios, and yes, I do get away with a lot of hair offences, unless I decide to film a vlog. Damn technology. But I’m very low maintenance with my hair, and I don’t care too much about it. What I do care about, however, is if I have given you permission to touch my hair and then it’s very noticeably messed up after you harassed it. That happened one time, and I was pissed off. Or, the worst is when no permission is asked at all and I feel my hair being tugged from behind me. That’s happened to me, twice. That really pissed me off. They are lucky they did that to me; they definitely would not have survived if it was another black woman.

All jokes and exaggeration aside though, from the people that I’ve met so far, I can honestly say that Mexicans are generally very friendly and I have never experienced any racism while I’ve been in Mexico, from a Mexican. The only racism I have experience was from a young American teacher on the bus one day. She said: “Don’t people get scared of you and move away because of your darker skin?” I really had no words to waste on her and my conversation with her ended abruptly. But that has not been my experience so far with Mexicans; they have just been very curious.

Discipline

Hi guys!!!!! So this vlog is about discipline at my school, more in my classroom more specifically. I talk about how sometimes this may be hard to carry out, especially if a child has done something that is quite funny.

Kids can be challenging and they can stress you out at time. But you should NOT be a teacher if you think disciplining kids involves throwing objects at them, as one teacher did in another school. This was caught on camera, and she was rightly sacked. I forgot to mention this in the video, so I thought I’d post it here instead.

Enjoy! 🙂

European invasion

Most people’s exposure to the English language in Mexico has been through the U.S., through films, music, tourists and teachers, etc.

And since people, especially in my town, are used to seeing U.S. foreigners, they naturally assumed that my housemates and I were also ‘gringos’ or from some other country until we opened our mouths. Then they were pleasantly surprised to hear that we were collectively from the UK and Spain, Europe, and that we were all English teachers at a local school. They would then say that we’ve travelled far to live and work in Mexico. Going out together as a unit, we obviously stood out and we received a lot of attention, as though we were Z-list celebrities or something. They loved Sara’s Spanish accent, they loved Martin belting out karaoke songs, and they loved the fact that I was black; I’ll go into this in more depth in another post.

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I know that there have been a couple of English teachers from the UK at the school that I teach at, but I’m pretty sure that most of the TEFL teachers have been from the U.S. Even so, our merry crew grew bigger when two more TEFL teachers arrived from England – Laura and Jen. Well actually, they dramatically escaped from the clutches of a draconian Chinese school to arrive in Mexico apparently, but that’s neither here nor there. The fact is that they added a distinctive British flavor to our European mix, with their tea-sipping, curry-cooking ways, and it was just refreshing to have some more fun people to hang out with. Every single one of us in the group had a different accent from England, and our eclectic mix was music to my ears. There’s a common misconception around the world that there is only one British accent, but that couldn’t be further from the truth, and I’m trying to change that one classroom at a time. I’m useless at accents though, so I just use a video instead to demonstrate this.

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If they have the budget to do so, schools around the world often desire to hire native English-speaking teachers, and you can find many of these adverts online. According to this article a few years ago, approximately 250,000 native English speakers work abroad as English teachers in more than 40,000 schools and language institutes around the world. There are a number of advantages for getting native speakers in the classroom. But it doesn’t mean that non-native English-speaking teachers are ‘less superior’, and Sara is an excellent example to demonstrate that they are just as good.

Even though some people become TEFL teachers because they have a genuine desire to teach, I would say that most become TEFL teachers so that they can immerse themselves in another culture and earn money while they travel. And because of this short-term outlook, there is a high turnover rate of TEFL teachers. In my school alone, there were five different teachers over the course of the school year for one post. In general, some teachers leave without warning, as I’ve described in an earlier post, and this can be very disruptive for the children’s learning. Some have unrealistic expectations of what TEFL teaching is all about, and then they decide that they no longer like it. Some people aren’t meant to be teachers, as I’ll discuss later when I talk about how I heard one teacher ‘disciplined’ their kids. Some find better opportunities elsewhere. And even if teachers stay till the end of their contract, most move to another country or city, or they go home; few stay for another year, but this depends on a number of factors, such as your region and your pay. And schools are put under pressure by parents to fill these gaps, especially if the school is a private school. But some schools also treat teachers badly, forcing the teachers to leave. Or they can get rid of teachers at a moment’s notice if they suddenly have alternatives to choose from.

As a group of TEFL teachers, we’ve been on a number of memorable adventures together. A particularly memorable one involved the Mexican police, which was actually my second encounter with the Mexican police, and this will all be explained in another post. As a group, we have also gone through a number of changes, numerically speaking. Sara left, but then a new Irish girl arrived. Her name is Shauna and she has some crazy artistic talent. Laura and Jen left, then our European group declined to three again. Two more people from the UK are due to come in October, so we’ll see what happens then. After umming and ahing for the longest time, I’ve finally decided to stay for another year in the same place. I’ve been told that it will be a lot easier, and that I’ll notice the children’s progress even more. Watch this space.

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Proud Parent

Hi! In this post, I talk about the first time I felt like a proud parent as a TEFL teacher. Who knew I’d feel like this? Maybe my family knew because I cried during The Lion King, and for every sad film since that film they would look in my direction to inspect if my eyes welled up. That’s not to say that I cried or anything, not this time. But anyway, I digress. My kids had to recite English poems in front of a ‘large’ audience.

My Biggest Fear

Hi guys! So, I thought I’d share with you what my biggest fear is in Mexico. For those who know me well, I’ll give you two guesses to figure out what it is before you play the video. But you’ll probably only need one ;-). Enjoy!

Re-introduction

“Ok, so guess which one is the lie,” I excitedly told all of my soon-to-be new kids after I quickly introduced myself.

“My first fact is that I have danced in front of millions. My second fact is that I am in a Hollywood movie, which you will be able to see in cinemas in two years’ time. My third fact is that I have three sisters,” I said, as I stood in front of the class, three different times, for three different grades.

“The first one!” said one girl.

“No!! The second one!” said another.

Others chimed in, and it was amusing to hear their reasons for why they thought their selected ‘fact’ was a lie.

“She can’t be in a movie – come on!” shouted a boy.

“But she has not danced in front of so many people!”

Once I told them that the lie was in fact the third one, that I had three sisters, their mouths dropped and their eyes popped out of their heads.

“You Teacher Miss Monique???!!! What film are you in? Where have you danced in front of millions?” and their questions abounded along those lines. In particular, there was one kid from that day onwards, who persistently asked to see photos and videos of my performances during every. Single. Lesson.

This was the second time that I had to introduce myself to some school children within the space of about two weeks. But this was the first time that I said this to anyone at the school, mainly because my younger kids wouldn’t have really been able to understand the activity.

As mentioned in a previous post, I agreed to teach the 4th, 5th and 6th Grades because a teacher had gone AWOL. And although I was excited about the opportunity to teach older, and hopefully better behaved, kids, I was genuinely sad about abandoning ‘my babies’. I even took photos of their nametags and everything just before I left, like a reminiscent parent who was about to release their ‘child’ into the big, wide world. Or like a sad lonely person; whichever simile you prefer.

I had about an hour to introduce myself and to get to know the kids. I was free to just play games with them, so that’s what I did, and they loved it! I warned them that my classes wouldn’t always be like that. In fact, they would hardly ever be like that. They said that they understood, but I’m not sure if they took heed.

From the time that I introduced myself, I could tell that I would have a lot more fun with the older grades, mainly because I would be able to do more activities with them. And I also thought this, because they seemed “less wild” than the younger kids.

I did have fun with the younger kids though, and as I have already said in an earlier post, I bonded with them in such a short space of time. But because I only taught them for a short time, I thought they would’ve pretty much forgotten about me. But to my surprise, for a good long while at least, most of them, in particular the more ‘challenging’ kids in the class, would run up to me, to greet me with the biggest smile they could put on their face, or with a hug, or with the words, “I love you, Miss Monique”. And although that doesn’t happen so much now, every now and again, a couple of them still run up to hug me, just because.

Hey guys!! So this blog post comes in the form of a vlog, where I’ll be talking about patriotism in Mexican schools. Enjoy! 🙂