Tag Archive: teaching abroad


My first Mexican carnival

I remember being told about how big ‘Guaymas Carnaval’ is. I was told about how many thousands of people attend over the four-day period, about the party atmosphere that ensues and about the concerts that take place at night. I was also very much looking forward to having some time-off from school. I. Was. Ready!

So my band of friends and I made our way down to downtown Guaymas, and this is just a glimpse of what we saw.

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It was cool to see the parade and to watch the different colourful floats pass by. We even caught a glimpse of a Cuban celebrity, although I still have no idea who she is.

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I think because everyone was hyping up the carnival so much, that it wasn’t as impressive as I had imagined it to be. I was expecting something on par with Nottinghill Carnival in London, or maybe even something as grandiose as Rio’s famous carnival. But it would be unfair to compare these carnivals, because they are so different and arise from different cultures and traditions. The Guaymas Carnival is distinctively Mexican; it boasts about its strong Sonoran traditions and its roots as a port town.

The Guaymas carnival is apparently one of the oldest and biggest in Mexico. It begins on the Thursday before Ash Wednesday and ends at the beginning of Lent.

European immigrants and visitors passed through Guaymas’ port, and with them came the idea to organise a carnival similar to the festivals held in Europe. The first carnival in Guaymas took place in 1888 and was exclusively restricted to the upper classes. The lower classes could only watch the parades, while the main event took place at balls inside mansions.

This changed once the Mexican Revolution took place, and then over time it gradually turned into an event that could be enjoyed by the masses. The carnival is seen as an important cultural event, and in order to preserve this tradition kids have time off from school so that they can participate in, and enjoy, the carnival.

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Overall I had a great time. I danced, a lot, I ate, and I was merry. I met someone who has become a great friend and did I already mention that there was no school? So I really enjoyed my first Mexican carnival. Who knew that I’d actually be participating in the carnival the following year…

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.

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.

The notion of non-English school kids being disciplined and well-behaved is a myth; whoever came up with that idea is a liar and should be punished! In fact, it probably came from some schoolteacher in a desperate bid to try and install some discipline in the classroom.

As I mentioned in a previous post, the picture-perfect image of smiling kids, who eagerly cling on to a teacher’s every word, quickly dissipated. To be fair, my 1st, 2nd and 3rd Graders weren’t children from hell, but they definitely were challenging, particularly the 3rd Graders.

I learnt so much while teaching them during that first full week. I learnt how to think quickly on my feet. For example, if an activity wasn’t working, then I had to change it up a bit on the spot. And who knew that the ABC song would have a pied-piper effect on the 1st Graders? Whenever they heard the song, no matter what activity they were doing at that point in time, or how noisy they were, they would stop immediately without fail, and chime in at the top of their lungs, as if the song triggered some kind of hypnosis.

I’ve already explained in a previous blog post that I don’t have the best memory when it comes to names. During the previous week, I got them to write their names on the board, write their name cards for their cubby holes, and then I wrote their names on a piece of paper. I learnt the names of, shall we say, some of the more disruptive kids in the class first, because of the amount of times I had to say their names. But by the end of the week, I had learnt the names of all 37 of my students, which really was an amazing feat for me as it usually takes me an age to learn just one name. So to learn people’s names in the future, I now know that I not only have to see it written down, I also need to repeat it several times for it to be etched into my brain.

      

I learnt that I’m not actually as bad at drawing as I thought I was. I was pretty much forced to be more creative with my hands, as most of the learning aids that accompanied the course books had apparently been destroyed by a hurricane around five years ago.

   

                                        

I learnt that despite my preconceived idea that younger kids are ‘harder to handle’, the youngest grades weren’t actually that badly behaved; it was the older kids who posed the biggest problem.

I learnt that I apparently only really became a teacher when I was inundated with so much work that I had to stay behind after-hours just to try and catch up with everything. One late afternoon as I was stuck behind my desk, I heard a cackle outside.

“You’re a real teacher now,” Yudith, the 2nd Grade teacher, playfully said with a cheeky grin on her face as she made her way home, because I was still working.

Yudith is quite a character; she makes me laugh and I know that her comment wasn’t malicious. She was one of the first “Spanish teachers” to start talking to me, and she let me borrow her paint so that I could decorate the windows in my classroom, but anyway, I digress.

I learnt about how loving, thoughtful and generous kids could be. I received love from them in the form of a gift, such as a sweet, a flower or even ‘just’ a hug. Teenagers tend to be ‘too cool’ to show this kind of affection and appreciation, but I discovered how unashamed ‘my kids’ were to express these feelings. I learnt about their capacity to ‘forgive’. I would tell someone off for doing something and they would huff and puff about getting into trouble, but the very next day they would act as if nothing happened and that everything in their world was bright and rosy, until they got into trouble again.

And finally, I discovered that I could bond with the kids so much so, that I felt as though I was their parent. I genuinely felt proud and happy for the children once I could see that ‘aha moment’ in their eyes and their expressions – the moment that they understood what I was teaching them. I had to stop arguments and then get them to ‘make up’ or at least tolerate each other. I saw them at their most vulnerable points, such as when I consoled them as they cried; I had to do all sorts. And even though at times they got on my last nerve, they were my kids. And I didn’t fully realise that I had this feeling until I had to think really hard about leaving them, when I was offered to teach the older grades, as an opening suddenly arose…