I have yet to write specifically about my career in teaching ESL here in Mexico. Now that I’m well into Year Six, it’s probably a good time to reflect in writing upon my experiences and my students.
I arrived in Culiacan, Sinaloa, a city larger than my hometown of Winnipeg, on November 2, 2010. It was Day of the Dead, a holiday that I was soon to learn a great deal about. Indeed it has become one of my favorite Mexican holidays. After almost twenty-four hours of travel, while I welcomed the sunshine and the warm climate, I desperately needed sleep.
The following day the Director of English picked me up and we headed over to the private school where I was to teach for the remainder of the school year. Although it was early in the morning, the temperature was nearing 30 Celsius and the humidity was high. Clad in shorts and a tank top, the perspiration poured from my body. My then short hair was drenched. And I gazed out at a sea of uniformed students in their winter apparel–long pants, sweaters and fleece jackets.
My first day in the classroom, I immediately turned on the air-conditioning. To my dismay the students begged me to turn it off as it was winter and they were freezing. Word got out and my other classes saw students arriving with scarves, hats and gloves as they heard that the new teacher had turned on the air-conditioning.
I was also required to wear a uniform consisting of long pants, a shirt and a wool vest. After all, it was winter. As soon as the school day ended, I immediately changed into a tank top and shorts before walking home. On the way home, I’d often stop at an Oxxo and buy a can of Coke, which I held up against my cheeks or my forehead to cool me off as I walked the few blocks to my home. The locals were all friendly and soon grew used to seeing the gringa teacher strolling down the street with a can of Coke plastered to her face.
That first year was challenging. I was teaching secundaria (middle school), and these teenagers were very different from the Canadian teenagers. Not only were they privileged and extremely spoiled, they still struggled with all the other issues that hormones cause at this age. They were not in the least concerned with their future and viewed learning English as a waste of time when they could be doing other things. Out of some 50 students I don’t think there were more than four or five who were actually eager to learn English and saw it as beneficial to their future
The next year found me in Irapuato, a small pueblo in the state of Guanajuato. While it was nice to be in a smaller center, Irapuato had very little to offer. The only real culture there was the futbol stadium that bustled with activity on Saturday nights. I had been hired on a Skype interview to teach sixth grade at a private school. It was apparent shortly after I got there that the job description provided in that interview in no way, shape or form resembled what the administration expected of teachers. They demanded we work longer hours and virtually treated us like slaves. Payday was often delayed as they hadn’t yet gone to the bank, or they didn’t have the correct denominations of bills to pay us. After 2-1/2 months, there was still no contract or health insurance as promised. I left after a little over two months when offered a job in Guadalajara.
I arrived at the bus terminal in Tlaquepaque and secured a taxi. The driver had to stop and ask for directions several times before we finally located the house provided by the school for the teachers. My housemates were a woman in her sixties from Canada, a woman in her twenties from Norway and a man in his twenties from Ireland. It proved to be quite an interesting semester. The Canadian woman was an alcoholic who left for Ecuador a couple of months later. The Irishman wound up in jail and was fired. The woman from Norway and I are still friends, although she moved in with her Mexican boyfriend midway through the semester.
The following semester I remained at the same language institute and had three new housemates, two from Ireland and one from the USA. This semester was very different from the first one. The school had moved us to another location, an office building that had been converted into a house. Although it was closer to the school, it was a disaster! The main level had been rented out to a zumba studio. The second floor had a living room, a small balcony, two bedrooms and a bathroom. The third floor had another two bedrooms, a bathroom and the kitchen. The school was notorious for not paying their bills, so our water was cut off, we had no gas and the Internet was cut off. Then we teachers went on strike as they thought it would be fun not to pay us. Once I was finally paid, I left. Enough is enough.
I also taught business English on site to companies, and really enjoyed that experience. I met interesting people who were actually interested in learning English. I felt badly when I had to return to Canada for surgery as I had really enjoyed my students.
When I returned to Tlaquepaque, I briefly taught at a language institute, but the students were there as it was cheap babysitting for parents. I then began teaching at a language institute where my students were mainly adults, many of them young professionals. I taught there for about a year and a half before returning to Canada for a visit.
When I returned to Mexico this time, I moved to Mazatlan. I taught for a school for a little over a month, but left when, among other things, they refused to assist me in renewing my work visa as promised. I then taught briefly at another language institute. Then a new school opened up and I began teaching there as well. However that school subsequently closed just before Christmas.
Teaching in Mexico has been a fabulous experience; my one year plan is now in year six. There have been challenges……a new language, a different culture, securing a work visa and health insurance. But I have met the most amazing people! And I have had awesome adventures! Right now I can’t fathom living anywhere else.
I have now been in Mazatlan just shy of eight months. I have only one private student at the moment, but have just embarked on yet another career. You’ll have to watch for future posts to learn more.