Finding the right balance
~ By Katie
So, it has been 7 weeks now teaching in Cesar Mendoza, one of the four public primary schools in Isla Mujeres, Mexico. Starting every morning at 7:30, I teach 1st-4th grade, alternating classes every other day, for a total of eight classes. Needless to say there’s been a ton for me to learn and adapt to. Like, for example, how do you teach the same topic, say, English courtesy expressions, to 1st and 4th graders? Completely different lessons are needed for the same topic to address the different developmental stages of the students. And sometimes, a different approach is needed for the different classes of the same grade. All students are different and its been fun getting to know my students and adapting to their learning styles. These types of adjustments are the sort of thing all of the interns here have been experiencing since the beginning. At Cesar, I’ve had a unique experience that none of the other interns have- the use of a classroom that is all mine.
Starting out I was doing what all the other teachers here do – enter into each different classroom with my materials prepared and teach the students in their usual environment, often alongside their regular teacher. This of course has its benefits: the students are already comfortable and are used to an appropriate school routine. They’re already seated and prepared for class when I walk in the door. In rare cases of difficulty maintaining classroom management, I can turn to their teacher for support. But it also comes with its cons: this classroom is already established and I am effectively an intruder. There are many things present in the classroom unrelated to English that the students can be distracted by. And for me, one very effective method for teaching a foreign language is creating a “English environment”; if the students are unable to actually live and interact in a foreign country where English is spoken, I can at least turn the learning environment into an English place, adorned with reference posters and materials all over the classroom. And this is what I’ve done in the past few weeks with the classroom space I’m allowed access to. I even created an area to be the “English Library”, piled high with books. So far, I’ve found the students love coming to the English classroom. It has been helpful to them and to me to be surrounded by reference materials related to our lessons. I was afraid at first of losing a lot of instructional time in moving the students from one room to another, but luckily they have been excited enough to go that the process runs pretty smoothly. Many students even come in during their recess to read books with me! Only downfalls- for me it can be a bit stressful moving classes back and forth, straightening up, and prepping for the next lesson and class all in the span of 50 minute class periods. As of right now, I’m planning to just bring one or two classes a day to the English classroom and meet my other classes in their rooms, taking turns. That way everyone can benefit from the special resources we have and the days can run smoothly. Its all about finding the right balance!