Against the Grain

Tips for Surviving and Thriving in the Mexican Education System

~ By Mario

Sitting in the Teacher’s Lounge today, I found myself in a concerning yet slightly comical situation regarding how the administration handles education at my school.  We were celebrating the Birthday of my director with a cake while teachers from “first recess” (which the school isn’t allowed to do by law) overstayed their break by 30 minutes.  Additionally, children outside the door were knocking and asking when the teacher’s would return to the classroom (which they were supposed to do), only to be told to go away and enjoy their recess.  To top it all off, the director started a conversation suggesting to ring the end-of-the-day bell at 11:40 instead of 11:45 since the parents arrive at the school anyway (school is supposed to end at 12:00 by law).  I couldn’t help but laughing while all of this was going on as it perfectly represented the lack of accountability and motivation on the part of my school and Mexico.  All too common, teachers and administration shirk their duties in favor of being more laidback about their jobs.  However, an outsider such as myself is still able to succeed as an English teacher through following a few simple suggestions which keep you on the straight and narrow while providing students what is promised and needed.

1. It’s up to you!  Self-motivation is the single most important step in being a teacher in a Mexican primary school.  Due to a lack of accountability on part of the administration, it’s easy to fall into a routine of overstaying lunch, walking through the gates late, or even failing to prepare a solid lesson.  As a teacher should be passionate about education and providing for their children, count on yourself as the one to do this.  Be the one to ring the bell on time or at least ask teachers when they plan on letting the students back in their classrooms.  Have student volunteers pass out materials or help with writing on the board for the morning routine (it’s hard to find the students at a lack of motivation during English)!  Bring in prizes such as pencils and stickers to motivate students to participate and use English in the classroom.  Although none of these suggestions are required, your motivation reflects on student enthusiasm and performance.

2. Don’t worry about others.  At my school (especially during the last month of classes), many teachers have been missing classes or flat out missing a few days of giving class without anyone finding a substitute teacher.  Though I could easily do that same without anyone batting an eye, students need attention and consistency in order to excel in school and feel like their efforts are worth it.  Be on time, only miss school if there’s a good reason, and maintain your enthusiasm no matter your personal feelings for the day.  By putting the students first, English becomes their most enjoyable and anticipated part of the day.

3. Make it fun!  When teaching an English lesson to elementary school students, there seems to be more room for creativity and fun since getting them interested is the #1 priority.  As the PNIEB states, the main goal of Cycle 1 (Grades 1 and 2) is having the students create a positive a positive association with learning English.  Play games, sing songs, hang up quality work of students, and listen to some student suggestions to spice up the classroom.  When the students are having fun, you’re having fun.

These are some tips I’ve learned firsthand in order to curb the apathetic atmosphere of my school and make English a productive and fun part of the students’ day.  Even if you don’t find your school lacking motivation, most of these suggestions are still applicable to creating a quality learning experience.  As these tips aren’t limited to schools in Mexico, I’ll return to the United States with motivation and a new appreciation for education.