Working with Students

Working with Students

~ By Gael

It has now been three months since I began teaching English to primary school students here in Playa del Carmen, Mexico. Time really does fly by quickly! As I said in my first blog post, there have continued to be ups and downs, but such is the reality of teaching in any environment, particularly when working with young children who may lose their focus and concentration after 50 minutes of English class on a hot afternoon! On the whole, though, it has undoubtedly continued to be a positive and enriching experience.

Over the past three months, I have gotten to know the kids I work with and each of their classes much better. Some classes, as is to be expected, are somewhat better than others, while there are naturally major differences between students’ learning and behaviour in grade 1 and grades 4 and 5. Over this time, I feel that I have also improved my teaching methods and adapted them to each of the groups. Some strategies don’t work out very well, just as some lessons don’t go as planned. On the other hand, sometimes some strategies and lessons work out surprisingly well just when you weren’t expecting that.

One system which has worked particularly well, especially with younger groups (grades one and two), has been a ‘points system’, whereby the class is always split into two teams – boys and girls – and the teams can gain points for correct answers, good participation, completing their work and good behaviour, or lose points for poor behaviour and not completing their work. The students are always excited by the prospect of gaining points for their teams, and they are truly very happy when they do. This gives them a strong incentive to listen, participate and think harder. It also gives an incentive for them to make sure that their ‘teammates’ are not misbehaving and control their friends, since they don’t want to lose a point. Since these students are always very competitive, the points system creates a fun competitive atmosphere in the classroom which keeps the majority of the students focused, participating and well on track. Often, at the end of the class, a student will come up to me and ask me to tally up the points and announce which side won the day.

At school, to break up the routine, there are sometimes some special events organized. One such event, celebrated in schools across Mexico, was children’s day or día del niño. At my school, the teachers organized several group and class events for their students, as well as a lunch. I had lunch and partook in some activities with one of my grade 2 groups, whose teacher had invited me to join them. The students had lots of fun participating in the various games and the closing ‘dance’, and they liked seeing their English teacher play some of these games with them.

I have gotten to know some of my students better. During recess, many students will come up to me as I wander around the schoolyard and talk to me, sometimes asking me questions they’re curious about or asking “how do you say that in English?” Talking with these students is a fun opportunity for me to learn more about their way of life and their culture. One aspect of Mexican culture is the prevalence of large families, with many young children, and with their parents often very young themselves. This is very different both from my general Canadian culture and more particularly my family, where I’m an only child. Several students, even when they know that I’m only 23 years old, have asked me if I was married and if I had any kids. My answer – no – is sometimes surprising to them. Even more surprising to one student was the fact that I had no brothers and sisters, whereas she had at least three siblings and, as she told me, was about to become an aunt by way of her sister’s baby. Upon remembering that I was not married and that I was an only child, she was very surprised and basically asked me “how do you manage that?” It was an interesting insight into their culture, where family remains very important.