Tag Archives: Teaching English in Mexico

Transition year

mototeacher

If you recall, a few months ago, I outlined my busy work schedule (Juggling all the eggs in one basket) and wondered if really these things were worth the effort I was putting into them.  I decided shortly thereafter that they were not.  Thus began the transition year.

The first to go was my Saturday classes. (See Saturday classes)  Some days I had been pulling in a whopping $600 pesos, but more often, I had a single class.  $50 for a 6 hour day was not profitable.  So when my student finished the book we were working with, I told his mother that I was going to take a break from teaching on Saturdays.  She and her 8-year-old son were disappointed, but I consoled them that I may start up again in the Spring.  The uncle, who had been my student but gave his hour to the nephew, sent me an email demanding to know why I wasn’t going to teach English anymore.  I explained that I was still teaching English, just not on Saturday mornings.  I had too many other obligations and I needed more time to do things like laundry and shopping.  He wasn’t happy.  Oh well.  Can’t please everyone.

I still taught online Saturday afternoons, but I wanted to transition to my new place in Sunflower Valley (See A Room of Her Own).  It took over a month, but I finally was able to make the little house my base of operations rather than the school.  Having a kitchen made the afternoons easier.  There’s a little store across the street, so whipping up a light meal for a hungry teenager boy was more manageable.

Then I started dropping my afternoon private classes one by one.  The first to go was in mid-November.  We finished our book and that was that.  She begged and pleaded that I not abandon her.  I told her that I’d start teaching in the spring but that if she really wanted classes, she’d have to come to my little place in Sunflower Valley.  She said she would. We would see.  That freed up 2 hours a week.

Then in December, right before Las Posadas, I dropped the other 3.  All of them said that yes, it would be a good idea that I took a break, but that they didn’t want to lose their classes.  Maybe I could drop everyone else, and just teach them?  When I said that I really was planning an extended break, like maybe until Semana Santa, their eyes went wide and said, well, they’d be waiting here for me to return and give them classes again. That freed up 2 afternoons per week.

I didn’t start teaching afternoon classes after Semana Santa. Instead, I began going through my things at the school, readying it for my final transition.  I reviewed the supplementary books I had made for each grade level for errors and changes.  I also checked that there were assessments and exams and grade sheets for each unit of all 6 levels.  I would be leaving the entire system in place for whoever takes my place.

Finally, in July, I told the owners that for health reasons I would not be returning the following school year.  It’s not that I hated my job at the school.  After all, I had designed the entire ESL program myself.  I was getting some results, not as much as I would have liked, but some.  I had my own classroom, which is a rare perk in the schools around here.  Yet, at $65 USD per week, it was not in my best interest to continue. The health problem wasn’t invented.  I’m really working myself to death at this rate.  

I interviewed and recommended 2 teachers, one for first, second and third grade, and the other for fourth, fifth and sixth grade.  Yep, two teachers were needed to replace me.  I agreed to do a training session with them in August before everyone returns to classes.

The owner asked if I would consider staying and teaching at least 2 groups or at least the phonics classes since the main focus is pronunciation there.  Nothing doing.  I would, however, make a book for the sixth-grade group for the new teacher to use.  And if I got around to it, make a recording for the phonics books.

My first schedule with my newest online job came out the week after we finished classes.  Twenty-six hours paid in US dollars.  So provided I have a full schedule each week (and with online work nothing is a given) I’ll nearly triple my income for half the work and less than half the time.  

Hasta la vista baby!

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Failing at your own business–University courses

A University education is not all it's cracked up to be.

A University education is not all it’s cracked up to be.

I’m pretty famous around here. People recognize me all the time. Some people know me because my involvement with my making La Yacata a better place campaigns. (See The Beginning of the Revolution) But most people remember me from one of the 4 schools I’ve worked in over the years. (See Learning and Teaching) Those people that remember me often recommend me to other people, who then remember me on down the line when someone else they know would benefit from my skills.

That’s how I came to be involved in University courses. The parent of one of the students I taught, recommended me to his sister who was studying for her master’s degree in Queretaro. Now, I’m the go-to girl when it comes to English dilemmas.

Here’s what I offer for those higher learners in need of English assistance.

I offer a TOEFL preparation course. I charge 50 pesos per hour and another 50 pesos for a copy of the TOEFL book exercises. Students do better if they answer the questions on their own time and then we go over the correct answers together. I explain grammar points that they are having problems with and offer suggestions on how to best eliminate incorrect answers. I also offer a separate listening course for motivated students. Unfortunately, it seems quite a number of students are looking for TOEFL miracles three days before the exam. I do what I can, but stress that three weeks before the exam would make for a better preparation.

Other students need some help with their actual courses. A good number of the University level business courses have a textbook entirely in English. Most of the students are not up to that level of English reading, so they come to me to see what I can do to get them through the course.

I offer a summary service. I will read the chapter, unit, essay, study, or textbook and write a summary of the material, highlighting important facts. I charge 50 pesos per hour, not per page. My summary is in English. I have had students that want me to write it in Spanish, but I really don’t think my Spanish is up to scratch. I tell them to plug my summary into an on-line translator if they can’t manage it. I expect there are people out there who are busy translating these textbooks, etc, and making bootlegged copies to sell. I’ve lost a client or two after they found a Spanish version someplace. I’m ok with that. It’s a huge time commitment. I’d rather do about anything else than spend hours hunched over the computer. But the money is good.

Most recently, I’ve broadened my offerings to include on-line courses. A former student of mine recommended me to a co-worker. The co-worker called me in mid-March and asked if I could help prepare her for the TOEIC exam that she was going to take on Saturday. It was Thursday night. I told her that I did not have any time slots available for her. I don’t do emergency English classes. She went ahead and took the test, failing miserably. After Spring break, she called me again and wanted to meet. I told her that I was not familiar with the TOEIC test, but that I did have an available time on Saturday afternoon.

After blah-blahing for about 20 minutes about the aggravation of having to take the exam to qualify for her diploma, asked me if I would do the on-line English course for her. Here’s the low-down. She would get 700 points towards her TOEIC exam for completing the on-line course that cost 1,500 pesos per month. She had 3 months to complete the course before retaking the TOEIC exam. She would only need to score 200 points on the actual exam to pass and receive her Licenciatura in Business. The exam was the final requirement, otherwise, she would lose out the thousands of pesos she had already shelled out for the application and thesis requirements.

I said I would, with the understanding that I would charge 50 pesos per hour. She asked me to make a few errors so that it looked as if she were taking the course. She gave me the password and the go-ahead and I went ahead.

This was no measly ESL course. It was a bona fide Business English advanced level course with a few grammar activities thrown in for good measure. The course had 10 parts. Each part had 4 Units. Each Unit had 5 activities. Some of the activities were two-parters, essays or on-line research activities.

How many were going to St. Ives?

In addition, she wanted me to create a study guide so that she could be better prepared to earn those 200 points when the time came. When I sent the first week’s study guide, she was put-out that it wasn’t in Spanish. Nothing doing. I wouldn’t have time for that and told her so.

It took 10 weeks for me to complete the course. I worked every spare minute of internet access on it. I averaged 10-12 hours per week. Some weeks she would come and tell me to “echale ganas” and get it done as quickly as possible. Other weeks she would caress the money in her hand at pay up time and tell me it was “bien ganado” a little resentfully. One week I had class cancellations and logged 20 hours of course time, which amounted be 1000 pesos of hard-earned cash. I think she died a little death when I sent her that bill. She certainly delayed long enough, not stopping by with the cash until Thursday of the following week.

Saturday of week 9, she sent a frantic text message asking when I would have the course finished because she needed money to buy some textbook or other and it would cost $1300. I told her it would be done when it was done, by Wednesday at the latest. She wanted to know how many hours I would be working on the course. She also wanted a perfect score on the course now–no more intentional errors. She would get the full 700 points with a 100%, otherwise, she would get fewer points for the course and have to earn more with the actual exam.

I was feeling not only a little pressured but also a bit annoyed and suspicious. I redid the less than perfect activities and sent my hours when I finished the course, but not the final 3 essays. If she decided not to pay me for the work I’d done, I’d, at least, have the last laugh.

She didn’t appear until the following Thursday. She thanked me for my work, complained again about having to do the course in the first place, and told me if she ever needed another course done, she’d come to me. She also paid me! WHOOPEE! I sent the missing essays the next morning, officially ending our business relationship.

I was so relieved to be done with this project. I earned over 5000 pesos during this 10-week period, all of which I spent gleefully on various and sundry goods. Now, I have a baseline price to give prospective clients that want me to complete this course for them. I also cut and paste the exercises from the course and offer Business English and TOEIC preparation courses on Saturday afternoons. (See Failing at your own business–Saturday classes). I can’t wait to see what other opportunity presents itself!

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Learning and Teaching Summer Course–Year 2–Teaching Agriculture

summer course 2013

I had an incredible inspiration for how I wanted to teach English for the second summer course. The owners of the school had bought the vacant lot next door, and it would be just the thing to plant.. All my teaching would be centered around the hands-on growing activities. I was so excited!

searching for corn

We had enough students to divide the class into two. Ages 4-8 were in one class. Ages 9-13 in another class. We offered music, P.E., art, and computer classes as well. I had to make some modifications for the difference in the age groups, but not much.

toiliet paper seedlings

So we planted. We planted starter seeds in toilet paper tubes. We planted test plants (one with no sun, one with no water, one with too much water, one well cared for) in soda bottles. We planted corn, beans and squash (See also Planting with the three sisters) in the vacant lot. We also planted sunflowers, but they didn’t really grow.

plowing

We brought Fiona, our donkey, to till up the lot. My husband, son and I actually came the day before to work the land because the dirt was packed down. The kids didn’t care that they weren’t actually breaking ground. They loved following Fiona around.starters

Then we planted, watered, weeded, added fertilizer when the plants yellowed and tromped merrily through the mud every other day. On inside days, this was the rainy season, after all, we learned about plant parts, discovered the difference between fruit and vegetables, attended to our indoor seedlings, learned about beneficial insects and the growing process, sang and generally had a good time. When our seedlings were ready, we transplanted them into pots they had made in art class.

transplant

The final day of class we invited the parents to see what we had learned. Each child received a sprouting tomato plant to grow in their backyard. Since the corn was not yet ready for harvesting, we invited everyone back in October for a Harvest Festival, which was another smashing success. We played wheelbarrow, rode Fiona, picked and toasted our very own corn, had sack races and enjoyed ourselves immensely.

wheelbarrow

It may seem strange that this type of activity was so enjoyable to semi-rural Mexican children. It just so happens that this particular group of students were townies, at least, 2 generations removed from the farmers their grandparents were. Moroleon had an industrial boom some time back and now all the adults work in clothing factories, not in the fields. In just one generation, the children had lost their connection to the natural world and oh the joy in rediscovering it!

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