Tag Archives: Teaching 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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Juggling all the eggs in one basket

small-poppins

So it’s been just over a month since the beginning of the school year and my schedule has me running around like a chicken with its head cut off. This year, at the school I work at, I’ve had the owners hire a second English teacher to cover the kindergarten classes and first grade. I continue to teach second grade through sixth grade. I thought it would free up my time some so I didn’t feel like I was dying at the end of each day like last year when I taught 2 kindergarten classes and five elementary classes (I combined some of the groups into mammoth groups to accommodate the school day and my availability). However, although I’ve given up some tasks, I have taken up others.

Instead of teaching kindergarten, I designed the curriculum and textbooks that the kindergarten will be using for all 4 levels, maternal, first, second and third grade. That took more than a few hours of my already limited time. I like doing that sort of work, but it doesn’t compare to the joy of teaching the little lovely happy souls ages 2-6.

The curriculum is already in place for first grade, but it’s been challenging to bring the new teacher up to speed. She’s had more experience at teaching kindergarten than elementary and the additional requirements that come with elementary teaching include things like diagnostic tests, parent meetings, grading with numbers rather than excellent, very good, good, regular, deficient and so on and new to her. Plus, the textbook we use comes with video and computer game components and she’s not really tech savvy. I’m glad that she’s open to learning these things, but it means more work for me at the moment.

Then there’s the pay. I’ve been making less money for more work each year I work in the Mexican school system. When I started, I made 85 pesos per hour and had 8 weeks off in the summer. Now I make 70 pesos per hour and have 4 weeks off in the summer. Of course, everything else has gone up in price during that time. Tortillas used to cost 6 pesos per kilo, now they are 13 pesos per kilo. And the peso had devalued to 19 per US dollar what seems like permanently now.

I’m also supposed to get a provisional teaching license from Guanajuato. Because of all these educational reforms, I’ll need to take the official exam too. The thing is, everybody knows the system is rigged. Several teachers I know that took the exam last year and passed, this year took the same exam and didn’t. What’s up with that? The list of requirements SEP requests keeps getting longer and longer and each required document has a price. So is it really worth it when I make $68.75 USD per week?

mototeacher

Then there are my private and Saturday classes. Since I’ve been working online, I decided to only teach private classes on Wednesday and Thursday during the week. I only kept my long-term students. However, lately, students have been canceling left and right. I have 7 classes scheduled for those two days, last week, I only taught 4. The same thing happens on Saturday. I have 4 scheduled for Saturdays, last week I only taught 1. If I were depending on these “regular” classes for my weekly income, we’d surely starve to death. Not to mention I haven’t raised my prices since I started. I still only charge $50 pesos per class, per student, per hour. That’s $2.64 USD per hour.

Camille Online

You might think that my online classes are my salvation. After all, they pay in US dollars. However, I’ve had internet connection issues this month. One day, my internet dropped just for a minute. I was able to return to the class, but my audio wasn’t working. The tech person instructed me to restart my computer, so I did. Only when I did, Windows 10 decided it needed to do updates. My computer was out of commission for over an hour while they installed. Then another day, the internet went out 10 minutes before my scheduled shift, in the entire town. It returned the moment my shift was over. Then, I’m only scheduled for about 10 hours per week, although Labor day weekend vacation requests bumped my schedule up to 15 hours. It’s not enough to live on, dollars or not. Plus, if the internet continues to be so unreliable, I’m pretty sure I’ll get fired.

I haven’t come up with any good solutions yet. I’ve committed to this schedule until December, then I’ll have to reevaluate the value of my time. Suggestions anyone?

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Christmas in México–Elementary Event

carolers

After the morning’s kindergarten event, I went and hid in my classroom awhile to rest. The elementary event was scheduled for 6 pm the same day. It made for an extremely LONG day.

Initially, I thought I would be singing with fourth, fifth and sixth graders, so I picked the song “We wish you a Merry Christmas.” I imagined a mini-skit. A group of carolers arrives at a house, and a couple comes out to enjoy the singing, afterward rewards the singers with a little food and drink. Seems simple enough, right?

I expect you have read enough of my posts to realize by now that things don’t often go as I imagine. The principal informed me on December 1 that I would be responsible for teaching the carol to third grade as the rest of the students already had parts in the Christmas play. That only proved my suspicion again that he doesn’t like me. Third grade is a particularly challenging group. I have been struggling to teach them since the beginning of the school year. They are all very intelligent but so concerned about other students in the class that they spend most of the class either insulting other students or getting up to hit the insulter, making discipline very challenging.

Of course, the first rehearsal went poorly. I sent for the principal. He’s a big guy and makes quite an imposing sight. When he entered, the class quieted down enough for me to explain what we were going to do. I had to redesign the skit. Now instead of a couple in the house, I would have the girls be the householders. There are only 3 of them. The rest of the class are boys. So the boys would be the carolers.

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Now we needed a house. I asked my art friend Claudia to make me a house. She outdid herself on this project. I ended up with a nearly club house-sized gingerbread house. I told the kids that they were in charge of protecting the house from the other students as kind of reverse psychology. It didn’t work. The first time I showed the third graders their house, various adornments were damaged. I had Claudia come again and fix it. I didn’t take it out of hiding until the dress rehearsal, then I hid it again, just in case. I wanted it to at least survive the event. It did cost me a pretty penny after all.

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I also had the kids cover a cup with aluminum foil for the “cup of good cheer” and make a music book with the words inside–just in case they couldn’t remember the song when they were actually in front of a crowd.

We spent 2 weeks rehearsing daily. Oh, the agony of it! I had the boys form two lines, short and tall, and put the most troublesome at the head of the line. Every single day, I had to remind them what they were supposed to do. Line up, enter the scene, spread out, say Merry Christmas, look at me and my finger counting to begin and sing. Then pause after the request for figgy pudding and a cup of good cheer for the girls to bring their refreshments. Look at me again, watch for my finger counting, sing the last verse and exit stage right. It felt like I was trying to teach a herd of cattle ballet.

I only agreed to continue if the principal was present in each and every rehearsal. He didn’t have any choice to accept. That helped some.

Two days before the event we had the full rehearsal. It was just plain awful. We waited around 40 minutes before it was even our turn. By that time, the kids were running around much like chickens with their heads cut off. I finally got them more or less arranged, and then the clown in the back started to sing as fast as he possibly could, throwing off the rhythm of the rest of the singers. I threw in the towel with that. I just walked off, told the coordinator that 3rd grade was not able to participate at this time, and hauled my gingerbread house off the scene.

The next morning, I gave it another go. They did everything exactly right! I was so hyped! Now, to just get through that afternoon’s performance!

I arrived early. Actually, I didn’t ever leave. No one came to pick up little P after school, so I stayed with her until I was able to get ahold of someone at 4:30, three hours after school let out. As the kids began arriving for the event, I positioned myself right next to my gingerbread house. I was determined to see that nobody knocked it over and trampled on it prior to the event. I glared at every little brother or sister who dared approach. The school kids gave me a wide berth as well.

The event started late, as expected. The play part went just fine–no major mishaps. Suddenly it was my turn, and I wasn’t ready! I hurried over to the kids and marched them around the audience. We had a pile up at the gingerbread house. The boys wanted their own music books. I kept telling them that it didn’t matter whose book it was, the music was the same, but it did delay things a bit.

All three girls were present. However, more than half the boys were missing. Well, it couldn’t be helped. We’d perform as we were. They did fine–singing acapella rather than with music–everybody was happy–especially me now that it was over. I marched them back to their places and sat down to enjoy the next few songs performed by the music teacher.

Santa Claus made an appearance again–this time with Mrs. Claus. She read a longish letter that asked for health for all the teachers and the director for Christmas. The kids received a bag of candies. Fights broke out in the receiving line and Santa had to step in to settle the kids down. Then it was officially finished.

The director invited everyone to enjoy corundas and ponche, only the corundas hadn’t arrived yet. I went and made myself useful serving ponche while keeping an eye on the gingerbread house. Three-fourths of the attendees left after their cup of ponche, off to their own posadas. The corundas did finally arrive and those of us that remained enjoyed them immensely.

I headed home at about 7 pm. My frigid moto ride was considerably longer due to road closures and posada parades. I nearly wrecked when I met a procession headed by a giant illuminated star on a stick at the corner. As I got further out of town, there were fewer hazards to contend with. I got home and went straight to bed.

See why teachers aren’t big fans of school events?

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    Have a Christmas in Mexico themed blog post?

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Mexican Educational Reform and Political Wrangling

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The last Friday of every month during the school year, except December and Semana Santa, is the dreaded CTE (Consejo Technico Educativo) meeting for teachers formerly known as Organo Colegiado Escolar (OCE).

The now redesigned CTE meetings are a direct result of recent educational reforms passed into law by the esteemed Mexican President Pena-Nieto. In theory, additional teacher training is a good idea. After all, the Mexican educational system definitely has room for improvement. But…..

The CTE forum is based on a teacher training program used in Chile, modified to suit the Mexican government’s agenda. Instead of open and frank discussion and problem-solving, the content of the CTE meetings is carefully orchestrated by the Ministry of Public Education (SEP). Each meeting is to focus on a reglamento (statute) and there is no room for individual school differences based on the assumption that the teachers, students, and schools in Oaxaca and those in Mexico D.F. are equal in every way. Everybody must be on the same page as the program progresses. (Educational Reform and State Power in Mexico)

In addition, each school is to submit a proyecto escolar (school project) complete with short and long term goals. Again, in theory, that seems reasonable. However, the school projects must be approved or the school risks losing accreditation. So it’s no surprise that the projects are, more often than not, chosen from a government approved list rather than designed by each school to meet its needs.

As if that isn’t enough, individual teachers are required to submit el plan de maestro (teacher’s plan) which demonstrates how each teacher plans on incorporating the school project and reglamentos (statutes) set up by the CTE into his or her teaching.

control education

So we have this 3-tiered plan of action in school reformation which sounds progressive, to be sure. However, government control is rampant. Subject matter is carefully monitored. Textbooks are issued by SEP and both teachers and schools must render an accounting at the end of the school year. The CTE meetings are yet another way the federal government of Mexico is exerting its influence on the educational system.

The national news has been highlighting some questionable activities on the part of teachers to support the new reforms. One practice that surprised me was the passing on of teaching degrees to the children of the teachers who had obtained them. The teaching credentials are considered an inheritance much as a title of Don was under Spanish rule. But that age-old tradition took a back seat to other “concerns.” Probably because nepotism is alive and well here in Mexico.

Fun Fact for ya–Did you know that the current president is related to four former governors in his state and that his cousin took over his governorship when he was elected as president?

abusometro

Another less than kosher practice was discovered when a census of current teachers was conducted. There were thousands of teachers throughout Mexico that were receiving government pay for teaching at non-existent schools. Reportedly there were even 70 teachers nationwide earning more than the President himself. I find that hard to believe. Perhaps the dean of UNAM could be raking in those big bucks. But really, even the Mexican Institute for Competitiveness (IMCO) reported that the average teacher’s monthly salary at only about $2,000 USD. Being a teacher myself, I find this estimate still too high.

poor teacher

Looking at another source, the World Salaries comparison reports Mexican teachers earn between $651 USD and $1,018 USD. That seems to me a far more believable figure since my own teacher salary is under even that amount. The inflated IMCO figures have been used to prejudice the general public against teachers. Based on those figures, the agency reports that teachers are the highest paid occupation in Mexico. That’s an eye opener for ya! I’d like to see the census of politicians receiving excessive pay and compare their paychecks before I make any judgment on this particular issue. (See Mexican Officials Feather their Nests while Decrying US Immigration Policy)

Just as an interesting side note—Did you know that the current president of Mexico receives somewhere between $13,307 USD and $20, 857 USD each month before taxes? Nobody seems clear on the exact figure of Sr. Pena-Nieto’s salary. Did you know that the current president will continue to receive a lifelong pension after his term ends? Did you know that there are currently 5 ex-presidents receiving this lifelong pension?

Then another 1,440 teachers in Hidalgo all had the same birthday and were over 100 years old. Those dastardly teachers! However, the state officials clarified that those marked with the birthdate December 12, 1912 have child support deducted from their salaries and the birthday is a way of noting that.

Another little tidbit–Pena-Nieto has been accused of being a deadbeat dad. He fathered an illegitimate son in 2005, while married to his first wife (who died under mysterious circumstances in 2007). He claims he pays up, but the mother of his child disagrees and outed him on Facebook in 2012.

Finally, there was the recent arrest of the former president of SNTE teacher’s union for embezzlement. Elba Esther Gordillo even made Forbes Most Corrupt People in Mexico list. But don’t worry, it’s not just teachers that are corrupt. Pena-Nieto’s own uncle, Arturo Montiel Rojas, also made the list.

reform

So based on these questionable teacher practices, the federal government has stepped up their vigilance. There has been extreme resistance to reforms from the National Union of Education Workers (SNTE) and the National Committee of Education Workers (CNTE), but not for the reasons that are often publicized.

For instance, one of the new requirements will be the mandatory testing of all teachers, principals, counselors and staff. The assessment designed by the National Institutes for Educational Evaluation (INEE) must be satisfactorily completed during a two-year period. If teachers do not pass, they will no longer be allowed to teach, but will be assigned administrative positions or be forced to accept voluntary retirement. A teacher that does not take the test will not be allowed to continue in his or her current position.

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The SNTE and CNTE are not opposed to teacher testing but insist that this will not solve the underlying problems in the Mexican education system. One teacher described the situation in this allegory paraphrased below:

‘The government has seen that our students are in an educational “bus” that is in poor condition, like the trambillas (chicken buses). The shocks are gone, the brakes don’t work, the steering wheel is loose, the floor is rusted through and so on. The government sees that our children take this bus over a rough road, hardly even a road, full of dangerous curves, holes, steep cliffs and so on (Mexican society) So the government’s solution to this is to take the driver of the bus (the teacher), give him a new suit, a fancy cap, train him to fly planes even. Then, after all that specialized training put him back in the same bus that runs over the same road. The problems that the educational system face are not being addressed in additional teacher training.’–Professor Alberto at the November 27th CTE multi-grade meeting in Moroleon.

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Another issue that protesting groups highlight is the top-down approach to educational reform as demonstrated in the CTE sessions and the national exams. The teacher unions insist that exams should be created from the bottom-up with teachers in the classroom contributing to state-administered exams that take into account the disparity of income, culture and even language found throughout Mexico.

While Mexico has eliminated the yearly national exam called ENLACE, the National Institute for the Evaluation of Education (INEE) began implementation of another exam administered to sixth graders in elementary school, third-year secondary students (ninth graders) and third-year high school students (12th graders) called PLANEA.

At our last CTE meeting, we were given a chart that showed the results of the PLANEA from last year. Guanajuato state was next to last for the results of this exam. The top performing district was Mexico City, followed by Colima.

Ok, looking at just that information–

Mexico City is the 8th wealthiest city in the world. Schools within the district are under the domain of the federal government rather than State control. So it would be safe to bet that schools are more than adequately equipped with all the modern doodads that make learning interactive and fun. Federal teachers are paid much higher than State teachers, another incentive there.  And as the federal curriculum comes from the same source the PLANEA, students taught that curriculum are in a good position to score well on the exam.

Colima, ranking in a #2 on the PLANEA exams is Mexico’s fourth smallest state and the second-lowest population but is considered to have the highest standard of living and lowest unemployment rate in Mexico. Again, it seems that the prize goes to the elite. Within the state, there are only 307 preschools, 510 elementary schools, 131 middle schools and 57 high schools.

Now let’s look at Guanajuato, ranking next to last on the PLANEA exams. This state has over 4,000 preschools, 4,600 elementary schools, 1400 middle schools and 650 high schools. Aren’t we comparing apples to oranges here?

All in all, based on the results of the PLANEA only 12% of students in Mexico have adequate academic skills. At the last CTE meeting, teachers of Guanajuato, me being one, were berated for the low scores because it has to be the teachers fault, right? (See Mexico Public Education: New Student Achievement Test Finds Elementary and Middle School Students Still Perform Poorly)

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But what’s this all about really? Here are some headlines that you might not have seen with all this publicity on educational reform–

Mexico Plans to Eliminate 246 Social Programs in 2016

Nearly a Dozen Dead After Violent Few Days in Mexico’s Guerrero

Mexican President Has Spent Almost $1 Billion in Publicity
Mexican Lawmakers Demand Peña Nieto Declare Financial Assets
Violence, Impunity in Mexico Put Governance, Democracy at Risk

Drug Violence Fueling Displacement in Guerrero, Mexico

Mexico readies for 2016 Domestic Drug Policy Debate
Leaked Intelligence Points to Top Level Corruption in El Chapo Escape

Pemex: Oil Theft Up by 44% in Mexico

Mexico Local Officials Behind Mass Grave in Morelos

The Implications of Mexico’s Rising Deportations

No Keystone, No Problem: TansCanada Turns to Mexico Expansion

Violence, drugs dash Mexico Triqui people’s dream of new start far from home

Yes,’ Carlos Slim Is Linked to Drug Trafficking

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