How to Make Teaching English in Mexico a Reality Part 2

First Published on Mexico Connect
October 1, 2006

How to Make Teaching English in Mexico a Reality

Part 2 – in Mexico

By Julia Taylor

Marketing Yourself

So once you are in your new home town how do you impress the directors of the local language schools? First of all, it is important to remember that while this is a big adventure for you, it’s real life for the people with whom you will be working. You must be as professional in Mexico as you would be back home.

Stop by the schools you are interested in working for and bring your resume. Be well dressed and respectful. Generally there will be plenty of multi-lingual people at the school so your résumé can be in either English or Spanish.

Before starting out on your job search, be sure that you have a reliable message phone since many schools will ask you to leave your résumé at the front desk, so they can review it before meeting you. Once they decide that they are interested in hiring you and have a position open, they will contact you for an appointment. Don’t assume that the school will have a lot of time to locate you. Sometimes language centers have to open classes at the last minute and find that they need a teacher to fill a need for a new group that is opening immediately.

Abel Guadarrama, academic director of New Lingua Centro de Idiomas in Cuernavaca, says that he first reads a person’s résumé, then makes an appointment with the prospective teacher. Like many schools, his school requires a bachelor’s degree, but doesn’t require education or experience in teaching. “It’s easier to work with people without experience [in teaching] than with it because experienced teachers tend to use traditional [teaching] concepts.”

When he looks at a person’s resume he likes to see evidence that the teacher would be open to new ideas, sociable, confident, and good at relating to people. A bachelor’s degree in social sciences, for example, would draw his attention because he likes to provide training for his new employees and he finds that people in the social sciences tend to be open minded and can quickly adapt to the communicative methodology used in his school. This is typical of many schools in Mexico when they are hiring foreigners. If this describes you, you won’t have a hard time finding the right English teaching job in Mexico.

Once you have caught the attention of a school, they will often ask you to create and give a short demo class. While New Lingua provides some training to teachers prior to asking them to give a demo class, it is actually more common for schools to use demo classes as a screening before hiring a teacher. This is the case at the Angloamericano Centro Universitario of Cuernavaca.

Catalina Hernandez, the Academic Facilitator there says that the most common mistake made in demo classes is being too teacher centered, meaning that the “interaction is teacher-students, teacher-students and [the teachers] talk a lot.” While Catalina does look for teaching experience or classes related to teaching, she also expects that teachers use newer teaching methodology in which it is students who should talk in a language class, not the teachers. (See the upcoming article “How to Plan Realistic, Communicative Practices in the ESL Classroom” also by Julia Taylor on Mexico Connect.)

Selecting a School – You’re Shopping as well as Marketing Yourself

Your Options
You have several options of teaching environments from which to choose. You could teach children or adults. You could work in a school that provides general education, such as an elementary, high school, or university or you could work in a language center that provides language courses for company employees or members of the community. Finally, you could give freelance classes at your home or the homes or businesses of your students.

Elementary School – Advantages
Teaching children at a bilingual elementary school provides a very stable schedule and income. The hours are generally from 7:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. As an elementary school teacher you will probably be required to teach particular subjects in English, rather than teaching English itself. For example, you may teach social studies and history in English.

Elementary School – Disadvantages
If you are not already an elementary school teacher, you may find the job too demanding. Children require teaching methodology specially targeted at their developmental level and trying to learn this at the same time that you are adapting to a completely new culture may spell disaster.

Language Center – Advantages
Working at a language center allows you to work with adults (and sometimes teens or children, depending on the school) giving classes whose objective are to teach the students to speak, read and write English. Non-teachers who are flexible and enjoy people can usually adapt to this style of teaching rather quickly.

The language center can provide a kind of “home base” for you as you would give the classes at the school and would get to know the staff, other teachers and students. Students are often highly motivated since they are taking the courses in their spare time and are either paying for them, or taking them through an agreement with their employer. Language centers can give you lots of opportunities to network.

Language Center – Disadvantages
The hours for teachers working at language centers can limit your ability to travel and do other activities. Generally language centers serve working members of the community who need to take their classes either before or after work. A typical work schedule can be from 7:00 to 8:30 a.m. and then again from 5:00 to 9:00 p.m. on weekdays and 8:00 to 2:00 on Saturdays.

Language centers often cannot guarantee a stable schedule and income. Sometimes when you first start to teach, the school will only give you one class for one or two hours a day a couple days a week. This is in part to test you and see how high your level of commitment is and in part because schools are often fully staffed and can only give newly hired teachers a few hours to start out. After a school has confirmed that your students are happy with your classes and that you can conform to the norms of the school, they gradually increase your hours.

Classes at Companies – Advantages
These classes are often given to highly motivated professionals who use their new English skills in their daily work. Teachers of company classes usually receive more per hour than for other classes. Each company class may be different as far as the needs of the students go, which would mean a lot of variety and creativity on the part of the teacher to meet the needs of the students. The variety of students in each class can lead to great opportunities for networking.

Classes at Companies – Disadvantages
The hours for company classes often have to be either before or after work, so the schedule can be tiring and limit your other activities. Teachers often have to travel from company to company to give their various classes and there may be a significant amount of time invested in commuting as well as travel costs. These classes can be high pressure classes since companies pay a lot of money for their contracts with language schools. It may also mean that the members of high level management are taking the class.

Picking the Right Institution for You
As you narrow down your choices of places of employment, think about what each school has to offer you. Native speakers who are also excellent teachers are in high demand. You can choose a school that provides a professional, pleasant environment, as well as good pay.

When the schools interview you remember that you, too, are interviewing them. Try to get a feel for how happy the teachers are at their school. Do they talk with each other and share ideas? Ask to see any text books used, ask what materials are provided, and what audiovisual equipment is available. Make note of how specific or non-specific the answers are. Sometimes non-specific answers indicate a lack of availability of the item in question.

Remember that what might seem necessary to you, as you first arrive from the United States or Canada may be a luxury at a school in Mexico. For example, access to photo copies is often very limited in Mexico. Another example is that a school may tell you that they have audio visual equipment, meaning one working VCR and one broken VCR to be shared among 20 teachers. In 2005 the author worked at a school that had a BETA machine, but no DVD player.

It’s good to know ahead of time how limited your access to teaching materials may be, but in the end it’s important to choose a professional school at which you feel welcome and comfortable. A good human environment will give you support and rewards throughout your time in Mexico.

How Much You Can Expect to Earn
When you come to teach in Mexico, don’t expect to earn the same amount of money that you would earn in other countries. The cost of living as well as the value of labor in Mexico are lower than in North America. Hourly rates for teachers vary widely between cities and even between schools within cities. Generally, elementary school teachers earn the least and teachers for company classes earn the most, with language center teachers of adults earning something in between. In Cuernavaca, for example, there are language schools that pay their teachers 30 pesos an hour, but as a native speaker with a bachelors degree, there is no reason to accept that rate. “Serious” language schools should pay any where between 50 and 120 pesos an hour (in Cuernavaca).

When you arrive in the city in which you will teach inquire at various schools to see what the acceptable hourly rates for teachers are. Remember that the pay rate is not always the most important factor in deciding where to work. Schools provide other benefits to teachers such as training, materials, number of hours per week, and a pleasant working environment.

Keeping the Job
Once you get your job, there are two important things that you can do to ensure your success. Number 1; be flexible. Hernandez commented that often foreign teachers complain when things aren’t done they way they are done in their home countries. She says that it’s important to “tolerate the way we are.” Complaints about how things are done in Mexico are unfair and counterproductive. “Relax you’re in Mexico. That’s how it goes,” she says.

Number 2; be mature. Guadarrama has noticed that some foreigners, who are single and/or have economic resources in their home country, tend to be less responsible as teachers. While he doesn’t like to generalize, because some young Mexicans behave the same way, it does leave a bad impression on those who are supporting a family, have a career in teaching and need stable employment when a foreigner behaves in an unprofessional manner.

He also recommends that foreigners pay close attention to their appearance. He says that he has known foreigners who show up to teach a class in dirty jeans or in casual sandals. Appearance is especially important in the business environment in which his school provides classes.

The author has personally faced this same challenge. She’s noticed that across the board people from the U.S. and Canada dress more casually than Mexicans and has had to raise the standards of her personal dress code. While you may feel that you are on vacation or that the hot weather calls for less professional dress, remember that you are a guest in Mexico and this is “real life” for them. Also, it’s a good idea to bring an iron with you because wrinkly clothes are not acceptable here (your iron will work in Mexico).

One trait that foreigners tend to exhibit that Guadarrama really appreciates is punctuality. He says that as a teacher, it’s important to arrive a little before a class in order to prepare everything for the students and to start each class on time.

It’s Worth It
It can take a lot of guts to head down to Mexico to teach for a year or more, but it’s worth it. Earning in pesos and feeling the rhythm of working here will connect you to the Mexican experience. Serving the Mexican community will allow you to get to know it much more deeply than you would if you were just to visit. Teaching in Mexico will give you a broader perspective on life that will serve you after you return home. You will develop skills that will serve you for the rest of your life and make lasting memories and friendships.—jt

Note: The interview with Abel Guadarrama was conducted in Spanish and the author translated his quotes and paraphrases to English.

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