Mexico: teaching in the city

The place
I have been teaching in a private school for two years. It is based in the South of Mexico City, set in a hilly suburb above the city. While I enjoy the great view of the business district, I’m grateful to be far enough away to take in the fresh air.

The school
It is a bilingual school where children from as young as one-year-old attend the kindergarten until they reach year 1. They then transfer to the site across the road which caters for children from Year 2 up to sixth form.

Spanish and English are the languages taught in school. We follow the national curriculum in all core subjects and most foundation subjects; however Spanish classes follow the Mexican system. Over in the primary section, the children study both British and Mexican curricula.

The students
The pupils are generally well-behaved with the odd exception as in most schools. Children and parents are generally very respectful of teachers. Around 95% of the children are Mexican.

Welcome kisses
We settled in gradually as we had a ‘meet and greet’ with the children and parents a few days before the first day of school. The parents were keen to talk to me but they spoke in rapid Spanish so it was a little difficult to follow. One parent professed her love of the Queen of England! It was also weird to have all the children bestowing me with kisses which is a common custom in Mexico.

On my first day, I was out of breath after climbing three flights of stairs at altitude with 24 slow children behind me as we moved around the school. I also have a clear memory of the children seated on the carpet looking at me with blank faces as I attempted to explain the class rules. I had been talking too quickly for them to follow, but even when I slowed right down, they still didn’t register what I was saying.

A 9.15am lunch break!
7.30am Teachers arrive
7.45am Children arrive for lessons in handwriting, followed by English or Maths
9.15am Lunch break
9.55am Topic work in class
11.00am Break
11.20am Snacks followed by music, art or PSHE

Once a week, there is a 40 minute session for each of the following subjects: ICT, PE, Spanish, and library time.

The highs
I’ve become a great innovator as I’m used to teaching without many resources such as an interactive white board. You have the chance to learn Spanish and get involved in the local community which is very respectful of teachers. It’s also great for learning two cultures as you can bring Mexican customs into the classroom alongside a British curriculum.

I marvel at the ability of some children to speak two languages at the age of five years, and I love their enthusiasm for learning. I get to meet new people, get involved in voluntary work, and discover Mexico through travelling and absorbing the culture.

The lows
It’s a major challenge to teach the national curriculum in four hour teaching days! We’re very time constrained and we have to adapt our planning to fit shorter periods. This proves difficult for children who need more time and support in say, English or maths. Literacy is also challenging for the children as English is an additional language for most of them.

Cost of living
Compared to the UK, the cost of living is very good, although I live in a nicer part of Mexico City. A rented shared flat would cost around £300-£350 per month in a nice area , but you could find cheaper accommodation elsewhere. On top of that, you would pay maintenance charges of around £50 per month. You can get a meal from £2.50 in an ordinary restaurant to £20.00 in a top restaurant.. Weekly food shopping is around £10-15 per month and fruit and vegetables are really cheap in the local markets. A lack of clothing chain stores means that you only have a few stores to choose from. Or you can shop in either cheap markets or purchase top designer brands.

Looking ahead
I’ve just extended my contract so have no immediate plans to leave Mexico. I’d like to do a Masters degree in education and art, hopefully incorporating the many art and craft techniques I have been learning over here.

Useful organisations:
An English teacher’s story of life in Mexico
Visit Mexico
British Council
Council of British International Schools
Mexican schools online