It was a pleasure to catch up with Stephanie Vargas, a teacher in Mexico City, for her second interview. Stephanie’s first interview touches on her school and the population of students that she teaches. To clarify, her school has some Chinese students who attend classes there. They speak Chinese and do not speak Spanish. Stephanie’s school has started an after-school pull-out program to teach Spanish to the Chinese students as their second language. This program is a class of about seven Chinese students who need to practice speaking Mexico’s language, Spanish.
After speaking with Stephanie, it was easier for me to understand how Spanish as a second language is taught to Chinese students who speak only Chinese. She teaches them three times a week and teaches English five days a week to Spanish learners. Stephanie explained that it has been more challenging to teach the Chinese population than the population that speaks the same language as she does, also known as L1. In this case, she teaches her Mexican students that speak her native language English as a second language.
What is a typical day at your school like?
“Students have their first class at 7:40AM. Then, they have a 30-minute break at 11:00AM. Classes finish at 2:50PM.
Chinese students are taught Spanish three times a week after school for one hour.“
How many people do you work with? How many classes do you teach?
“I teach two classes. Both are English classes, but are at different levels: secondary school (middle school) and high school. The English team is around 10 teachers. There are so many other teachers who teach other subjects that I’ve never known how many there actually are.”
How are you forming working relationships with coworkers?
“To me, it is important to make a good impression and to help coworkers as much as possible. This creates a sense of community. Communities can help their members to have better opportunities for the future.”
What is your opinion of the use of target language? In general, should language teachers only use the language they are teaching?
“I tend to speak the target language as much as possible. It is important to have interaction with the language, and the classroom has to be the place to practice it. However, I do not believe in taking just one side of things. Languages are our tools and, to me, one of the last resources I can use. If it helps to make everything clear and understood, why not use it?”
How is the material being taught to students? Is there a specific method being used?
“There is not a specific method to follow. Teachers are free to use whichever method they think is best. Every group is different. What works with one group might not work with others.”
How do you prepare your lessons for each class? If you don’t plan lessons, how do you prepare for class?
“I do lesson plans for the week. Classes hardly ever go as planned every week. I adapt day after day. Sometimes students need to take more time to fully understand a topic. Sometimes they get it right away and we can move on sooner than expected. Whatever the case, I have a plan to follow, so I know what to do and where to go.”
How do you make class enjoyable for students?
“I try to talk about topics they like such as video games or social media. Other times, we play games related to grammar or the vocabulary of the unit. Some classes are easier than others. I cannot help having classes dedicated to explanations or reading a topic that is considered boring by them. It is part of being a teacher. There are days where your classes feel like the best you’ve ever done; others, it just feels like you are doing everything wrong.”
Do you work at a bilingual school? What does that mean to you?
“No. As far as I understand, bilingual schools have some classes in the mother tongue, and some other classes in the target language. The school I work at only offers English as a subject.”
What shared goals or standards are your classroom teachers using to measure the performance of their students?
“The school has made the decision to teach and measure English differently from other subjects. Our groups are not divided by school year, but by the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages. The groups go from A1 to B2. This is because the intention is to have students with common knowledge on the language. Having said this, our goal is to have students improve their use of the language so they move forward on their level. Eventually, they will get to the highest level.“
What are your goals and dreams for your students?
“When people are young, they do not usually care about their future. Learning English is important for the youth of this country. That is why my goal is to have them speak English so they can have better job opportunities in the future.“
Looking back at our first Teach Abroad series interview, what has changed in your classroom since that time?
“Not much has really changed. At the beginning of the school year, there were new objectives to reach. What worked during this period of time can be kept for the future. If something did not work as planned, it will be discussed and changed before next year.”
What It Is Like to Be a Teacher in Mexico City
We will speak again with Stephanie about being a teacher in Mexico City in May 2020 to hear more about the rest of her school year. She would like to see her Chinese students become more communicative with their peers in their (L2) which is Spanish. Although her Spanish students communicate in English, she would like to see them communicate more often in their (L2) which is English. We will see how they do when we catch up with her later on this year.