Saturday, September 28, 2013

I tutored a little boy today who is kind of an exaggeration of little kids and their imaginations. One way we get through our math work is by allowing him to tell a story for every three or four equations that he solves. Today the problem began:

"There were 7 knights, 4 jackal guys from Achman Rah, 3 cowboys, 2 zebras, and 3 guys of the Trubba the Hun."

He refers to his baby brother as Egbert and his mom and dad have started to do so as well. He's part dragon and Egbert is his dragon name, that's why.

Kids are strange and funny and being able to listen to that weirdness is for me the best thing about teaching young ages. They have no shame and despite the fact that they may be inclined to misbehave, they also are so eager to please. I have one student who when we wrote our 'Hopes and Dreams for First Grade' a couple weeks ago, wrote that he wanted to rob a bank, go to jail, and be bad. He loves the attention this gets him, but when he showed it to me that day I told him it made me sad. Later he amended the writing, adding that he would be more nice. "I love it! That's wonderful! Excellent!" As I was hanging their work up later I noticed he had concluded with an additional line: "Be the dumbest and ugliest kid in the class ever." 

I got a lot of cute mileage from our mini-unit on Mexico during the week of Independence Day, which included a Skype call to Mono and such questions as "Do you have allergies?" and "What noise do foxes make?".  As a class we brainstormed things we had in common and things that were different between our two countries. Dominick raised his hand eagerly, "We both have tequila." I couldn't very well squash his dreams by laughing at him so I kind of smiled politely, long enough for him to give me the most beatific smile you can imagine. He exuded an angelic glow, so proud of himself for his contribution, and I swear his eyelashes fluttered.

Speaking of tequila, several weeks back another first grade teacher at my school asked what the picture was for the letter 'w' in our alphabet cards. It was a wombat, which are either really ugly or really cute, but here's a cute one. 'W' is a tricky letter in the Spanish alphabet because it doesn't occur historically. A lot of Mexican slang has 'w' in it - wakala, for example (ew), or wey (dude, guy) - but that comes I think from the fact that Mexican Spanish borrows so heavily from English, and English has a lot of w words. The 'correct' version of those words, in the sense of being true to Spanish phonetics is guácala and güey, and they are sometimes written that way but not often as I've seen. 

Words that have 'w' in Spanish are borrowed from English. Maybe there's an exception to this but I can't think of any. I looked in a Spanish dictionary for w words and you can see some examples. 

(Hoo, take a deep breath, this is a lot of language stuff that I adore and that bores most people, but the liquor connection is coming soon).

So... the teacher who did not recognize the wombat picture is from Spain. It turns out that in their alphabet pictures for 'w', they would have a picture of whiskey. 

Anyway this story continues because whiskey is not the only image that's apparently at home in a Spanish classroom but never to be seen in one here. I wish I had a picture to show of this but unfortunately I can't remember the website where I found the worksheet. I was looking for alphabet review for morning work and I saw something on one that I thought couldn't possibly be. My eyes went from the image to the letter to confirm that actually yes, this is 'P for pecho." Breast. Out there, for your first grader to see. Which is kind of weird, but I'm also pretty confident the kids who 
see a naked boobie will remember that one in the future.

will not be testing that hypothesis.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

As I was saying . . .

Mono had me watch a documentary a few months back called "De Panzazo." It's about the education system in Mexico and it's probably not an accident that it came out when it did, shortly before the attempts at reform went through. In it the host visits schools and talks to students and teachers and administrators and people in the government, one of whom was recently arrested for stealing money from the country's education funds for, among other things, jewelry, clothing, and a house in California.

This was not in the video but I have to point this out before I get to the movie. The Secretary of Education Emilio Chuayfett is currently advocating for the elimination of math in the first five years of school. His justification?

"Well, with the current plan of studies the majority of the students learn almost nothing anyway, and these days almost every phone has a calculator."

The first time I read this I posted it on my Facebook page, then I took it down maybe five minutes later. I thought there must be a Mexican version of "The Onion" and I was dumb for falling for it. Not the case.

In the movie they discuss the lack of preparation for teachers and the fact that there are no consequences when they are no good or just decide not to show up to teach. The unions control it all and get as high a percentage of funding from the government as any other country, but much of that money gets siphoned off here and there to various corrupt game players. Teachers can get jobs I think with only a high school diploma - perhaps because only a quarter of the population makes it to university anyway. Mono has two family members that I know of in education. One of them is some kind of world famous chemist who won the still-standing award for "Best Student at Our University, Ever." Maybe not called that exactly but you get the idea, and it would seem he doesn't count as one of those under-qualified teachers.  He teaches at a university in Mexico City. Mono's aunt is an English teacher in Michoacán and although I haven't spoken to her, Mono's cousin lives in Missouri and therefore speaks English, and he says her English is basically.. nope.

In Mexico you can study five or six levels of English - lasting maybe a year in total? I think? And with that certification you can teach it. I met several English teachers when I used to go on school visits in Cozumel and uffda.

To be honest the idea of potentially having children and putting them through this system is not one that I embrace with much delight. I mean really. But aside from my own interests there's an entire generation of students that stands to lose an understanding of math (and language arts, etc.). Imagine never getting to the Algebra and Geometry and Calculus and Statistics classes that we study in high school. I am not a lover of math, but I'm grateful at least for others who used those years of advanced math to figure out that they are, and to go on to understand it more and bring about some of the comforts of everyday life that depend on mathematics. (I don't know how exactly. Aren't there numbers and stuff involved in computers?). What happens if a country doesn't have any of those freaks?

In my classroom we celebrated Mexican Independence Day by calling Mr. Z and asking him some things about life in Mexico. The questions were varied: What's your name? How old are you? Do you have allergies? What noise do foxes make? I wonder if kids get it; do they understand really that this person has a different life, a completely different experience?

A couple of times different countries have come up in lessons and I've pointed out on our world map where these places are, but how to make a first grader realize the magnitude of the physical differences that separate us - the Atlantic Ocean, or the Chihuahuan Desert - or the cultural?

This picture was taken in México, I don't know where. Doesn't it look run down? Accurate.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

This week kind of did not go according to plan when my computer died in the middle of our morning math lesson and I lost all the lessons I had planned up until that point. It was annoying, to say the least, but at the same time the resources I have here are incomparable to my school in Cozumel. Going from having no printer, copy machine, books, curriculum, materials WHATSOVER means I know the situation can always be worse. I worried (and it's still early in the school year) about what the transition back to Mexico will be like for the next school year, but I think it's part of the experience, too; traveling, teaching in a new setting, being challenged and learning from it.

A little bit about Mexican schools since they've been in the news a lot lately.. and let me preface this by saying that as I'm figuring out where to begin on this I'm having one of those overwhelming moments where I think "This is real life?" I get these, regarding Mexico. I've spent a lot of time there and I'm well aware that Cozumel, being an island, for one, and being a main port for cruise ships in the Caribbean, has a different reality than you might find in other parts of the country. It's so isolated, in fact, that I've been almost nowhere else in Mexico except for Mexico City, when I went for Mono's graduation. I haven't even taken the ferry across to Playa del Carmen. On many occasions I'll read a news story or hear something from Mono's family or be complaining about low Mexican salaries (mine, specifically, because I'm selfish of course), and I'll have a mini Oh-my-goodness-this-is-not-all-tacos moment. Mexico is so close to the United States. Cozumel is the easiest place I've ever flown into. The plane lands and the passengers file down the stairs onto the tarmac as the sun beats down and palm trees droop lazily in the lack of breeze. After a long but painless wait in line for immigration, I bypass the crowd of tourist looking for their shuttles and Mono and I walk across the street for a three dollar and five minute taxi ride to the apartment. Nods at the iguanas, hair up in a ponytail as the heat presses in (bliss), and I'm home.

And in this time, I will huggle my little baby Manchas and try to get her to poo inconspicuously in the overgrown lot down the block. I'll go on bike rides and try not to break my arm (that happened too this past year, whoops). Happy hour. Morning coffee. Walks down the Malecón. I'll go and sunbathe on the lounge chairs of a beachside restaurant and almost certainly get sunburned but I won't care. It's all very simple and when I live there I complain about it being boring but it's very much apart from the poverty and violence and *differentness* that I at least abstractly know exist elsewhere in the country. I don't know how to identify with those things and so when I see glimpses of them I try to latch on because I think I should know, right? 

So much has changed in the past year. I emailed Nicole today about Thanksgiving plans and I realized that it was just a year ago I was in Munich. I don't even know how the time passed but at the same time that seems like another lifetime - not even another lifetime, but another life. While I was over there I bought some book called "Mexico: What You Need to Know." Something like that. I was not happy in Cozumel and felt far away from family and although I liked my job, I didn't like that my coworkers were all in other parts of the world. I didn't mind working Saudi Arabian hours and therefore overnights, but I think as I sat alone in a sleeping apartment, with sleeping neighbors (except when they partied aka often, but usually the volume waned a couple hours into my shift), I ended up feeling more and more isolated from Cozumeleña life. 

This story is going no where fast. Anyway so I bought this book thinking I needed to prepare myself for the worst and make sure that I could hack it. I remember I was concurrently reading three books at the time, the other one taking place in Medieval Germany, another a memoir of a nurse in Saudi Arabia, and the third Suze Orman's "Young, Fabulous, and Broke." Books are a window to the soul and the psychoses, are they not?

No where fast. 

I bought that Mexico book to figure out if I could hack it, and then a couple months later I was in Mexico City for Mono's graduation and on our last night there we watched a movie about wild animals in Africa or something and I cried partly because of the baby lion cubs but also because I didn't want to live in Mexico City and between the two it was all just a bit overwhelming. 
Not Manchas but a one-day future friend???

This is too long to start talking about Mexican schools now but I promise there is a point ("point"), and that in broad terms is the evolution of my realization and sometimes tearful acceptance of the fact that Mexico is in fact different. And while for a time I wasn't sure if I could be tough enough for it, now that I'm here I think. I probably. could.

And in those other moments I'll blame it on the lion cub.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

I've been thinking about starting up this bad boy for awhile and so here I am over a year later.  In the meantime a lot has happened, and in terms of my blogging habits my attention has been turned towards reading others versus writing my own. There's a huge network of expat women writing about their experiences living abroad with their native spouses - some of them by choice, many of them involuntarily as a result of immigration issues. For some it's an adventure and for others it's a slow countdown to when they can return home. 

I always stop reading when that happens. It's discouraging to read that these families can no longer tolerate the homesickness, or Mexican schools, or the wages, or whatever it may be. I can understand those feelings but at the same time, I moved to Mexico in the first place on my own. I wanted that life in a foreign country - at least, as I saw it, until I had had my experience and would move on to the next. In the strange way that life works, once I figured out that Mexico was where I'd be long term, it became necessary to leave. Back to the United States to make some moolah (and by make it I mean not see a dime because it's all going straight to student loans aka the bane of my existence).

Anyway this is the part of the blog where I'd normally click the little x on the tab and stop reading. When you're trying to figure out how you can make a life in Mexico, it's not helpful to see it not work out (immediately), and also, hey, I grew up here, boring. But I do have a great opportunity this year teaching first grade at a Spanish immersion school, and I'm at least grudgingly grateful for the fact that I'll be less in debt by the end of this (although back to that bane of my existence thing, I could gripe for quite awhile on my opinion on higher education costs in the U.S. of A). 

So I am in Minnesota and I've been here since the end of February, with lots of other happenings in the prior to and in between. Trips back and forth between here and Cozumel and a graduation in Mexico City. I sublet an apartment in Munich for six weeks and drank my first full beer at Oktoberfest. My job with a company in Saudi Arabia ended its semester and then, without explanation and precipitating the need to move and make some money, continued to push back its start date further and further until four months had passed and I was on a plane north. In June Mr. Zepeda and I got engaged when I went back for a brief visit, and last week I turned what feels like the very old age of 26 and started my first week with the adorable rug rats of first grade. 

That is my recap and reintroduction. We'll see how this goes...