Teaching – and Learning – in Guadalajara
by Lauren Shick, OSU intern at Francis Bacon School in Guadalajara, Mexico for winter 2008 term
When I arrived at Francis Bacon School, I was overwhelmed with excitement. I had been anticipating that first day for months. I first met with Ms. Betty Ann, the English coordinator of the school. She gave me my daily schedule and showed me around the school. She had a meeting during the morning that day, so she introduced me to Silvia, the English Aide. I immediately loved Silvia. We had a great connection and she was a very welcoming person. She took me around to each of the classrooms and introduced me to the teachers and the students, which I thought was really nice of her. For the rest of the day, I helped her in the teacher’s room repairing books and completing miscellaneous tasks. I remember being very excited to get to working in the classrooms on the following Monday.
Ms. Betty Ann said although I had requested to work with the 2nd, 3rd, or 4th grade classrooms, she wanted me to see each of the grades, which ended up being a great experience because my opinion changed about the grades I originally thought I wanted to teach.
My responsibilities at Francis Bacon varied. Teachers would often give me tasks to complete such as assembling and correcting worksheets, reading composition notebooks, finding activities on the internet, preparing supplies, etc. Other days I would read aloud, read with lower level readers, and lead math or spelling activities. I substituted for different grades as well as practiced with the Spelling Bee contestants from each grade. I always tried my best to be dependable, responsible, and efficient when completing tasks for the teachers at Francis Bacon.
My favorite part of working at Francis Bacon was when I was given the opportunity to prepare and teach my own lessons. My lessons included reading about Martin Luther King, teaching comparative adjectives to 5th and 6th grade, teaching verbs to 5th and 6th, teaching ABC order and a dictionary activity to 1st, and a lesson on Presidents Washington and Lincoln to all grades. For me these were the most educational and fun days. During each lesson, I felt like I was in my element. I always felt happy and comfortable in the classroom, and successful after. My lesson on verbs was my favorite because it was an interactive PowerPoint-like presentation for the SMART board the school has. Ms. Angie was very complimentary of my work and I felt proud!
The support from the people at the school as well as my host families was amazing. Everyone always assured me that they would be there for me if I needed anything. I immediately formed a close relationship with Silvia. She asked me questions about my life, family, etc. and we talked about anything and everything each day I was at Francis Bacon. She was a great source of comfort and a great listener if I was having a difficult day. I felt like she was my temporary Mom while I was there. It was definitely nice to have someone to talk to freely and in English everyday.
Throughout the internship, my successes were definitely mixed in with challenges. My first challenge was adapting to fact that English is the students’ second language. At first I would attempt to explain something in my normal language, immediately realizing when I saw the students’ blank looks that I would need to simplify my language much more. Culturally, I felt like the classroom atmosphere was much different than the classrooms I have observed in the United States. The students talk constantly. While substituting was the most difficult challenge at Francis Bacon, it was also one of the most valuable experiences because I learned classroom management and discipline skills first hand. In addition, this was the time when I got to know the students and bonded with them.
Both personally and professionally, the internship taught me skills that I know I will carry with me in my future as a teacher. My experience in the classroom gave me a greater sense of confidence as well as techniques important for teaching that I could not possibly learn in a course at Oregon State. Being faced with challenges and minor bumps throughout the internship gave me a glimpse into what being a teacher is like. Most importantly, I learned that I have chosen a career that I love. Personally, the experience was equally valuable. The personal growth that I went through is difficult to describe because I think I benefited from the experience in so many areas. I definitely learned that it is important to be flexible and able to adapt to new situations both professionally and personally.
Being immersed in a culture different from my own was an interesting experience. The people in Guadalajara were amazingly welcoming, generous, and compassionate. Everyone I met was interested in my life and greeted me with open arms. In addition, the people were extremely interested in the fact that I was from the United States and loved to ask questions about life and culture there. Just talking about life in the United States made me realize how amazing it is. I think being away from my home taught me a greater appreciation for my family, the beautiful state of Oregon, and the all around structure and culture of the United States. Although I was never homesick, describing my family, friends, and home state gave me a sense of pride.
My language adequacy was worse than expected when I arrived in Guadalajara. However, I quickly learned that most people speak English, but I think that being constantly surrounded by Spanish speakers improved my listening and comprehension skills.
Overall, I am so grateful to have had the experience I had in Guadalajara. I was blessed to live with three wonderful families who showed me beautiful parts of Mexico such as Puerto Vallarta and Mazamitla, and whom I will keep in touch with for the rest of my life. I was incredibly lucky to work at a school where I learned many techniques and lessons valuable for my future as a teacher. I never regretted my decision to leave the United States, and I came home with a greater confidence and appreciation for my life at home.