Friday, October 22, 2010

Teaching in Mexico - When Problems Arise

There's a good discussion (well, argument might be the best word) developing over at the ESL Cafe between a teacher and a school owner, with the school in question being Culturlingua based in Los Reyes, Mexico. A recently departed teacher is airing her grievances on the Cafe about the school and the owner of another branch of the same school (someone I happen to know fairly well) is responding. It's gotten a bit testy but there is also a lot of good information there about some of the problems both new teachers and language schools face working in this industry. A recruiter with an interest in this case has also chimed into the thread.

Good read, I leave you to it.

The Discussion

This is a feedback on Culurlingua, an English institute in Los Reyes, Michoacan

I worked for Culturlingua for two months (September and October 2010). My goal was to work in Mexico, therefore I didn’t mind the low salary given that TEFL market was extremely stagnant in August 2010 in Latin America. Most job offers are not posted on-line in Mexico, one would need to live here and find connections in order to find his/her ideal job. Therefore Culturlingua is a gateway into Mexico, a stepping stone for better jobs. But here is what you need to know if you are considering an offer from their institute:

The institute is extremely business-oriented. All policies are set to bring about profit. If a student registers a month after the semester has begun, they would not hesitate to place him/her in your class. You have to think of how she/he can catch up. Students are not allowed to fail; they would be allowed to re-take the same tests multiple times until they pass it. No materials are provided. The bookshelf where their materials from the age of Joseph Stalin are stored is always locked. If you care about your students, develop your own materials, you may be reimbursed. We were not.

Teaching: if you are looking forward to being challenged as a teacher, this job is not for you. You can only work within the structure of the book. Textbook comes first. The objective is to finish it, whether students learn or not. However, if you are a beginner teacher and are looking for a job where you can experiment without people breathing down your neck, this job is for you. The director, Ms. Cecilia Belmont, visits the school once in a blue moon. She may or may not sit in your classes. When she does, she will not offer any constructive feedback. She will isolate a few students and will criticize them for not participating or speaking Spanish in front of the entire class. That is why students do not have a good relationship with her.

Accommodation: The house is old, the T.V belongs to the World War I era, mattresses are uncomfortable, and there is a leak in most rooms. The kitchen has every gadget needed for cooking which is convenient, and a cleaning person comes every Friday to clean the house, paid by the school. This semester we had rats, the school did not take initiatives to remedy the situation until we threatened to leave. Cable, internet, cleaning materials, and gas are all paid by you. Services are relatively cheap.

Benefits: Money is sufficient for a simple living and traveling. However, you need to exit Mexico for your visa will expire in 6 months. The school will not provide visas. The whole program is structured in way to bypass immigration laws (yes! You work for them illegally), it’s been registered as a “language exchange program” where you teach English and receive Spanish lessons in return. Spanish classes were the highlight of our stay in Los Reyes, our teacher was wonderful.

Privacy (or lack thereof): the administrative staff of Culturlingua has some severe paranoia issues with their teachers. I understand that some teachers in the past might have given ammunition to this paranoia, but we were a group of professional teachers who went to work and came back to the house. No parties, no guests, no binge drinking. In spite of that, the receptionist would drop by unannounced to check around the house. We also suspect that she had come when we were in class and entered our rooms. The cleaning lady had been advised to spy on us while she was cleaning. Our Spanish teacher was admonished every time she spoke with us outside of class. She was advised never to interact with us after class.

Immersion into Mexican society: I came here thinking I would be guided to get to know this marvelous country by the school. The staff does not bother giving any sort of guidance, tours, maps, and tourist info. to their teachers. They maintain a healthy distance with their teachers. We worked here for 9 weeks not knowing exactly where the receptionist lives in this small town. We had to search everything on our own. I never felt a belonging to a group or an educational team, there were never any gestures made out of hospitality or mere friendship to ensure we are happy. Knowing how warm-blooded Mexicans are, this behavior surprised me.

We voiced out our problems from the beginning: lack of incentives, lack of materials, lack of openness and trust. They never listened. The entire system is set in a way to bring teachers from English-speaking countries (to sell their ‘native’ image) keep them for five months, and adios! There is a myth about past teachers. They deny that numerous teachers have breached their contract and left in the middle of the night without informing the school. You might want to ask them for a recent reference. They do not have any, with the exception of one or two teachers who somehow survived. There were four of us here in Los Reyes and Periban. We gradually lost motivation; we found better jobs and left the school in the space of five days. I take with me the wonderful memories of my interactions with my amazing students. Overall, I do not recommend this position to anyone.

Best of luck,
Los Reyes Teachers, 2010

A quick question- did you get to see the contract BEFORE you accepted the job and came? OR was the first time you saw the contract when you arrived in Los Reyes?

Another comment- maybe the secretary was visiting the house because she was concerned about the rat situation that occurred?

I am the owner of Culturlingua in Tlaquepaque and I wish to state my connection right now- to be up front and open.

Hit the link above for the rest of the conversation.

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