Teaching English: My First Day as an English Teacher in Mexico — By Lydian Shipp
Guanajuato Mexico North America Tips

Teaching English: My First Day as an English Teacher in Mexico — By Lydian Shipp

Interior courtyard at Escuela Falcon in Guanajuato, Mexico.

Today I taught my first English class. I spent the entire night last night going over my plan for the class in my dreams (and dreaming that I’d gotten ready to go at the right time and then somehow still ended up at least an hour late). I’d like to say it was good for me, but it wasn’t. It was totally unnecessary.

I had everything ready for the morning. My bag was packed with my English teaching “tools” and “props,” I had a notebook and pens, I’d downloaded a children’s book to my Kindle to work with in my class, and I had made myself an in depth lesson plan. I had a water bottle (with water), snacks, and two possible outfits laid out for myself.

Right now, my English teaching tools include an abacus, colored clay, flashcards, little plastic play animals, coloring sheets with English words on them, and a list of words for a spelling pop quiz. I also have an English to Spanish dictionary (a must). To help my students learn how to speak English fluently, I came up with some “Basic Phrases for Learning” that I plan to use, which are:

How do you say …… ?

What does ….. mean?

I do (don’t) understand.

I (don’t) know.

Please and thank you

Whenever I’ve ever started learning a language, these phrases are always my top priority. They’re essential. Without them, it’s difficult to start talking in the language and really learn. Because I think that immersion is key, these phrases are necessary. And what’s really weird to me is that they’ve always been hard for me to get to. Some phrasebooks have one or two of these phrases at the front of the book, but not very many… and it’s even rarer to start taking language classes as a total beginner and be presented with any of these phrases.

So I’m going to use them in my English classes, since that’s what I would want as a language learner.

But anyway. I think the English class went well! It was a little clumsy on my part, but I felt (overall) good about the dynamic that I created. My English student today was a 20-year-old university student who is almost a total beginner having taken only two weeks of classes, so I needed to teach in Spanish for a portion of the class.

Personally, I think that one of the keys with teaching is to know when you (the teacher) don’t know something… I was just considering this on Tuesday night after teaching a guitar lesson to a 13-year-old boy. Since the last time we’d talked, he’d decided to try and tune his guitar to a different tuning since the song we’re working on has a nonstandard tuning. He said that something went wrong though. I’ve never worked with other tunings myself, but because of his interest in it I plan to do some research of my own so we can talk about it the next time we meet. And then we’ll both learn something new (which is a cool side effect).

Being a teacher definitely doesn’t mean you know everything (I think). Maybe it means something more like “I’ve learned how to learn things really good and now I’m gonna teach you how to learn things!” Of course, teachers should have some expertise and knowledge on the subject they’re teaching, but I don’t think that you have to know everything to teach. I don’t know everything about English (even though it’s my native language), and I don’t know everything about guitar either. But… I do feel confident talking about these things. I do know what I’m talking about. But at the same time, part of my confidence is that I know when I don’t know.

Learning a language is filled with embarrassment, and it’s scary. Language is everything. It’s crucial to our survival, but we take it for granted every day. All of us have a language we speak fluently that we use to communicate our thoughts, our needs, and our wants. When you’re in a foreign country and you don’t know any of the language, it’s like being incapacitated. John copes with language problems by doing charades (which he just so happens to be really good at).

But I think that charades are more important that we think, in terms of language learning. When you don’t know the word for something, you can act it out as the teacher or as the student. Like today, my English student asked me what “jump rope” meant. I didn’t have the word in Spanish, so I got up out of my chair (in the middle of a crowded café) and mimed it. He understood, and told me the words for “jump rope” in Spanish (jump rope = cuerda de salto).

Making an ass of yourself is something that must be done if you’re learning a new language. Period. There’s no avoiding it. And as an English teacher I believe that it’s my duty to encourage this behavior in my classroom as a normal and necessary part of learning the English language.

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Lydi Talks about Teaching English to Kids in Guanajuato, Mexico (video)

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