If 2020 was a pizza topping, it would be pineapple & pubes: reflections on teaching

Saturday 22 August 2020, 3:19am: It’s been more than a week since I last heard el vecino gallo. Has he moved away? Has he gone on holidays? Has he died of coronavirus? Is he busy making sourdough? Has he been turned into caldo de pollo? Or has he just decided to shut up? I guess I’ll never know. I kind of miss him though. In these “uncertain times”, you kind of appreciate the routine, even if it’s annoying.

When sourdough is not an option, teach English.

Although this year really sucks, there have been a few bright spots too – and no, I haven’t baked any sourdough – even if I wanted to, we don’t have an oven (many homes in Mexico don’t have them, and in the ones that do, you often see them being used as extra storage for kitchen equipment, stacked high with plates and bowls – true story).

In the last month, I was probably teaching about 35 hours a week with another 15 hours a week preparation. Although this was too much, in general I am loving it. I have had students from all over the Spanish speaking world – Costa Ricans, a Chilean from Panama, a Colombian from Spain, Mexicans and Spaniards. I mostly love it. My students are all different ages and abilities and they all have different reasons for learning English.

Last week, I finished 4 very intense weeks tutoring a university law lecturer in colloquial English. He was due to start his Masters in Law at Harvard and a condition of his financial aid and acceptance into the course was to complete 90 hours of English tuition with a native speaker. I had to get approval as a tutor from Harvard which was kind of exciting. Not so exciting was that the University took a while to get back to us and we had only 4 weeks instead of 6 to complete the 90 hours.

Added to that, the time difference between Mexico and Spain is 9 hours, so we were having two classes a day, one at 10am and another at 12am, for 2 and 3 hours each class! I was a little bit scared to teach a constitutional law lecturer about to go to Harvard, but it turned out he was also a Simpsons lover and we spent a lot of time swapping Simpsons analogies.

I am really lucky that I like all my students. I keep my prices low and I pick and choose who I want to teach. When you barely make enough to cover your internet bill and various website subscriptions, you’re only doing it for the love, so you need to love it.

In this bucket of crabs, we all become tostadas…

It has been observed in crabs that when they are trapped in a bucket and one crab can easily escape, the other crabs undermine the efforts of the escaping crab, resulting in the demise of the entire group. Humans are also guilty of this behaviour known as crab mentality – “If I can’t have it neither can you.”

It is a well known and generally accepted fact that Mexicans are guilty of this. It is a shitty part of the culture and also applies to people who are trying to learn English. Speaking English in Mexico has a big status attached to it, but apparently, it’s very hard to practice with friends, because if you make a mistake, the people laugh at you and will just generally discourage you from progressing in the language.

For this reason, students have told me they have not had good experiences in English classes and have come to me for help.

Thankfully trying to speak Spanish does not make you count as a crab – I have found most Mexicans really accommodating with that. They are normally happy with you giving it a try – they just tend to assume I am a gringa and when I tell them I’m from Australia they ask me about kangaroos. My German friend does not fare so well – she told me Uber drivers have asked her what she thinks of Hitler on more than one occasion :/….

Because I’m in Mexico and food! In Sonora, most crabs in the bucket (real ones, become ceviche or tostadas de jaiba…

Crab tostadas are really bloody good! They are easy to make, healthy and delicious. One of my favourite things to do is to buy some crab from the market and make them. I could eat them every week quite easily, it’s just the thought of the coronavirus running rampant in the market that holds me back.

Rules of teaching:

#1: Don’t feed the students after midnight, don’t get them wet and don’t get attached

Teaching English online is a bit of a revolving door – students come and go. While you can love them all, it does not pay to get attached, because you will always be sad. I recently had the cutest 10 year old girl from Mexico City as a student. She was just incredible and for whatever reason, we were just kindred souls. I just hope she continues the way she is and the crabs don’t get to her! Sadly she had to go back to school, but what a kid. I felt sad on our last day together and I know she did too. I think at this time it is definitely easier to get attached to people because you’re not seeing your other friends/ doing as many other things.

#2: Don’t make stuff up if you don’t know the answer

Spanish speakers are taught grammar heavy English. If you are not sure, so you decide to guess or make something up, they will KNOW. Don’t do it!

#3: Don’t worry if they’re not on time

Latin people are notoriously late. Of course it doesn’t apply to everyone, but it is a stereotype for a reason.

#4: It’s really hard to end the call

Sometimes it’s really awkward ending the call, so I end up making weird excuses, such as wanting to exercise before the curfew we no longer have and apparently my boyfriend is very demanding about when he wants to eat his dinner. (He’s actually the opposite).

These are just my reflections on my first year of teaching English. I would love to hear from other English teachers if you read this :). What do you love and hate about the job?



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