From Iowa to Reynosa, Mexico

Updated 2009-07-21 09:29

I always wanted to live in a foreign country. I had thought about teaching in the Czech Republic, the land of my grandparents. I've been there 3 times and I love the lifestyle, the beautiful country and I do know a few words of the language. But something about Mexico keeps pulling me over the border. I've been to Mexico City 5 times since August 2008 and have visited Durango and Morelos. I'm not even going to mention the 100's of trips to Nuevo Progreso, Matamoros and Reynosa.

So how did a middle-aged woman from Iowa end up getting a teaching job at a private school in Reynosa? I graduated in 1991 from a small private college in Cedar Rapids, Iowa with a degree in elementary education. At the time I had two little ones and was lucky enough to be a stay-at-home mom until the youngest started kindergarten. In 1994 I got a job in the IT department of a large manufacturing company. I would still be working for the company but in 2005 some hotshot IT vice-president decided to grease the palms of his golf buddy and award his buddy's company a contract to perform all the IT functions. More than 50 of us in North America found ourselves without a job. At this time I found out my husband was miserable in the marriage. Never mind I supported him during his bouts of unemployment, 3 times! My youngest was about to finish high school and I decided then it was a good time to move to Texas and find a teaching position. I took the TEXES exams (EC-4, Generalist & PPR Professional Pedagogy and Responsibilities) and I passed both on the first attempt. Little did I know that the area I selected to live, the Rio Grande Valley, would make changes to their hiring policies and require that elementary teachers pass the EC-4, Bilingual exam. Not all districts require it, but more and more do and that leaves few non-bilingual positions. I had not studied Spanish since college and didn't remember too much beyond asking for the location of the bathroom. With this knowledge, I enrolled in an accelerated Intermediate Spanish I & II class. It just about kicked me, but I studied hard and earned an A- with one point to spare. Now I can read Spanish very well and I take a lot of opportunities to practice speaking. Well, I tried the bilingual portion of the exam called the TOPT. My first question asked me to explain to a student in Spanish how to use the card catalog in a library. It may be due to my age, but at least I remember (barely) using a card catalog. Can you imagine if this question was given to a 20-year-old? For the first time in my life, I flunked something. I am too stubborn to admit defeat and I will improve my Spanish and take the exam again.

After substitute teaching for a couple of years and no luck finding a full-time teaching position, I heard that Mexico wants to hire native English speakers. The pay isn't that great, but, really, if I was after money, I'd go find myself another IT position. I found a reputable recruiter that didn't require me to pay them. It pays to do your homework on the internet and check out the recruiters and the schools before accepting anything! I said I would consider Mexico City or Reynosa. The recruiter told me a private school in Reynosa had an open position so I applied and got the job.

Before signing the contract, I wanted to check out the school, classrooms, campus and other teachers. I met the teacher from Canada, another middle-aged woman like myself, and the young man from Great Britain. The campus was neat and clean but the classrooms seemed bare compared to US classrooms. It could be that it was the end of the school year and the rooms were already cleaned up. The hiring director showed me the reading program and workbooks. Basically it is the same reading program used in most elementary schools in the US. She wants me to teach 5th grade and I will start August 10.

Next time I would like to write about the apartment in Reynosa and my impression of teaching 5th grade in Mexico versus 5th grade in the US. I taught 5th grade during my student teaching so I have some experience with this age. I'm looking forward to a new challenge in my life.

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