Friday, September 30, 2005

Parental Support

The principal and assistant principal came to address Group 1C towards the end of the class period, in response to the letter that I gave to the principal on Tuesday, September 27. Of course, of the six students who I referred to in the letter, two were absent and didn’t get to hear the principal’s pep talk. He explained that they are very lucky because no other school in the area has a teacher from the United States – not even Secundaria 117 – the New Trier of the area. He continued that when I return to the States the information that I share about Mexican students would largely be based on my experience with them. He encouraged them to ask me about the United States, and demonstrated by asking, “Chicago es la ciudad de los vientos, ¿verdad?” (Chicago is the “windy city”, right?) He asked them if they know of a sports team from Chicago and Cristian said, in his thick accent, “Los Bulls.” The principal concluded by telling them to be my friend – a different view of the teacher-student relationship than I am accustomed to.

“Parental Support” seems to be an oxymoron when referring to Secundaria 293. However, during my last class of the day with Group 1B a mother poked her head in the doorway and asked me how her daughter Mari was doing in my class. I was so overcome with joy and optimism that a parent wanted to know about her child’s academic performance, that for a second, I forgot I was in the middle of a class. I asked if she could come back after the class, in ten minutes. Mari joined her mom and me and we discussed the need for her to participate more in class, as she is capable of doing so. Her mom commented that she couldn’t help Mari with English, so I suggested that Mari teach her mom what we do in class each day. It was so refreshing meeting a parent who is truly invested in her daughter’s well-being and school performance.

Thursday, September 29, 2005


I entered school early today for our all day meeting where we sat and read the plan for Mexico’s new secondary curriculum. After reading the booklet, we were to write our comments that would be sent on to the union representatives for the district and then on to the government. One change reduces history class to one time a week, that way more time can be spent developing technical skills, like those taught in math and science class. While teachers throughout Mexico spent the day discussing the new plans and sharing opinions and ideas, the government already has the new curriculum set for the next school year.

After sitting around all morning, I wanted to enjoy my afternoon and get some work done at the same time, so I took the metro straight to Condesa. I exited the metro at the Chilpancingo stop and before I found a place to sit and work I made a bee line for an empanada stand that is run by a Spanish-speaking Russian man. I don’t know what he knows about making empanadas that the Mexicans and the rest of the world don’t know, but I’ve never had a better empanada - so light (minus the grease it bathes in) and fluffy and he offers so many different fillings he could open a 31 Flavors of Empanadas. There are traditional Mexican ones, Russian ones and dessert ones - the chocolate & cream cheese is my favorite!

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

“Bizarro World”

The title of this posting is borrowed from an episode of “Seinfeld” because it too perfectly describes how I felt throughout the day in what felt like “Bizarro World.”

* Next week the nine teachers who are in Mexico on the Fulbright teacher-exchange program have a mid-term meeting. Each one of us will give a 10-15 minute presentation about our school. Since I am so new to the school, I felt that gathering the thoughts of students and teachers would be more valuable than my opinions alone. So, I began my day at school by photo copying the questionnaire for the students. I was shocked when the copies came out to almost100 pesos – approximately 10 dollars! I could buy about 3 full course meals with that or 20 cans of Coke or take a taxi from home to Coyoacán’s center and back about 3 times or take the bicitaxi from the metro to work and back about 12 times. Why are paper goods and office supplies so expensive in Mexico?!

* After school today, Blanca, the Spanish teacher whose classroom is next to mine, stopped by as she does every once in a while. She mentioned something about the students not attending school tomorrow since we have a staff meeting all day. I quickly became frustrated at the lack of information I receive so I asked her how she had found out, if it was on a calendar or something. She said, “no”, that the students had told her. Blanca also informed me that the meeting would begin at 8 AM, which is good to know since on Thursdays I don’t have to enter school until 11 AM. I definitely would not have wanted to be the clueless “gringa” who walks in to a meeting THREE hours late.

* After school today I roamed the Iztapalapa Market in search of socks – 80 socks. I went to four different stands to buy the white athletic socks. I spent a while at the first stand and explained that I was buying the socks for an art project, to make puppets with my students. The vendor knew exactly the type of sock that I needed, as she described how her daughter just had a similar project at her school. When I needed only 3 more pairs and had negotiated a good price, I reached for my wallet and realized I didn’t even have a peso left. I went to the strip mall next to the market and took out some cash from the ATM. The money was dispensed in bills of $200 pesos. Knowing full well that no one would be able to give me change for that, I waited in the bank line to receive change for the 200. I returned to the market and bought the last 3 pairs of socks that I needed.

* When I left the market I labored up the stairs with my backpack weighed down with my laptop, camera and other necessities, and carrying in my arms the plastic bag bursting with 40 pairs of tube socks. A few steps ahead of me I saw an older woman trying to drag up the stairs a dolly stacked with three bags and in her other hand, she grasped an overflowing bag – with feathers sticking out the top. After I carried up the bag and a young man pulled up the dolly, I anxiously asked her what was in the bag. She said she was carrying her chickens. For some reason I further inquired if they were alive. I am positive she knew she should just tell the “gringa” what she wanted to hear, as she said, “Sí”.

* After resting at home for a couple of hours, I ventured back out to meet Andi and her mom, who had just arrived in town from Arizona, in the Historical Center. As I exited the metro station at Hidalgo, it seemed the end of the world was imminent as it began to rain, then hail, the sky turned dark gray and it was green outside.

* I escaped the weather as I ducked into Café Tabuba, where I was meeting Andi and her mom for dinner, and where last episode of my day in “Bizarre World” occurred. I was excited that I arrived promptly and looked around but didn’t notice Andi or her mom in the main room. I told the maitre d that I was looking for my friend and her mom and he said, “No, no hay nadie aquí así.”(No, there isn’t anyone here like that.) After about fifteen minutes I called Andi on her cell phone and asked where she was at – predictably she said that she was at the restaurant. I walked into the adjoining room and found Andi and her mom patiently awaiting my arrival.

My day in “Bizarro World” came to an end as we walked over to the Bellas Artes to watch the Ballet Folklórico de México. The costumes are colorful and the show is very exciting and comprehensive as each scene/dance represents a different part of Mexico.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Puzzles Purely Puzzle Me

The day started extremely well with Group 1B, and then it all evened out with the next group, 1C. I incorrectly thought not too much could happen as they had a quiz to take – wrong. Most students in this group don’t quite understand the concept of “If you talk while taking a quiz you will receive a ‘0’.” I was writing “0s” on quizzes left and right. I sent a number of students outside and towards the end of the period told them that I was just going to write a letter to the principal telling him what each had done. The letter reads (translated to English from the original in Spanish):
Esteemed principal,
- First Ivan was shaking Rodolfo’s desk and they both then were making movements as if they were having sex. Ivan says, “I wasn’t doing anything, I was just moving the desk.”
- Robby can’t wait his turn while using his hand. Also, while outside, he looked in the classroom, causing another distraction.
- Rodolfo is making “mouth farts.”
- José Elios was whistling and hit a classmate.
- Salvador was tripping others as they walked by.
- Rodolfo can’t stop accusing others and he says he didn’t do anything at all that is written here.
Raquel Sair
Now I’m seated in the calm of an Internet café – I tried a new one today. While the service is among the worst I’ve ever had, it’s a very tranquil place in a quiet area. While I sit here, I’m looking at the seating chart for Group 1C, trying to figure out how to distribute the students to avoid as many conflicts as possible. Ivan should sit in the first row so he can’t lean over or push the desk of a student who is in front of him. Jessica has to sit in the front row since she can’t hear well and Salvador likes to sit in the front row since he says he can’t see well, but he should have thought of that before trying to trip every student who walked by him today – so he’s now banished to the second row. Cristian moves to the middle of the front row, from being in the back. He needs help WAITING to be called on, rather than just calling out. With him close to me I’m hoping, or dreaming, that he’ll pick up some of my cues to WAIT. Robby is nice and close to the door, that way besides not having to walk across the classroom when I ask him to sit outside, he can also slip out when he needs a breather – since Ritalin doesn’t seem to be an option, I’m hoping this technique will have some effect. Gerardo remains in the back corner so that no one can watch him dance around or see how he sits with the nape of his neck touching the back support of his seat, as if he’s in a barber shop having his hair washed. The other back corner seems to be working well for Marco Antonio, who also likes to recline in his seat, so it’s all his for now. Sheldon is in the middle of the last row. He surprisingly scored a 9 on his quiz today (that’s extremely good as grades are on a 10 point scale) so I’m hoping his participation will follow suit and maybe he’ll even stop rolling his eyes at me. Carlos is towards the middle of the class as he is constantly participating and behaves very well. It’s easy to tell that he and Lupita will be the ones from this group to find success – they have self-discipline, a strong work ethic and are always respectful and patient. Rodolfo, a former “Star of the Week” has taken a turn for the worse, he’s in front of Lupita. Andrea is quiet and she’ll be fending for herself in between Juan and Salvador. I’m still trying to fit more than half of the class into the positions that will be most beneficial for each. I feel like I’m trying to work a Rubik’s Cube or one of the hand held puzzles with the plastic numbered squares that have one piece missing, with the objective to complete the puzzle in numerical order. Unfortunately, puzzles are not my strong suit – I usually just give up and walk away or hand it over to my cousin Lee to assemble it in record-breaking time. Maybe I can E-mail my class list to Lee (who’s majoring in Mathematics at Northwestern) with a description of each student and he can come up with some mathematical equation to arrange the classroom appropriately . . .

Monday, September 26, 2005

You Never Know What You’re Going to Get

It seems a bit tranquil around here today – it is Monday though, and I start the day earlier than the rest of the week so maybe the students are quieter for those two reasons. I started the day with Group 1A when we met at “Ceremonia.” For the first time I brought some paper so I could keep a list of points – pluses and minuses; the students definitely behaved differently as a result. Richi and Carlos sang the national anthem as if they were the most patriotic kids you’d ever meet. Carlos, a student who for the past month has seemed to care less about anything going on in class, asked me several times when I would put the points on his card.

We returned to the classroom and I explained how “The Stars of the Week” would work this week – students who have improved the most from the past week would be the winners. That way if a student didn’t earn any points the previous week and now warrants even four points, he has a chance of winning rather than a student who always receives ten or eleven points. The rest of the class period was spent taking a Spanish test – yes, I don’t understand either, but when I arrived at school today the “prefecta” said that I needed to give Group 1A the Spanish test during our English class period. Doesn’t make too much sense to me, as I asked, “Why don’t they take it during Spanish class?” I didn’t get a real clear answer; I think they take a math test each week during Spanish class. Later in the day I found out that it was some sort of standardized test, the same one given to all levels at the same time. It doesn’t matter that I don’t understand the procedure, I just have to do it, for this reason I believe that the most important quality a teacher needs to possess is flexibility.

Next I had Group 1C and Richi and Gerardo had a terrible case of diarrhea - of the mouth! They each promptly lost three points and new rule – 3 and you’re out. So they spent the rest of class outside and both protested before leaving. I am sure it made an impact on them and on the rest of the class that I did not give in, I said, “If you can’t follow the rules than you may not be in the class.” I did want to have them return as we were reviewing for the quiz, but it’s more important at this fragile stage to stick to my guns and not give in, not that I really ever do anyway. I felt like I was walking on pins and needles for 50 minutes, waiting for someone else to lose control. Instead, Ivan only draped his arm over the student in front of him one time, Marco Antonio didn’t even produce a “mouth fart” one time, instead he chose to participate throughout the class period and Sheldon just kept quiet – Gracias a Dios! I feel so relieved, like I was holding my breath for almost two hours and now I can let it go.

“Descanso” is in twenty minutes and I’m hoping the magic of the “Ball of Hope” continues. Today has been an excellent teaching day, so far. I am learning not to get too wrapped up in the highs and lows of the day since I never can tell what’s around the corner. I can’t stand roller coasters and this is the worst one I’ve ever been. It’s impossible to anticipate the curves or drops ahead, and I’m trying real hard now not to yell when they come up - I really don’t like myself when I yell at students. I’ve never yelled before and I don’t want to here either, it’s too much a waste of energy and disturbs the class even more than the original disruption had caused. The stern “teacher voice” and “teacher stare” is starting to cause enough of a reaction.

Sunday, September 25, 2005


To see photos from our outing, either click on this post's title, or copy & paste the following into your browser:

At 1:15 I met a bunch of Fulbright grantees (ones I had met Tuesday night at the Ambassador’s house) outside of Teatro Insurgentes. COMEXUS (U.S.-Mexico Commission for Educational and Cultural Exchange) invited us for lunch and a soccer game at the largest soccer stadium in the world, Estadio Azteca - it holds about 110,000 fans.

We began with a short van ride to a traditional Mexican restaurant where we dined on tortilla soup, beef or fish and flan or very yellow jello filled with something like eggnog. All the while we enjoyed a live Mariachi band with voices and accompanying instruments booming from microphones. We enjoyed the meal, and the one included alcoholic beverage, so much that most of us looked ready to take a nap, not exactly go to a soccer game.

Once we made it to the stadium, we were awoken by all of the excitement. Soccer fans are extremely passionate and the stands close to the field are filled with various fan clubs. Throughout the game, they proudly display their banners and also get a workout while constantly on their feet, jumping up and down. América did not disappoint its loyal followers, the team easily won 4-1 and continued its streak of over two years now without a loss. It’s been a long time since I’ve been as animated as América’s fans are at a sports event – actually it’s been two years, since the Cubs’ run in the playoffs.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Saturday in San Angel

I spent Friday night with Ada and Jane’s families, feeling as welcome and at home as always. After I walked the couple of feet back with Jane and Moishe to their house, we sat and watched a bit of the news of Hurricane Rita. Saturday morning I thoroughly enjoyed a great breakfast with Jane and Moishe. They taught me to eat a mango, my absolute favorite fruit, whole, on a special “mango fork.” Then I indulged in my favorite Manchego cheese on a tasty bialy and later I made room for a slice of cheesecake – however it is quite different here, more like pound cake.

After a bit, Eli, their son came in for breakfast. He lives in Houston but came to Mexico City when the city was evacuating. There were so many less security agents than usual at the Houston airport that Eli missed his original flight to Toluca, Mexico (about an hour from Mexico City) and instead arrived in Mexico City, unfortunately his luggage did end up in Toluca. He left his second floor apartment and all of his possessions behind.

I left their house and took a bus to the JCC for a while. Later in the afternoon I met up with Andi in San Angel, a great little area similar to Coyoacán, with cobblestone streets and old colonial-era homes and haciendas. The main Plaza Jacinto was the idyllic setting for a relaxing Saturday afternoon, as art vendors were distributed throughout. I didn’t make it into the actual Bazar Sábado (Saturday market) – one of the finest craft and art markets in Mexico that sets up in a 17th century stone building. We sat in a restaurant, on its balcony, and enjoyed some drinks and sandwiches while overlooking the quiet, tree lined plaza with the sun slowly fading away.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Teaching Tolerance

Friday, September 23, 2005

This week I’ve been busy working on a new PowerPoint to review introducing oneself and saying where one is from. I searched for photos of famous people from the countries that the students need to know how to say in English: Canada (the singer Avril Lavigne), Mexico (President Vicente Fox), France (Monet), Germany (Einstein), England (David Beckham – model and soccer player) and I still have many more countries to cover. I am open to suggestions for famous people from these or other countries; however, the people should be easily recognizable so that upon seeing their photo (or work of art in Monet’s case) I could ask the students in English, “What is her name?” After students give a response, the correct answer appears on the screen. Einstein is on the last slide in order to use this presentation as a transition to talking about and learning about the Holocaust; since he had to flee Germany and was given special asylum in the United States. I feel a sense of urgency now to find how to best present the subject to my students, as I discovered swastikas all over a student’s name card that keeps track of his points.

This morning I already had a chance to begin introducing the topic of the Holocaust into some students’ subconscious. I was sitting in the teachers’ room when a group of 3rd year students wandered in – my computer attracts them like bees to pollen. Out of the blue, one of the students asked, “Why don’t Americans like us?” I was caught off guard and asked what she meant by this. She mentioned the “mojados” (wet-backs – Mexicans who cross the river to enter the U.S.) and the government making immigration very difficult. I told her what I thought; that the Americans who hold negatives opinions about Mexican immigrants are not educated on the subject of immigration, nor the economic importance of Mexican immigrants. I told them how I teach a unit about immigration to my students in Chicago. During that unit I state that none of us are from The United States, minus Native Americans, and that it is a country of immigrants. So when I see a guy as white as snow defending “his country” from the threat of Mexican immigration, I ascribe his behavior to ignorance. He is clearly a citizen of The United States because his ancestors immigrated to the country.

I continued, stating that this is not a new phenomenon that the U.S. government limits immigration for certain groups. I mentioned that during the Second World War, when Jews had to flee Europe, the U.S. would not grant asylum to a great number of them. This is one reason why there are Jews all around the world - they had to find refuge in countries other than the U.S. At this point the principal poked his head in and I gave him a recap of what we had discussed and he told the students to sit down and stay to talk with me. When I finished my sermon, the student who posed the original question said, “Teach them maestra.” Through this program I will be able to better educate my students and communities upon my return. This is what Fulbright program preaches, using cultural exchanges to "increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries..."

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Weaving Between Worlds

Thursday, September 22, 2005

In the morning I set off from my fully furnished apartment, complete with cable, hot water whenever I want, microwave, toaster oven, outdoor seating area, washing machine and all the unnecessary comforts. Once I walk out of the house, there is another world that I am headed towards – three metro stops away. Along the way I encounter many who sell all types of things on the metro or in the metro station (CDs, keychains, chocolates, gum, wrenches, raincoats), or who sing or beg for money. It rips at my heart when I see children who as soon as they can walk, do with an older sibling who is maybe seven years old, or with a parent, wander through the metro system begging for money. Starting life like that is inconceivable, a true nightmare to roam the streets all day, hoping to collect a few pesos.

Once I exit the metro at the Acatitla stop in Iztapalapa, I walk down the stairs and about half way down pass by an old woman, head and body wrapped in a blanket, revealing only her leathered, dark, wrinkled face and her hand reaching with fingers curled and palm upwards, waiting for someone to surrender a peso. At the bottom of the stairs I step over a dog who is either sleeping or dead, pass by a couple more and make my way through the space between the few stands of tacos, CDs and magazines. From there I either walk the ten minutes to school or take a “bicitaxi” for a nominal 3 or 4 pesos. A constant presence at the “bicitaxi” stand is a man, a midget, who sits on a scooter with his legs, barely visible except for a bare foot, crossed Indian style below his heavy body. We greet each other with “Buenos días” and if there aren’t any “bicitaxis” already lined up, he reassures me that one will be along shortly. On the way to school, I see cars locked in “cages,” piles of garbage gathered along the curb, homeless dogs wandering and looking for something to nibble – I’ve already named one “Duke” and another “Benji,” who’s the saddest looking dog I’ve ever seen. Sometimes I stop to buy fresh squeezed orange juice from a young man who sits at his stand all day, using an old steel strainer to squeeze at least 6 oranges, each with a lime green colored peel, per order. He strains out the pulp and pours the juice into a clear plastic bag, ties a knot and inserts a straw. I reach the school, knock on the steel door a couple of times and when the window slides open, revealing a familiar face, I say “Buenos días” or “Hola” and the door opens. While everyone says how dangerous this area is, I don’t see it. I know that I am only there during the day but I see a sparse, quiet, poor area that struggles to get by. Most students wake each morning and make their way to school out of habit, rather than with a purpose.

Sometimes I leave Iztapalapa, from the metro line that is as far east as you can go on the system, and travel as far west as the system goes, to reach the Deportivo (JCC). I’ve already expressed how luxurious it is, but more distinguishing is its community atmosphere. There are children all over, surrounded by parents, family and friends, swaddled in towels, and given constant attention, love and praise. That world stands in stark contrast to the one outside its steel white gates.

I was in a “pecero" the other day when we stopped at a light, across from a viaduct where there were three children, each about 2 or 3 years old, covered in dirt and playing. Suddenly, one of the little girls fell down, straight forward and the tiny friends stood looking over her. There was no one to snatch her up, hold her close and tell her it was going to be all right – because it’s not. And then the light turned green and I continued on – towards another world.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Taxi Driver to The Ambassador

Yesterday afternoon I hopped in a taxi and headed towards Karina’s (the person in Mexico in charge of the Fulbright teacher exchange program) office in the Zona Rosa. About five minutes into the trip as the cabbie drove, he looked at his cell to read a text message, and then turned to towards me and said, “Can I ask you for a favor?” He needed to return the cab by 6 P.M. and wanted to know if I could get out and take another cab. Once I verified that I didn’t have to pay the 10 pesos displayed on the meter, I more than willingly jumped out and immediately found another cab. This cabbie, Gabriel, was fabulous – he complimented my Spanish, which of course guarantees him a tip while it’s not necessary or that common to tip cab drivers here.

It’s funny that I really take cab drivers’ compliments to heart. After having students laugh at something I say or try to correct something I say and not understanding everything they say or missing parts of the other teachers’ conversations, it’s refreshing and energizing to have someone acknowledge how well I do speak the language.

Gabriel lives right by where I work in Iztapalapa and he reacted as everyone does when they find out that I teach there, “Oh no, why, it’s not a good area at all, I’m sorry.” It was meant to be that I was asked to get out of the first cab and then find Gabriel, as he said it would only cost 60-70 pesos to take me to school, which would be helpful when I’m weighed down by “Kisses.”

More exciting than the cab ride was the fact that Karina and I were going to the Ambassador’s house. The U.S. Ambassador to Mexico hosted a cocktail party for about 150 people at his residence. The guests included past and present recipients of Fulbright grants and employees of COMEXUS (the organization that handles the Fulbright programs in Mexico). Andi and I are the only recipients in Mexico City on the Teacher-Exchange program but there are many others here as part of the Business Program and the Undergraduate and Graduate programs.

Karina passed the car off to valet and handed our invitations to the guard as we passed through the gate that hides the house. Karina had to arrive early to be sure everything was in order so we stood outside of the house for a while, where there is a spacious area to park cars, an elegant fountain and a U.S. flag flying proudly from atop its pole. At 7 P.M. guests were allowed to enter and we gathered inside, mingling, imbibing and nibbling on appetizers and desserts. The house is very modern and accented with enormous works of modern art displayed throughout, making it look like a modern art gallery, and there were several vases filled with Birds of Paradise flowers. There is a small den off to the side of the main entrance, two large open sitting areas in the main area and beyond the sprawling spiral staircase there are two large open dining areas. I had a great time chatting and learning about others’ placements for the business program and research topics for those here as part of academic programs. I finally had the chance to make some new friends and even scored some digits! After the cocktail party, the fun continued as many of us went to the bar Pata Negra (Black Paw) in Condesa.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Two For Tuesday

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

***20 años después - 20 Years Later***
Yesterday, September 19, 2005 was the 20th anniversary of Mexico City’s catastrophic 8.1 earthquake. Strangely, my dad was here for business on that day, so close to where I am exactly 20 years later. He has told me about being in a hotel room and looking out the window and seeing the landscape seemingly sway back and forth. It took less than a minute to cause overwhelming devastation to Mexico City and kill more than 9,000 people. During “ceremonía” we had a moment of silence for the victims of the 1985 earthquake. Then, at noon we had a “simulacro” - an earthquake drill. All of the newspapers featured the story and its aftermath and it also played on TV all day. I learned how Hurricane Katrina actually brought back memories for many Mexicans as they were able to empathize with the sense of urgency, feeling of helplessness and not knowing if loved ones were OK or not, but especially the lack of response on the government’s part.

***Armada con Besos - Armed with Kisses***
Before leaving my classroom for “descanso” today I stuffed my pocket full of Hershey’s Kisses; yes, at first just thinking of enjoying them myself but then I had a sudden stroke of optimistic wisdom. I decided that if I see a student doing something helpful, I would give them a “Kiss”. So, I approached one group of students and while eyeing two Styrofoam plates on the ground, I casually asked, “Do you want to help put those in the trash?” I thought they didn’t hear me or understand me; their expressions didn’t change in the least. Still hopeful, I headed towards another group, but this time I first said, “I believe if you do good things in life, you will receive good things in life.” Yeah, so my additional statement had no effect; so I moved on, 0 for 2. With the belief that you have to ask three times to hit upon the correct answer (as I do whenever asking directions or seeing if something is in a store), I prepared to face a third group. Again, I shared my “theory” and then, ever so reluctantly and skeptically, a group of 3rd year boys picked up a piece of trash each and threw it IN THE GARBAGE CAN! I promptly gave each a “Kiss.” Now, knowing that this could actually work, I approached another group, no such luck. On my final two attempts the students did respond. I intend to do this so often that maybe one day a student will throw a piece of trash in the can without the anticipation of receiving a “Kiss” in return – hey, a girl can dream!

Later in the day, I had class with Group 1C and owed two girls “Kisses” from “descanso,” so I began by asking the class if they knew why Thania and Jessica were receiving “Kisses.” Apparently word had already spread, as many knew the reason. I told the students that if I see them also do something helpful they might receive a “Kiss.” I added that I might not have “Kisses” with me so they’ll just have to take the chance of doing something helpful and in return possibly being awarded with a “Kiss.” I have a dream that one day I will shower the school with “Kisses.” I see myself standing outside of my classroom on the third floor and tossing “Kisses” into the air for all students to enjoy – of course the irony is that they would then have to clean up the mess.

UPDATE on Project: Armada con Besos
On Day 2, I have started having the students give me their Hershey Kiss wrapper after consuming the “mordida" (bribe – literally means “bite”). I am creating a “Bola de Esperanza” – Ball of Hope – and YES, I am going for “The Cheesiest Teacher of the Year Award.” But the students are more excited now since they do want to see how big we can make our aluminum foil ball! I’m in the process of looking up the world record to further inspire them. I believe it’s around 2,000 pounds or 909.09 kilograms according to this site (I couldn’t find it on Guinness’ homepage):
If anyone is planning to visit, feel free to bring along some big bags of "Kisses."

The photo attached to this posting shows the development after only 2 days. The other photo attached shows the public’s acknowledgement of the problem of not depositing garbage into a trash can. The sign on the garbage can that I saw in a movie theater reads, “How many Mexicans deposit garbage in its proper place? Unfortunately very few. Help us improve this. Honestly we need to.”

Monday, September 19, 2005

Why Am I Here?

“Why am I here?” is a profound question that most people contemplate at some point in their lives. For me, the meaning of this inquiry has changed quite a bit in the last five weeks. At first, with resentment I asked, “Why am I here?” Why was I placed at this school in Iztapalapa that lacks resources and lacks hope for its own students? Just months ago I was in a community that is rich in funding, resources, culture, parental support and superior teachers. Now, anytime I tell someone where I teach I face the reaction, “Whoa, that’s not a very good place. Not too safe. There are a lot of problems around there.” Often as I battle for the students’ attention and ask them to throw the trash in the waste basket, rather than on the floor, I wonder why I have to deal with this. I have been told of a number of excellent public schools and outstanding private ones; out of all the schools in Mexico, why did I end up at this one?

I just about reached my boiling point today as I noticed Juan, sitting in the last desk of six deep, drawing a swastika on his hand. Immediately I became flustered and then nauseous and swiftly regained my focus, as teachers are forced to in the worst of situations. For a minute I was able to deflect the other 26 students’ attention, and hastily scribbled a note for Juan to take to the principal, it said, “Juan needs to wash his hand but first he should discuss what he drew on his hand.”

Juan returned to the classroom with his hand washed but the principal hadn’t been available at that moment. After class I went to discuss the situation with the principal – I don’t know what I expected but I was told that the student probably didn’t know what the swastika meant and the students draw it because they see it and just copy it. I have a hard time guarding my feelings when confronted with a situation about which I feel passionately. I sternly said, “I’m here to learn from all of you, about your systems, not to change them, but this is going to change. If students are drawing these symbols without knowing their significance then they need to learn what they mean.” I continued, “I am Jewish, but even if I weren’t I would feel just as strongly about what I witnessed.” The principal went off on his own tangent then, confirming that I practice Judaism and telling me all about his studies of Christianity and how he always speaks highly of Jews. In conclusion, I was told that I could use my “Servicio” to teach the students about the Holocaust, including the meaning of the swastika.

Subsequently, it’s possible that I am here to not only teach the students English and about the United States but also to open their minds to people, cultures and historical events that they probably have never before contemplated. I’m sure this will be quite an interesting experience, teaching Mexican students, who have most likely never met a Jewish person before, about the Holocaust. Some say, “Everything happens for a reason.” Maybe it took this disturbing and uncomfortable situation to create a unique teaching opportunity. That seems like the right attitude to take, but only time will tell.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Livin’ the Life of Luxury at the CDI

This morning I took the metro for 40 minutes all the way to the end of the Blue line, #2, exiting at Cuatro Caminos and then hopping on a “pesera” (a van) for a couple of minutes until I reached the Centro Deportivo Israelita (the JCC – Jewish Community Center). I had the goal today of “renting” a locker so that I won’t have to lug my tennis shoes, toiletries, tennis racket and other necessities back and forth.

I caused quite the commotion as lockers are only rented for a year but I only have 4 months left here and didn’t want to have to pay for 12 months. When I persisted with the matter, sure that there had to be some compromise, I was told the computers are programmed to charge for a year’s rental. This irks me to no end when people act at the mercy of computers. The situation took a turn for the worse when I found out that I couldn’t rent a locker since I only have a visitor’s credential. Quickly luck shifted to my side when Ada and her girls entered the club just as I was about to give up, at about 5 minutes to 2 P.M. Lockers are only dealt with on Saturdays and Sundays from 10 A.M. to 2 P.M. About an hour after beginning the mission, all was resolved - the locker is in Ada’s name and on my credit card. I got a “deal” as I am not charged anything for the next three months and pay only for the 2005-2006 year – but I leave here on January 21?!?

Once I calmed down and put my belongings in my locker I bought a salami sandwich, a can of coke and some biscuit cookies and headed for the massive grassy area in search of a shady spot under an umbrella or a tent. All of a sudden I heard my name and joined Sam and his friend, Benny. I met Sam last Sunday, along with his wife Martha; their interactions remind me a lot of my parents. Sam has one daughter at Penn and a son in his junior year at The American School in Mexico City. When Benny asked what was up with the English, as Sam likes to speak with me in English, I told him I’m from Chicago. Benny then told me how he spent the mid-80s in Chicago studying for his advanced degree in Software Engineering at Northwestern University. He remembered it was the year that the Cubs made it into the playoffs and he attended the Bears game when Walter Payton broke three records – ah, the good old Chicago sports days. I eyed Sam and Benny’s tennis rackets and invited myself to play with them next Sunday. Now I need to look into taking a lesson or two this week to recharge my game.

Around 3:30 I headed upstairs to the fitness area and plugged my headphones into the “Cardio Theater” to listen to what was playing on the TVs up front. As I pedaled away on the elliptical I watched Sunday football with the Denver Broncos taking on the San Diego Chargers with commentary in Spanish. I was happy to hear that the Bears won today. When the commercials came on I flipped the channel to listen to the music videos playing on the next TV over. The area closed at 4 P.M. so I hit the showers. The locker room seems like it has trick mirrors to make it look bigger than it is but it really has thousands of lockers and there are even different showers to choose from depending on the type of showerhead; the showers are even controlled by a sensor.

The CDI facilities are incredible: A library with computers and Internet, an auditorium for performances, bowling alleys, food stands and a restaurant, a small indoor pool, an enormous outdoor pool with many diving boards, a small, shallow pool for children, an indoor play area for kids, a mini-soccer field, a mini-basketball court, plenty of bikes for the kids to use, at least 13 tennis courts, a couple of soccer fields to practice on and a real nice one for competition, a pristine baseball field, squash courts, a huge gymnastics area, a beauty salon, a stationery store and so much more.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Independence Day Weekend

Photos from Coyoacán's festivities can be seen by clicking on this post's title or by pasting the following into your browser:

Leading up to Mexico’s Independence Day and in recognition of September as the month to celebrate the homeland, buses have flags draped over side view mirrors or stretched across the back window, cars too have flags enveloping the hoods and flags soar proudly from residences, many also decorated with streamers and other adornments. Down so many streets vendors push shopping carts full of supplies for the festivities like giant Mexican flags and smaller ones, green, white and red beach balls, dolls, ribbons and barrettes for little girls and toys, plastic trumpets and noise makers for kids of all ages. At intersections, giant green, silver and red metallic bells hang symbolically.

To the casual eye, the ornamental bells may be simply a decoration; however, the bell is quite symbolic. At 11 P.M. on September 15 in town squares all across Mexico the epic acts of Father Miguel Hidalgo are reenacted. On that night in 1810, Hidalgo rang the church bell to call his congregation to the church for a mass; upon arrival, he rallied them to fight. Hidalgo gave the speech that is now called Grito de Dolores. He said "Viva Mexico" and "Viva la Independencia!" These famous words are said each year at Independence Day celebrations, honoring the “crucial, impulsive action that was the catalyst for the country's fierce struggle for independence from Spain”. ( &

On the evening of September 15, Coyoacán’s main plaza was buzzing with excitement. The infinite food stalls offered anything from desserts and snacks like flan, churros, cotton candy and waffles to heartier items like quesadillas, sopes, enchiladas, Pancita and more. There were rides for the kids and carnival games with prizes. All around the plaza couples, friends and children could be spotted dancing to the live music, performed on stage in front of the cathedral. From all over the plaza the music could be heard and the performers were visible, projected onto giant screens. At 11 P.M. shouts of “Viva México” filled the air with the same echoed in response. The booming of fireworks and a brightly lit sky followed. The evening was the beginning of a long weekend of celebrations throughout Mexico. September 16 is a national holiday honoring Mexico’s independence. Throughout the month of September the country bubbles with excitement, unites and revels in its independence.

¡Qué viva México!

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Let’s Go to the Movies

Across Mexico City, movie theaters are packed all day on Wednesdays – the discount day. Normally movies cost about $46 pesos, while they are less before 6 P.M. and even less before 3 P.M. On Wednesdays, however, a ticket costs about $28 pesos – prices depend on the movie theater chain. This Wednesday, Andi and I met at 3:00 outside of the metro stop Zapata that runs along Avenida Universidad and has two movie theaters within five minutes walking distance from the stop. I’d like to say that we saw some exotic foreign film and I could stretch and say that we saw a Southern movie that is a remake of a classic – but the truth is that we saw Los Dukes de Hazzard.

I have to say it was a lot better than I thought it was going to be – it was funny, action packed, suspenseful and they did a great job updating the characters and plot to the 21st century. The only part that I really thought went way over the top, and I’m sure a male opinion might differ, was Daisy Duke using her body to get something done in almost every scene in which she appeared. Almost any movie from the U.S. that I see here only adds to my educational experience; since the movies are subtitled in Spanish, I pick up new vocabulary and expressions.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

If It’s Not One Thing It’s Another

As the discipline has really come along, now it’s time to focus on improving the academics. Yesterday I gave a matching quiz, covering commands to use in the classroom: stand up, sit down, take out, open, close, put away, be quiet, pay attention, etc. Just to make sure they understood how to take the matching quiz, I went over an example beforehand. Now I know there are some test-taking strategies I need to teach them, like on a matching or multiple choice quiz, never leave an answer blank; if you know what “raise your hands” is, you should be able to figure out the translation for “lower your hands”; and always go with your first instincts.

The majority of the students failed what I thought was an effortless quiz. All I can do is encourage them to review and use the material outside of class. Today we moved on to the next topic of asking where someone is from, where he was born and where he now lives. For some reason I used the word “cargar” (to load or charge) and a student repeated the word. I said, “That’s what I said,” as I thought he was correcting my pronunciation. He said I should be careful when pronouncing that word and the class began to giggle. I understood the joke and was able to educate them about the word that they thought I said. They think I pronounced “cargar” like a 4-letter “F” word (to help you understand better), meaning “to strongly make love”. I did explain that even though I don’t use that word in Mexico, I do in many other countries where it simply means, “to seize, catch, grasp or gather”. I said, “For example, ‘I took’ the metro this morning.” This only invited more giggles – never a dull moment teaching junior high.

Monday, September 12, 2005

We’re Not in Kansas Anymore

I entered school just before my second hour class today, that begins at 8:20, ready to meet the group in the courtyard for Monday morning’s “Ceremonía”. When I punched my card in the office I slid by the five girls who carry the flag around and were dressed in the special blue and white crisp, clean and bright uniforms. So, I stood in the courtyard for a couple minutes, wondering where all of the students were and a teacher walked by and told me that we weren’t having “Ceremonía” today but this week it would be on Thursday – the day before Mexican Independence Day. We have school off on Friday, September 16.

Not long into the class period, the “prefecta” stuck her head in to tell us we would have a “simulacro” at 9:00 for just first year students. Strange that just yesterday I learned what the word “simulacro” – a drill, in this case for earthquakes. So, as we left the classroom I muttered to the students, “You’re going to have to show me what to do.” All I knew is to stand in a doorway – and I don’t even know if that’s for an earthquake. We went to the courtyard and stood in between the two buildings; I learned from another teacher that the students shouldn’t stand on the cracks in between the slabs of concrete. They should stand in the green painted rectangles that have written “Secure Area” in the middle. The drill was repeated during the next class period, with just first year students, and then again during the next period with all students. About three years ago was the last time there was a sizeable earthquake at the school.

While the principal addressed the 79 first year students, I made my way around, “putting out the fires” of students chatting, pushing or hugging someone and prompted them to pay attention. As bothersome as I found the students’ behavior, I was a little satisfied to find that they aren’t treating me any differently than how they treat their other teachers or even administrators.

The students, however, have been making great strides with their comportment in my class. Last Thursday and Friday I left school in a fairly upbeat mood – rather than my previous feelings of complete dejection since I was struggling to teach while fending off and sending problem students to the hallway or to the principal. Today, I already met my goal– to make it through a class period without having to send a student to the hall or principal’s office = Successful Day!!! Next goal – make it through a class period without anyone losing a point. That goal is going to be tough, but I have my “mordidas” (literally bites, but a word used in Mexico for bribes) all ready.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Carousing in Coyoacán and Groovin’ at Garibaldi

Click on today's title or copy and paste the following website into your browser to view undercover photos of Coyoacán and Garibaldi, taken from my cell phone:

I spent the afternoon with Andi wandering through the Saturday market in Coyoacán. We enjoyed an amazing empanada in a café along Coyoacán’s main plaza. Then, in the evening, we went to Plaza Garibaldi in the historical center with her co-worker and friend José Luis. Besides teaching English at the university with Andi in the morning, he also teaches at a Prepa (high school) in the afternoon and is in two mariachi bands.

Plaza Garibaldi has been a “nightlife hotspot since the 1920s with the establishment of Salón Tenampa and its mariachi band. Because of the success of the bar and the group, the plaza became a magnet for mariachi musicians. Now you can see mariachi bands strolling around Garibaldi looking for clients at all hours of the afternoon or night. On weekend nights, competing groups line Eje Central.” (Courtesy of the Moon Handbook on Mexico City) Eje Central is one of the main streets leading to the plaza and as the cars crawl along, the groups try to pick up gigs for private parties.

At first glance the plaza looks decrepit, run down and quite shady. After a bit, I got into the spirit of Garibaldi and enjoyed the mass of mariachis singing for small groups, servers offering drinks and others passing flyers and enticing customers to their restaurants and bars that line the plaza. We had some drinks and quesadillas and guacamole at the historic Salón Tenampa. At one point there were three different mariachi bands playing within the restaurant. José Luis “ordered” a song for us, for posted price of $70 pesos.

Friday, September 09, 2005

“Stars of the Week”

I arrived at school and quickly scrambled up the three flights of stairs to my classroom to cut out the students’ photos, tape them to fluorescent cardboard stars and add them to each class’ poster that is displayed in the windows. You can see the stars in the window from three flights down; so, it has other students and teachers asking me what it’s all about.

The “Stars of the Week” system is making a difference. When students chat with each other at the beginning of class many teachers stand in front and the students quickly realize that they need to quiet down. My students don’t exhibit that instinct – yet. Right now I could stand in front of them for the 50-minute period and not a whole lot would change from minute 1 to 41. Instead, what seems to work is writing “minus points” on the board and writing a students’ names if they are talking, touching a classmate (or wrestling one to the ground), calling out to me, making fun of a student who just lost a point . . . I have never believed writing students’ names on the board is a sound method of discipline; but, I have to adjust to a different environment, a different culture and that method seems to work here. In the U.S. we are so concerned with every little move we make and its effect on a child’s affect. Here, writing one’s name on the board seems effective in quickly smothering undesired behaviors without leaving the students traumatized or running home to complain to their parents – pretty refreshing, actually.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Pegando (hitting), Pizza and Finally, Pulled To Safety

I’ve been neglecting the Blog for a bit while voraciously working on a PowerPoint in hopes of capturing the students’ attention and heighten their level of interest. Today was the unveiling and I excitedly asked students to line up inside the classroom so that when everyone arrived we could leave for the audiovisual room. Bad idea.

I should have known better than to change a routine that has only recently been established. First, I saw one boy punching a girl. Luckily, right then the “prefecta” walked by and took on the case. Just as I was satisfied that we might make it out of the classroom, students at the front of the line said a girl was crying in the back. The student made her way to the door, stumbling and bouncing between the two lines of classmates as if she was moving through a car wash. Apparently another girl had been hitting her. The “prefecta,” still in the hallway dealing with the boy, now also took on the two girls. My new motto, “God Bless the Prefectos.”

It appeared that a revolt might be brewing among the masses, so I asked them to take their seats – OK, I yelled at them to take their seats. I proceeded to punish them with the most painful method I know how: The often-used parenting style, “punishment by guilt.” I explained the time and effort that I had spent creating the PowerPoint and how I had been excited to share it with them. The room became silent, the students’ guilt hovering, and with that, the mood was set for the students to walk in miraculous silence all the way to the audiovisual room.

After school I met Andi in Polanco and we made our way to Bellaria, an Italian Restaurant/Pizzeria I read about in the magazine Chilango. This month’s issue featured 43 of Mexico City’s best restaurants, including the Best Pizza Restaurants. I enjoyed the Cuatro Quesos (4 cheeses) with a smooth Negra Modelo and then a Coke, with lots of ice. Andi had the Margarita pizza accompanied with a glass of red wine. We had arrived at rush hour, around 3:30, and enjoyed a relaxing meal, leaving hours later.

After walking to the Polanco metro in a light drizzle, I headed south on the orange line towards Barranca del Muerto. When I transferred to the brown line towards Pantitlan, I molded into a bit of open space I spotted on a car. There wasn’t an extra inch of space in between passengers and even if I wanted to move towards the door to prepare to disembark, it would have been a nearly impossible feat. So, once the metro screamed to a stop and the passengers swayed back and lurched forward in unison, I said, “Con permiso” (excuse me) a number of times and made it to the doorway just as the high pitch sound began, signaling the closing of the doors. I quietly and desperately squeaked out, “¿Puedo salir?” (Can I get out?) I eyed a short, bulky, older white man standing on the platform across from me, wanting to board. He reached his arm out to me, I grabbed his hand and he yanked until I was expelled from the car. My backpack wasn’t so lucky; I didn’t let go, my left arm was still in the loop, but the bag hung behind me, trapped in the doors that closed like the “jaws of life”. I looked back and saw the passengers gripping the door, struggling to pry it open. The doors snapped open; I lurched forward and pitifully tried to play off the whole situation. I’m almost positive I could hear each onlooker mutter, “Foreigners.”

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Happy Anniversary Mom & Dad

When I called home to wish my parents a Happy Anniversary, fortunately they both picked up the phone at the same time – thus avoiding the ritual of mom cradling the phone in her hand, still not quite trusting of the hold button, and screaming across the house, “Raaaaaaalph, Raaaaaaalph.” She then asks if he picked up yet, I say “no” and after about two more rounds of “Raaaaaaalph, Raaaaaaalph” he joins us. So, as they both answered the phone I began heartily singing “Happy Anniversary to You” at which Dad hung up! I mentioned in an earlier Blog how awful my voice is, but to have your own father hang up on your well-intentioned rendition of “Happy Anniversary” that pretty much proves how awful my voice really is. OK, in all fairness to my Dad, he said he didn’t know who it was – maybe he thought it was one of mom’s friends . . .

Calling the U.S. (by landline) is actually a lot cheaper than trying to communicate within Mexico (by cell). To call the U.S., I bought a phone card online at that is 700 minutes for $50 – about 7 cents a minute. Within Mexico, my landline is cheap but the cell phone eats minutes like Pac Man gobbling up pellets while escaping from the Ghosts. When trying to make a call from the cell, without advanced warning a recorded voice says the balance has run out and a new card needs to be bought. Local calls are about 35 cents a minute. I’m sure a cell phone would be cheaper if I were to rent one or use it with a contract; however, contracts are for a year or a year and a half. So for now, I head to the ATM, take out $1000 pesos – tuck half of it safely into my bra and keep the other half handy to buy a card for $500 pesos and hope that it lasts at least a week!

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

The Good, The Very, Very Good
I had “Servicio” today and planned to show a movie. I said to the students who were in my classroom, “If you can make it from here to the audiovisual room without making a sound, you can choose something from the “Bolsa de Premios” (Prize Bag).” Astonishingly, they did it – they made it down the 3 flights of stairs, across the courtyard, up the one flight of stairs and waited outside the room IN SILENCE - I was bowled over and overcome with optimism for the future.

The Bad
The next class began, my optimism simmering, I sent a student to the principal for punching a classmate in the back, the flame quickly extinguished.

The Ugly
The following class was in full swing and came screeching to a halt when a girl came up to me to report that a classmate had spit on her. Wonderful. And off went another student to the principal.

Similar to Cubs fans’ eternally optimistic motto, “Wait Til Next Year”, my new mantra is “Tomorrow, I’ll get them tomorrow.”

Monday, September 05, 2005

Hogar Dulce Hogar (Home Sweet Home)

Finally, the unveiling of my home! To see photos of the outside of the house, inside my apartment, down the street and more, check out this website by copying and pasting it into your browser:

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Out for a (never-ending) Sunday Stroll

It’s 8:00 p.m. and I just sat down for pretty much the first time since I took off from my place around 2:30. I don’t know if “Forrest Gump” inspired me since I just watched it last week; remember he ran for 3 years, “For no good reason, [he] just felt like it.” Well, my journey wasn’t quite as ambitious as it started at McDonalds and ended at Starbucks. I have a good reason for why it started at McDonalds; before I set out I needed to get change since I only had a $500 peso bill (just under $50) and NO ONE would have change for that – the $200 bills cause enough of a problem, as even the $100s do if you’re buying something on the street. However, I have learned that McDonalds is one of the only places that doesn’t even flinch when paying for only a medium coke for $16 pesos with a bill as big as $500. OK, so now it’s understood why I stopped in McDonalds (which almost no one in Mexico understands if it’s not pronounced as “Mock donalds”), and I have just as good a reason for ending at Starbucks, I swear. The mall closes at 8:00 p.m., it turns dark at that hour and there is a nice little outdoor area here at Starbucks where I can sit until it closes at 9:00 p.m. and then there is a taxi stand right down the steps here. Since I am occupying a table here I figured I had to have something, just to be polite, right? I’m sipping an ice tea flavored with jamaica (hibiscus – very popular here) and indulging in a tort filled with white chocolate and raspberries.

When I departed this afternoon, I decided to head down southwest on Calle Xicotencatl - a street that I hadn’t yet taken to reach the center of Coyoacán. It was a great surprise to see how lively the center was today – when Faye and I went there (on a Saturday) and when I went last Sunday, it definitely wasn’t as animated. This is probably since it’s the Mes de la Patria (month to celebrate the homeland – Independence Day is September 16) and the center is decorated and people are buying streamers and flags for their homes. I bought some to use in my classroom next year - I bought the same for Danielle but don’t tell, I want it to be a surprise.

I passed the Mercado Coyoacán (I have to save something for another day) and headed south on Allende. The sidewalks were lined with people selling mirrors, clothes, straw baskets, dolls, candy, corn, balloons and more. I stopped in a Telcel (a cellular phone distributor) store and bought the attachment to download photos from my phone to my computer. Then, for a couple of minutes I stopped at a tiny stand and sat on short, plastic red stool in the middle of the sidewalk to enjoy a cheese quesadilla. The outside of the quesadilla was made from a cactus leaf rather than a regular corn or flour tortilla. The cook, a short, dark woman with weathered skin asked if I wanted green or red salsa – I paused and asked for the one that was less spicy. Intimidated, I eyed the red salsa dripping from the quesadilla. Armed with a water bottle, I hesitantly took a bite and it was perfect! Pretty good deal for $8 pesos. After lunch I bought some chips, Rolladitos (wheel shaped) and was glad to learn they are made from flour and not fried pig’s skin, as is “chicharrón”. I munched on the lime and salsa covered chips as I sauntered through the Viveros de Coyoacán (the tree nursery), taking in the fresh air.

The best part of my Sunday stroll? I found a laundromat – and it even is connected to a dry cleaner!!! I am so excited to pay someone to do my laundry – ironic since I just bought new detergent last week. Now, I just have to remember where it was . . .

Saturday, September 03, 2005

It’s All Fun and Games Until You Force a Kid to Eat Cake

Karina (the coordinator of the teacher exchange program) called me early today to invite me to her house for Pozole - eaten since Aztec times, when it was known as “pozolli” – a hominy stew (puffed and dried hulled whole kernels of corn that are eaten boiled) made with chicken or pork and garnished with radishes, oregano, chile, salt, lime, cream and onion. In this case it was filled with garbanzo beans and chicken and I topped it off with oregano, tons of limes and some cream.

To meet up with Karina I took off from the blue metro, #2, at the General Anaya stop (the second to last stop that is furthest south) and went all the way north and curved to the west, passing through the Historical Center. I disembarked at Cuitlahuac (the second to last stop that is furthest northwest) and met Andi at the Honda dealership at the corner of Cuitlahuac and México-Tacuba. Moments later Karina’s friend Tania met up with us and took us on two different buses until we were picked up by Karina and her nephew. Karina is also in charge of a business program and Yolanda, a new arrival from the U.S., was joining us. Yolanda is 40ish, married, from Arizona but grew up in Nicaragua and came to the states in the 80s. We circled the Zona Rosa trying to find her and when we did meet up, the 3 Americans stuffed into the back of the car with Karina’s nephew and headed towards a celebration for her oldest brother’s birthday.

I had a great time, as Karina’s family is so nice and welcoming. She has four older siblings and a lot of nieces and nephews who ran around playing with each other. After the pozole, the birthday cake was brought out and they did not sing “Feliz Cumpleaños” but instead, the traditional Mañanitas. The cake was covered with trick candles that spelled “Felicidades” (congratulations). After singing and blowing out the candles the family chanted what sounded like “take a bite, take a bite.” Karina’s brother complied and dipped his finger into the frosting. Then, he lifted his 4-year-old niece so she could do same, except she began crying hysterically. I don’t know, maybe it’s just me, but if someone were to force me to eat cake, I would be more than happy to comply.

One of my favorite parts of the evening was when we were chatting and I described the Stars of the Week initiative. Karina commented that it sounds as if I’m training dogs and I responded, “That’s exactly what I’m doing!” The students are my Pavlov dogs; they just need to hear that bell a bit more before they begin salivating knowing that the meat’s coming. Translation: The students need to go through the routine of earning and losing points a bit longer to get excited knowing that the more points they earn, the better their chance to win an award. As the evening came to an end, Karina’s mom gave Andi, Yolanda and me a homemade gift– she’s quite the artist, usually working with tiny seeds or sequins. Besides the company, I thoroughly enjoyed the scrumptious homemade food, the Pozole, the mouth-watering, light and full flan, all washed down by a couple of Corona’s.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Heh Pi Berth dey tu yu (Happy Birthday to You)

I’m definitely roping the students in; each day is a slight improvement. With new students joining the groups each day, I’ve been readjusting the seating almost continuously. It was an unexpected challenge when I directed students to their assigned seat by having them listen for their name and sit where I had pointed. So, one of the keys to the improvement is having every single detail prepared and set out before class begins. Since yesterday, before the students enter the classroom (they are accustomed to waiting outside anyway, as they ask the teacher for permission before entering) I have their “name cards” on the desk where they are to sit.

Also to help the classroom environment, I enacted “The Stars of the Week.” The deal is this – each day the students’ have a chance to gain or lose points, based on following the classroom rules and at the end of the week, the five students from each group with the most points wins a prize. Next week I’ll probably make it the five students who have improved the most. To get the students excited about this, I went out and bought about $30 (we’re talking dollars – not pesos) worth of candy for the bribes – I mean prizes.

Students may lose points by talking without WAITING after raising their hand, calling out to me, not sitting well (feet must be on the floor), touching anyone, accusing anyone of anything (I’m sick of “He did this, she did that”), making fun of someone, chewing gum or eating food in class or passing notes (I intercepted my first one today! Very exciting. It reads, “I’m sorry I didn’t think about what I did. Now if you want to be my girlfriend let’s try it for a while if you want.” – Too cute!)

Students may gain points if they are patient, raise their hand and WAIT to be called on, if they pronounce and say their answer loudly and clearly, if they help someone, if they teach me a new word or a better way to say something and if they behave well during the entire class period – no distractions, no outbursts and try to participate, and finally by.

In preparation for “The Stars of the Week” this morning I had the bicitaxi drop me off at the “papelería,” (stationery store) just beyond school, where I bought florescent (fosforente in Spanish) green cardboard to make stars and very thin white paper on which to put them. Then, I printed the students’ photos that I took during class yesterday, and on my pathetic looking stars, cut out of the green cardboard, I put the photo of each “Star of the Week”. The five stars from group 1A excitedly came to claim their prizes; Karla, Dayami, Sharon and José Francisco chose chips while Jorge took a Snickers bar. Since groups 1B and 1C had class today, I’ll post those winners on Monday.

With all of the excitement of “Stars of the Week” going on, I was still able to have the students help me do something special for Faye’s birthday. At the end of class I taught them the “Happy Birthday Song,” which many of them knew, but now the pronunciation is a lot better. On my iPod I recorded us singing “Happy Birthday to Faye” and will send it to her as soon as I edit my voice out of the beginning and end. Unfortunately, I can’t edit my voice out all together – my singing is pretty rough to take.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Culture Collisions (Not quite as big as clashes.)

I’ve had to substitute almost everyday, including today, given that the school was short a civics teacher (she just started a couple of days ago) and is still short a Spanish teacher. At 12:50 I blissfully dismissed group 1A, happy to have my one class of the day over and done with. But, just as quickly, they came back like a recurring nightmare; the “prefecto” told them I would be their sub for Spanish class.

The other day I commented to Luis (a very nice, passionate teacher with a fluffy head of short, dark hair and he also has an adorable little boy named Aldo) that substituting is very trying for me, dealing with students who are not in my classes and a subject that is not my specialty. Luis said that I didn’t have to try to teach the class; instead I could just play a video in the audiovisual room. When I said, “Wow, no one told me that,” he responded that in his first four years at the school no one had told him that he was entitled to 9 days off a year. So, today I put in the DVD “The Toy,” of one of my favorite movies, starring Richard Pryor and Jackie Gleason. Forty-five minutes into the fifty minute period, every single student was finally quiet. I was relieved, happy and exhausted like a new parent whose colicky baby finally fell asleep.

The teacher-student dynamic here is quite different from that to which I am accustomed. The other day a sweet female student was walking by and greeted me as most do here, with a shake of the hand and a kiss on the cheek. I often have to remind myself, “Go left, always go left” – the kiss on the cheek is always on the left. Well, I momentarily hesitated and went RIGHT! So, we almost had quite the inappropriate situation.

When I walked into Elvira’s English class the other day all of the students’ attention was drawn my way. The students were whispering and saying that I’m beautiful. As flattering as it is to be told that by 15 year-old boys, I obviously thought it was entirely creepy. I told Elvira that if they ever go to the U.S. they should NEVER tell a teacher that. But, as we’re not in the U.S. a boy then continued in English, “You are beautiful.” They said they wanted to go out with me. When I said I live far away in Coyoacán, one boy retorted that it wasn’t a problem because he has a car. Um, what’s going on with me getting hit on first by an eight year-old and now a bunch of fifteen year-olds? Well, at least the age is going up and not down! Sexual harassment just isn’t an issue here – whether it’s teacher-student relations or among colleagues. A student took my upper arm in his hand yesterday, for no apparent reason. Another student kissed me goodbye on the cheek today.

Each day at “descanso” music blares from a 3-foot speaker that sits on the ground outside of the “prefectos’” office. Yesterday they played Spanish rap music by Daddy Yankee, the guy who sings “Gasolina.” Well, one of the songs repeatedly shouted the word “culo” (a**). I just don’t see that going over too well in WJHS’s cafeteria, maybe if Kelly gets bored one day while on cafeteria duty she can try and test that!