This spring, 20 Enseña por Mexico participants (Profesionales de Enseña por Mexico, or PEMs) and 10 corps members from Teach For America’s Dallas, Texas region spent time visiting and learning from each other’s classrooms and communities as part of a unique exchange program between the two organizations. Eva Grajeda Chavez, Enseña por Mexico’s program director, developed the idea for the exchange after visiting corps members’ schools in Dallas where the vast majority of the students were Mexican American and where many classrooms participated in bilingual programs. While their national educational contexts differ in many ways, the universality of the challenges the corps members in Dallas, Texas and the PEMs in Puebla, Mexico are addressing offered a valuable opportunity to share ideas and experiences across borders. With the support of the US Mexico Foundation, Enseña por Mexico and Teach For America designed the exchange as an enriching learning experience that would broaden the perspectives of the participants in both programs, as well as their students. Two teacher coaches from each organization also participated in the exchange, as well as two teachers from Puebla who are not associated with Enseña por Mexico.
On visits to each other’s schools and classrooms, the PEMs and corps members observed new techniques and best practices that could be adapted to their own classrooms, and exchanged ideas about teaching and learning in bilingual environments. They engaged with eager students in both Spanish and English, sharing information about their own students, their local culture, and the communities in which they live. During each half of the exchange, the PEMs and corps members hosted their visiting counterparts in their homes and introduced them to their cities.
By all accounts, the inaugural Enseña por Mexico – Teach For America exchange was a success that both organizations hope will lead to more opportunities to collaborate and learn from each other's experiences. Below, PEM Jesús Lucero Alba of Enseña por Mexico and corps member Laleh Mojtabaeezamani of Teach For America – Dallas share their takeaways from the experience:
On first impressions:
JESUS: My first encounter in a TFA classroom left a powerful impression on me. I visited the students of corps members Miguel Ortega and Jonathan Dionisio Pena and showed them a video of my school. It was an incredible moment. Both my students and the class I was visiting participate in bilingual programs, and the first thing the students did after they learned that I was from Mexico was to ask me with a friendly smile, “Hola, cómo estás?
LALEH: There were many differences between the schools I visited in Puebla and my school in Dallas. One thing that surprised me was the size of the classes. In Texas, the legal limit is 24 students per class. In Puebla, there are classes with as many as 50 students. I also learned that while most classes in Puebla have from 35 to over 50 students, in some of the less-populated cities in Mexico, classes can be as small as five students.
On their fellow teachers across the border:
JESUS: In Dallas, I had the opportunity to observe schools in different districts, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. I’m confident, however, that the impact of the Teach For America corps members teaching in Dallas doesn’t depend on what their schools do or do not have, it depends on what they do in and outside of their classrooms. The love and care with which they lead their lessons is reflected in the effort, dedication, discipline and joy in everything they do.
LALEH: After just two days in their classrooms, it was obvious how much the Enseña por Mexico PEMs genuinely care about fixing the status quo in their education system. One of the PEMs I observed teaches an extra class after school to 12 students who are interested in attending a university after graduation. They spend this extra time enriching what they’ve learned in class so they can catch up to the students from communities with more resources who they will be competing with when they apply to university. This same PEM also serves as the school nurse. His office doubles as the nurse’s office so students stop by throughout the day for medicine.
On the students they encountered:
JESUS: When I finished showing them the video and photos of my school, the students were very excited and began asking a lot of questions:
Why is the school so small?
Don’t they give you any breakfast?
Why is there nothing on the walls of the classroom?
Why do they live like that?
And so many others…
After I answered their questions, the students reflected on the advantages they had compared with many of the children in my school. They showed their understanding and made meaningful comments, such as, “We can do anything here with a little effort,” and, “We should be taking advantage of the opportunities we have.” The students even wrote letters for my class, and sent gifts such as Easter eggs, pens, and erasers, along with heartfelt messages encouraging my students to continue working hard and to never be defeated.
LALEH: Before the exchange, I was worried that I would not be able to connect with the students in Puebla because of the language barrier and the fact that they’re in high school and I’m used to teaching second graders. This turned out to be far from the truth! I was amazed by the receptiveness of the students as I introduced myself to each class. I prepared a presentation explaining who I am and why I’m interested in education. The students really seemed engaged in learning about education in America and were wonderful during class.
Every day, students stopped me to say hello and to introduce themselves in English. They were often nervous, but talked to me through big smiles. Students also wrote me notes in English that they translated online. It was amazing to know they wanted to talk with me and learn more about why I was visiting their school.
On lasting impressions:
JESUS: I can still see the smiles on my students’ faces when they opened the letters from the students in Dallas, and how surprised they were when they saw differences between their own school and the schools I visited in the US. The experience has inspired many of them to want a different future than the one they expected they would have—a future they know they can achieve through hard work and dedication.
Jesus and his students.
LALEH: On my final day of visiting schools, I taught my first class of high school students. It was very interesting to find that skills and approach I’ve learned as a Teach For America corps member transferred very well to a classroom in Mexico. Despite the very different context and age group, I was able to use the same techniques to engage the students in learning. It’s reaffirming to know that good teaching is good teaching, no matter where you are.