Teaching in Mexico Adds New Dimension to First-Year Teacher's Experience

U of A graduate Marisa Buller teaches students in her intensive English class.
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U of A graduate Marisa Buller teaches students in her intensive English class.

University of Arkansas graduate Marisa Buller went to Mexico for her first job in teaching and she has signed a contract for a second year. She has found the experience fulfilling both professionally and personally.

A graduate of Bentonville High School, Buller completed the Master of Arts in Teaching degree program in foreign language education in the College of Education and Health Professions after earning a bachelor's degree in Spanish, French and Latin American and Latino Studies from the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences. Her family on her mother's side is originally from Mexico but most of her relatives live in California so she had been to Mexico with her family only once. She was also not a native Spanish speaker.

"Two friends and I went to an international job fair and we saw schools recruiting from all over the world," Buller said. "I would tell future M.A.T. students, don't be afraid to try something like this. Mexico felt right to me. When I told my family about it, they were kind of freaked out, but when you're looking for a job you have to go with what feels right. I signed the contract never even having visited the area. Sometimes taking that leap and doing something that seems kind of out there can be the most amazing experience and you can learn so much more than you ever thought you would."

Buller teaches in the city of Torreón, which is in the state of Coahuila in the northern half of the country. She has done as much sightseeing as she can and has traveled to areas from where her ancestors came. Her mom came to Mexico to visit her over spring break.

"We got to see things that are really important to our heritage that we might not have seen otherwise," Buller said. "My relatives in California are also following my experiences here through Facebook. They're all really proud of me — not only for starting a fulfilling career, but also for using it to explore our cultural heritage."

Buller teaches English to 10th-graders and French to 11th- and 12th-graders at a private, bilingual, Catholic school and is considering taking some graduate courses in English as a second language delivered online by the U of A. Students in her intensive English classes are approximately at the sixth-grade level and have recently transferred from primarily Spanish-speaking schools. They are becoming acclimated to a bilingual environment through the intensive English program.

"All of my kids are English language learners," she said. "I'm able to carry over a lot of what I learned (in college), but I want to learn more and I think it would be really great to learn more about teaching English as a foreign language or a second language."

The school hires native English speakers from around the world and provides housing and other benefits. Buller could make more money if she taught in the United States, depending on where she got a job, but the benefits such as housing as well as the intangible aspects such as the cultural exposure make it worthwhile to work in Mexico.

Her class sizes are smaller than what is typical in the U.S. and in Mexico, she said, and the students' families and the other teachers are supportive. All of her older students plan to go to college.

"I'm learning a lot about teaching here as well," Buller said. "When it's your first year, everything is a learning experience."

At the U of A, she learned techniques for teaching a foreign language to someone who is fluent in English so she had to adapt that thinking when she started teaching students for whom Spanish is their first language.

"In the classroom, we try to stay in the target language 100 percent of the time, which means emphasizing the language that is the focus of the class," Buller said. "However, because we're all at least bilingual, we can compare our languages when necessary. In French class, that is really cool because all of us have some proficiency in the same three languages. I speak English, Spanish and French, and the students know English and Spanish and are leaning French. It can be hard to explain the grammar rules but when we compare languages, we have 'ah ha' moments and it clicks for them."

Buller attends after-school Spanish classes taught by one of the Mexican teachers twice a week. This helps to improve her Spanish and gives her the opportunity to learn Mexican and regional slang.

One of her 10th-graders has a visual disability, which helped her expand her use of literacy devices and grammar concepts.

"For instance, we just finished our poetry unit," Buller said. "My high school teachers always said, 'Imagery is when the author describes something so well that you can see it.' That definition was too narrow for my students. Instead, I told them that imagery can appeal to many different senses. We read a poem about a beach, and my visually impaired student told me that the language used in the poem made him remember the smell of his favorite beach, and the crunching sound of someone walking on sand.

"So far, my first year teaching has been incredible. My students make me laugh, drive me crazy and amaze me every single day. I reckon I'm in the right profession!"

Contacts

Heidi S. Wells, director of communications
College of Education and Health Professions
479-575-3138, heidisw@uark.edu

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