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A Narrative Account of a Teacher’s 20-year Experience in the Field of English Language Teaching in Mexico

Introduction

Narratives in Humanities and Social Sciences are prized as they offer insights into people’s private worlds expanding our knowledge through the understanding of others. Hence, this is an account of my 20-year experience as a practitioner in the field of English Language Teaching (ELT) in Mexico. The data here provided is based on empirical practices, informed by formal education and continuous developmental processes.  

Vocation Finds Profession

My initiation in ELT began as a high school student when a respected teacher asked me to be her assistant in my group’s English class. As a 16-year-old, I found this to be empowering, as I was able to take over her role as ‘the teacher’; an act that interestingly, came innate to me. 

Before concluding my high school studies, this same teacher had encouraged me to sit a language examination called “FCE”, officially known as Cambridge English First[1] as well as a 12-month pedagogy course divided into 3 modules offered by pedagogues from the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM) in the city of Pachuca, Hidalgo, Mexico – city where I have lived, studied and worked, for the mainstream of my life –.  You can imagine my enthusiasm when I was voluntarily, and not, spending my weekends at the state university with teachers from various fields of study who were at least 15 years older than me; learning about the founding fathers of pedagogy, and later moving on to the educators of the new era. At that point in time, I was still unsure of how that knowledge would result beneficial to my interests, as I had my mind set on becoming an accountant.

The day I enrolled to the undergraduate degree in English Language Teaching at the Universidad Autónoma del Estado de Hidalgo (UAEH), I felt an aching on my chest. I had, long and ardently, been persuaded by my former English teacher, to join this programme for I was “a natural”, she said. I understand now, that perhaps I was too young to recognize the notion of vocation of teaching, regardless of having experienced it first-hand. 

I, therefore, began my undergraduate studies in July 2000. A month later, on August 8th, 2000, I was signing my first English teaching contract at the high school where I had recently graduated from. It is important to state that this public high school, along with many others in the state of Hidalgo, had established English as a mandatory subject in the 1990’s and due to the fact that English language teachers were scarce, hiring conditions were lenient. Regardless, this was personally far from comfortable; I had to properly comply with both activities and rapidly reach a level of maturity equally as a university student and in my task. Needless to say, days were long and sleeping hours were limited.

Unavoidably, I made mistakes. The language classes I taught were, more often than not, based on my apprenticeship of observation (Lortie, 1975) and what I believed were ‘good’ teaching practices according to my personal experience as both a language learner and as a student in general. Methodological teaching knowledge was gradually incorporated in my practice as I advanced in my undergraduate studies. Nevertheless, it was after approximately 7 years of teaching experience and participating in a year-long teacher exchange programme to Richmond, Virginia, USA by means of a Fulbright-Garcia Robles[2] scholarship hosted by Comisión México-Estados Unidos (COMEXUS) and the US Embassy, that I began to feel competent as an English language practitioner.  

De-constructing the Construct 

Professional vocation does play a chief role in the career of any professional, it enables people to set and achieve goals as well as, endure and overcome difficulties. However, one seldomly remains the same throughout a professional career; one evolves and with evolution, comes growth. From 2007 all the way through 2013, aside from being an English language teacher, I was also appointed: Head of Language Staff, Head of a Self-Access Centre, Coordinator of the undergraduate degree in English Language Teaching and Head of the Applied Linguistics Department for the Universidad Autónoma del Estado de Hidalgo, my ‘alma mater’. Within each position, I was presented with new contexts, new colleagues, new knowledge and new experiences that, activated a constant re-organization, de-construction and most importantly a co-construction of my professional paradigm in ELT.

At first, I faced these changes with fear and uncertainty, one always feels more confident – regardless of our formal studies – when knowing exactly what to do; for me, that meant teaching English. However, embracing transitional periods with openness, willingness and collegiality, allows for positive outcomes – be it experiential, developmental or re-directional –, even when results are far from expected. 

From the beginning of 2017 until the end of 2019, I once more transitioned from being an Educational Project Manager for the British Council Mexico[3], a Pedagogical Coordinator for a private basic education institution in Mexico City and an Academic Consultant/ Examiner for CENEVAL[4]. I can firmly state that my current professional construct is comprised by a wealth of experiences, contexts, colleagues, re-construction of knowledges as well as formal, formative and critical reflection processes that have paved the way for the stances and positions in the field that I hold today: Founder and General Director of ELT Services & Consulting, Article reviewer for Reflective Practice: International and Multidisciplinary Perspectives (Taylor & Francis Online), Teacher Educator, Writer and Researcher – by choice –.   

The Effect of Continuous Professional Development

I was not organically offered the positions previously mentioned by having only an undergraduate degree. In 2009 I became a Teacher Trainer for Trinity College London[5] and have been running Continuous Professional Development (CPD) processes in Mexico and Central America since then. To date, this is one of my passions in the field of ELT, which led me to enrol to an online Masters Programme (2009-2011) with the University of Southampton, UK., and then a Research Doctorate degree (2012-2017) – blended mode – with the same university. I had access to these programmes by obtaining full PRODEP[6] scholarships with support of Universidad Autónoma del Estado de Hidalgo and the British Council Mexico.    

As a Teacher Educator – as I prefer to call myself –, I became aware of the reality of teaching needs for development in our country; which, more often than not, are dissociated from the standardized –one size fits all– professionalization processes that school authorities, policy makers and institutions demand from practitioners. By contrast, CPD is an inherent, moral, ethical commitment (Mann, 2005), which evolves around each individual’s personal perceived needs for development regardless of the professional community/ communities you may belong to (Godinez, 2018). My doctoral research fully engages in this dilemma. 

I will not attempt to provide an in-depth description of the challenges and demands that my masters and doctorate studies brought to me as a Mexican woman, as a graduate student and as a researcher in the field of Applied Linguistics; this discussion calls for a blog entry of its own. Yet, I will say that, both graduate programmes enabled personal, thorough, systematic, critical reflective processes regarding a number of fixed paradigms that I held not only in the area of CPD but, in the field of ELT in general. These personal lived processes brought me to the understanding that, there can be no fixed notion of reality, especially in Social Sciences. Whenever we become set in our constructs, they become an obstacle for our development and that, of the community who surrounds us. 

Concluding remarks

Narrating twenty years of professional practice in sixteen hundred words seems insufficient and perhaps, even unfair to the many people, contexts and events that contributed to my professional career. However, it is with hope that, my personal experience can be of use to someone in the Mexican ELT community. Collaboration and collegiality are enhanced when communication is opened, honest and ethical; this is what I have aimed for throughout my account. 

Jovanna Matilde Godinez Martinez, PhD

ELT Services & Consulting  


[1]Cambridge English First: B2 First, formerly known as Cambridge English First, is one of fourteen Cambridge English Qualifications. A B2 First qualification proves you have the language skills to live and work independently in an English-speaking country or study on courses taught in English. (Cambridge Assessment: English, last modified January 1, 2020) https://www.cambridgeenglish.org

[2] Fulbright-García Robles: Fulbright-García Robles, COMEXUS supports Mexican and American students, researchers and teachers, to carry out postgraduate studies, research stays, teaching and professionalization programmes in the United States and Mexico. (COMEXUS, last modified January 1, 2013) https://www.comexus.org.mx

[3] British Council Mexico: The British Council is the United Kingdom’s international organization for cultural relations and educational opportunities. The British Council’s operations in Mexico began in 1943. (British Council, last modified January 1, 2020) https://www.britishcouncil.org.mx/en     

[4] CENEVAL: The National Centre of Evaluation for Higher Education, in Spanish Centro Nacional de Evaluación para la Educación Superior (CENEVAL), is a non-profit civil association whose main activity is the design and application of instruments for evaluating knowledge, skills and competencies, as well as the analysis and dissemination of the results of such tests. https://www.ceneval.edu.mx/web/guest     

[5] Trinity College London: Trinity College London is an international exam board, with a rich cultural heritage and a positive, supportive approach to assessment and development. (Trinity College London, last modified, January 1, 2020) https://www.trinitycollege.com

[6] PRODEP: Teacher Professional Development Programme for Higher Education, in Spanish Programa para el Desarrollo Profesional Docente para el Tipo Superior (PRODEP), is a program within the Federal Government’s Office for Academic Development that, seeks to professionalise full time teachers so that they are able to reach capacities, knowledge and skills in research-teaching and technological development and innovation, and with social responsibility, articulate and consolidate themselves in academic research groups and thereby generate new academic communities capable of transforming our social world. http://www.dgesu.ses.sep.gob.mx/PRODEP.htm

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