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Sharing authentic Mexican culture

Exchange proves rewarding for visiting teacher

Marina Rodriguez Garcia, a university teacher from Puebla, Mexico, is teaching Spanich classes for a year in Dallas.

Photo by Jolene Guzman

Marina Rodriguez Garcia, a university teacher from Puebla, Mexico, is teaching Spanich classes for a year in Dallas.

December 30, 2013

DALLAS — Marina Rodriguez Garcia's first day teaching classes at Dallas High School didn't go exactly as planned.

Rodriguez Garcia, an exchange teacher from Mexico, had a lesson plan for her first Spanish classes, but her students had something else in mind.

They wanted to know all about her.

After being bombarded with questions, Rodriguez Garcia abandoned the plan and led the class on a cultural exchange.

"They were asking and asking and asking, so it was very different from the plan I had at the beginning," Rodriguez Garcia said in a recent interview. "They all wanted to know everything about me, and it still happens. I frequently have to stop what I am doing and say, 'OK, let's do it. Let's share culture.'"

Rather than a distraction, Rodriguez Garcia considers questions from students a compliment — and an opportunity for the students to teach the teacher instead of the other way around.

"That is the main objective of this," she said. "I'm not here only to teach. I'm not here to replace somebody. I'm here to share."

Rodriguez Garcia is one part of an exchange between Puebla, Mexico, and Dallas sponsored by the Fulbright Teacher Exchange program. Dallas Spanish teacher Kurt Woolner is teaching her university classes at Benemerita Universidad Autonoma de Puebla.

Both teachers were joined by their families on the year-long exchange, in which only 28 teachers were able to participate this year.

Rodriguez Garcia's husband, Alvaro Salgado, daughter, Fernanda Salgado, and son, Aldo Salgado, have made Dallas their temporary home, living, working and attending school here. The family was made to feel welcome immediately.

"We thought that we were going to arrive and work and that is it," she said. "It was not like that. The community has been amazing to us.

"We feel very blessed to be here," Rodriguez Garcia added. "I feel very blessed to be here with the students because just a few teachers have this opportunity."

The staff at Dallas High feels equally privileged to have Rodriguez Garcia in the classroom, as well as in weekly professional development meetings.

Marina Rodriguez Garcia helps students in her third-period class write post cards in Spanish. She says she is adjusting to teaching high school-age students.

Photo by Jolene Guzman

Marina Rodriguez Garcia helps students in her third-period class write post cards in Spanish. She says she is adjusting to teaching high school-age students.

Assistant Principal Brian Green said both teachers and students benefit from the fluency and cultural perspective Rodriguez Garcia brings as a native Spanish speaker.

"It's different than hearing someone speak who has learned Spanish as a second language," he said. "They hear the accent, the fluidity of the language."

The experience hasn't been without its challenges, however.

Rodriguez Garcia has had to adapt to teaching students younger than those she teaches at home and the more informal environment in classrooms in the United States. Students are more outspoken here, and she still is trying to adjust to that.

"I think she has done a really good job with that," Green said.

In fact, Rodriguez Garcia said she's found she enjoys working with the high school students.

"I enjoy it very, very much. I like being with young people," she said, than added with a laugh: "I feel younger when I am with young people."

There also have been a few practical challenges. Cook-ing, shopping and household chores — for example, clothes dryers aren't needed where she is from in Mexico — are a much different experience in Dallas than they are in Puebla.

Then, there's the climate — especially during December's cold snap and snow storm.

"Weather, oh my god, weather," Rodriguez Garcia said. "It is very, very cold."

When frustrating situations do arise, Rodriguez Garcia has chosen to embrace them.

"It has been a whole cultural experience," she said. "It has not been easy, but that is what makes it good. If it is not difficult, what is the challenge?"

Her goals before arriving were to improve her English and gain a better understanding of the culture behind the language, both of which she's doing with each passing day.

"There is no language without culture," Rodriguez Garcia said.

She's also learned something unexpected from her Dallas experience.

"I have learned my culture is beautiful and that many of the students are interested in knowing about my culture," she said. "I learned that many people here love my language, and that was a nice surprise."

Meet Marina

Who: Marina Rodriguez Garcia.

How many years teaching: 16.

Why teaching: She wanted to be a communicator and found that teachers have to be effective communicators. "You communicate every day," she said. "You have to be aware of the reaction of the audience and change your strategy if it is not working."

Family: Husband, Alvaro Salgado; son, Aldo Salgado; and daughter, Fernanda Salgado. They have joined her on the exchange.

Where she lives in Mexico: Puebla.

Where she teaches in Mexico: Facultad de Lenguas in the Benemérita Universidad Autónoma de Puebla.