Academic journal article High School Journal

A Case Study of Schooling Practices at an Escuela Secundaria in Mexico

Academic journal article High School Journal

A Case Study of Schooling Practices at an Escuela Secundaria in Mexico

Article excerpt

This article reports results of a qualitative study conducted at a public escuela secundaria (U.S. grades 7, 8, and 9) in Guadalajara, Mexico, during the spring of 2010. As the second phase of an ongoing project, the main goal was to learn from direct classroom observation about the most prevalent teaching and institutional practices at this level of education in a region from which large numbers of English learners arrive in the United States every year. Findings contribute to the limited existing knowledge about the school culture typical of Mexican schools, which includes warm relationships between teachers and students across content areas, the infusion of technology in curriculum and assessment, and the active role of parents in school governance. Practical information presented in this article may help U.S. teachers better understand the prior educational experiences of Mexican-born students and design effective instruction that facilitates their adjustment to cultural norms, routines, and expectations in U.S. classrooms.

Keywords: Mexican English language learners, educational system in Mexico, cross-cultural competence, culturally responsive teaching


Culture encompasses the distinct beliefs, moral values, norms of behavior, commonly agreed-upon symbols, communication styles, traditions, and artistic expressions shared by members of a society, which are often transmitted from generation to generation. Culture may be defined as the way life organized within a community, and it includes the ways that members of this community use language, interact with one another, take turns to talk, relate to time and space, and approach learning (Villegas & Lucas, 2002a, 2002b). The concept of culture has evolved over the years, but what has remained constant is the fact that culture involves both observable and non-observable components. According to Cole (1998), "culture is exteriorized mind and mind is interiorized culture" (p. 292). Everyone has a culture, which is central to an individual's identity, and cultures evolve in response to life experiences.

Through culture people make sense of the world and their everyday lives. Being all-inclusive and all-pervasive, culture impacts everything, including teaching and learning. Not only may the home culture of foreign-born students be different from that of their mainstream teachers in the U.S., but also the school culture foreign-born students were used to before entering the U.S. school system may be dissimilar to the norm in this country. Therefore, it is essential that we learn as much as we can about our students to help avoid alienation, clashes, and misunderstandings that are often born out of misconceptions and insufficient knowledge.

Immigrant students cannot make this "cultural translation" (Ross, 2008, p. 9) on their own and need teachers who can bridge cultures and provide responsive instruction, which will encourage students to take ownership of their classroom experiences. Teachers can accomplish this after having closely examined their own identity and realized how it was shaped and continues to be shaped by cultural experiences. Self-reflection, then, becomes an essential part of becoming increasingly culturally competent, a process that is ongoing in nature. In this article I attempt to show that when teachers have a good understanding of their foreign-born students' previous school experiences, they will be better able to connect with their students and help them acclimate to the new school norms and expectations without sacrificing their own cultural identities. Cross, Bazron, Dennis, and Isaacs (1989) contended that to work successfully with students from different cultures, teachers must abandon "the belief that the approach used by the dominant culture is universally applicable regardless of race or culture" (p. 15). Thus, we need to accept that what we call "best practices" in the U.S. may not apply to classrooms in other countries. …

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