FORT WORTH – Laura Fores and Sergio Bayona both landed in a Fort Worth classroom last fall. Fores came from Spain, Bayona from Mexico.
They ate different foods, listened to different music and celebrated different holidays. The one thing they shared in common was the Spanish language.
Through that language, they are learning about each other’s cultures and weathering the culture shock they are experiencing in the United States.
Fores is one of 26 Spaniards recruited to work in Fort Worth schools as bilingual teachers. Bayona is one of 5,500 students, 98 percent of whom are Mexican, enrolled in bilingual classes taught in Spanish and English.
The visiting teacher program is in its third year in Texas.
Spaniards are also teaching in Houston, Austin, Laredo, Tyler,
Henderson and Garland.
In Fort Worth, while there are some critics, many educators and parents are happy with the results and are hoping for more teachers from Spain next year.
“I like the way she’s teaching,” said Nancy Falcon, whose son,
Sergio, is in Fores’ prekindergarten class at Hubbard Heights Elementary. “She’s teaching more than what I expected my baby to learn.”
For the most part, the differences in Spanish are minor, Falcon said. For example, Sergio uses the Castilian Spanish pronunciation of “th” for the letter “s,” as in “uno, doth, treth” – one, two,
Fores said she is learning new words, including some that many Mexicans use and believe to be Spanish but which are actually Nahuatl, one of the many indigenous languages of Mexico.
At T.A. Sims Elementary, teacher Mario Mateo encountered the same thing. “If I use marron for brown, two or three hands go up and the students say, ‘That’s not how we say it,'” he said.
Fores also learned what a pinata and a tortilla are. And she celebrated Dieciseis de Septiembre and heard mariachi music for the first time.
The hard part for the Spaniards is arriving in Texas two weeks before school starts, getting a crash course in American education and Texas curriculum and then finding an apartment, a car,
furniture, dishes and everything else they need.
Most come to improve their English and get more experience teaching. They complain of being overloaded with paperwork, working much longer hours than they did in Spain and of not knowing how to discipline students. They learned to decorate their classrooms with colorful teaching posters, which are uncommon in Spain, and to eat lunch much earlier.
“It is very hard,” said Montserrat Quibus, who teaches third grade at Hubbard Heights. “The first six months was just training.
I had no personal life.”
The Fort Worth school district helps them find apartments near one another, and provides each with a bed. Pat Linares, associate superintendent of operations, took several into her home the first year until they got on their feet. Now the Spaniards help one another.
The main criticisms stem from the Spaniards’ cultural differences and the high turnover.
“When you’re going through culture shock, it takes away from the kids,” said Mercedes McCurley, a second-grade teacher at Richard Wilson Elementary, where nine of the Spaniards are assigned.
McCurley and others ask why the district doesn’t recruit bilingual teachers from Mexico, which has a surplus of teachers because so many students are coming to the United States.
“Culturally, they are closer. You’re teaching your own people and you’ve seen what the children have been through,” said McCurley,
who is Colombian but has lived here 12 years.
Linares said that Texas has no exchange program with Mexico but that Mexican President Vicente Fox has mentioned the possibility of starting one.
Superintendent Thomas Tocco said the cultural differences are not much greater than those most new teachers have with their students.
Most new teachers are white, like the Spaniards, and come from more privileged backgrounds than many of their students.
Linares said the district also wishes the Spaniards would stay longer than one year because new recruits have to be trained all over again. They have one year contracts and are paid according to experience. All are certified teachers in Spain and some come with a few years of experience.
Six Spaniards came the first year, and four of them returned in 1999 and 2000. Thirteen more signed up in 1999; of those, eight returned this year along with 15 new teachers. One is teaching Spanish at Western Hills High School.
“They’ve done a good job for us,” Linares said. “We have 27 teachers where we may have had none.”
Linares has gone to Spain on three recruiting trips. Tocco has gone once. He took his wife, Jean, whom he paid for separately.
Assistant Superintent Juanita Silva went once. The employees paid for their own food and taxis.
This year, Linares hopes to bring back 20 more Spaniards to help fill the anticipated 30 to 40 bilingual vacancies the district has each year. The district employs 293 bilingual teachers and receives about 3,500 new immigrant students each year, most of whom are Mexican and speak only Spanish.