But there was still another semester at the community college to complete.
And, as it happened, an opportunity to substitute teach. The head of the college English department informed me that a substitute English instructor was needed for several evenings at the Technological Institute of Ciudad Juárez, and I offered my time.
I looked forward to the extra money and, more, the experience, however flickering, of “teaching in Mexico.”
I met with other American instructors―mostly full-time ones at the institute, I presumed―of various subjects at an El Paso shopping center near the border, and we climbed into a van for the ride south.
Evening traffic on the various bridges connecting Juárez with El Paso was considerably less than that during the daytime, so we entered Mexico with a minimum of delay. We then hurtled this way and that over the more streamlined avenues of Juárez to reach the institute southeast of downtown El Paso. The campus of the 35-five-year-old institute was spacious and tidy.
Prior to my first class, I met with a pleasant bi-lingual administrator of the institute, and she led me to a second-floor classroom where I was to substitute. The room had the familiar drabness of my classrooms at El Paso Community College and UNM. The mujer introduced me to the students in Spanish.
The students were generally older than any I’d taught in America. Many of them were smartly dressed, the men in business jackets, dress shirts, and ties now loosened, the women in blouses, skirts, and heels. I assumed most of them had spent the day working in mid-level or more advanced jobs in some of the dozens of maquiladoras―Mexican assembly plants for computers, mobile phones, appliances, auto parts, and medical devices―I’d heard so much about since moving to the borderland.
I have little recollection of the precise nature of the English my Juárez students were being taught, although it likely had something to do with communicating with English in the business environment. The administrator told me that many of the students spoke English, although not with great fluency. If the class was using a textbook, I was not shown it.
I quickly concluded that my purpose as a substitute was not to delve into the class’s current linguistic focus, but rather to fill the 75 minutes of class time with conversational English about any topic under the desert moon and make the students feel that they were continuing to get their money’s worth. I encouraged the students to tell me what they did for a living and share the challenges they felt they faced as students of English. I also prattled on, quite self-consciously, always wondering how clearly I was communicating, about myself and my impressions of the borderland. As with my older American students, I sensed my Mexican students were all highly motivated. To a person, they were respectful, and I liked them throughout.
After class, the drive back to America was even more disorienting, as night had fallen completely over Mexico and the spring winds drove clouds of dust over the feverish streets and neighborhoods of Juárez.