The following comments are from English teachers who have taught, or are currently teaching English in Puerto Rico.
Teaching English in Puerto Rico has been a nice experience, but frustrating too. As a K-3 English teacher the public schools in Puerto Rico visualize you as a teacher that’s going to give a 50 minute break to the home room teacher. They don’t provide you with a classroom. You have to go classroom to classroom with all the materials you are going to use. You rarely have a wall in the classroom to hang up visual material (like alphabets, days of the week posters, etc.) I think that a K-3 English teacher should have a room where students can have full access to the English language.
Gladys 7 November 2006
I’ve worked in Puerto Rico for 23 years and it’s wonderful, but they don’t pay much. New teachers start at about 1,500 a month.
Hilda 17 April 2006
I’ve been a teacher for 15 years in the Tri-State area of New York and in a lot of cases I never had a classroom or any place to hang material as visual aids. I don’t think Puerto Rico’s school system is to blame for lack of space. I think you will find that in any school system with any size population and underfunding teachers are dealing with the same problem. Don’t blame the country, region or area for not having a classroom.
Al 23 January 2007
Hi. I have been teaching English at university level here on the west side of the island for three semesters now. I was surprised on arrival about how little most students knew and spoke English. I was told they had some ten years or so in the school system. Puerto Ricans have such an advantage if they saw the worth in knowing two languages. Not saying they don’t because due to the financial situation here they learn all too late in life they should have paid more attention to what their English teachers taught them. I honestly love teaching here. I do wish they would strike English from the school system all together. They could then set up more private bilingual schools for those that really want to learn the language. English is a foreign language here not a second language. If it did stay in the public schools, they could teach it like the Continentals teach Spanish, French, and German. Either way, Puerto Rico is wonderful and I give a lot of respect to all those that teach especially English down on the island. If you want to know more about the island teaching, look for Down on the Island by Jim Cooper. It has a wonderful insight to what it is all about here.
Lignelli 4 February 2007
This is in response to Lignelli’s post… please do not be surprised about the fact of how little most students in Puerto Rico know and speak English. In Puerto Rico we speak Spanish 24/7. Kids take English as another subject required to obtain the High School diploma. We are required to take English from K-12, and then around 6 more college credits for a BA. Kids are also required to take mathematics from K-12, and then at least a few more courses while attending college. Not everyone is good at languages as not everyone is good in math. Indeed, Puerto Ricans have an advantage of knowing two languages. It is nothing to do with their financial situation, but preferences. Some people enjoy learning English but some do not. Some English teachers care, some do not. Some enjoy learning but others do not. Some can afford private schools, some can not. It is up to us teachers to install that urge of learning into our students so the new generations to come will be more capable of facing the business world out there by knowing two languages at least. Teachers can make a big difference in this world!
Nancy 31 January 2008
I have lived in Puerto Rico for almost 4 years and have had direct experience with students in both public and private schools along with teachers due to my job. To respond to Nancy and Lignelli, I must say a few things. Puerto Rico is a US Commonwealth, so English is NOT a foreign language, it is a second language. And while teachers in all areas of the world deserve respect for what they do, most here on the island need to step up what they do. The students are not learning things here. I deal with them everyday. They are way behind. I realize that teachers don’t make much money here, but nor do they anywhere else. Being a teacher is not just a wayside job. It’s something you have to want to devote your time to. I really wish that Puerto Rico took more interest in their students. And students took more interest in their studies. But most of all I wish parents in Puerto Rico would stop doing their kids homework and let their kids learn for themselves.
Sara 13 February 2008
Puerto Rico needs alternative schools that are not effected by politics and their decisions. Teachers there are undervalued by its politics. Students are often left with days of no school. Many days are wasted.
Anonymous 29 July 2008
Students in Puerto Rico are undereducated. Too much teaching time is wasted. Too many holidays, bad weather and teacher attendance effect the amount of time a student is taught. Puerto Rico needs to step up to provide its students a quality education. Puerto Rico needs schools that are not effected by its politics. No decisions are made and nothing gets done. I worked in Puerto Rico’s public schools over 30 years ago. My salary was 800.00 a month. Today, it is 1,500.00 a month. The cost of living is high and very little has been done to improve teacher’s salaries. Government officials and other wealthy people send their children to private schools. The rest of the population is left with a public school that is not catching up with the new demands of higher learning. Puerto Rico needs alternative schools. When alternative schools are offered or in the plans, I am willing to relocate and teach there again. I want to come back home.
Sara 8 November 2008
I agree with what has been said about teachers stepping up to the plate. Teaching is not just a “job” it is a calling, a craft, a desire to equip children for life. But in all fairness, the political powers that be, do not rank education as their first priority. Shameful. Every one of them had to go through elementary school. If your making big bucks..thank a teacher. I don’t know what is going to happpen, but I do know this, education is fundamental to a pseudo comfortable life. Come on people in power, start giving credit where credit is due. And teachers, love it or leave it. You do more harm than good.
Jeanette 5 June 2009
It’s true we (teachers) need to up our game and work hard on the many challenges we face here on the island. I have taught English here for 3 years or so now and I can say that if you aren’t forcing them and not making them feel like you are a super power (IE US), then the students relax and take it all in. I read above that someone said it is an ESL environment. No way. EFL all the way. There may be some students that are ESL, but the majority of them are back in Spanish as soon as they leave the classroom (or during for that matter). I don’t agree with this statement though, “Not everyone is good at languages as not everyone is good in math.” Everyone can be good at math and languages. We all have the capacity to learn languages (more than one). It is up to the student whether they truly absorb and care to absorb the language. Teaching is not easy but that’s why we signed up for it. The pay is not great either. But really if we wanted to get paid, we all would be doctors then wouldn’t we?????
Lignelli 12 June 2009
I agree that students are below learning levels and that English is taught as a first language not a second language. There is a lack of interest shown by parents and government. Many parents care for the benefits (food stamps) they acquire by having the student in school and not what they learn. The government also gets it’s benefits by having students fail (federal help). I’ve been a teacher for 28 years and it’s sad to say that as years go by teaching is becoming a real challenge. ESL should be taught as ESL oral communication in elementary levels so that students can acquire vocabulary. Reading skills in middle school and so forth. English should be used fully in classrooms. I’ve seen English teachers teaching in spanish. I teach 11 th graders and believe me students lack vocabulary. They don’t even know the alphabet in English. I love to teach and inspite of the fact that it’s very frustrating, I try the best I can to motivate them.
Marlyn 11 November 2009
I love Puerto Rico and some may say that it’s the teachers fault and that they dont take advantage of the language, it might be true and it might not. In the US we give the students the same opportunity to learn a new language like spanish, german and french. But since there are requirements to finish high school some do their best because they really want to learn some dont care as long as they are passing. And it’s sad because after teaching them a second language and showing them the advantages, they still don’t care. Some students know what they are going to be doing in 2-5 years, some just say college is not for them and would rather work in Burger King. What kind of future is that for our kids??? It’s not the teachers’ fault! Kids nowadays want the easy way out.
Marien 19 January 2010
I have lived in Puerto Rico for 21 years; I have taught English for eight of those years. Currently, I am the editor for two institutions of higher learning and give a graduate-level English-composition course at one of them.
I agree with the majority of the comments found here. What concerns me, however, is that, validity apart, these writings are full of errors – most of which are basic enough to make me question the abilities of the writers to teach the language in which they are writing. Ranging from misspellings to grammatical errors, incorrect uses of punctuation to vocabulary mistakes, the problems in the notes above go far toward explaining why our children are not learning English properly: it is not being taught to them properly.
To teach a subject, you must know it; you must live it. If you do not embrace it, revel in its every nuance, you are wasting your and everyone else’s time. Thus, I have spent nearly half a century learning, absorbing, deconstructing this language (with much yet to learn) and am confident that my use of it exceeds the average individual’s. I have worked hard to be the best.
Teaching is not confined to four walls. It doesn’t start and stop at the sound of a bell. A teacher teaches. Always. If you write a note to a student informing him/her that spotty attendance is “effecting” his/her grade, you have just taught that student something that is incorrect. Like it or not. The mistakes that you have made in your comments here will serve as false lessons to the person who has come here to learn. This is unforgivable. If you are looking at this forum as a place where you can “relax” and “let down your hair”, think again: You are not engaged in a private telephone conversation. The writing here is intended to be read and therefore must be of the highest quality. Before I post this note, I will have gone over it a dozen or more times; I will have sent it to a trusted colleague, asking for his input. Does the drinker of knowledge who comes to this fountain deserve any less?
You, the one sitting complacent, bathed in the glow of your screen, before you curse my infuriating insistence that it don’t count if it ain’t correct, please understand that I am aware of the complexity of the situation: money is in short supply, respect for teachers is at an all-time low, students are less interested than ever in learning. I understand as well the unfortunate reality that teachers are as human as anyone else and as prone to mistakes. My admittedly black-and-white take on this issue presents only observations; for answers you will need to turn to a different kind of expert. My arrogance extends only so far. I am not qualified to offer any solutions that don’t include the word “should”; and I’m sorry to say that this word is too tentative to be of use.
The point of this diatribe is that before you bemoan the terrible state of things, analyze your contribution to it. Wake up and smell the chalk dust. It infuriates me that … well, in fact, the whole untenable situation infuriates me! More than once in the past 12 years, my children have come home with English assignments that are incorrect: either the supposed answer or the writing in the assignment itself, sometimes both. Lest you think I view myself as blameless, be assured that my passivity in response to these events makes me as guilty as any: instead of marching down to the school and clamoring for action, I have stayed at home and counseled my children to listen to me rather than to the teacher. How does that help?
It is broken, the system. Beyond repair? Perhaps. But if you, the teacher, are not versed enough in the language you purport to teach to write one error-free paragraph, then I guarantee that any solution that might be forthcoming won’t be spilling from your pen.
Bob 10 February 2010
Who is to blame? Unfortunately, it is everyone’s fault. I grew up in Puerto Rico, and I was born in the USA. My parents NEVER helped me on my assignments, homework, or projects, yet I was top of the class because of my efforts and willingness to learn. Out of my two other sibling, I was the only one who graduated from high school and completed a bachelor’s degree at a University. I can only remember very few teachers from my childhood, and I studied for most of my life in Puerto Rico but completed 12th grade in the United States. I cared very much for my teachers in the island, but only recall mistreatment and even discrimination from the teachers in USA.
In short, I believe if someone wants to learn, there are no obstacles to stop him/her from doing so. A teacher can be great, but if a pupil has no interest, there is nothing the teacher or the parent of that individual can do. The system can be awful, parents might be irresponsible, teachers can be cruel, but if the will and eagerness to learn is greater, no one can change that. So, why is it everyone’s fault? Because some teachers get tired of teaching and/or giving their best because they are underpaid ( unless they are not in it for the money), parents are too involved in their jobs and work hard to make money and survive ( and many times forget about their children’s education and quality time), and many students have no respect towards their teachers ( since the system prohibits an adult from “hitting” or reprehending a child, because is considered abuse), so most students do as they please because the only consequence for their actions is a suspension from school ( and staying at home is better than waking in the morning to go to class). Where are the repercussions for the actions such as fighting in schools, or using fowl language, etc? Why is everyone blaming the teachers, when the system is responsible for many of the things going wrong in schools? How is everyone so calm when the most important jobs in our communities are becoming scarce and the people who studied for years are suddenly facing unemployment or getting underpaid or forced to become individualized ( doctors) because hospitals are now crowded and everyone has free healthcare, and no one pays? Teacher and doctors, ladies and gentlemen, are necessary in our lives. Teacher’s are still necessary, even when some students don’t care about their education, there will always be a few that will take advantage, and doctor’s are important because we face illness everyday of our life’s.
So back to education, it is every single one of us as individual who need to make decisions of either wanting to learn, become educated and live a better life, or give up on school, be comfortable with a mediocre lifestyle, and hope to win the lottery or marry a wealthy man or woman.
It is not just in Puerto Rico, the United States is awful on education, and many schools are closing down because they don’t meet the requirements by the state, students are under achievers, and the violence in the schools here increases day by day. English might be the first language, but with the new generation of people, using abbreviations and slang, the proper English is becoming almost obsolete. The African-American community started the slang, which is now mimic by the Native American, white, Latino, and even Asian community. So, where is the teacher in the USA to correct them? How come no one speaks about such issue? The topic is too long to be discussed in a blog, but rest assure, the USA is also responsible for the lack of proper English, and since the system protects the rebel youngsters, there is absolutely nothing we can do as civilians or citizens.
Jess 6 April 2010
I teach English as a second language in a public school on the Island. It’s satisfying at times, and frustrating at times. I believe my students can learn much more, so I work hard looking for alternatives to motivate them and prepare them well. Some students are very willing to work, others not. On the other hand, more parents should get involved in their student’s education. Too many of my student’s parents never check notebooks, leave their kids at home for any reason, and do not show up for meetings. I wish more parents and teachers were willing to work together to help our students not only recognize the importance of learning but to give their all for the benefit of the students and the future of our people. And yes, the system has much to blame, but I can’t and will not wait for the system to work. I must add, there are many brilliant men and women who studied in our public schools, have graduated from our Universities, and have very well paid jobs. Some live here and others have moved to the US, which means that even though, we have done well we must do better.
Anonymous 14 September 2010
The problem in Puero Rico is that English is imposed on our students. We must understand that the approach taken to teaching English to our students is not correct. English as a Second Language is an approach that needs to be studied hand in hand with the language of English in the environment. In Puerto Rico we do not use English on a daily basis and therefore we do not have the exposure needed for ESL to work. Another problem is that the text books used are not inviting and interesting enough to motivate students to learn the language. Teachers have a more difficult time with our students because we need to create new strategies and look for different methods so the little these students learn can be useful and helpful in their daily life… We should not treat it as ESL BUT AS EFL.
Melissa 17 November 2010
I have commented above a few times now over a span of a few years. I have been in the university sector for the last three years. There are a few things about teaching the lower levels of English that I have learned over the years. Before that though, PR is both ESL and EFL. There are enough oppurtunities to provide an ESL environment, but it does take some work. English to many is fear. Fear of sounding or looking one way or the other. Anxiety destroys learning. They honestly think they can’t do it. If you provide an atmosphere of fun or even seriousness, they get it. Not every student is a student. I believe that everyone can learn a language. It takes something and whatever that something is will be the driving force for them to learn. Teachers have to realize it. Frustration is part of the game. Accept the successes with the failures and learn from them. English can’t be forced. Once the gov’t and society decides that langauges (all of them) are important, more students will understand they need to learn English. Showing them the need and teaching them the significance are two different things.
Lignelli 27 February 2010
I have been teaching in the same private bilingual school for eleven years. The salary is not enough for me to live off of if it were not for my husbands. Many teachers choose the profession because of the schedule (the soooo many days off). I chose this profession because I truly love the satisfaction of teaching my students. I work hard and find different teaching alternatives to ensure students LEARN the skills they need to continue on to the next grade. The factors that result in our students not learning include: Mediocre teachers who think giving work is more work for them, parents who say their jobs are more important than studying with their children, teachers who are hired to teach in English, but teach in Spanish, students who don’t understand the importance of school because their parents don’t instill the importance of learning in them. These are struggles I am faced with when teaching and every year the next group I receive are more and more behind in the skills they need to begin the fifth grade. I always find myself stressed trying to catch them up, therefore having to work harder and harder. I believe good teachers should be compensated for their hard work with a better salary, but find co-workers who work less than me receiving raises. Frustrating? Frankly I wonder if the love for my job is enough to continue my profession in Puerto Rico. Maybe someone can advise me or maybe us good teachers can make a support group.
PR TEACHER 1 October 2011
In response to Sara. English is not a de facto second language in Puerto Rico. There are very few niches or contexts where the language is spoken and most of the ones that exists are not accessible to the vast majority in the island which is one of the criteria used to classify English from the world english framework approach within an existing socio-cultural context. In other words, it is more a foreign language. Furthermore, English is deeply associated to notions of American colonialism and acculturation which can also get in the way of motivating Puerto Ricans students to learn the language, and as you may already know motivation plays a huge part in acquiring in any given language, along with exposure and opportunities to practice. Again, the lack of contextualized uses of English also contributes to the lack of those other elements of language acquisition (exposure and practice) This is why English is not widely attained by Puerto Ricans.
The situation of English education in the island is far more complicated than asking teachers to step up. There are also other aspects to consider at a macro level such as language policies and education curriculum.. Even though English might be approached as a second language in the island (which is only on theory and not in practice) the curriculum used to teach English as well as the materials are addressed to teaching native speakers of English. The curriculum used in Puerto Rico’s education system is channeled through the U.S. system. What we get is a watered down translated version. In other words, the decisions that are made in education in U.S. does affect the education in Puerto Rico. If you take a closer look at the No Child Left behind act, it limits the spaces where English can be taught under an ESL approach and the implementation of many bilingual or dual programs. There is a specific clause in that act that allows Puerto Rican education in the island to use the native language of the population as means of instruction. Which means that there are no specific instructions as to how to teach English in the island for that particular context.
Trust me, I speak from experience. I was born and raised in Puerto Rico, and did my school, colege and graduate studies in the island. I have degrees in English linguistics, English Education, and I’m currently doing Doctoral work in culture, language and literacy which basically means that I’ve done my research. Hope this helps clarify a few things for most.
Mirta 15 December 2011
It is a bit frightening to see the numerous grammatical mistakes made by people writing on this page who claim to be bi- lingual and actually teach English in bi- lingual schools! The overall discussion seems to agree that the problem is the SYSTEM. Here in Puerto Rico the PRESS and the Political Parties tell the Puerto Rican people almost daily that ” if they speak English, they will be LESS Puerto Rican..” Naturally, the ones with money send their kids to mainland schools where they must speak English! Of course this attitude is tantamount to LINGUISTIC and ECONOMIC SLAVERY since if they do not speak English in the world economic market, they will be working in a fast food joint for minimum wage for the rest of their lives!!! By the time I get them when they are middle or senior managers in some US company, they are having trouble competing with their US based co-workers.
Maria Procaccino 6 June 2012
I was born and raised in New York City and spoke Spanish before I spoke English. My father was from the island and didn’t want English spoken in the home. As an adult I went to live in Puerto Rico and the way I was able to earn my living was teaching English and Spanish, only I was an Instructor for one of the Language Schools. That meant that I was not licensed as a teacher but learned a method and taught conversational English and Spanish. It was very rewarding emotionally to see the students eyes light up when they “got it”. I found them to be enthusiastic and interested, eager to learn. I would like to think that it was because I made it interesting and thought provoking. I taught everyone from the children (starting at age 5) to adults learning English for business. I also taught mainland Americans Spanish, they were there on job assignments and tutors (like myself) were hired to teach them. One of the things that I found interesting was that there was embarrassment and teasing from others toward the university students but the little ones soaked it up like a sponge. All it all it didn’t pay much but doing the hokey pokey with the little ones to teach them the parts of the body in English was one of my favorite lessons. I feel fortunate to have been able to go to the land where my Mami and Papi came from and make myself useful.
Sonde Laton 17 June 2012
It is not true that English is taught “as a first language not a second language” as Marlyn stated. Unfortunately, children are not exposed to the target language and are taught English in a grammatical level. In order for anyone to learn a language one must be engaged in activities that foster communication skills. The key is to speak the language not just learn by filling out blanks.
Marisa 7 August 2012
Being an English teacher in the Puerto Rico Public Sysytem is not an easy task. Teachers begin at about $1,500 a month and are expose to many differences and inconveniences in the classroom and schools of the island. I’ve been a teacher for nine years and every year student’s disposition is less. A large percentage of parent’s don’t support students at home and it has become a very big challenge for teachers in the classrooms. Too many demandingd from the department of Education and no increases in the income, more responsibilities and too much work that we teachers then have to bring home daily in orden to be up to date with our responsibility as educators…love my job but it is not as when i started teaching nine years ago.
Darlene 16 Sept 2012
I have taught English in the public sector in Puerto Rico and there has never been enough school materials and/or books available for all the students. The response to this is “get it copied” and when I try to get worksheets photocopied I never get them on time or copied by the “person in charge” because they have run out of paper or ink. Honestly, I don’t even mind “floating” through my K-4 classrooms because they never clean the classrooms anyway and I end up with severe asthma attacks and allergies. Another thing that is so frustrating is the lack of silence in these school settings and technology in the classrooms and if you don’t agree with the “power” teachers they can be very mean because they can get away with it because all schools are like little “kiosks” in the community and the Department of Education’s bureaucracy doesn’t deal with these problems directly. That has been my experience, but I’m a middle aged teacher that has to pay very expensive utility bills and still has to work before receiving any retirement benefits if they are available after all the recent cutbacks in that department. Teaching is not a fulfilling job because after all this sacrifice statistics show that students end up hating English, school and dropping out eventually.
MAM 4 Jan 2014
Wow…Started reading all the comments, agreed and disagreed with the many things here stated, but cut the reading short, to give my opinion.
I am not a teacher, however, I am a parent of two teenagers who were born in Puerto Rico, yet have never been exposed to public nor private schooling in PR as we relocated to the states when they were babies. I, however, have been exposed to both Puerto Rico and NYS public school systems. Therefore, I feel I am in the position of giving an honest opinion on this issue.
P.S. I am hoping no grammatical or syntax errors occur, however, please excuse me Bob, (smh). In no way am I admitting you are better than me in English, nor vice versa. But you did come off as “trying too hard”. Your use of “effecting” was incorrect by the way. I am certain you did that on purpose though.
Spanish is indeed used 24/7 in PR. The fact that we are a Commonwealth has nothing to do with what our primary language is and how English is NOT it. To Puerto Rican families, learning English is a choice. It is an option, not a necessity for some. I don’t believe economic or political factors have anything to do with it. Some people strive for more, dream beyond the island, others simply don’t.
That being said, as a Puerto Rican parent, I would want nothing less than my child to be multi-lingual. My home is bilingual, and currently, they are taking German and French as alternatives in school. They could have chosen Spanish, but they and I, “opted” to go with the different language.
I agree with some teachers that indicate that English should be treated as a foreign language more so than a second language. Give the children the opportunity to select what language they want to learn and be exposed to. It makes it that much more fun and challenging.
It’s funny because I went to school my first 12 yrs. in NY (bilingual), then moved to PR. The next 12 yrs. proved to be interesting. I was exposed to a whole different world school wise. Teachers and their attitudes were dramatically different, more laid back so to speak, homework was never a “big deal”, the fact that I had so much “free time” when teachers were absent was mind boggling. Besides struggling a bit at the beginning of my move, I graduated top grades from high school and moved on to UPR-Mayaguez. I was blessed to have been exposed to the English language as a child, but Spanish proved to be my greatest asset thus far in the corporate world.
All in all, there are good and bad teachers, teachers that care , others that don’t. There are English teachers like Bob who are anal about their English, others teach a more conversational, laid back, basic English. Teacher’s may or may not be the problem in PR.
It’s definitely not the pay nor the limited recourses that are affecting children’s grades/learning in PR. That is seen in any public school in the states where there is some sort of “lacking”.
However, children are influenced by their parents and immediate family members. They emulate behavior and it is definitely up to the parents to plant that seed of desire, drive, knowledge and support in what they do.
I am considering relocating to the island and exposing my children to the same Spanish I was exposed to after 12 yrs of NYS school and I admit I am not afraid of them lacking in any way, only if I were to place them in a private PR school. Public? Not so much. Not necessarily because of them losing the English exposure, but because of them not gaining the additional exposure that is given to children in private settings, such as other languages.
Another thing that has changed in PR is the fact that more of our youth is so much more exposed to English than we actually think. It’s almost like it’s second hand nature to learn English for those that are genuinely interested. Music, Instagram, Facebook, movies.
Education starts at home.
Yajaira 10 Jan 2014
I’ve lived in Isabela and worked as a bartender and with the TSA so I am pretty familiar with the amount of English spoken in PR. Seems to me it’s the surfers who speak the most English! I absolutely love PR and want to teach English, preferably in the Isabela area. Does anyone know if you need a college degree to teach English and what certificate is required? I speak Spanish pretty well and while I have never taught anything but surfing, I would like nothing better than to teach English in PR. Any information would be greatly appreciated.
Mike 1 Sep 2014