I used to think I was a good teacher because I never raised my voice in class.
I Instead, I would whisper or write instructions on the board or gesture.
Then one day I started a new job teaching English in an elite, all girls, Catholic, private high school in Mexico.
30 seventeen year olds, chattering in Spanish. Not English like they were supposed to have been.
I was in over my head. What if my new boss walked by??
Then I remembered a great trick. It had worked a thousand times in the language schools I worked in.
You raise your hand, and do the gesture for the sign language letter E, announcing “E is for English, everyone.”
To my surprise, all the students started following my lead.
Every one of them. They were laughing, but they did it.
Right when all their hands were up, my new boss walked by.
I was so proud.
Yes! I AM GOOD!
I deserved to be here!
So, why did she look confused?
It turns out that my gesture was like giving the middle finger here in Mexico!
Oops. Don’t assume gestures are the same across cultures. Even the alphabet.