Working as a Remote Language TA: Samuel Neri Castaneda Shares Experience

Samuel Neri Castaneda, a Spanish TA, presents a Nahuatl workshop in Cancún, México in 2014. Neri Castaneda is a TA in the Spanish department at Albion who is working remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic (Photo Courtesy of Samuel Neri Castaneda).

Teaching assistants (TAs) play a major role in the process of student learning. Albion College, like other colleges and universities, utilizes TAs to not only help students learn but to help students stay on track with class material and assignments.

Samuel Neri Castaneda, a TA from Long Beach, is a Spanish TA.  He also teaches English language arts to students back where he lives, in Colima, Mexico. Teaching two different cultures gives him different experiences altogether. 

“Students in the U.S. are very different. They are more respectful; they are always polite to me and [back at home they] have been a little more informal. What’s more interesting is that change in politeness,” said Neri Castaneda.

Neri Castaneda said that experiencing teaching in two different cultures gives him different perspectives when it comes to his job.

“Personally, I think that I have a new perspective. How students view a language changed my perspective,” said Neri  Castaneda. “People who are children of Latin American families that went to the United States that speak Spanish and English helped me discover that. They say things like, ‘Our families are from Mexico, but we don’t know anything about the place, so our roots are a little faded,’” 

His experiences of being born in Mexico and talking to others of similar roots who also grew up in the United States gives him an understanding of how being in a different environment can affect how a person understands their own culture. 

“For me, that is surprising and interesting. I was born [in Mexico]. I try to understand what they say to me. I can teach a little bit of my culture,” said Neri Castaneda.

Neri Castaneda said that there are different highlights of his jobs outside of teaching and assisting professors with assignments and materials. These aspects include less of what he gives to others through his job and more of what others give to him.

“I like getting to know new people, different perspectives and ideas discovering new things,” said Neri Castaneda. “Working with kids helped me develop my patience. I discover that I like to teach new words, slang words that we use in Mexico. I’ve learned to appreciate my culture.”

Despite the highlights of his job as a TA, Neri Castaneda has faced some difficulties that have helped shape his career and how he goes about his job. This includes making changes to the way he teaches topics and ideas to students. One of the main challenges Neri  Castaneda has faced more recently is a poor internet connection, especially in Mexico. Neri Castaneda hopes to combat this problem by traveling to Albion in the near future.

Even from far away, Neri Castaneda said he feels supported by the Albion community. He said Albion College professors do not make him feel as if he is under a lot of pressure. This is different compared to teaching in Mexico.

“At Albion, I feel no pressure at all, and it’s good. They are like, ‘Take your time, but of course, be responsible,’” said Neri Castaneda. “I feel accepted and comfortable.”

In the meantime, even from a remote location, Neri Castaneda said he focuses on student needs by paying attention to the areas that students are struggling. He said he enjoys discovering new ways of reaching students to help them overcome these struggles. 

“Using activities or things that may sound a little weird, but helps students,” said Neri Castaneda. “For example, one time I taught grammar using parts of a Terminator movie. I saw my students were having problems understanding that grammar topic, and then I decided to use the liquid Terminator that changes its form and decided to use that as part of the grammar. Then I saw my students go, ‘Oh okay. I get it.’”

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