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Teaching English in CR: A Teacher’s View

Proving yourself at a new job is a two-way street. While there is an obvious onus on a new employee to impress their direct superior, onus is also on that superior to prove that the new work environment is in fact desirable. It goes without saying that in order to get the most out of any employee, a positive and respectful work environment must be established from the outset of any professional relationship.

esl costa rica teachingIn my time as an academic manager I would always take this a step further. It was one thing for trainees, new hires or potential hires to listen to me speak about how great the company was; that’s what I was supposed to do. It was another thing to hear it from those who were in the trenches and doing the work.

I would always invite new hires to speak with any incumbent teacher on staff, privately, to get a sense of what it was really like to work both for me and for the institute. I found this tactic invaluable in giving the school credibility and in creating an open relationship with all employees.

That same principle extends here. It is one thing to read my columns. It is quite another to hear from a teacher who is actually doing it in the field. I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to sit-down with a good friend of mine recently to discuss the life of an ESL teacher in Costa Rica.

Rebecca Michalski, 23, is from Pittsburgh where she worked as a Spanish teacher before moving abroad. Having worked for two major private language institutes – in addition to teaching high school classes and private classes to children – in over two years teaching English in Costa Rica, Rebecca provides great insight into the life of an ESL teacher and what teaching here really entails.

Many thanks, Rebecca, for your time. Our interview is here:

What went into your decision to teach in Costa Rica?

I first came to Costa Rica in 2009 to study for four months. I was out of my comfort zone for the first time, but I somehow fell in love with this place. After spending four months here, I went back to the States, finished school, and started looking for teaching jobs in the San José area.

It may be cliché, but my high school Spanish teacher truly changed me and to be honest, she changed my life. If I hadn’t had her as a teacher, I would have never continued studying the language, and would have never ended up in Costa Rica. I thought about how much that one teacher changed my life, and it really made me want to do the same for English learners here.

How did you find your first job?

When I started job searching, I was still in the States. I began searching through site after site of ESL job positions. I was contacting private elementary and public schools, as well as language schools that worked in the business sector. After a few job interviews via Skype, I was finally offered a job.

You’re an exception in this case because, as you know, being hired from outside of Costa Rica is rare. What would you say to people that have trouble finding employment from home?

To the people job searching while outside of Costa Rica, I would say that it will probably be a long process, so brace yourselves. I would suggest searching schools, institutes, etc. And start e-mailing your resume to as many places as possible. It can be frustrating because the majority of employers won’t even look at your resume if you’re not already in Costa Rica, but there are a select few companies that are willing to do so.

Can you briefly describe your very first class?

My very first class was a bit overwhelming. At my first job, I went through of one week of training. However as all teachers know, nothing can compare to real, hands-on teaching experience. Luckily I had experience as a Spanish teacher, but I remember walking into my first class as nervous as could be. My lesson plan was way too long, and my students were a lot more basic than I had prepared for!

Did you feel, after starting to work in Costa Rica, that you were adequately prepared?

I do feel that I was adequately prepared by the first company I worked for. They put us through a week of training, and provided us with almost every material I could possibly need.

If you could describe your life as an ESL teacher briefly, how would you describe it?

My life as an ESL teacher….I truly love the life I lead here, and a huge part of that is due to my job. I teach every day, Monday through Friday. Although our schedules change every few months, I have almost always worked a split schedule- class from around 8 or 9 to 12pm, go home for a lunch break and some free time, and then back to class around 4 or 5pm.

What was a good surprise for you after arriving?

In regards to teaching, a good surprise to me was how united my company was. They frequently had teacher “get-togethers” and events. We also had two yearly retreats, which was a great way to socialize with the other teachers as well as get to know various places throughout the country.

What’s the best and worst part of being an ESL teacher here?

The best: teaching my high school students and knowing that knowing English would actually make a huge difference in their lives. That made it worth waking up at 6:30am every Saturday morning for class for a year straight.

The worst: that there are very few schools and companies who are willing to help workers out with the visa process, meaning that teachers have to leave the country every 90 days.

If you could give one piece of advice for an aspiring teaching in Costa Rica, what would it be?

Go for it! It’s a beautiful country full of unique and welcoming people. Yes, San José and surrounding areas are not the prettiest places, but every place has its flaws. Between my job and my personal life here, I can truly say that Costa Rica has changed me. Just be sure that if you do come, that you come with an open mind…and of course, financially prepared. Teachers here aren’t making the big bucks, so be sure you are financially stable and have some money saved up.

And finally, if you do come here, make sure you stick it out long enough to see what the place and the job has to offer. The first months are the most difficult, and most people don’t suck it up long enough to stay, but no matter how hard it is at first, I promise that it will always get better!

If you want more information about teaching English in Costa Rica or getting your TEFL or TESOL certificate in Costa Rica feel free to contact Andrew at the Global TESOL College or email [email protected]

Originally from Toronto, Canada, Woodbury is the academic director of Global TESOL College Costa Rica , a contributor to radio program This Week in Costa Rica (http://thisweekincostarica.com/), and an independent writer based in Costa Rica.

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