Teaching in Costa Rica – Lesson planning. What to wear. Which bus to take. What’s my warm-up activity? There are so many things to take into consideration as an ESL teacher for any given session. From when to leave home to arriving back there safely again after class, the mental multi-tasking can be draining. While these are all things that every teacher needs to think about, they are not things that your students are thinking about. They may humor you on the subject, but every teacher should keep in mind that their students are there for one thing: to improve their English skills.
The teacher-student relationship in an ESL classroom isn’t always a rosy one. There is a common misconception that ESL teachers are exceptions to the teacher-student rapport of superior and subordinate. This is not the case. Whether teaching math, science, or ESL, a teacher is a teacher and is viewed as such by their students. In fact, being accepted as a foreign ESL teacher can actually be more difficult than in other disciplines.
Being liked by your students isn’t the goal. If any teacher walks into a classroom with the desire to have their students like them, they have already dug themselves a big hole. Regardless of student demographic, being liked should not be on a teacher’s immediate to-do list.
Being respected should be.
I always tell TESOL students that they do not want to know about the inner workings of a language institute in Costa Rica. The volume of emails and complaints – and their often venomous content – that arrive from students and clients can be enough to seriously shake a teacher’s confidence. Any good academic manager will simply bring up a complaint on a need-to-know basis and selectively deflect the remaining.
Which is the main point: an ESL classroom in Latin America is not what it seems. While students will almost never let you know of negative points in person, there is not much hesitation to send an email to your supervisor regarding aspects of the class that they were not too keen on. It is also not very hard to get in a student’s doghouse without even knowing it. With this in mind, there are a few key points to be conscious of right from day one:
The students are there to learn. This may seem obvious and straightforward but is a common point that is dealt with poorly. Speaking about your weekend, or theirs, is a great topic for the hallway or to be had on break. In the classroom students want to focus on the day’s lesson and not a simple conversation they have been asked by every foreign ESL teacher they had before you.
Along this line, talking about your weekend at all should be approached with caution. While taking a general interest in your students is obviously a positive, being cognisant of where in the world you are – and the lifestyles of the people who live there – is imperative. Your weekend, in line with most teachers who are here on a gap year or adventure, will often consist of a mountain trek, beach trip, zip lining, or simply a night out on the town with friends. Most of your students stayed home on the weekend and spent time with their family – like they do almost every weekend. This is as much cultural as it can be financial. Continually pointing out that you are enjoying their country like a tourist does and that you, in their eyes, make a lot more money than they do while working half as hard can create an uncomfortable setting.
Take charge. Most ESL teachers in Costa Rica are young but if you show from the first day that you know what you’re doing, that it’s your classroom, and that the students will academically benefit from having you as their teacher, you will instantly have their respect. Having them like you personally is secondary to having them respect you professionally.
If you do these things from the first day of class, then a personal relationship will naturally also develop. This is only a moderate list but is intended as a window into the thought process of a student. If you keep in mind why the students are there, and that you are definitely not their first foreign born teacher, the classroom dynamic will be a positive one.
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.