This Week in Costa Rica

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This Week in Costa Rica is a weekly, online radio program and podcast by US expat, Dan Stevens

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CR ESL Teaching; Anxiety in Your First Class

Teaching English in Costa Rica - The first day of a new job is always filled with anxiety. You want to make a good first impression. You want things to go smoothly. You don’t know exactly how everything will play out and are terrified of making a mistake for fear of repercussions. Most of the anxiety comes from not knowing what is going to happen. 

Let me take the opportunity to defuse all of that anxiety for you. In the ESL world, there is absolutely no need to worry about your first class. Your superiors, colleagues and students all know exactly how it’s going to go: badly.

This doesn’t mean anything. Almost every teacher’s first ESL class is a regrettable one. No one is judged, loses a job, or is placed in a certain category after their first class; having it go poorly is what is supposed to happen. It is what you take from your first ESL class experience and how you apply it going forward that will make or break your fate in the business.

This doesn’t only apply to those without prior teaching experience. A common thought among former high school or elementary school teachers is that their experience will automatically translate into instant success in a foreign ESL classroom. This is not normally the case. Teaching ESL is a different animal than teaching other disciplines and there is a steep learning curve just like in any other platform.

I’ve had many conversations with very experienced teachers about their shock at how inept they felt in the ESL classroom. While there is something to be said for having the experience of standing in front of a group of people and instructing them on a topic, the experience of having that group of people not understand the words you are saying cannot be paralleled.

Teaching English as a foreign language involves a much different skill-set than teaching any other discipline. The ability to convey meaning without the use of words requires practice and a lot of patience. In this light, those with previous teaching experience and those without are in the same boat in terms of ESL teaching.

In some cases, those without any teaching experience are actually better off. It is natural to take what you have learned in a career and apply it to another position, but in many cases that doesn’t correlate well in the context of ESL. Experienced teachers who try to force-feed tested approaches from other platforms often don’t find a lot of success. Teachers who are completely new to the field and are starting from square one can find an advantage in that they have nothing to compare ESL teaching to.

Where should I sit in comparison to my students? Should I sit at all? Will this activity be effective? Will they all understand it? What’s the present perfect structure again?

There is so much to remember in the beginning. Most of the focus in the early going is on these essential aspects of the class – and those with a TESOL or TESFL certification will know that everything from eliminating physical barriers to where students physically sit is as big a part of the class as any. This is why it takes some time to acclimate and to create your ideology as a foreign language teacher.

Once this happens, you can go on perfecting your craft and delivering even more dynamic classes. Just don’t be nervous about being bad at the beginning. Everyone knows that already.

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 andrew@globaltesolcostarica.com

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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Where do English Teachers Live in Costa Rica?

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Costa Rica English Teaching News  - One of the most common queries about teaching English in Costa Rica is the question of where a teacher will be living. It’s clear why this ranks high on the list. Among other things, when someone is thinking about a life abroad, they like to imagine what their apartment will look like and where it will be situated. While dreams of living on a Costa Rican beach and watching the sun set over the ocean every night might be realistic for some, it is not a realistic expectation for an aspiring ESL teacher. 

Ninety-five percent of ESL jobs in Costa Rica are found in the Central Valley. The few jobs that do exist outside of the valley are with very small institutes and teachers earn a very minimal wage or are actually volunteers. This is especially true in tourist rich areas like beaches, where schools do not have to entice teachers to come, and can simply take the ones who are willing to offer their services for little to no pay.

With this said, if money is less of a factor than comfort and surroundings, the available positions outside of the valley will suit you just fine. In addition to this there are more lucrative private school options, such as the Falcon International School just outside of Jacó Beach. These schools generally have great benefits and competitive salaries to institutes in San José, but are extremely competitive and available positions are far and few between.

For the other ninety-five percent that will be working in the valley, the options are plentiful.

San José represents almost all of the capital’s metropolitan area. However, once more acquainted with the area, you quickly realize that there are actually many different regions, towns and neighborhoods that have their own uniqueness – and Ticos will be quick to correct you for incorrectly calling an area San José that is not.
Case in point can be found with the airport. Any local will interrupt you before you even finish saying that the airport is in San José – it`s actually in Alajuela. So while living in or around the capital will be your most likely destination, in all likelihood you won’t be living right in San José.

With Cartago, San Pedro and Los Yoses in the east, Heredia to the north, and La Sabana, Escazú, Santa Ana and Lindora to the west, there are many great options for living. Where you end up should mostly, but not entirely, depend on where you find work.

In the ideal scenario you would be able to stay in a low-risk environment, financially speaking, such as a hostel while you carried out your search for employment. This way, you would be able to apartment hunt with a general understanding of where your school is located. While certainly not an end of the world scenario, the constant high volume of traffic and precipitation during the rainy season make commuting longer than necessary distances an annoyance worth averting if possible.

If the hostel option is not viable, most language schools are located in Escazú, Heredia or San Pedro so apartment hunting right off the bat in these areas would be safe bets.

In terms of cost, as a general rule the further west you go the more expensive rentals become. Santa Ana and Escazú, while beautiful and more ‘Americanized’ – especially in the case of Escazú – are expensive. The same goes for La Sabana, which is also extremely beautiful, centrally located and home to La Sabana Park, one of the city’s biggest attractions.

San Pedro is a college area with lots of Universities and bars. Rent is quite affordable and many younger teachers prefer to reside here. Heredia, located just north of San José, is the most economical option. Rent on two bedroom apartments can be had for little, but the downside for some is it is not as lively as other places and lacks things to do in the evening. Though, for some, this is a positive.

The San José area is where most English teachers in Costa Rica settle. Where they actually live, though, is usually not right in San José. The options are plentiful and diverse. A little research and exploration when you’re on the ground will serve you well.

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 andrew@globaltesolcostarica.com

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.

 

Teaching English in CR: A Teacher’s View

The Costa Rican Times - 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.

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In 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 andrew@globaltesolcostarica.com

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.

 

This Week in Costa Rica is provided “as is” without any representations or warranties, expressed or implied.  This Week in Costa Rica is produced by Podfly Productions, LLC and broadcast with permission by the Overseas Radio Network.