Meet The Staff

ITA Nicaragua Staff


Everyone wants to know how we went from having a comfortable life in the Chicagoland suburbs, to living and working in Nicaragua.  Like many of you, my wife Heather and I were both working professionals.  Myself in corporate America at an Audi dealership, and Heather a teacher in charter and public schools.  I think there comes a point in many people’s lives when they ask “is this all there is to life?”  The daily grind, freezing grey winters, unappreciative administrators, 60 hour work weeks - the list goes on.  The cliché, ‘living to work’ seemed like our reality. 

This all seemed to change in 2008 when we decided to take a trip to Costa Rica.  We brought a care package to one of Heather’s girlfriends from her parents.  One of the first questions I had for this woman was “What are you doing here?”  She answered “I just graduated from a TEFL school, and I am teaching English now.”  I, like many people, had no idea what TEFL was, and how valuable a professional TEFL/TESOL training can be! The next few days talking with Heather's friends would mold our future forever.  But we had no idea at that moment.

Over the course of the next 4 years, Heather and I planned to move to Costa Rica.  However, during that time, I had a colleague from my old corporate life who I kept in contact with who coincidentally moved his family to Nicaragua.  He would tell me about what Nicaragua was like, how kind the people are, how safe it is (still the safest country in Central America) how he started a business in Nicaragua, and obtained residency.  

This all sounded great to me and my family, as Heather and I would now be traveling with our 1.5 year old son, George in October of 2012 to destinations unknown in Nicaragua. 

Initially, we went on a scouting trip to check out Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Ecuador, but after just a few months of traveling Nicaragua by chicken bus and having intimate contact with the local Nicaraguan people, we quickly decided to scrap going to Costa Rica, and to just stay here in Nicaragua!  We loved it here that much! 

The rest is history, and in October 2013, we moved into the first location of ITA Nicaragua branch TEFL training center in Leon, and started our first class in March of 2014. Since then, we have moved our TEFL Academy to the beach town of Las Peñitas at a brand new facility.

~Jonathan Smith, Director of Sales and Marketing


Heather Smith

Co-Owner, Lead Professor 

I am originally from Chicago, Illinois. I received my Masters Degree from The New School in New York City in TESOL, with a focus on curriculum design, and my Bachelors Degree (with Honors) from Northern Illinois University in Special Education.  I received my TEFL Certification from the International TEFL Academy-Chicago location. I first began working with students with special needs in the southwest suburbs of Chicago.  When I transitioned to working in the city of Chicago, I began to work with students with special needs who also needed support as  English language learners. During this time I began studying the science behind students needs when learning English as a second language, as well as language Acquisition. During my time working in Chicago, I taught mostly students of Latin descent. I was the head of a Special Education department as well as the coordinator for an English reading and writing program. During my time developing the reading program, I spent time interviewing families and students who had struggled learning English as a second language, and based much of my  research on that information.

Currently I am a EFL/ESL teacher trainer, branch co-owner, and director at the Leon campus of the International TEFL Academy Nicaragua. I am also the director of education of a new Waldorf inspired, international bilingual school in Leon that we helped start with a small group of families.  I actively participate in professional development seminars provided by the UNAN - Leon, Centro de Idiomas, Oxford University Press, and the United States Embassy. I will also be one of your instructors at the International TEFL Academy Nicaragua here in León. My family and I have lived and worked here in Nicaragua since 2012, and I look forward to helping make this the experience of a lifetime for you!


Jonathan Smith

Co-Owner, Director of Sales and Marketing

Hi, my name is Jonathan.  I am originally from a small town just outside of Buffalo, NY, and at a young age, I knew that I wanted to leave my small town and see the world.  I ended up joining the military a few years after graduating high school as a way of escaping my hometown life.  (I really wish I would have known about TEFL, and teaching English abroad back then!) After my stint in the military, I moved to the Chicagoland area to go to school there, and I worked there at an Audi Dealership, until our move to Nicaragua - 13 years later.  

When we moved to Nicaragua, I was largely responsible for setting up most aspects of running a legal business, both in Nicaragua, and in the US.  Heather and I literally started this school from nothing but a lot of hard work, the training we received from ITA world headquarters in Chicago, and insurmountable hours going to Managua and back to legalize our business and to create a hiring market for our graduates.  All in all it was all worth every minute, as our students are some of the most amazing, and like minded individuals we have had the pleasure of meeting, and are teaching English in all corners of the globe.

Now that we are at the beach of Leon/Las Penitas, both we and our students enjoy our class even more.  


Luis Espinales 



My name is Luis, and I am originally from Chinandega, Nicaragua.  I have spent most of my life learning the English language, and during my time earning my first undergraduate degree, I discovered my passion for teaching as a university level tutor.  

I also have an undergraduate degree in English from the UNAN-Leon, and was the English director for a bilingual school in Leon for over 12 years.  During this time, I had heard about ITA Nicaragua through a colleague, and decided to take the course in Leon in 2015 during my January break, and improve my skills.  During that time, I was able to meet Heather and Jon, and that started our relationship.  

In late 2015, I began working for ITA Nicaragua as an observer, and eventually was trained as a TEFL professor.  I continually love to be challenged, and enjoy meeting people from all over the world who come to Nicaragua, and take this professional course.  


Deborah Arnold 


Hi, my name is Deborah, and I am one of the two primary instructors for the International TEFL Academy in Las Peñitas.  I completed the TEFL course here in Nicaragua in 2017 and was truly inspired to re-focus my career. At the same time, I fell in love with the people and the culture of Nicaragua; fairly quickly I applied for residency and decided to stay long-term.  In October that same year, I was fortunate to be hired to teach EFL and the TEFL course at ITA Nicaragua.

I hold a Master’s degree in Industrial/Organizational Psychology, with a specialization in corporate training and adult learning theory.   After enjoying an exciting and challenging consulting and corporate career in Global Human Resources, with a focus on education and training, I made the life-changing decision to leave the business world for more personally-meaningful pursuits.  With over 20 years of experience in adult learning, the ITAN role is a great opportunity to combine my passions.

Having travelled extensively, both personally and professionally, I often witnessed the value of learning English – particularly for people in developing countries.  As such, I have become truly passionate about being the best EFL/ESL teacher I can be, and I work extremely hard to develop and inspire the very best English teachers possible.  Knowing that our methodology is both effective and efficient, and believing in the rigors of our classwork and practicum experiences, I am immensely excited, every 4 weeks, to meet, support, and learn with our new group of students!


Allie Rodriguez

Admissions Advisor

Hi, my name is Allie and I am the Admissions Advisor at International TEFL Academy Nicaragua. I grew up in a suburb just south of Denver, Colorado. I graduated with a BA in Vocal Performance with a concentration in Jazz from Columbia College Chicago in 2015. During the fall semester of my junior year I was fortunate enough to study abroad in Bath, UK, which is where my love for international travel all began. After that, I went on to work as a student advisor for my school’s Study Abroad Department. I love talking with people about travel, international studies, and immersing oneself in a new culture - not only because it’s something that changed my life but also because I believe it is a crucial piece in making a well-rounded individual.

I wanted to continue traveling and learning about new cultures and when I was doing my research I found out about TEFL, which led me to International TEFL Academy in Nicaragua. I took the 4 week TEFL Certification Course in February 2017 and stayed in León after that to volunteer with children in an orphanage. After my time spent there I came back to the States and now live and work in Chicago. I look forward to hearing from you all and hopefully helping you reach your dreams and goals of living abroad!


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