Teaching English to Children in Leon, Nicaragua
Written by ITA Nicaragua graduate Anna Colletti.
The first time I visited Nicaragua was in 2011 and after just one visit, I knew I ultimately wanted to live here. After graduating college in 2015 with a degree in Urban Education, I knew I was ready to move to Nicaragua and teaching was just a natural choice. Before moving, a friend told me about the International TEFL Academy and how I could get certified in teaching English. At first, I was not convinced that it was necessary for me to get my TEFL/TESOL certification because I already had a degree in Education; however, taking the TEFL course and getting my certification was one of the best decisions I have ever made.
After receiving my TEFL/TESOL certification, I immediately began applying for jobs in schools in Leon and in neighboring cities. After a few interviews, I found a job in a nearby city. Shortly after, I knew it was not a good fit. However, I had met someone there who told me about how she was a private English tutor on the side. After realizing that this school was not a place I wanted to work, I decided that I would try out private tutoring.
My first step was figure out how I would get clients. Luckily, Leon is a city where it’s easy to advertise on street posts and in stores and it is well received. With that, I made business cards and printed out flyers. I then thought about how much I would charge. I decided to start lower and then charge more with each client that I got. I started charging $6.00 dollars an hour and now charge $7.00. In Nicaraguan school culture, it is very common for the wealthy elementary and high school students to have tutors for almost every subject, including English. That ended up being my best clientele along with a few adult learners. Of course, the more you get your name out there, the more success you have.
Although tutoring was going well, I still wanted to have a more concrete job and something that would not run the risk of being canceled or rescheduled every so often. I received an email from an International TEFL Academy alumnus who taught at one of the best private elementary schools in León. She was planning on moving back to the United States and needed a substitute for the rest of the school year.
I was referred to her by one of my TEFL course instructors. I went for an interview and began the job about a week later. I substituted for the teacher, and was then asked to come back the following school year. I taught English to grades 2 and 3.
The school provided us with textbooks and a teacher’s manual. I had to complete a certain amount of units each semester and give homework every night. At this school, English was apart of every grade’s school day, however English teachers did not have their own classrooms. We taught our classes during the homeroom teacher’s prep time. Classes would last between 40 and 80 minutes. The classes that were 80 minutes were the most challenging because the kids would slowly lose concentration towards the end of the period.
With that, classroom management strategies were extremely important. Through my undergraduate education and my TEFL course, I learned two things when it comes to classroom management: 1. You always need to have multiple ways to manage a classroom (whether it be individual reinforcement or group reinforcement) and 2. having interesting and engaging lessons.
Using many activities and strategies that I learned in my TEFL course, I would plan my classes with activities that I knew my students liked and that would keep them engaged. When children are engaged, they naturally want to participate and this decreases the chance that they will “goof off.” I would usually keep the class to an even game to writing ratio. We would play a game, write a little, and then play another game to practice the material.
The balance kept the students on task, engaged, and practicing the new language all at once. I also thought of ways to have my students hold each other accountable so that I would not have to always be hounding people to stay on task. I did this by having whole-class rewards if everyone was on task. If students weren’t on task, it was expected that other students would be the ones to make sure that those other students got back on task. Students are much more invested in their classroom and their learning when they feel that it is in their control, even 8 and 9 year-old children.
Teaching your first year in any school is intimidating and can be nerve wrecking, but it especially is when you are teaching in a foreign country. With that, some of the best support systems for me have been my TEFL course instructors and International TEFL Academy Nicaragua Alumni. It is very important to do your best work during your TEFL course and represent yourself well both personally and professionally.
It is also important to get to know Alumni and make as many connections as possible. These connections can lead to almost any and everything. From finding housing to finding out day-to-day information, being connected with International TEFL Academy Nicaragua Alumni is very helpful. It’s very common that someone may need a substitute, and like me, this could end up leading you to a full-time English teaching position.
Teaching and living abroad is one of the most exciting and fulfilling adventures that you’ll go on, and having good people and a good support system around you only makes it better!