My name is Natalie, I’ve been living in Antigua, Guatemala for three months now, and I absolutely love it. When I first moved overseas, someone told me that teaching abroad has a way of helping you really find out who you are as a person – I realized how true that is when I started my teaching career here. In the classroom you teach certain material and curriculum and lead your students in the English learning process, but each teacher adds their own specific flavor and personality to the classroom. From my best “teacher moments”, where the students seem to be excelling and understanding the lessons, to my most awkward, difficult days, the student’s appreciate me for who I am as a teacher and a person, and I can completely be “me”.
My first month definitely had it’s challenges – getting connected, missing home, being new at teaching English – but so many people welcomed me with open arms and were more than happy to share their experiences and help me get acquainted with this city. The relationships I’ve built with my students has been the most rewarding part of teaching. Getting to know them all individually as people, all with different stories and reasons for learning English, is such a satisfying part of teaching.
Before moving abroad, my experience in education ranged from working as a music teacher, coaching high school sports, and working at a University for a couple of years in the Admissions/Registrar’s office. Having some teaching experience definitely helped, but receiving my TEFL certificate significantly prepared me for teaching English abroad. Completing my course allowed such a smooth transition into the actual classroom. I was prepared to teach everything from tricky grammar nuances, to working with people who speak a different language than I do, and how to effectively implement classroom management strategies. While teaching definitely has many challenges, with the knowledge I gained in my TEFL course, I know I have the necessary tools to be successful in the classroom.
I teach six 1-hour classes per day from Pre-Intermediate to Advanced level students. My students range from ages 16 to 55, many of whom are still in high school or University, as well as many working professionals. Their professions include working in tourism, coffee farms, call centers, along with some who own their own restaurants or work in the arts. They are all very motivated to become better English speakers as this opens up so many opportunities within their careers and quality of life. I am always amazed by their diligence to learn and come to class, even before or after long days at work or studying at the University.
Each class has its own challenges, which keeps teaching exciting, but always leaves room to learn and grow as a teacher. Some classes just “get it” faster than others and some require a lot more patience. One thing I’ve learned is that if I’m not having fun as the teacher, then the students probably aren’t having fun either. Every day I’m learning how to make my classes more dynamic to keep the students engaged and to let them feel as if they are receiving practical tools to use in their daily “English-speaking” lives.
My students are very kind and respectful, and for the most part, very eager to learn. They are just as curious about my culture as I am about theirs, so many of our conversations in class revolve around cultural discussions. My experience here has been priceless in so many ways. Not only do I see them gaining confidence in their English speaking, but I’ve gained so much confidence in my teaching abilities and who I am as a person. Leadership skills, rapport building, effective communication strategies, and classroom management, are just a few of the skills I’ve grown in that can be applied to so many areas of life. Also, my classroom has great views of a few volcanos – so it isn’t rare to see one erupting. This keeps class all the more exciting (at least for me – as it’s just “normal life” for my students!).
This coming fall I will head back to the States for graduate school to continue my studies in the field of education, specifically Higher Education and Student Affairs, but I will always be grateful for the opportunity I’ve had to spend some time abroad teaching English. If you want something totally different, something that will grow and stretch you, and a place to make lasting connections with a diverse group of people, I’d say go for teaching abroad! It’s a way to support yourself while living abroad, with unforgettable experiences. Had I known how challenging, but also how rewarding it would be, I probably would have done it much sooner.