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Teaching English as a Second Language


Hardly a day goes by without requests for job information from young people who want to live in Costa Rica so bad they'll work for any amount of money. The most frequent question is "How can I get a job

teaching English in Costa Rica?" Many queries come from those who assume that just because they speak English, they are competent to teach English. This obviously can't be true or else people wouldn't waste time in universities earning teaching credentials, studying classroom techniques or the latest ESL (English as a Second Language) methods. Believe me, as a credentialed ESL teacher myself and one who passed courses in these techniques, I can vouch for the awesome magnitude of facing a class of eager faces and hoping they will learn more from today's lesson than I will. (Even though I have university training in ESL, have taken all the requisite classes, and have even coauthored textbooks in language acquisition, I am the first to admit that I am not a very good teacher. I have neither the temperament nor the patience.)

That's not to say that you can't find a teaching position without an ESL degree. Mike Curliss, who teaches ESL at two schools in the San Jose area, points out that it's not essential to be an experienced English teacher. But you should have some teaching background, he says. "Myself, I have a degree in Business Administration (Accounting major) and teaching experience from the Air Force. I was a classroom instructor in Resource Management School with extensive background training." By the way, many local colleges offer classes in teaching English to foreigners. It will go a long way toward your finding a job if you have some experience before you move to Costa Rica

How to find one of these jobs? Something that ought to be obvious is that you won't find one in the United States or Canada. You'll have to apply in person, in Costa Rica, ready to go to work. Every day schools receive job queries from people 6,000 miles away, and the schools routinely ignore them. Why waste time corresponding with someone who may or may not ever come to Costa Rica-who is very likely just daydreaming about an adventure that will never happen? You'll have to be on the ground, ready to go to work.

Claudia Jenkins, who taught ESL in Costa Rica, points out an exception to the rule of applying in Costa Rica. "One way for an experience(] ESL teacher-or one with a Masters degree or at least an ESL certificate to get a job with a Costa Rican language school might be I o go I () the annual springtime TESOL conference, which is held in different parts of the United States and sometimes other countries. While I he e, I showed copies of my resume to two school administrators from the

Centro Cultural Costarricense- Norteamericano. They wanted me to start teaching in ten days! I couldn't do it because I was a full-time teacher and only looking for something during my summer vacation. Later I did teach at that school for a ten-week bisemester."

Claudia also points out an enormous drawback to teaching English in Costa Rica: the pay She says, "At that time (in 1990) my net pay in Costa Rica was $2.00 per hour. My hourly pay in California at the same time was more than ten times that amount! This year (2002) the school is paying $4.00 an hour. And it's mostly part-time work." Today Claudia is a volunteer ESL teacher for an expatriate-sponsored library in Nosara and does teacher training of volunteer college students who come to Nosara every winter to teach classes for university credit.

Mike Curliss reports on today's salaries, saying, "The pay is not adequate if someone needs to live on the salary The Pro English school where I work pays 2,000 colones per hour ($5.75), but most classes are two hours a day, two days a week ($23 a week). Where I teach in Cartago they pay by class size. For example, a class of six to nine students pays 40,000 colones ($114) a month; twelve or more students pays 50,000 colones ($142) per month."

Why such low wages? Obviously it's because of the excess of applicants for the jobs. This is one of the few jobs foreigners can obtain without a work permit being absolutely necessary Technically, one would think that schools would demand work papers, but they get around this by hiring their teachers as ?servicios profesionales', or independent contractors. Technically, they aren't really working for the school. Mike Curliss says he is aware of only one school at the moment requiring working papers: Berlitz. Apparently they had a problem a few years back with people without work permits, so they are somewhat fussy about it.

Claudia Jenkins says, "Teaching adults at a private school in Costa Rica is simply a wonderful experience. The students pay a lot of money, by local standards, for the classes, so they are motivated to learn. Since Ticos like to ?quedar bien' even the most disinterested adult student would never be disruptive in class!"

Many Americans and Canadians earn extra money by tutoring in English in their homes. Sometimes a lack of formal training isn't that much of a handicap because the students merely want an opportunity to practice their fluency in one-on-one conversations.

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