Teach English in Colombia: Inside the Classroom

Colombia TEFL Experience intern, Kristy, reveals the magic and mayhem of teaching English in Colombia.

To say that teaching English to a bunch of preschool students in rural Colombia is a challenge would be an understatement.

On my first day at a small school in the coastal town of Puerto Colombia, I pretty much wanted to run from the classroom and never return.

Empty classroom in Colombia

Having never taught before and also having had very limited experience with children, let’s just say the atmosphere was a bit of a shock.

The students were noisy, inattentive, disruptive and incredibly rowdy. They were yelling, throwing pens, books and bags around, some of the boys were being quite rough with each other.

At one point, two of the students abruptly got up and ran out of the classroom (much like I wanted to do) and my limited Spanish language skills meant I didn’t know how to tell them to stop or come back.

It was chaos.

 

Take a deep breath

I never once expected this experience to be easy.

But then, we can’t learn and grow if we don’t step out of our comfort zones.

So I put on a brave face and returned to the school for a second day.

And a third.

And a fourth.

Smiling TEFL teacher in Colombia with students

As a preschool teacher (in Colombia, it is called ‘preschool’ for children aged four to seven and ‘primary school’ for those aged eight to 12), you try different methods of teaching, different games and activities.

Some work, some don’t.

You just have to be flexible, have a backup plan and move on to something else.

Class of students in Colombia

From chaos to clarity

There is a lot of repetition.

Like, a lot.

We’ve basically been teaching the same four or five topics (colours, numbers, animals, days of the week, etc.) for a month. The language barrier is huge and it can be incredibly frustrating when you feel as though nothing you’re saying is sinking in.

Female student in Colombian school

But, then, comes a breakthrough.

The first time I heard an entire class sing one of our English songs word for word, I swear I almost shed a tear.

They were learning.

It was a magical moment.

These days, the children come up to us and say, “Hello,” or ‘Good morning,” and “How are you?”

They point to something we are wearing and say the colour of it in English.

They start singing our songs and it makes our hearts swell with pride.

TEFL teacher surrounded by students in Colombia

The moral of the story?

TEFL teaching is not easy.

You have to be creative and patient and resilient.

You have to keep calm, think on your feet and bounce back when things don’t go to plan.

It can be frustrating at times and very slow going.

But you will get there.

As an intern, it helps a lot if you have supportive teachers around to guide you through and assist when you are struggling to keep the children focused, or if you need a hand with discipline.

And, let’s not forget, the majority of the time the children are incredibly sweet.

 

Different paths for teaching

Preschool teaching is not for everyone.

Some people might feel as though the students are too young, or find the thought of singing songs and playing games all day unappealing.

Colombian students playing jump rope

But that’s OK.

There are plenty of other avenues you can take when it comes to TEFL teaching.

Some of the interns in our group are teaching a community class of adults who wish to learn English as a life skill.

Every weekday from 7am, they teach this willing and eager group for 90 minutes, conducting English listening exercises and conversation practise.

Some of the other interns are teaching high school students who engage in lively discussions about politics, the environment or pop culture.

Some of us are teaching a group of primary school students who are so desperate to learn English that they stay back after school twice a week and give up their spare time just to be part of the language class.

Smiling faces of Colombian TEFL students

Don’t give up

Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) is a unique profession that certainly has its share of challenges.

But it can also be very rewarding.

I’ve found that despite the initial shock, confusion and intimidation, it definitely gets easier each day.

It’s truly heartwarming when you see the students enjoying an activity you are running or when they beg you to sing a song that they like.

I can recall learning another language when I was young and although I never followed it up, or became fluent, I still remember all the songs we used to sing and look back on the experience fondly.

I hope I leave a positive lasting impression on my students in Colombia.

If reading Kristy’s latest blog has made you think about taking the first step in becoming a TEFL teacher we say DO IT! Take a look at our range of TEFL courses here to get qualified to teach English in Colombia.

Arriving to teach English in China: Danni’s story

I don’t know where to start. Sitting on the train whizzing past the green Chinese countryside on my way to Foshan, trying to sum up all the different and wonderful experiences from the orientation week in Beijing seems impossible; all I know is every second of that week I look on fondly. At the airport I was a bit nervous arriving in China, but the team made it so easy, there was a representative waiting there for us as we walked out of our flight.

i-to-i China interns arrive at the airport in Foshan for their 5 month paid teaching internship

 

We drove to a secondary school which would be our home for the next week. Being in a completely new environment and knowing that my 5 month journey has finally began, I felt a whisp of nerves and discomfort, and as I lay out my clothes in the cupboard the thought ‘oh my god what am I doing’ kept floating around in my mind. My friend from Melbourne who I was sharing a room with, Steph, we decide to go explore for the evening and went to a mall. It took a very short time for any of my doubts to dissipate. Wandering the streets, being surrounded by Mandarin and a different people, different culture made me feel stimulated and so excited for what was ahead. I had a Chinese massage in an attempt to do something a bit cultural, which was amazing!

i-to-i China interns dance with some locals in the street

As we walked back to the school, there was a group of elderly Chinese ladies in the street doing square dancing, of course we joined in and started copying the teacher. The ladies loved having  us dance with them, they were so lovely. We danced and since we have learned Chinese in school we were chatting with them, they didn’t speak a word of English but it didn’t matter because they were so bubbly and friendly. For the next 2 days we had TEFL class, it was actually really useful and better than I thought. The teacher was really good at showing us the best way to teach TEFL, it was really hands on. Rather than us sitting to the teacher listening in a class, we learned through doing. The most useful parts of it for me were getting into groups and doing the actual teaching to the rest of the class. This is where the teacher could critique us on what we did well and where we could improve, as well as giving us proper experience of what it’s like to teach a class in a practice type of environment.

i-to-i intern's calligraphy work as done in the Paid China TEFL Internship orientation week

The other highlight of the course was when the teacher gave us a lesson on stationary in Spanish. I don’t know any Spanish, so it was brand new words for me. I literally had no idea what the teacher was saying when she gave instructions, and memorizing six or seven new words was actually quite difficult. It made me feel real empathy for my future students – if the words I’m introducing brand new words to my kids that they’ve never heard before, it reinforced the importance of taking is slow, giving simple and clear instructions and practicing new material repeatedly in a variety of ways to hold the students’ interest. I’m really impressed with the program, the support they’ve given us all is great – at the airport, three meals are provided per day, they put a lot of effort in to ensure the friend I requested to come with would be with me and to give me my place of preference in China (the south). I have coeliac disease and have to eat gluten free, which is very difficult in China as I can’t have soy sauce, but in restaurants they ask the chefs to make me a separate dish with no sauce, and help me figure out what I can eat in the canteen. Aside from completing our TEFL course, they wanted to give us an authentic experience to explore China and Beijing. We had mandarin lessons in our classes, tai chi lessons and calligraphy lessons. These cultural lessons were fun, showed us the cultural side of China and gave us the opportunity to socialize and get to know our fellow interns. We also had some free afternoons to explore Beijing in our own time which was great. The highlight of the orientation was definitely the day trip to the Great Wall.

i-to-i interns at the Great Wall of China

All the interns together were taken to the Great Wall which we climbed together. It was an amazing experience, absolutely breathtaking and probably impossibly to reach on our own as it was so far from the accomodation. After the Great Wall, we all had lunch together, visited the Olympic park which has the most fascinating architecture, has dinner at an authentic Chinese restaurant then saw a Chinese acrobatics show which had us all captivated sitting on the end of our seats, crying out a joint echo of amazement at the acts that where performed. I distinctly remember walking through the streets of China and feeling like I’m home.

Red lanterns hang in the street of Foshan, China

Not home as in Melbourne, just home as in at peace with myself and so happy that I’ve come here. I keep saying to Steph  that I’m so so happy that we’ve come here and that there’s nowhere I’d rather be. It’s been so much fun so far, meeting people from all over the world and having the opportunity to make so many new friends has been so fantastic. Even though it’s only been a week, I know I will literally be friends with some of these people for the rest of my life and that if they ever visit Australia they’re welcome in my home. It is really cool to suddenly have new friends from England, Ireland and Scotland. It’s been so wonderful already and it’s made me so excited for what’s to come when we finally arrive in Foshan and start getting into my new lifestyle!