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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.