6 Challenges You'll Face as a First Time Teacher in Nicaragua

by Published

Nicaragua, Nicaraguita, is not only “The Land of Lakes and Volcanoes,” but a great place to put your teaching skills to the test. Teaching in Nicaragua proves to be a challenge, but you’ll be in good company. This nation has endured plenty of challenges of its own, like Spanish, British, and American invasions and colonialism, a devastating Earthquake in 1972, a decades-long legacy of dictatorships, a populist revolution, Hurricane Mitch, and extreme poverty. Despite these hardships, Nicaraguans prove to be resilient people who are proud of their gorgeous country.

Rancho Santana, Nicaragua, beach against a bright pink sunset
Teaching English in Nicaragua won’t be all beaches and warm sunsets. You’re going to face some challenges.

Just as Nicaraguans have overcome so much, you’ll face setbacks of your own as a first time teacher abroad. Follow these first year teacher tips, and you’ll be ready to take on the difficulties of teaching ESL. As an economically developing country that is expanding its tourism industries, Nicaragua is in high demand for English teachers. Whether you’re teaching English in Managua, Leon, or Granada, you can integrate into your community and take part in cultural experiences that will open you up to a heritage you wouldn’t have discovered if you were just on a tour bus.

Here are challenges you may face your first time teaching English in Nicaragua, advice for #CrushingIt, and tips for how to turn those challenges into opportunities.

CHALLENGES IN THE CLASSROOM:

1. Students will be shy

Learning English is something many Nicaraguans want to do because they know that they’ll get a leg up financially and professionally if they do. They will probably tell you how eager they are to learn English, but don’t be surprised if your students shut down in class. They might be shy or not have good enough public speaking skills. The pace of life is slower in Nicaragua, and this pace translates to classroom interactions. People may wait longer to process and answer a question, and they may hold their tongues in order to save face.

coffee beans in Nicaragua
Luckily, you’ll never be under-caffeinated as a first time teacher in Nicaragua.

How to crush this challenge: 

Be patient. Every student’s needs are unique. Any teacher with a pulse knows that it takes a TON of patience to get to know your classroom and understand your students’ needs. Notice what your estudiantes are responding to and what they don’t engage with. If they’re too scared to recite a dialogue in English in front of the class, suggest that their friend go up and at least stand next to them for moral support. Community is important to Nicas, so working together is much more common than working individually in many Nicaraguan contexts.

2. Large class sizes

Most teachers love small classes, but especially if you’re teaching English in a Nicaraguan public school in a larger city, classes have anywhere between 20-70 students. The biggest problem will be the lack of individualized attention your students will get, and they’ll likely not feel like they’re a part of the class.

How to crush this challenge: 

Split your estudiantes into small groups to make things manageable. Within these groups, assign group roles. People in general are more invested in work when they’re assigned roles that they’re held accountable to. Make groups of four students and assign them roles like “timekeeper” and “secretary” so that they know to keep track of time or take notes to help their team. Because this is probably a new concept for them, model exactly what these group looks like and what the roles entail. Pick your respectful, engaged students to model this in a role play with you for the class.

Jungle landscape in Nicaragua
Your first time teaching can feel like navigating the jungles in Nica.

3. Lack of discipline/support from the school

You know you’re not in Kansas anymore when when your students excuse themselves by standing up and saying “permiso” without actually asking for permission to leave. All of a sudden, you’ll wonder how it’s acceptable for the elotero to interrupt your ever-so-fascinating lecture on pronouns to sell corn-on-a-cob like it ain’t no thing. Then, you’ll understand why students are late— maybe the fact that the school has no electricity, much less working clocks, will have something to do with it. 

Dealing with these issues without the support you might be used to is difficult as a first time teacher. Your principal might be too busy meeting with the ministry of education about nailing down the dates for a Mother’s Day celebration to observe your class. Your colleagues may be wondering why you’re stressing so much about your students being “on time” (especially when being on time is a loosely interpreted concept here). 

How to crush this challenge: 

Hay mas tiempo que vida” (“There is more time than life”) is a common saying here, and internalizing this mantra will make your first time teaching in Nicaragua easier. All of a sudden, those chavalos and chavalas who are “wasting time” looking for their corrector pens will seem less rude. Since time is so plentiful, what’s the need to rush things anyway? This state of mind manifests itself in customer service, meetings, and in the classroom. There will always be difficulties in life, so what’s the point of worrying about them so much?

There’s much less of a sense of urgency here, but what you can do is reflect on what kind of support you need to be a successful teacher. List out what you need to do your job better and who could help you achieve those goals. Do you want your principal to observe your loudest class? Ask them for help and tell them why it will make you a better teacher. Find the school staff who connect with and ask for their support.

CHALLENGES OUTSIDE THE CLASSROOM

1. Cancelled classes

An unforeseeable challenge might be the LACK of teaching you’ll be doing. Nicaragua has so many celebrations, and as a predominantly Catholic country, religious celebrations are no exception. Schools take an entire week off for Holy Week (instead of having a spring break), and public schools can cancel class the Monday after break. Each city also has Patron Saint celebrations that fall on different days of the year. As a first time teacher, It can be hard to get to know students with so many cancelled classes.

How to crush this challenge: 

With all of these festivals, you can still get to know your students. Whether they’re beating the drums or twirling batons in an Independence Day parade, go watch them in action! The more you attend their out-of-class activities, the more they will realize you care about them. Also, if you’re a teacher, chances are you’ll be asked to march with your students anyway. Use this as bonding time to have more to talk about at school!

Ometepe Island, shadow of a volcano
Teaching in Nicaragua proves to be a challenge, but like this Volcano— it’s not insurmountable.

2.  Lack of infrastructure/materials

If you work in a public school, you’ll most likely have to buy all of your materials, including poster paper, chalk, and markers. Private schools will equip you with a little more money and materials, but those plush teaching English in Nicaragua jobs are competitive. Because Nicaragua is in the tropics, classrooms have open vents to let the air circulate in (only the nicest private schools have air conditioning– you’ll see what we mean when you go inside of an ATM booth just to bask in the A/C). So, with the open vents you’ll hear almost everything that goes on outside. This can be extremely distracting for both you and your students.

How to crush this challenge: 

With limited resources, make the best with what you do have. Something as simple as taping up magazine clippings on your whiteboard can be used for an entire English lesson on anything as basic as colors you see in a picture to creating a story about why that couple is laughing so hard in that Coca-Cola ad. 

Also, plan too much. It’s always better to have planned too many activities than too few. Students can smell blood in the water ten miles away. If you seem nervous, they will doubt your credibility. So, always having a plan and stick to it. Come up with strategies and games so that your students are more focused on what’s going on in class rather than waving hello to their friends peering in from outside asking them if they’ve seen that hilarious cat video in their Whatsapp group.

Old colonial church, faded and crumbling
With these first year teacher tips, you’ll stand the test of time just like this colonial church.

3. Different testing culture

Since there’s more of a community-based approach to problem solving in Nicaragua, testing isn’t as individualized as you might be used to (at least in public schools). Spend time observing a class in your school during a test, and you’ll see students ask each other for help. While it’s a great chance for students to collaborate, it’s hard to make sure they aren’t just copying off of one another. Your new school may have a more lax policy about cheating, too.

How to crush this challenge:

Instead of sticking to written tests, ask students to create dialogues and perform them in front of the class. This will test their written and oral abilities so that you can fairly evaluate them. Also, implement formative (non-graded) self and peer assessment to increase student accountability in their learning as well as evaluating others’ learning.

Teaching English abroad isn’t an easy job, but it is a rewarding one. In order to have the best experience, read up on potential program reviews and compare programs carefully. Now that you’ve armed your teaching toolkit with strategies to overcome the challenges of teaching English in Nicaragua, have a tuani time!

Find Teaching Jobs in Nicaragua with MyGoAbroad.