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.
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.
Unexpected challenges you might face when you teach in Nicaragua
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.
How to fix it:
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. Class sizes will be large
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 overcome this obstacle:
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.
3. You might feel a 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.
4. Classes get cancelled pretty regularly
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 surmount this con:
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!
5. Materials can be MIA
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 make the most of it:
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.
6. It's a 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 turn this around:
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.
On the flip side, you get to enjoy immense perks, like...
- It's the real deal. Gain the experience of actually living and working in another country, something that can't be achieved even by a long vacation. Going through the tasks of everyday life is when the real cultural connections happen. Be the person on the street the people on tour buses look at.
- New friendships—even with locals! As a teacher, you will be able to meet the locals on intimate levels. Ask them about good places to eat, visit, or spend a leisurely afternoon. Maybe parents will invite you to their home for dinner or a local party. You'll also meet other likeminded people and travelers. Not that traveling alone isn't great sometimes, but who wants to go it alone all the time? Paris for a long weekend is better when going with someone else.
- Develop leadership skills. Making a teaching job abroad a reality takes initiative. People accept jobs in countries they’ve never been to, where residents use languages they don’t speak, and eat food they don’t recognize. Making a life for yourself in a situation like this will force you to take the reigns constantly. Not to mention you will be responsible for a roomful of students.
- Have an adventure of a lifetime! Yes, you are getting paid to travel. Build your dream job from the ground up! Learn more about yourself, your skills, your resiliency—what lights you up and what doesn't. Take this newfound knowledge back home with you and prepare for a lifetime of meaning and a fulfilling career—not to mention memories so numerous your phone will be out of space for a long time.
The pros definitely outweigh the cons, so here are your next steps teaching in Nicaragua!
Don't pack your bags juuuust yet. There are a few items on your teach abroad to do list you should check off first.
Decide where to go. Figuring out where to teach in Nicaragua isn’t easy. The gorgeous highlands? Somewhere along the coast? Don't let the rice and beans hold you back—choose a place that's right for you.
Get TEFL certified. Even if it is not required, this is a wise investment for future ESL teachers. It will give you absolutely everything you need to prepare for the classroom (well, except for an ability to think on your feet!).
Adults, kids, private schools, public schools? Spend time considering the type of teaching environment you'd most like to be involved in. You can choose from a range of ages, goals (for example, Business English versus Conversational English), and institutions, from one-on-one tutoring to university employment.
- Choose from the best teach abroad programs in Morocco. Pay attention to past participants’ reviews, your school and organization reputation, location, and your ease of getting started as a paid worker. Some schools or providers may even provide contact info for ambassadors or past participants if you want the REAL dirt. Here are more considerations to make as you figure out how to choose the right teaching job for you. Pro tip: You can use MyGoAbroad to compare programs side-by-side.
Plan your finances. Sort out funding before you go to afford daily essentials and splurge in travel (in addition to program costs and airfare). Do your research to have an idea of how to pay for teaching abroad.
Get prepared! You've done your research, chosen your program, saved up the money, and are entering your last weeks of life "at home" before you move abroad to find ESL teaching jobs. Well done! Here's our teaching planning timeline/preparation guide to help make this stage more fun and less stressful!
Teach in Nicaragua & have the time of your life
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!