¿Estás lista para enseñar?: Three Things I’ve Taken Away From Teaching in Costa Rica

Now that I’ve been back in the United States for a week, I’ve had time to reflect on my life-changing experiences in Costa Rica. Here is three things I’ve taken away from my educational experiences in this beautiful country that have helped to shape me into the future educator I’m destined to be:

  1. Give your students the opportunity to inject their own creative perspectives into their assignments. Also, relatability and sympathy are important in the classroom!!!! 

4th Grade Music Class:

Sitting in on 4th grade music class was an absolute treat! One project the students worked on was writing a class song. The teacher was very considerate of the students’ input and did not once interrupt the kids’ creative process. The class specifically wanted to write a song about Jesus being their superhero. It was incredibly touching to see how passionate they were about blending their faith with their love for music.

2nd Grade Art class:

Art class was beautiful chaos! The teacher had her students paint animals on their hands. There was no pressure for the kids to paint anything realistic…I surely didn’t (my sloth ended up looking like Deadpool)! Watching the kids get to create something basically tangible that they could call their own and be proud of was so refreshing! The kids were up out of their seats sharing paints and excitedly discussing their creations with one another. What I especially loved was that the teacher took a picture of each of her students’ creations at the end, which definitely fueled the students’ excitement and sense of pride. Also, shoutout to the young man who proudly displayed the unicorn he painted on his hand! There was no discussion of stereotypical gender roles or “unicorns being for girls” and I was very pleased about that!

Mr. Rodriguez’s “Conversation” Class: 

To provide some context, in “Conversation” class Mr. Rod requires his high schoolers (7th-11th in Costa Rica) to spend the entire class period speaking only in English. In addition to practicing English-speaking, this class is based upon the students breaking into pairs/groups to study specific topics of their choice. The students conduct research on their topics and present them to the class, which helps to vastly expand their English vocabulary. What I loved about this class period was how eager the students were to practice their English. There were times that some of the students were apprehensive of speaking English to me or asking me for help on how to pronounce a certain word in English. This experience reaffirmed for me the importance of being an understanding educator. I reassured my students that I was just as nervous to speak Spanish to them as they were to speak English to me. Additionally, I encouraged them to keep practicing their English and celebrated their successes with them! Some of my students pronounced certain scientific words in English better than I’ve heard native speakers pronounce those words! In order to be a successful educator, it is essential to be able to relate to your students and humanize yourself. Another attribute of this class I love that I’d like to incorporate in my own classroom one day is the independently-lead research projects. I love that the students are allowed the freedom to choose whatever specific topics they want to present under the assigned, general topic (ex. Environmental issues). This allows them to express themselves creatively in an academic setting, which I’ve noticed breeds more enthusiasm in the classroom!

2. Every interaction with a student can be used to forage a deep connection with them. However, no one tells you how hard it is to let you students go at the end of the year!

Meeting Daniela:

In Mr. Rod’s 7th grade “Project-Based Learning” class, I became attached to a student named Daniela. Initially, I was helping her with her project on non-traditional sports. She gave hers on Synchronized Swimming. I had Daniela practice her presentation for me and helped her with any English words she struggled to pronounce (Project-Based Learning class is also one in which the students are only permitted to speak English). I remember the look of joy on her face when I told her that she not only pronounced “acrobatics” correctly, but that she pronounced it better than some native, English-speaking students I’ve gone to college with. When I returned to the school the next week, I was ecstatic to see Daniela present first! My enthusiasm seemed to have a positive impact on Daniela, as she met my encouragement with a grin! She gave her presentation with great confidence and annunciated her words very well. I made sure she knew how proud I was of her!!! So what is the relevance of this story? Daniela has reserved a special place in my heart, and I cannot wait to share special connections like that with my future students. Just by simply asking students about their favorite memories or musicians—I found out that Daniela’s favorite memory is visiting Sue the Dinosaur at Chicago’s Field Museum and her favorite musician is Ed Sheeran—I’ve learned you can forage a strong, ever-developing bond with your students by letting them know you genuinely care about their interests. However, I also learned that “losing” my students at the end of the year will be a sorrowful experience, as leaving Daniela behind in Costa Rica certainly was. I think the fact that students can touch an educator’s life in such a short period of time is astounding!

3. You MUST be able to think on a whim with students! Flexible lesson plans are essential!

Roosevelt Elementary:

When visiting the public elementary school, I learned the importance of being a resourceful educator, and gained some confidence in my ability to be one. I was tasked with helping middle schoolers practice for their upcoming English spelling bee. However, the students were clearly not engaged when I was just asking them to spell words back to me. Additionally, they weren’t learning why certain letters and letter combinations sounded different in English from how they sound in Spanish. Luckily, I recalled that I had some lined paper in my backpack, so my partner and I made the kids Scrabble tiles to spell with. They became enthralled in the activity after that! They seemed more enthusiastic about spelling, and their understanding of English letter sounds improved!

Creativity, connection, and resourcefulness are essentials to being a successful educator. I could not be more grateful for the educators I met and the educational experiences I had in Costa Rica that taught me these valuable lessons! I plan to return to Costa Rica one day to at least marvel at its beauty once more, though I have not passed on the possibility of teaching English there in the future!

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