Teaching in Costa Rica
Exactly two years ago, I came to Costa Rica to teach English as a Second Language to 7th-11th graders in one of Liberia's best private schools. For ten months I found this position both engaging and challenging. It also served as a conduit for bigger and better things to flow into my life -- some of the people I met on the job have become my greatest friends.
As my ESL students slowly grasped the concepts that I tried so hard to relay, I discovered a special type of satisfaction. Watching the proverbial light bulb spark above their heads made me feel like I had made a worthwhile contribution to both society and the future. Those kids would one day be doctors, teachers and social workers who needed English speaking skills to make their own marks on the world. My hours were great (7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.), and the pay was phenomenal by Costa Rican standards: $1,350 per month plus airfare to Costa Rica from the States.
Today, there is an even greater variety of teaching jobs available in Costa Rica, many with decent salaries that allow one to live in a comfortable apartment, eat well and spend two or three weekends a month at the nearest beach, volcano or mountain town.
ESL teachers seeking a flexible schedule should look for gigs teaching private lessons to business people, night classes for adults and college students, or homeschool programs for children. If you're looking for guaranteed hours and a more structured schedule, consider preschool, primary and high school positions in private bilingual or English-only institutions. Because requirements for work visas are often difficult to meet, it can be complicated, but not impossible, to secure a position in one of Costa Rica's public schools.
Expect to earn $5 to $10 an hour tutoring or instructing at a local academy, and $10 to $15 an hour giving lessons to business professionals, doctors or hotel employees. Being present in Costa Rica at the time of your job search will give you an edge over similarly qualified competitors who are still in the U.S. Showing up in person proves that you aren't just thinking about relocating -- you have already done it. If you really want to teach ESL here but can't find anything ahead of time, be bold. Come down, make friends and set up some interviews.
Seasoned English teacher Sarah Mosley did just that. She has taught in Costa Rica for two years and is currently teaching at the Green Life Academy in Playa del Coco.
Teacher Interview: Sarah Mosley, age 28
1) What originally brought you to Costa Rica?
Well, I've been teaching for about nine years -- five in Germany, two in the U.S. and almost two in Costa Rica. My American husband (then my fiance) had visited Costa Rica and fallen in love with its beaches. It became his dream country, a place that represented the end of the "rat race' back in Europe and the U.S. We saved our money, packed up our things and took the plunge.
2) Why did you choose to teach at Green Life Academy?
First of all, the Green Life Academy has a lot of character. Everything from the billy goat mascots to the enormous playground is designed to keep students active and engaged. And the facilities are beautiful. Things like air conditioned classrooms and healthy, catered lunches create a very comfortable working environment. Secondly, Green Life utilizes the Calvert program. This is an amazing course that I believe provides a superior education compared to other schools. The U.S. government recommends Calvert for foreign diplomats and travelers who are unable to put their kids in a conventional academy. For professors like me, it makes teaching a piece of cake by providing ready-made lesson plans.
3) Do you have a Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) or other teaching certification?
No, but I do have a B.A. in Teaching English from a German University. To teach in Costa Rica, you generally only need a B.A. in any subject, along with proficiency in the English language. But a TEFL certification is definitely helpful in terms of learning effective teaching methods.
4) What are your responsibilities at the school?
I am the teacher in charge of the 4th and 6th grades. All core subjects are integrated into our curriculum, and we often rotate teachers to keep things fresh. We also have extra activities outside of the Calvert program, like art, physical education, computer lab and drama. I teach German and music.
5) How does your teaching salary compare to that in the U.S. or Germany?
It is about the same as in Germany, and much less than in the U.S. In Germany and the U.S., I would also be getting benefits like health insurance and social security, but that would mean re-entering the rat race. No thanks.
6) What are the positive and negative aspects about teaching in Costa Rica?
There are many positive aspects to teaching here. First of all, it rarely rains. Even during the rainy season, downpours don't begin until after school lets out. The sun is always shining, so the kids can always play outside. You don't have to worry about entertaining them inside at recess on stormy days. Also, working with kids of different nationalities is a very positive experience. Canadians, Americans and Costa Ricans all play together wonderfully. It's truly a beautiful thing for me.
The most negative thing about teaching here is the bureaucracy. No matter what you want to do, there is going to be a lot of paperwork required to get it done. It can also be frustrating trying to find certain materials here -- specialized equipment for science experiments, and things of that nature.
7) Have you taught elsewhere in Costa Rica?
How did that experience compare? Yes, I taught at a similar school last year. It was on a much smaller scale because it was based out of a private home. The Green Life Academy is now run by those same owners, so the experience feels very similar. Being such a small operation gives the school a cozy vibe.
8) Do you have any advice for people considering living and teaching in Costa Rica?
First, [North American and European] newcomers should consider looking for American employers and a working environment similar to what they are used to. Just getting accustomed to the Costa Rican mentality can be discouraging, especially in the beginning. The different system and the fact that everything takes forever might be hard to take in. I really like working for an American-run school because everything is very structured. My bosses really listen to me and try to make things easier. They are also open to new ideas. Most importantly, enjoy it. Enjoy the nature and the incredible beauty around you. You are in Costa Rica -- don't think too much. Just focus on the pura vida!
Admin Note: Please note that we are not associated with Greenlife Academy. For any questions regarding future employment, please contact the school directly. Thanks!