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HomeCosta RicaExpat Living: The Pitfalls of Teaching Teenagers in Costa Rica

Expat Living: The Pitfalls of Teaching Teenagers in Costa Rica

In the late 1990s I taught an English class at a private high school in Perez Zeledon. I had one class a day from 7-8:15 am. I was a last minute hire. The head administrator of the school was a friend of mine, and she called me two days before classes out of desperation. She was a teacher short because of a mix up with a US based organization that provided English teachers. Several years before, I had taught English to adults in San Jose.

This job was kids, aged 13 to 17, and I foolishly looked forward to dealing with this age group. I lasted one semester. The first couple weeks went fine. My students were sons and daughters of the local professional class. One of my students was the daughter of the doctor who had delivered my own daughter in the local hospital a few years earlier.

There were other children of doctors and dentists and supermarket owners. Individually they were intelligent, upwardly mobile students. Collectively they were a circus, and I was the ringleader trying to maintain control.

My classroom was the loudest–that wasn’t my opinion, it was the consensus. If classroom rowdyness was being discussed after school hours by teachers or students, mine would get first mention. I once overheard two teachers talking; the topic was the amount of bulla in the classroom of Don Mateo.

It was good-time Tico rowdyness, with lots of laughter and kids conversing out loud across the room to each other while I was writing something on the whiteboard. Sometimes there would be six conversations going at once while I was paging through the teacher’s manual, trying to decide the next exercise.

I would tell them that if they were going to converse in class, they should at least do it in English. My group was a dozen kids–six were well-behaved and the other six liked to see how far they could push “Profe” as they called me.

They would ask me to translate all the dirty words from Spanish. One would ask, “How you say ‘carapicha’ in English?” Another would raise an innocent hand, and say “Profe, hijueputa is son of whore?” At this time, I was single– between wives– and my house was a crash and party pad for various wayward expats who would filter up from the beaches or down from San Jose. The 7am starting hour was sometimes challenging depending upon the night before. My teaching method was to stay one step ahead of the kids on the weekly lesson plan.

On the mornings I arrived hungover, unprepared, or both, I would divide the class and play quizbowl, making up the questions on the fly. The only rule was that all answers had to be in English. I always made sure to give the rowdier kids the tougher questions, such as “Yerevan is the capital of what Eurasian nation?”– just so I could shout, “Wrong!” when they missed it. Then I would feed the nice kids softball questions, such as “The cartoon character Snoopy is what kind of animal?”.

As the first semester came to a close, I informed my friend that I would not be returning. I had other work that paid the bills and I had already rejected the idea of another 4 and a half months of getting up at daybreak and starting my day by trying to maintain order in the face of disorder.

It was no surprise when my friend’s response to my resignation was to say, “Great. I appreciate you filling in.” It was a win-win situation. An actual teacher was on the way for the second semester, and I could now sleep in when I wanted.

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