When I thought about teaching abroad in Costa Rica the first things that came to mind were lush jungle, sandy beaches and an abundance of tropical fruit. And let me tell you, that was exactly what I got while teaching there for over a year! Costa Rica is a magical place, a paradise for sure and I would recommend everyone to travel there to experience this tropical dream - and if you're able to teach there, even better! Here's what a typical day teaching in a nature filled Costa Rican paradise entailed.
How I came to be in Costa Rica
After teaching in a Bhutanese village on the other side of the world for a year, I became obsessed with rural teaching. I loved the opportunities it presented for a slower, more simple way of life and the connections I was able to make to the community through teaching in these areas. So I was on the hunt for a rural teaching placement that still had access to comforts like the restaurants and outdoor recreational activities that Bhutan lacked. I missed the beach terribly after leaving South Africa and thought Central America was a good option to explore a culture outside of Asia. While looking for volunteer positions in Central America, I came across an international, sustainable school on the Nicoya Peninsula of Costa Rica. Escuela Futuro Verde had everything I was looking for: opportunities for professional development and growth, making a difference in a rural community by providing scholarships to locals in the area, and let's be real, they provided organic, vegetarian meals at school every day - I am totally food motivated.
Where I lived (hint: paradise!)
My school and home was situated on the Nicoya Peninsula near the small beach town of Montezuma. Many expats had settled here because they wanted to get away from the cities and live closer to nature, so there was a clear need for quality education in this rural area. The area was surrounded by dirt roads, forest, wild beaches and the most diverse wildlife including creepy crawlies! Don't worry, you quickly get used to them. There was always an abundance of fruits and vegetables which literally felt as if I had landed in heaven after the scarcity of food in Bhutan. It's interesting the things we easily take for granted living in the western world and I'll be sure to never look at fresh food the same again.
Tropical, warm weather all year round meant getting out of bed each morning was a breeze. Even during the rainy season on the Nicoya Peninsula, it usually only rained in the late afternoons and evenings. Rainy season was the best because there were hardly any tourists and we had miles of beaches all to ourselves. Our small beach town of Montezuma became sleepy and everything took on a slower pace of life. I absolutely loved it!
I'd wake up early and take Charlie for a long walk along the dirt roads that weaved past our house. Charlie is a rescue dog we adopted while living in Costa Rica - probably not the best idea while travelling abroad but we love her dearly, and she quickly became a part of our family. Somedays my principal and fellow teachers would run past our house and we'd do a group run together with their kids and pets. It was like our own little community. I'd usually have a smoothie before school to keep me going for the first few hours before breakfast. If I opened a door or window at home there was literally jungle surrounding me in every direction, so the fruit peels from the smoothie got thrown out the back door into the forest to decompose naturally.
I'd quickly get ready for school and hop on my bicycle for the morning commute. We had a four wheeler too (the only cars that can drive on the muddy roads and through the rivers) but only used this when necessary or if it was raining. It would always be a mission and a half to get Charlie to stay at home and not follow us to work in the mornings, but I loved that she was able to be free to roam around during our time at work. We'd often come home and find our principal's pup in our garden having spent the whole day with Charlie!
Every day schedule's differed but here is an average one. The school has a bilingual, dual-immersion program so students learn English and Spanish alongside each other. I taught the English sections of first and second grade which meant that for some part of the day I'd have first graders learning English, Math and Science and then they would go to the Spanish teacher, and I'd do the same with the second graders. We had a lot of freedom in terms of curriculum and providing topics and assessment that addressed the individual needs of our classroom. Here is a typical schedule:
7:30am Arrive at school and prepare the classroom. Check for any tarantulas, scorpions and snakes before entering. Say hello to Iggy our class pet, the iguana that lived on the roof.
8:00am Homeroom. I was the homeroom teacher for first grade and my Spanish partner-teacher for second grade. We'd do "Peace Practices" that focused on mindfulness and creating classroom community.
8:15am First Period with first grade. We'd usually begin with English writing and used the Writer's Workshop process for this, or we'd do a lesson that combined Science with English. Relating subjects and content was always encouraged.
9:00am Snack time! There was always vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free and non-vegan options every day. Breakfast included at least two fruits every day and then it varied from pancakes to gallo pinto, a traditional rice and beans dish that I still dream about to this day. As teachers we also had snack and lunch time duties so depending on the day I'd also need to supervise the kiddos during this time, or lunch.
9:30am First grade Math. No worksheets or board work allowed in this classroom. Everything was hands-on and concrete. We had limited resources at our school so my math materials were literally numbers painted on rocks found at the beach #sustainability.
10:10am Reading Groups for first grade. Centres were my jam and I used them for both Math and during reading time. I followed The Daily 5 protocol and for reading our school used ReadingA-Z. These are both programs that I had never even heard of back in South Africa and they were game changers to my quality of teaching.
10:50am FREE PERIOD. Let's be clear, this didn't happen everyday, but the first graders had to have Art, Phys Ed, Music and Environmental Education sometime. I spent this time preparing readers and lessons, or writing in students planners. There was always a ton of admin and preparation to be done because our school was so hands-on and inquiry based.
11:30am Lunch - finally. All meals were cooked at school by an amazing team and all produce was sourced so that almost everything was local, organic produce - how awesome is that? Everyday was different but we frequently ate pasta, lentil cakes, soups, and rice with beans and veggies. Salad was an accompaniment every day.
12:20pm Second Graders were then with me for a chunk of the day. I'd follow a similar schedule beginning with Science or Writer's Workshop, or Science in the Writer's Workshop. We'd do Math stations and then our language activities. Brain breaks, outside learning and use of the library and computer lab were also scheduled in to ensure students were getting the most out of their day.
2:45pm Home Time. I would always get first grade at this time as their planners and backpacks were kept in the homeroom. We'd have story time and share reminders before lining up for the bus stop at the end of the day.
3:00pm Schools Out! Woo-hoo!
Like I said before, every day was scheduled differently to ensure that first and second grade had equal sharing of both teachers and were equally exposed to Spanish and English. Some days I'd even begin with second grade, and others I'd see less of one class. The periods were also really flexible, if I had first grade for a long chunk of time I didn't really focus to much on starting and ending a subject as the bell rang but rather focused on what they needed and adapted to if they needed extra time on something.
Escuela Futuro Verde promotes having a balanced life for both their students and teachers (no homework for students), and although the work load was heavy to ensure our students were really getting the best from their education, teachers were also encouraged to lead a healthy lifestyle. After all, if the teachers are happy and healthy they have more energy and clarity in the classroom. Exercise classes were provided almost every day after school, free for teachers to join. I even started my own club dedicated to body weight training!
After cycling home to a very excited puppy, Dylan and I would usually do something together with her so we weren't up at 10pm having to play fetch. We'd cycle with her to a river or take her down to the beach - her favourite! The beach was about 3km away and easy to get to, plus Charlie loved swimming and chewing on coconut husks. We'd get dinner going and usually wind-down with Netflix or read a book together. One of favourite things to do together was for me to read aloud a book that both of us were interested in.
Life in Costa Rica
Besides my weekday teachings, life in Costa Rica was wild and free. The best way I can describe it is that weekends were play time, even for us adults. We were always outdoors cycling to rivers or beaches, or going to for long runs. I loved that this was encouraged within our community and it really helped with motivating you to become healthier. We would often have dinners together and on rare occasions go out for a meal (restaurants are crazy expensive because of tourism).
My fondest memories of are simple pleasures: going to the beach with a big group of friends until sundown, singing and playing ukulele together, watching the surfers catch waves while the children played and Charlie ran around happily waving her tail, and let's not forget cycle touring Costa Rica for a whole month! You can read more about that experience here.
I often think about Costa Rica and my "family" there, and I can't wait to return one day. Have you ever been to Costa Rica? Would you consider teaching there? If you are a qualified educator and find this teaching situation appealing, you can read more about the school from the director here.