What I Learned While Teaching in the Dominican Republic

An American teacher’s transition to teaching English abroad.

McGraw-Hill
Dec 11, 2019 · 6 min read

By Anne O’Brien, First-Time ESOL Teacher in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic

I thought I had a pretty good idea about what my teaching career in the Dominican Republic would look like. While I have only been in the DR for six months, I think it’s safe to say that this country, my students, my supervisor, and coworkers have exceeded all those expectations and then some. There have been plenty of frustrating circumstances that accompany living and working in a third world country, but the good aspects definitely shine brighter than those that cast darkness.

I went from teaching ESL at the most ethnically diverse public charter school in the state of Ohio to teaching at an ethnically diverse, private, international school that is home to children of the top 10 percent of those living in the Dominican Republic. As you can imagine, there were a lot of adjustments to be made to my perspective in response to cultural differences that come with cooperating with teachers and staff. But in general, the ups and downs that accompany the work of an ESL teacher have been similar to those I faced in the States. So, I invite you to let me reflect a little more on my experiences as a first time international teacher in the Caribbean.

A Different Approach to Language Development

One of the biggest differences I have observed between the two schools is the culture and attitude surrounding language acquisition. Although there is a dominant native language — Spanish — there is no superior language. Even though many students in my school in Ohio were bilingual, they lacked growth and maintenance of their native language due to the absence of any instruction in it. There was more of a focus on speaking English to sound like a native speaker, to achieve perfection rather than to nourish their bilingualism.

But in the DR, very few of my students speak perfect English and there is no stigma around making mistakes because, well, they all make them 100 times a day. They understand it is part of their learning process. As a language educator, this mentality toward language learning is extremely refreshing because my students have much less fear of being wrong.

They take more risks and improve more rapidly. This change of mentality has been quite an adjustment because I am accustomed to students, in the States, who are scared to make mistakes because their education systems have discouraged them and made failure shameful.

A Different Approach to Time

To have those same sort of expectations will just leave you frustrated and discontent with your new way of life.

A more concrete work example of this is when resources that teachers find extremely necessary, like printers, laminating machines, projectors, break or don’t operate correctly, they likely won’t be fixed immediately. It could be weeks or months before they are repaired. So, as a teacher, you need to get creative and resourceful. I have had to stretch my flexibility with respect to planning further than I thought possible.

With respect to the logistics in my personal life, I have again had to slow it down. Public transportation, maintenance, scheduling doctor’s appointments, and public services in general all run on what we like to call “Dominican time” — or in other words whenever they want to do it, it will get done.

A Different Approach to Diversity and Development

Being an ESL, or support teacher, comes with a wide range of roles and responsibilities. The expectations are different everywhere you go and with every new set of teachers that you support. Just like in the States, maintaining good relationships with cooperating teachers is key to the success of both you and your students. I have found managing these relationships, along with handling a lot of the difficult run-ins that come with the role, to be much more manageable because of the large amount of support I get from my team and my supervisor.

Unlike my experience in the States, here, teachers are regularly observed and evaluated by our supervisors for feedback purposes to allow growth and improvement. I used to see evaluations as either a once-a-year check off the list for the administrator type of thing or you are doing something wrong type of thing. Here, they are more natural and productive and have allowed me to really grow as a young teacher.

Conclusion


Anne O’Brien is an English to Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) teacher at Cap Cana Heritage School in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. A native of Morehead, Kentucky, a small “college-town” located in the hills of Eastern Kentucky, she completed her BA in Spanish Education in 2015 at Morehead University, where she graduated with honors, two study abroad semesters, and two internships under her belt. She went on to receive her M.Ed (TESL) through The College of New Jersey off-site graduate program in Mallorca, Spain in 2018. The TCNJ alumna is currently completing her third year of teaching ESOL, and her first year teaching internationally (she was previously based out of Columbus, Ohio). She is a passionate traveler, family woman, and dog mom.


Inspired Ideas

Resources, ideas, and stories for K-12 educators. We focus on learning science, educational equity, social and emotional learning, and evidence-based teaching strategies. Be sure to check out The Art of Teaching Project, our guest blogging platform for all educators.

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Inspired Ideas

Resources, ideas, and stories for K-12 educators. We focus on learning science, educational equity, social and emotional learning, and evidence-based teaching strategies. Be sure to check out The Art of Teaching Project, our guest blogging platform for all educators.

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