My name is Fraser. I have been teaching English in a Catholic school in the South-East of
Bogotá for more or less 4 months now and loving every moment. That is not to say that
teaching English is without moments of challenge and difficulty, but I feel that it would
be all-the- more boring if you did not have moments of chaos in and around what is
thoroughly enjoyable and rewarding experience!
First of all, I had no real previous experience teaching. I have an Economics degree and a
background in Insurance. Tired of being a desk-droid and doing the 9-to- 5 slog, I needed
a more interactive and less monotonous quality of work. Teaching has given me
precisely this. As a volunteer, it is your job to provide a natural learning environment in
which students can feel confident to practice speaking English. How do you do this? By
being as creative as possible when planning a lesson, and utilizing the human (ie: the
native teachers) and technological resources available to deliver this plan effectively.
One of my initial challenges of teaching was getting past the language barrier. In my first
ever class, the students created personal profile and then presented this to the class.
Giving instructions proved difficult at first: In my effort to tell the students what to do,
the majority stared with contorted facial expressions, as if I had caused unconscionable
offense. The rest looked destitute, glancing at my Colombian co-teacher as if to say
“Please, help us”. Even if you are nervous, as I was, speaking at a hundred-miles an hour
is not an accomplished method for ensuring your students know what your instructions
mean. A slow and clear delivery, particularly for someone for Scotland, is a much better
way to get your students to understand the task.
After many attempts of trying to get students and fellow teachers alike to pronounce my
name correctly, all of them insisted that my name is “Freezer”. I now accept that within
my capacity as a teacher, my name is related to a kitchen appliance. Recently, I have
been told that ‘Freezer’ is actually the Spanish name for the character of the animated
children’s TV program ‘Dragon Ball Z’, and struggled escaping daily questions about my
fights with Goku as a consequence.
The students themselves are truly fantastic. I can honestly say, I have never met a
funnier, happier, and more energetic group of kids. Wherever you go in school, you can’t
avoid someone bumping your fist, wanting to have a chat about your country, or to teach
you swear-words in English (which of course, I have never done). Soak this up, because
apart from being a real-life celebrity, it is the biggest ego-trip you will ever have. The
students are so curious to hear about your life and eager to teach you about their own.
For me, you will not find a more rewarding cultural or knowledge exchange in any other
experience. Forget travelling, this is how you get to know a country and its people.
Developing a healthy working relationship with your co-teachers is a great way to
guarantee your lessons are fun, but crucially educational for your students. If your co-
teacher does not understand the objectives of your lesson, your students won’t stand a
great chance of understanding them either. The native teachers have more experience
working with these particular students, so bouncing ideas for lessons off of them has
been a great way to gauge what activities will work and what won’t. When you are in
class and struggling to explain a concept to your students, you realise how vital their
support can be.
I teach children from 3 years to 17 years old, and each class contains a variety of levels
of English. Preparing a class that can cater to multiple abilities can be incredibly
challenging but great fun at the same time. When thinking about this problem, I have
found the best solution is to make the work relatable to the student. If I teach some
grammar or a theme using a topic they are already interested in, they are already more
engaged and driven to do better work:
I wanted to introduce ‘speaking in the 3 rd person’ in my grade 10 classes to practice
formally spoken English. I brainstormed with my co-teacher, and we decided that a
mock United Nations styled debate on the Death Penalty would best serve this objective,
whilst keeping the students interested. Once the students grasped the rules of the
debate, they became engrossed in the topic, giving impassioned spoken responses and
verging on the point of fighting each other over the moral implications of capital
What if things don’t go as well for you as they have for me?
I have had excellent support from Volunteers Colombia. My coordinator has dealt with
any concern or issue I have had, immediately. When I have been ill or had problems with
my living allowance, my coordinator has helped me through every stage of the process.
There was one incident where I accidentally pocket-dialed him, and before I could text ‘it
was an accident’, he had responded, “Are you ok Frase?” It concerns me that he may not
have much of a social life if he can write so quick, but I am ultimately grateful for all the
support he gives to us as volunteers. Thank you Daniel. I promise I will repay the
50,000COP I owe you eventually.
Teaching English in Bogotá has been an invaluable experience for me personally. It has
developed my ability to quickly adapt to new situations, to speak publically, and to be
organised. However, the most I have taken from my experience has been when I’m
experiencing the life of the school. As well as learning a new language to help develop
relationships with my colleagues, I have helped teach English terminology in other
subjects such as Maths, become involved in the schools United Nations team which is
about to go compete in a national conference, and even done a TV appearance talking
about the importance of becoming a bilingual school.
If you are looking for a unique opportunity which gives you a variety of challenges,
builds interesting relationships, and allows you to help some fantastic children to learn a
new language, then my advice for you is simple: apply now and start as soon as possible.
I have been rewarded with an amazing experience; to be surrounded by fantastic people,
and embark on what is only the beginning of an incredible journey of teaching English in