Helio Alfaro is an English Teacher, and was Named the Best Secondary Teacher in Nicaragua
I graduated from UNAN – Managua University in 1998, where I earned a degree in Education. I then graduated from UCA – Central American University in 2010 where I earned a certificate from the English Language department.
In 2012 I was selected to participate in the Teaching Excellence and Achievement Program (TEA). As part of this program, I participated in a six-week professional development opportunity in the United States, where I learned a lot about the United States and many other countries. This professional development program helped me to increase and refine many aspects of my teaching, and it connected me with fellow English teachers from many parts of the world.
One of the key lessons that I learned from this experience was how to incorporate technology in my classroom – a skill that has proven very beneficial to my students and to my English teaching colleagues in my municipality. Being part of that program also connected me with professors of Appalachian State University, North Carolina. They have collaborated with me, with my peers and students in my home country, Nicaragua. For example, we were joined by 2 professors from Appalachian State via skype for a day of workshops for English teachers in my municipality.
Recently, I was selected to be part of the first ELTeach: Professional Knowledge internet course done in Nicaragua by National Geographic Learning.
On the other hand, it is interesting to say how I became an English teacher. Due to the fact that I live in a rural area where there is no university, after finishing high school, students have to go to the capital city which is located 1 hour from our municipality. By that time in 1994, I had never traveled to the city and I did not know how to get there. Even worse, I did not know any university, but I wanted to study, so my sister, who was the elder of my siblings, was in charge of registering me in the university. My first option was computer, and she did not know what my second option would be, so she decided herself to write English as a second option. When I did the placement test, I could not enter to study computer, but I was lucky enough to study English. Therefore, I started to study the career. It was difficult for me to study English because I just learned a bit in high school, since my English teacher has no idea about the language.
When I was in the third year of the career, I was invited to teach English in a school near my community. There was no skillful English teacher at that time, including me because I was a teacher in training, but I accepted the challenge and believe it or not I became the first graduated English teacher in town.
So since 1996 I have been teaching English as a foreign language, and there have been a plenty of stories and experience gained. I have been in constant progress to do a better job each day. I asked myself, “How is it possible to teach English if I cannot speak the language?” The thinking has made me embark in any means of transportation to reach a level of English proficiency and teaching skill that benefit my students and my way of teaching. I strongly believe in the power of education. Although I live in a poor country, I think that I can make a big difference if I teach my students with efficiency and quality.
My first job was in a kindergarten, and at the time I had no previous teaching experience, but I approached the job with the vision and desire of proving that I was able to do it. I thank God that things were going well all the time and that was the beginning of my life in the field of teaching. I worked hard to create a nice environment in the classroom, and students started to show enthusiasm to learn English. I was surprised the first year when we celebrated Teacher’s Day. I received a lot of presents and when I went back home I looked like Santa Claus.
After completing my studies in the University, I have seen the necessity of updating my knowledge frequently in order to share and learn better strategies, methodologies and ideas. Also, I am always trying to participate in workshops, conferences, congresses, seminars, professional development programs, scholarships, webinars, online courses and any activity related to English Language Teaching. I have also conducted a variety of workshops with the local teachers in my municipality.
Last year I presented for the first time in a National Conference for English Teachers (NICATesol) held in the Centro Cultural Nicaraguense Norte Americano. The conference hosted presenters and participants from all over Nicaragua and from many other countries. I participated in a number of workshops facilitated by others, and I presented a 1 hour workshop along with a Peace Corps Volunteer two times during the conference. Two years ago, I also started to teach English for students who are very interested in learning more at a quicker pace, so we have offered those students intensive courses during the summer and inter-semester vacations. While others are having fun or doing nothing during vacation, I am with a selected group of students practicing, learning and having fun, too. I do this for free.
I hope you have enjoyed hearing this part of my story, and that you will stay tuned to Gran Pacifica’s blog for updates on our combined efforts to improve English education in the region.
- See more at: http://appalachianmagazine.org/stories/id/tea/#sthash.12mhWZGz.dpuf
Appalachian State University was one of four U.S. universities selected to implement the Teaching Excellence & Achievement Program in fall 2012, funded by a $180,000 grant from the U.S. Department of State. The program brought 21 teachers from 17 countries to campus to develop their expertise in the teaching of English as a foreign language.
The program included four weeks of intensive training with 17 Appalachian professors in teaching methodologies, lesson planning, teaching strategies, teacher leadership, assessment and the integration of technology into teaching. Then, each TEA Fellow spent two weeks engaging with teachers and students in one of nine partner schools in Alleghany, Avery, Burke, Caldwell, Watauga and Wilkes counties.
Helio Mauricio Alfaro Mendoza of Nicaragua said learning how to make education materials on a computer was among the best information he learned while a TEA Fellow. An English teacher in grades 7 to 11 at a school near the capital city of Managua, he bought his first laptop during the TEA program and looks forward to using it to improve his teaching.
"Learning English is important because my students will have a better chance of getting a job... This was a great opportunity to learn about different cultures and the education systems in these countries. They are all different with different teaching styles and different teaching beliefs," he said.