Also known as the West Indies, the Islands of the Caribbean boast diversity in language, peoples, and culture. Even though the islands are typically viewed and spoken about as one entity - a single, mass region with similar socioeconomic conditions -- the Caribbean is made up of 13 sovereign nations and 17 dependent territories.
Of course, it’s impossible not to mention the crystal-clear waters along the captivating coasts when speaking of the Caribbean Islands. It’s no wonder that tourists flock to beautiful seaside resorts to experience these wonders in the flesh.
Tourism is a driving economic force in the region, and many people work to gain English comprehension in order to secure employment in the industry. In many parts of the Caribbean, proper resources and educated teachers are low in number.
Improvements, in universalizing curriculum, are much needed. However, these changes are in the making, spearheaded by local and foreign teachers, volunteers, and activists. Be part of this movement - teach in the Caribbean sooner, rather than later!
TEFL + Teach:
New teachers looking to get TEFL certified will find opportunities to live and possibly work in the beautiful Caribbean region. Spend 4-6 weeks in a tropical location - complete your 120+ hours of in-person training and relax by the beach post-class! You will have the opportunity to learn methodologies for teaching students of all ages, as well as give mock lessons in front of a classroom.
Underfunded schools in neglected or low-income districts are in need of volunteers to provide English lessons for schoolchildren. Numerous NGOs, some based in the United States, offer volunteer programs for educators to focus on improving education for young children. In the wake of the Haiti earthquake of 2010, volunteer stays or voluntourism (volunteering as you travel) have risen in popularity. Be sure to research your volunteer project before signing up, to familiarize yourself with the intent of your organization.
As most islands were former colonies, there remains a strong European influence today, in terms of schooling and language. Some international schools follow a British or Dutch curriculum, with instruction in only one language. Others follow either a bilingual curriculum (English + the local language) or the International Baccalaureate (I.B.) system. Some examples are the Island Academy International School and the Caribbean International Academy.
In some Caribbean countries, teachers and/or volunteers are needed for summer sessions. Depending on the camp, a teacher might instruct English (if it’s geared toward academics) or activities such as art and music. Wherever you may be, this is a great way to spend a short term - get to know the local language and culture while experiencing a work stay abroad! Check out the Dream Project in the Dominican Republic, a 5-week summer camp program.
When and Where to Look:
Volunteer and summer camp positions fill up fast during the spring and summer seasons, when most students or young people are on breaks. Start looking in the late winter/early spring for these spots. As for international schools, hiring begins in the summer for the fall semester, and positions are filled for at least one year.
TEFL courses accept applicants year-round. They often have pre-set start dates, but the popular courses usually offer start dates every month.
Cost of Living:
Rent will be the most expensive cost for a teacher living in the Caribbean. However, if rent is provided by your school/employer, then it may be possible to save. Avoid tourist traps and cook meals at home; you should be able to keep a bit of your hard-earned money! Although, cost of living in the Caribbean is generally higher than expected. Many goods are imported, and therefore burdened by high taxes when sold in local stores.
In addition, avoid the luxury island destinations if you’re looking to save money. Keep in mind, since goods are imported, it will be difficult to obtain products that are readily accessible in your home country, such as toiletries or clothing.
If you plan to take a TEFL course in the Caribbean, you must be a native English speaker and most likely over the age of 18. Some courses will require you to have a bachelor’s degree as well. For international schools, teachers will typically need 1 or 2 years of prior teaching experience, on top of being a native English speaker and holding a bachelor’s degree in a related field.
Volunteers and summer camp employees need to be over the age of 18 and demonstrate a strong interest in working with children (as most of these programs are for younger students). Additionally, those with experience in various subjects, such as music or computer literacy, may be asked to teach particular courses or workshops.
In the dependent territories, it may be easier for citizens of the parent territory to receive a work visa (such as U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico). However, each country has specific rules and regulations on work visas, as sponsorship is often a factor in granting one.
As a rule of thumb, teachers need to work in the country for one year or more to receive sponsorship. Those staying less than one year, and more than the permitted tourist stay, will find difficulties in the visa process.
Classroom and Work Culture:
If you are teaching in a school, make sure to dress business casual unless your employer states otherwise. In addition, it is best to avoid the topic of regional politics (e.g. Dominican Republic - Haiti or Cuba relations).
It may help to learn basic phrases and words in the local language, which may be Spanish or French. Not only will you be able to communicate with your students, but you will be able to engage coworkers and fellow teachers/volunteers.
Questions to Ask:
- What are my weekly hours?
- Are course materials provided for the teacher and students?
- What is the dress code?
- What types of perks are included in the contract?
- Will I be able to arrange a work visa sponsorship?