Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Teaching English CAN be fun

One thread that runs through so many expat blogs is the fact that we often find ourselves teaching English. Husbands/partners may have fancy jobs or are finishing up graduate school, but the other half of the partnership tends to teach English.

A friend of Rachel once reminded her that we teach English so we don’t have to get a job. This is not the case for many, but for some of us we are cobbling together private students and translation services to keep us from having to punch a clock.

While I never considered myself an English teacher by passion, I have found that I meet some pretty interesting people as students. By choice I stick to adult students – WAY more interesting.

For example:

There was the military marine engineer who develops software to map the ocean floor. He needed my help preparing for his conference presentation in Berlin. We cleaned up his PowerPoint slides and he rehearsed his presentation in English. Interesting stuff!

There was the psychologist preparing to defend her Master’s thesis at an American university. I helped to correct the grammar throughout her paper, cleaned up her PowerPoint slides, recorded audio of her entire thesis text so she could listen (again and again) to a native speaker read it, and coached her on practice defense run-throughs.

There was the oil rig engineer who was responsible for safety inspections. We spoke often about the disaster off the coast of Louisiana. He was also in the run-up to his wedding, so he spoke at length about his hopes and fears.

I learned a lot about the public hospital system in Niterói from a young physician student in residence there. Scary stuff.

Oh, and there was the guy who would come to class with Christian children’s songs he wanted help translating. It always felt like he was doing his best to convert me to his religion. And he hated all things Lula. He doesn’t come around any longer. I may have been a little too harsh with him.

What about you, my fellow teachers, any fun or interesting characters among your students?


Ben Ellis said...

Before you can teach English in Brazil, do you have to speak Portuguese? How much is enough?

Ângela Richeson said...

Oh Jim! I just love reading your blog. I love to read how much you crave tortillas and I'm jealous that you get to go to all the nice beaches around Rio.

Jim said...

Ben – the full answer deserves a full post, which I may do in the coming week or so.

In short – no. If you want to provide native English coaching to those who already speak fairly good English, you don’t have to know ANY Portuguese. But these students can be more difficult to find.

Teaching at a school (assuming you have permission to work or the school is whack enough to hire you without said permission) you can teach “conversation” classes with next to no Portuguese. But it can be frustrating for both you and the students when you cannot answer a simple question.

If you are hired by a school and you speak very little Portuguese, you will teach only the more advanced classes (where the students are more proficient in English) but they will want you to teach more advanced grammar as well. Not for the beginner.

So yeah, you can definitely teach English if you do not speak Portuguese. But the opportunities are narrow and would probably fail to earn a living wage. But then, anything is possible.

Jim said...

Ângela -- thanks!!

Lu said...

Hi Jim,

I'm curious about this comment you made:
"Teaching at a school (assuming you have permission to work or the school is whack enough to hire you without said permission)..."
Are you implying that schools won't hire you if you aren't legal to work? I have always been under the impression that language schools in Brazil don't care if you are authorized to work legally or not. In fact, the last time I was in Rio (earlier this year), I talked to a couple of the larger chain schools just to get a feel for what opportunity there might be, and neither had an issue with my working with only a tourist visa. I specifically asked if a language school would sponsor me for a work permit, and I got an emphatic "no." When I asked about what people do when their visas run out, I was told people simply overstay. Do you know something I don't? Or did I just completely misunderstand your comment? haha

Jim said...

Lu - you've got it right. But an employer who will pay crap wages without benefits (illegally)to an untrained tourist and represent them as an English teacher to their students (and their parents) is, in my book, whack.

Teaching English, especially if it is just "conversation" classes is not brain surgery (although it's often times over my grammer-dead head) but being an employee trying to earn a living wage is serious business.

The schools that hire illegal employees are doing it to benefit their bottom line - and exploit the worker in the process.

Schools pay bad enough as it is, but to also not get health benefits, the 13th salary, vacation time and other legally required worker compensation is just rediculous.

But you are correct - it is common practice.