So in an attempt to shift the focus of this blog back to English teaching, I'm going to begin doing at least one monthly article on English teaching; first, more interviews with practicing teachers. (To that end, any of you who feel you have an interesting, unusual, or all-too-fucking-typical story, drop me an email at englishteacherx (at)yahoo(dot)com.)
I often get asked about teaching in South America; I've never even been there, and only spoken briefly with a few people who have worked down there. To that end, here's an interview with indie author and blogger Colin Post, creator of the Expat Chronicles blog and occasional English teacher.
How long have you been teaching, and where?
I don't teach anymore, but I taught for just over 2 years in Bogota, Colombia.
What places have you liked the most, and least?
I only taught in Bogota. I've also lived in Arequipa and Lima in Peru. For being single and partying, Colombia no doubt. For better food and safer streets, Peru. See a more indepth comparison here:
You can still lead a square life in Colombia or a fast life in Peru, just not as much as vice versa.
Why did you decide to start teaching English, if it's not too painful to talk about?
In 2009, after a year in Peru I quit my job to go independent in Colombia. The plan was to teach English to put food on the table until other businesses allowed me to stop teaching. I never really got away from teaching until I was pseudo-deported back to Peru. In Arequipa the rates were abysmal, so I didn't look for students. And I haven't looked since.
What do you like and dislike about English teaching?
I did not like the boredom, the repitition, or the same errors all the time from Spanish speakers. Nor did I like the hours or the pay.
The best thing about teaching English is there will always be demand. It's the true global language and that is never going to change. Languages like Latin and Arabic achieved world language status in the empire eras, but those days are long gone. With English so entrenched in the internet era, in the "flat world," and given its unrivaled simplicity and effiiciency, I truly believe it will never be unseated as the true global language. So it's something expats and international adventurers can always fall back on. A native speaking gringo will not go hungry in Latin America.
I've heard some teachers say they get fulfillment when their students make progress. I had one student long enough that he improved significantly, but it really did nothing for me. I got to be friendly with that student, and I've made friends with other students, so making friends turned out to be a better benefit than fulfillment for me.
What has been the most difficult moment for you in the classroom?
In my first months teaching, my institute just threw me into classes. Sink or swim. There were a lot of difficult moments where I bullshitted through explaining something I didn't understand yet (auxiliary verbs).
Those moments decreased with time. Then the difficult moments came during 1-on-1 classes with a student who is a boring person. Not talkative, shy, etc. That makes the minutes crawl.
What is your quality of life like, versus your salary and cost of living?
Teaching English was never my only income. If it were I'd estimate about 2 million pesos / month ($1000 USD), which is a middle class lifestyle in Bogota. Nice restaurants would be a luxury for weekends and, depending how you party, so would the hip nightclubs. If you drink like me those clubs would be out of the question.
While I didn't like the hours of catering to professionals (before or after the workday, so typical day would be 6-8am and 6-8pm), they're not long hours. There's plenty of free time to dick around, have coffees with friends, go to the gym, run errands in off-peak hours. Teaching English isn't hard work. I've never met an English teacher who said he works hard. Even the teachers at large universities on salaries with dozens of students, they work less than 40 work weeks.
What kind of qualifications do you have?
I was TESOL certified before moving to Latin America. It was an online course that took at most 20 labor hours to complete. I don't believe it's recognized by anyone, I don't remember anything I learned, but it's an official-sounding acronym that's better than answering "Nothing" to this question. A bulletpoint on the resume if needed. It also came with an official-looking certificate that they apostilled and sent to Bogota without charging me extra.
What are your plans for the future?
The only person I care about learning a little English is my Peruvian wife. For that purpose, I plan to spend a couple years with her in the US someday. Until then it's no-espeak-english in my household.
What's your favorite way to kill five minutes in class?
This was how I started every class, and I'd do it for at least 20 minutes. I made the student tell me everything they did since they last saw me. It's boring stuff - went home, watched a movie with my daughter, ate chicken, woke up and went running, etc. - but the repetition and relaxed environment is a great warm-up. And you can fire off questions to clarify things. They get their foods and numbers down. Sometimes the unstructured conversation goes on for 30 minutes or even more, leaving less time for boring exercises.
Do you ever teach small children?
I did and I never will again. One of the kids was more of a babysitting job. I give all the props in the world to the guy who hired me, he's definitely aggressive in getting his Colombian kids speaking English given the younger one was 2! He had a theory that their brains were so undeveloped that they had no choice but to record everything they heard. So he didn't care at all about progress or my methodology, which he later said was "creative." But he just wanted the kids to listen to a gringo a couple hours a day. The 2 years old was aggressive and he'd occasionally attack, and I actually got to liking him. However I wouldn't do it again.
Who is the most fucked-up teacher you've ever met?
I haven't met any disaster like your gay codeine freak in Thailand. While over-the-counter codeine and Thailand in general seems tempting, I'd bet it's still easier to go over the edge in Bogota. So if someone's prone to that at all, they just won't last as a teacher. A minimum level of control is required.
Given that, the most fucked up teacher I've met would be my good friend The Mick. He and I recently spent two weeks in the country doing extensive interviews for me to write his memoir.
Here's a murder he committed in Colombian prison:
Here's a fun story of him getting locked up in Ireland, before ever coming to Colombia:
Here's one of his expat pals from Colombian prison: http://www.expat-
On his alcoholism: http://www.expat-chronicles.com/2011/09/the-micks-terrible-benders/
His first Colombian friend, an assassin: http://www.expat-chronicles.com/2011/04/the-rise-and-fall-of-tachuela/
He's been teaching English independently since 1989. He has had some of the wealthiest clients in the country. See all his stories here: http://www.expat-chronicles.com/tag/the-mick/
Any advice on finding a job?
Advice to find employment in South America - GET DOWN HERE. You're lucky if these people respond to emails. They NEVER finalize business via email. And once you're down here, you'll have a hard time NOT teaching English. To me some cities seem saturated with gringos, but nowhere near what I saw in China or I imagine other parts of the world. Just being down here and walking around will solicit offers to teach English, no doubt about it. Get some savings up and just book the damn flight.