Tuesday, July 14, 2015

South of the Border: Interview with English Teacher Phil

Owing to the relative dearth of information about the areas south of the Rio Grande and the Panama Canal on this blog, here's an interview with English Teacher Phil.

You can read about Phil's exploits in Oaxaca Mexico on his blog Tall Travels, at www.talltravelling.blogspot.com

How long have you been teaching, and where? 

I've been teaching for four years, one year in Buenos Aires and three years in universities in Oaxaca, Mexico.

What kind of qualifications do you have?  

I have a degree in History and a CELTA certificate

How did you find your first job?

I completed my CELTA after quitting the world of advertising and heading off travelling for a year. My first job was scraping together any classes I could get at institutes that I could find in Argentina. The market there is terrible for teachers as the city is such an attractive place to live for expats. I did a lot of private work for more business minded clients. Most people only go on word of mouth recomendations so it can take a while to find students.

What do you like / dislike about English teaching?

I love the variety of classes. One day you can teach a class about politics or cricket or mice, and the next day you'll have the students listening to your favourite music group for the first time. With education levels being so poor in Oaxaca, I feel that I can bring a lot of new ideas into class to help the students.

I don't like pompous administration here. Mexican professors at the university see themselves as better than the students and treat them with contempt or neglect. As English is obligatory (and not hugely useful to the students) they can bring a defeatist attitude to the classroom. You have to do a fair amount of ass-kicking to get them to buy into a more active learning style.

What kind of students do you like the least?  

Passive ones. I've got no problem with jokers or loudmouths. Virtually no students come to the university prepared to participate (especially with speaking). Getting an aswer out of some of them is like getting blood from a stone. Kids have been taught to say the 'correct answer' or nothing, so there can be a lot of dead air in class.

What is your style of teaching?

I tailor my classes to what the customer wants, especially with private lessons. At the moment I teach classes to groups of 20 or so who are low level and have very poor listening and speaking skills. I make classes active and try to get the students to interact and run the show more. Playing the clown helps too, I do a lot of 'being tall' jokes as I'm 6'4" and my students are often below 5'.

What's your favorite way to kill ten minutes in class?  

I like to use brainstorms or opinion questions as an opener, but if I'm running short I like vocabulary games like 'basta', pictionary or hangman.

How's your salary versus your quality of life?

Now my salary is pretty generous. I make a little over $1,000 net per month. I also get extra income from private classes and employer bonuses. The cost of living is cheap here and I'm able to enjoy myself, and travel within Mexico for vacations and still save 30% of my pay. Mexican pesos don't go a long way toward international airfairs though, so trips abroad will wipe out your savings.

What do you miss about home?

Apart from the obvious, I miss British pubs and banter most. There's nothing like the British sense of humour and I work with a lot of Americans who are lovely, but not that funny! That said, I'm sure I'll miss dusty cantinas with blasting jukeboxes when I finally leave Mexico.

What is the most difficult thing about where you live?

People are generally nice and welcoming to foreigners, but it can be difficult to get to know the locals in Oaxaca. Society is very conservative and family oriented, so you'll be lucky to find a girlfriend without getting the Spanish inquisition from the family.

Also speedbumps. There are millions of f**king speedbumps everywhere.

Who have been your most venal and incompetent employers?  

Private one on one classes! Many of my clients in Buenos Aires would cancel without any notice and the fact that I didn't have a steady income meant that I couldn't cut them off, or insist on them paying me for the missed class. This is an age old English teacher problem, but I would recommend being crystal clear about cancellations with clients and only taking on trusted students.

One incompetant employer that I thankfully didn't work for is Wall Street institute, who are the biggest group in Buenos Aires. They offered me a job of 80 hrs a month (all evenings and mornings so you couldn't get any private classes) and the pay was not enough to cover my meagre rent bill. I later heard that they made their employees open up and lock up (an extra hour a day unpaid) and clean the toilets.

Any particularly horrifying experiences you'd like to share?  

I was transferring from one university to another in Oaxaca and had a bus leaving in a couple of hours. I opened my computer to find an email saying that there was a problem with the administration because I was still on the book with my old university.

I now didn't have a job, and my visa was about to run out. I had a nervous weekend of looking for other jobs before I managed to get in contact with my new boss and share some choice British swear words with her. I told her she was besmirching the name of a fine institution by being a bloody pickaninny and that she should stop the tomfoolery. My bus ticket went down the drain and my spaced out cat had to be re-sedated for the delayed journey, but I ended up getting the job in the end.

What are your plans for the future?  
I plan to travel for a few months in Central America then find a job in Spain for 2016. I'm looking forward to some European culture.

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