The five people you meet in TEFL

Yes, folks, that’s Avril Lavigne in your English textbook

The first story isn’t really mine to tell. I am not TEFL-certified to teach English even though Sam’s school technically requires it. From what Sam was saying, however, TEFL classes and English teaching abroad attract some real whackos with weird stories. This makes sense; the certification process is quick, there is often very little teacher accountability, and you can do it on the side to illegally earn money while fully committing to partying your face off. Sam said the school has tried out several teachers who she was afraid to leave alone in the classroom—it’s good to know I’ve edged out some fierce competition! Her strangest story though was about a man who, though too scary to leave alone in a classroom with students, was helping the school/company with some Portuguese to English translations. When Sam didn’t hear from him a week after a translation was due, she started to wonder what had happened. If nothing else, he had been successfully meeting his deadlines. Unable to contact the man, Sam ended up doing the translation herself before finding out weeks later that the man had been stabbed to death by his girlfriend.

I am sorry to report though that the teachers I’ve met here have been disappointingly normal. Maybe this is because there are only three of us at Sam’s school, and the Callan school has predominantly Brazilian teachers who are using it as their after-school job. In fact, with the exception of Joao, from Portugal, almost all of the international teachers at the Callan school live here because of a Brazilian significant other. Actually, Joao might be here for a Brazilian SO too; it’s just that no one’s ever bothered to find out. They’re too busy poking fun at his Portuguese: “did you understand what Joao said, Cat? No? That’s ok, no one can understand what he’s saying. He speaks totally wrong.”

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Sam (in back) with her/our students and their English souvenir

Sam’s school, by contrast, is quite a formal enterprise. At the moment there are only two teachers aside from me (and I’m daily trying to calculate my escape route), and both are full-time teachers, committed to teaching English as a second language. To me, Sam’s story is pretty impressive. After graduating from University in England, she studied for a year in Germany and fell in love with languages and teaching English. From there, she spent five years teaching English in Madrid and, most recently, three here in Sampa. All this expatriatism made me wonder if living abroad was common in her family. Apparently though, she’s the only one in her family to live abroad or even outside her hometown of Hartlepool (England). Sam says she never grew up dreaming of being an English teacher, but she is now TEFL-certified with over ten years of teaching experience, and she loves it.

Tracey the other teacher told me that she, like me, needed to make a change in her life, and she chose to leave England for Brazil because she had a lot of Brazilian friends. She is beloved by her students and by all accounts, a wonderful teacher. To me, she is always really sweet and understanding, and she offered lots of praise and encouragement after I covered her classes for a couple weeks, explaining that teachers don’t get enough positive reinforcement, especially when they are new teachers and need it most. The funny part however, is that, even after three years of living in Sao Paulo, Tracey doesn’t speak a word of Portuguese. And Tracey lives in a part of Sao Paulo where absolutely no one speaks English. The Brazilian administrators, I think, view this with a mixture of amusement and frustration. When they started a “whatsapp” messaging group, recently, so that they can change our schedules at the drop of a hat/really drive home the point that we have no control over our lives (ok, maybe that’s not exactly how they view it), one of the admins had me write a text in English (he speaks no English) so that Tracey could understand. Yesterday, Tracey asked me to tell the administrators that her internet wasn’t working, and could I please ask them to call the company? I knew that the school owned Sam’s house, but I hadn’t realized that this was also the case for Tracey. At the moment the admins are trying to open a Brazilian bank account in the name of the school “for me” so they don’t have to pay me 1,000’s in cash every month (and so, your puzzler for the day, fair reader: how do I escape and still get to keep at least some of the money I earned, albeit illegally?). Although this is perfectly logical, what this means is that living with Maisa and Bruna is my last bastion of independence.

Although I complain a lot, the administrators are very nice guys. When I started at IMG_2234the school a couple months ago, Gerson began giving Sam and me rides home so we wouldn’t have to take the bus back at 10:00 at night. During these rides, Gerson (of “you can love five people at the same time” fame) likes to teach me Portuguese grammar or expressions that the other two administrators tell me no one under the age of 70 ever uses. Last weekend, Luciano had us over to his apartment in Guarulhos, the town north of Sao Paulo, for Caipirinhas and ribs (people are obsessed with Outback here), and Gerson wants to invite us all over for a weekend at his beach house in Ubatuba, and really, how could I turn down an offer to go to a town with a name like that?

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I think Rafael and Luciano called each other to coordinate outfits this morning

Anyone would be lucky to have these men as their close friends. My problem is with having them as my bosses although maybe it’s simply the nature of the English teaching profession in general—and that’s not even getting into the fact that the school has three male administrators dictating the daily lives of the school’s three female teachers. It may simply be an offshoot of the Sao Paulo work ethic, but it is quite clear that doing good business, which does of course includes offering a good product, is the first and only priority of the school. After Rafael surprised me one night by telling me I was to give a class near Paulista early the following morning at a time I couldn’t make, I rearranged my schedule for the next week. And yet, the following week, when the clients changed the class time and location (to the dreaded Berrini, which, hint, is nowhere near Paulista) the night before such that I could no longer make the class, they got a discount since I wasn’t flexible enough to accommodate this change. Today, Sam was called to the school with an hour’s notice, which is, on a good day, about how long the commute is from Vila Madalena where we both live. When she pointed out that the bus drivers were on strike midday today because they are tired of people vandalizing and setting their buses (and them) on fire, an administrator said that’s not an excuse. We need to make sure we always meet the clients’ needs. Luckily (or perhaps unluckily, if she wanted to do something crazy like eat lunch today) Rafael went to pick her up, but in my case, I just have to hope the buses are back in business and fire-free when I leave for work in a few minutes.

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Entertainment on the daily commute: because who wouldn’t want to watch someone juggle limes in the middle of traffic?

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