What You Need to Know to Teach English in South America
Many young people wish to learn English in South America.
Teaching Outside the Box
In this day and age, there is almost nothing in the professional world that is cast in stone. Contracts are hard to come by, job security is a thing of the past, and economies are constantly in flux. You would think such problems would not concern the English teachers working abroad, but they often do.
Having the freedom to travel while simultaneously having the security of a teaching-English-to-non-native-speakers day-to-day job is still an option. While many areas of the world still operate using somewhat formal teaching policies with centralized schools, those seeking to teach abroad must also prepare to work remotely in some locations.
Adapting to Teaching English in South America
Case-in-point: South America. The continent has long been attractive to English teachers eager for new experiences such as Samba music, mountain trekking, and other long, hot summer nightlife pleasures while earning a living teaching English to the locals. But unlike some global regions with a much more rigorous application, interview, and hiring process that involves visas or housing appropriations, many countries in South America often utilize a less rigid system of employing teachers.
All this sounds great, especially for those looking to teach for the short term in various cities while traveling across South America for extended periods. But there are some matters both the vagabond and long-term teacher must consider when teaching for language companies in America del Sur. There is the call to work outside the box.
South American Teaching Locations and Logistics
In South America, teachers are often called to work outside the learning center or teaching area. Language centers in South America are prone to accommodate students' busy schedules, and teachers are dispatched accordingly to students' homes and/or offices. The method of teaching on-site can be beneficial to students with hectic schedules.
Such a style of teaching and working runs counter to many professional considerations, and there must be flexibility on the part of teachers accustomed to working in this way. When deciding if you wish to work in this manner, consider the following:
The Offices and Homes: People are busy everywhere, and South America is no exception. As a result, a teacher working on location must learn geographical information about the city they work in and transit schedules to get to where they have to teach. Also, the teacher has to be ready for a break-in period during the first employed week to learn how to get to the student's office or home on time. Observing how long it can take to get there and what security clearances are needed to access the buildings where you teach should also be done. Offices and apartment buildings in South America are often strict about security. As a teacher, you have to be respectful of this requirement.
The Schedules: Most language centers organize for you in terms of allotting your students and the times to teach them. But as mentioned earlier, things can get busy. Subsequently, lessons get canceled. Teachers have to monitor their email inboxes for messages or their cell phones for texts alerting them to cancellations. Students are sometimes pulled away from class due to important professional or personal situations. Teachers must be prepared for such events and make relevant notes on students' time sheets.
Commuting: In Buenos Aires, the buses run rapidly daily. However, the train service is another matter altogether. BA transit can be fraught with strikes and mechanical malfunctions. Other cities, such as Caracas and Sao Paulo, have similar issues.
With this in mind, most students and employers understand that tardiness will happen on the part of a teacher at least once, particularly on days when there is bad weather. Investing in at least a laptop or, at best, a cell phone to text employers and students to know that you will be late is worthwhile. Such courtesy is respected and will help you later when payday comes.
The Cancellations: Concerning the last two points, the teacher must be aware of cancellations, which are part and parcel of life for students and teachers. What is most important is that teachers make note of such events. A language institute should have a department to register students' cancellations of classes so teachers are not penalized for their pay. The student should send the teacher a message informing them of the cancellation. In any event, keeping a record of this on attendance record sheets is necessary.
The Payments: Some international teachers still get paid through paper money from the accounting office or via a paper check. Nevertheless, South America has become modern in adapting to the direct deposit system, and the language centers keep detailed pay records for their bookkeeping records.
As a result, as a teacher, you must set up your direct deposit system. You can handle this by setting up direct deposit with your bank using your bank account. But if you do not plan to stay for an extended period, you might have to request another payment method. Payment is monthly, and teachers must produce attendance sheets with notes regarding their students before payment can proceed.
The Students: Teaching classes remotely allows the teacher to meet various students. From a teacher's perspective, this can be fun but challenging. Students often enjoy the one-on-one interaction involved in having their teacher. Still, they might tend to stray and want to spend more time on conversation than on the future continuous verb tense grammar they were assigned.
South Americans tend to be social people; there is nothing wrong with adapting by allowing some time for chit-chat. But the teacher has to stay focused. Having time to talk is good, but be sure to complete pertinent assignments. Testing will occur, and students must achieve what is necessary to be well-prepared to keep their jobs.
The Government: Most countries in South America only require a passport for entry, and many allow travelers to stay for three months, often with the option to extend their visit. Other countries require visas for basic entry — i.e., Americans and Canadians need a Brazilian tourist visa. In any case, it is best to prepare for and observe government regulations based on my experience. Language centers in South America often offer contracts and place teachers on probation to determine their suitability for the job. When teachers pass the probationary period but wish to stay longer, or if their institute wants to sign them to a contract, it is worthwhile for the teacher to bring all government matters to the institute's attention to ensure meeting employment regulations. The school typically handles everything from taxes to work permit requirements. Taking the proactive approach here is necessary and saves hassles.
The Teaching Adventure
There might be no better place for teachers seeking the duality of travel adventure and professional English teaching experience than South America. However, knowing how teachers work on location while experiencing South America can make a stay more enjoyable and create a teaching experience that runs much more smoothly. When working in South America or anywhere, it is best to come prepared to do your job without lingering problems.
See Teaching English in Latin America: Find Top Employers for resources by country.
James Burt is a writer and ESL teacher based in La Plata, Argentina. He has taught in China, Canada, and Brazil. He is enjoying the "gaucho" life for the moment.