“I work in finance. Hence I’m able to teach English in Brazil!”

Earlier this week I received a very polite e-mail from a native English language speaker enquiring about a teaching position in my language institute. I will copy below the part I found fascinating:

” …[I] would like to enquire about English teaching opportunities. I’m 33 years old, have a Master’s degree from the London School of Economics and several years’ experience working in the financial sector in London. Hence I am able and willing to teach English in any area of Brazil, to any age group.”

I imagine you can guess the part which fascinated me the most in this short text: the use of  “Hence” and “able”.

Just for a tiny second I wondered: if I sent him an e-mail asking for a position in his Financial firm, would he give me the time of day if I wrote: “I am 43 years old and have a Master’s degree from the Institute of Education, London University, and many years working in ELT. Hence I am willing and able to work in any sector of your Financial Department: Risk Management, Investment Accounting, Tax planning, etc.”

No, I think not! I rather suspect my e-mail might not even be answered. And, as I see it, quite rightly so. I would have to be undergoing a moment of complete hallucination to even propose such an idea. And yet, flip the coin, and such a proposal was sent to me.

I wonder what spurred him to send the e-mail? You see, I can perfectly understand people deciding to change careers and wanting to teach. I have seen this over and over again. Indeed, this is one of my sources of CELTA candidates: mature professionals who want to try ELT and I even had a young chap, a graduate in History, who was a mountaineer and wanted to go round the world climbing mountains, living in remote communities teaching English. This is fine by me and I actually think this adds greatly to the field of ELT. (I myself am one who graduated in History and Education and only subsequently did I choose the world of ELT.)

But what was going through his mind when he sent the e-mail? Was he informed that in Brazil we are in dire need of native English language teachers as we do not have qualified teachers otherwise? Or does he think that ELT doesn´t require the same level of expertise as other fields? Or was his use of “hence” and “able” a simple demonstration of his lack of command of written English? I really don’t know.

Apart from the fact that no one in their right mind hires a non-Brazilian to work in a language school in Brazil without a work permit (if caught it leads to a mega fine for the language school and deportation for the teacher), which self-respecting language institute would hire someone with no experience to teach a group of,  let’s say, young learners? You’d have to be bonkers! You’d have parents breathing down your neck! I wonder, does this young chap have any idea what it involves to become a teacher? Probably not, otherwise he wouldn’t have been so categorical affirming he could teach any age group.

Am I ranting? Yes, I am, a bit.

Was this a one-off? No, this wasn’t. I get about three requests like this every month, so that probably accounts for the rant.

The question is: is there anything we can do as a group to ensure people understand the seriousness with which most of us see our profession? Are we by any chance sending some wrong signals?

I wonder…..

14 thoughts on ““I work in finance. Hence I’m able to teach English in Brazil!”

  1. Valéria, I sometimes think Brazilians don’t care about education because it’s something alien to our culture. (Already it feels like a rant is coming, but so be it.) Sure, everybody knows what a school is, but not quite how to use it. To a typical Brazilian it seems schools are places where one cheats, copies work, gossips, displays for alpha males (if one is a particularly beautiful female) or play cards.

    The concept of proper LEARNING must involve HARD WORK and I see people do whatever is in their power to go through school and college having the least work possible, thus going on to be atrocious doctors or nurses who inject silicon or orange juice into their pacient’s veins, or engineers who build stuff which actually colapses.

    I don’t think it’s only educators who are not taken seriously, I think our countrymen don’t take ANYTHING seriously. I can offer Mr. Tiririca as an evidence of this!

    Once a professor told me he thought we left the IT course overqualified for the Brazilian market. I think this is both true and false. Someone who takes his course very seriously will go into the market overqualified, but the other 99% who get their degrees because they can work the system by switching disciplines to get a lenient teacher or by cheating their tests became an army of “IT professionals” whose job is to feed data to systems created by real IT professionals abroad. The other 1% pursue an academic carreer.

    So, yes. I do feel disrespected when bad students (always the bad ones) say “Hey, I think I could teach here, it must be easy to teach junior A! What do I do?”. Of course as a professional I must be polite, so I politely tell THEM to send YOU their CV 😉

    Yet, I think that the only thing that prevents the average Brazilian from saying “hey, I know a little about some drugs, I could be a doctor” is strong regulation. I’ve known people who were deluded enough to actually write something like “I have always been sympathetic to friends and hence I am able and willing to be a psychoterapist” and send it to a clinic. It is legislation, not comon sense, that bars them from doing so!

    And as I, too, woke up today feeling able and willing to be a psychotherapist, may I prescribe Haldol to these hallucinating fellows? 🙂

  2. This is a great post. I understand perfectly the view point you express in your post. I agree that native-speaker status, solely, is not a teaching qualification.

    Further, I ask whether or not there is a place in the ELT profession for the untrained, but university degree educated, native speaker. I would like to hedge my answer based on what happens after this native speaker is hired.

    1. If this individual will go directly into a classroom and start teaching students after being hired, with no training, then this a No-win situation for everyone involved. In the end, everyone is a loser. Demotivated students, angry parents, frustration for the native speaker, and an employer who is unethical. No winners, only losers in this scenario.

    2. What if, in this instance, the 33 years old, Master’s degree holder from the London School of Economics, with several years’ experience working in the financial sector in London, were hired under the following condition: completion of a CELTA course from International House World Organization?

    Obviously, a CELTA course would be a significant argument for employing this individual. What outcomes could reasonably be expected, if, for example, this individual were to be assigned to teach Business English? Satisfied students and satisfied parents would be likely, and by extension, a satisfied employer.

    To sum up, the native speaker, untrained in pedagogy & ELT methodology, is a liability that needs to be avoided at all costs. Let there be no doubt about that. Having said that, however, we need to accept that the native speaker, properly trained in a recognized CELTA or TEFL course, in my view, is an asset to any organization.

    Te end, let me disclose that I am a native speaker of English who has completed a CELTA course and a DELTA course.

    • Hello Thomas,
      Thanks ever so much for your comments. I would agree 100% with your thoughts. In fact, what I did do was suggest that the young man did take a CELTA and explained why we don´t hire without it. This would be the best option and one I tend to encourage as I do think it´s okay to change professions and have a go at something else.
      This is an excellent starting point and then it´s a question of working on developing teaching skills, as we all did once in our career. (I´m also the product of a CELTA at IH London – that´s how I started working in ELT here in Brazil, as my graduation was in Education & History.)

      Yet, we do find that in some places in Brazil native speakers with a good degree in other fields are often hired (many come over after marrying a Brazilian). The result of this, as you say, is that everyone feels short-changed after a while – neither students nor parents nor the teacher themselves are happy or comfortable with the situation. This is what I meant by “sending the wrong signals”. We need to stand firm and defend our own profession.
      Thanks once again for your comments.
      Valéria

  3. Hi Valeria

    A very reflective post–I’m Canadian and indeed this type of attitude exists here, but not entirely apart from our making. University graduates often go abroad to “teach English” with merely a Bacherlor’s degree in any discipline. When I first did so in the mid-90s, I was told by the Korean school that hired me that my qualifications were that I’d graduated from university and was a native speaker. This thought still prevails among these traveler-teachers.

    Thankfully, TESL organisations here have begun implementing the framework for regulating qualifications needed to teach in both public and private sectors domestically. Having said that, the ELT world is oft still regarded by other those in other programs as the ugly step-sister.

    • Hello Tyson,
      Thanks very much for your comment. I have absolutely nothing against traveler-teachers – I think this can be an immensely rich resource for us all and provide a wonderful learning opportunity for students. Yet I think that, as in any profession, we are the ones who sort of guard it and give it the worth that I think it is “worth”.

      I do like the idea, though, of nationally regulating qualifications and ensuring there is a framework. We have this in Brazil for the state school sector, but as far as I know there are no regulations for language schools in the private sector. This might be something which teaching associations here could work on.

      Thanks once again for sharing your thoughts.
      Valéria

  4. Well who wouldn’t want to be a teacher? I mean summers off. Out of the “office” everyday at 3:15 (at least here in New York State where I teach). Sounds a lot better than late nights in a financial institution crunching numbers. Oh, they must not realize that is what educators due into the wee hours of the morning – grading, pondering how to reach that one student who is not progressing, developing lessons that are engaging yet filled with meaningful work that will prompt creative and critical thinking.
    I am always amazed that so much pressure is placed on educators to work miracles in the classroom to reach staggering standards, yet the profession is not taken as seriously as other professions.

    • Hi Paige,

      Yes, have to agree with you about the miracles bit – a lot is expected from teachers and not enough recognition is given. In Brazil teachers generally get 1 month paid holiday a year (which happens over our summer in January). But for most teachers the working day is very long. To ensure a decent salary many work in two or three different schools – so it can be an almost 10 hour teaching shift per day: in the morning (7:30) many start teaching in state schools and in the afternoon they teach in private language schools to probably about 21:00. So, a very long day! I would say almost as long as our number crunching friend, but I bet teachers earn less and don´t have as many perks: except for the major perk of teaching and making a difference in someone´s life!

  5. Hey Valeria, great post 🙂
    I reckon the reason why teaching is belittled in Brazil is not only cultural, but also historical.
    Being part of a family in which almost every member is, or used to be, a teacher I could notice how the Brazilian regulation changed in the past decades. When my mother and my aunt started teaching at public schools they were far from graduating from university. They had barely finished high school. A simple course called “complementação pegagógica” (which is completely different from what it is nowadays) would grant them the right to teach elementary and high-school students. No further experience was necessary.
    I also vividly remember when English and PE, to name a few, were not obligatory disciplines at school. Thus, anyone seeking some extra cash could aplly for those vacancies. So, who was selected to be teachers? For obvious, please read financial, reasons schools hired the least qualified ones so that they would spend less.
    This culture was then followed by English Courses. The search for cheap labor brought immense stigma to our community. I have always been against those who take our profession as a temporary money-maker or a stop-gap.
    And, yes, Valeria. We’ve sent wrong signals. However, it’s up to us now to change it. To prove people wrong.
    Everyone knows that Education is what changes the world. But, what have WE been doing to change Education and the way people regard to it nowadays?
    see u when I see u!

  6. Whenever I see posts like this I can’t deny that words like words like disappointment and/or anger come to my mind come to my mind. It is difficult to understand why some people take for granted the fact that teaching any subject is more than just entering a classroom and talking or delivering speeches to people.

    In order to become a Portuguese and an English teacher I had to undergo 5 years at the college, not to mention I had to write two final papers which would grant me the right to teach these two languages as well as their literatures.

    I’d like to take my mother as an example to illustrate what this young chap enquired you about. She’s worked as a bank teller for over 15 years and speaks Portuguese very well. However, it’s worth mentioning that she doesn’t know how to explain the difference between definite and indefinite articles in Portuguese. Considering that she’s worked in the financial sector for years and speaks her mother tongue really well, why on Earth couldn’t she become a Portuguese teacher? The reason is simple: she’s just not prepared for that.

    The reason(s) for my feelings of angry and disappointment lie on this: I see people like this young chap on a regular basis. People who think that by speaking a language they can teach it as if teaching was nothing but making fun and blabbing all the time about whatever subject.

    I have always been keen on aviation and have spent about 1,000 hours flying jumbos or 777s on Microsoft Flight Simulator. So, does it make me an airline pilot or an air traffic controller? Would companies like American Airlines, TAM or Air France ever reply to an e-mail of mine if I wrote them a letter stating that “Hence I am able and willing to fly aeroplanes or working as an air traffic controller.”? Definetely not.

    • Hi Aurelio,
      Thanks for adding to the discussion.

      I can fully understand how upset and angry we can get about this situation – yes, we have worked a great deal and studied a lot to get where we are. To become a teacher actually means you have chosen a career in which you will never stop reflecting and developing your abilities and skills.

      So, I think that´s why I like your mention of the flight simulator. I once heard a doctor saying he could conduct a proceedure quite easily as he had “hours of flight time” (meaning years of experience – I think this is a Brazilian saying isn´t it? – “horas de vôo”?) Yes, we too have our own hours of flight, but I tend to agree with you, I rather doubt you’d be let loose on a real plane!

  7. Many people think teaching is the easiest job in the world. Some language courses even consider travelling abroad and being American, English, Australian or Canadian a plus in the resume. I once got an interview that I wanted to talk about my teaching experience and the person kept asking if I had foreign friends, if I went to Disney or something. My one week trip to Washington was more valuable to this language instituition than my CAE. Can you imagine that?

    It’s not that uncomon to hear something like “hey, I’m a doctor, I studied in Brasas for many years. I can definately teach English while I’m unemployed. When something better comes up, then we’ll see”. Lots of people think teaching English is a “part-time job” to earn extra money or just a job that one will have only in the begining of the career. Even my family once asked me “are you going to be JUST an English teacher???” or “Why don’t you choose a ‘DECENT’ career?”

    I think many language institutes hire those unqualified professionals, I mean unqualified for teaching, and they help keepig this cliché alive. I really wonder how long it will take for this situation to change. Hopefully soon enough!

    • Hi Mariana,

      Thanks for your thoughtful comments. Yes, I think you hit the nail on the head. What can we do to show that ours is not a profession that you turn to when you need to make ends meet or when you sort of want to get some extra cash. It´s so much more than that.

      But what I can say is that those who do manage to start teaching for the wrong purposes, solely because someone unwittingly hires them, don´t manage to hold down their jobs for long and sort of give up. You see, they can´t keep up with all the demands of teaching. They blame the students, they blame the institution, but they don´t see that their lack of readiness and their lack of training is really the reson for things not going quite to plan.

      Ours is a very decent career and profession and one which I wouldn´t change for anything in the world. I imagine from your post that you feel the same about this. It´s up to us to make sure people understand how important our role is.

      • When I got my first job as an English teacher, I used to teach in a a state school in my city where the previous teacher happened to be a Psychology student. I remember hearing comments about how nice she used to be, how friendly she used to be and all that jazz.

        Nevertheless, what (business)people should bear in mind is that teaching is as important as being a doctor, a lawyer, an airline pilot, etc. Being good at somenthing doesn’t necessarily mean you can do it.

        In order to start teaching, teachers-to-be should reflect upon the following questions:
        1) “Am I ready for teaching and dealing with all the demands this career requires?”;
        2) “Do I really know what TTT, STT, PPP, warmer, lead-in, presentation, production, debriefing, dealing with oral and written mistakes, etc. are?”
        3) “Do I intend to work as a teacher because I want to make ends meet or because this career is as serious as any other?”

        Wow, it looks like you hit the nail on my head with this post, Valeria.

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