How to utterly fail at Teaching English as a Forgein Language

Written by Jesse

Topics: Uncategorized

Go to any expat living, location independent, continuous travel website and you will find the obligatory list of ways to make money on the road. Topping this list most of the time will be “teaching English”. Statistically speaking, there are more jobs than teachers. So the idea is, you get certified – which basically means taking an accredited four week course – then go get work. What no one tells you is that it is possible to fail to find gainful (or sustainable) work.

I have lived in Villarrica, Chile now for two years. In that time I have been unable to find or create employment teaching English. Here is the rundown:

Villarrica is a popular tourist destination in Southern Chile. It is on a beautiful lake and has a fabulous view of two volcanoes. You can easily get to some of the best outdoor adventure activities in Chile from here. There are about 50,000 full time residents. There are five private schools, two of which are owned by the Catholic church. Every year a substantial number of Germans, Isrealies, North Americans, British and Austrailians visit this area. All speaking great English and most, not so great Spanish. There was even an article last year in Sky magazine noting that one of the things holding Chile back from being a major tourist destination is the lack of English. English is taught from a very young age in all the schools but, there are no English language institutes here; there is one in Pucon but I get the impression they barely hold on each year. In the schools, both private and public, the stress is on reading and writing English, with almost no emphasis on listening or speaking. I have personally experienced that many of the school aged children can read and write well in English but can neither speak or understand spoken English. And, there are no native English speaking teachers in Villarrica. There was one native speaker in one of the private schools for six months last year as part of the English Open Doors program, but that was it.

As an entrepreneurial sort, I thought I hit the jackpot, there is a need (a niche) and no one is filling it. I was wrong. First, the schools. I have put in resumes three times at the private schools; I can not get employment at the public schools because my university degree is not in teaching. The first time round, I was told that I did not speak enough Spanish to teach English. Second time around, I was told, “our Chilean teachers are just fine, we don’t need a native speaker.” Turns out, the real problem is a professional bias in which if you are not a teacher by profession, the teaching community does not want you moving in on their turf. A couple of side notes 1) up till a few years ago, teaching was taught in vocational school and was not a profession 2) Teachers need the lowest scores on the University entrance exams of any profession. I am not the only one. I know a German woman who has lived here with her family for four years now. In the German school where her children go, they needed someone to teach German after a teacher was injured. She was given the job to finish out the later half of the last school year. However, some of the teachers harassed her and where mean to her. When she confronted them, apparently they came right out and said they could not let non teachers teach. The school did not hire her back this year after finding a “real” teacher. She is going back to flying for Lufthansa – the German airline.

So no to the schools. No problem, offer private lessons to small groups or individuals. The going rate at the institutes is between 10,000 and 15,000 pesos an hour – this is 20 – 30 dollars – and they throw you in a class with as few as 10. My offer was to do classes for groups of 4 – 6 persons for 5000 pesos a person; 10 dollars an hour per person. In the six weeks I had up signs throughout the town center, not one phone call. After that I even tried lowing the price to 3000 pesos an hour; still no takers. Turns out that no one who could actually benefit from taking English, can afford classes. Most waiters, cashiers and other people in the service industry make around 5,000 pesos a day. Given that to learn a language you need a absolute minimum of three one hour classes a week, when you ask for 9000 pesos a week to teach, you are asking for 30% of their wages ( six day work week). And while Chileans know, and will tell me, that learning English is important. And they know that this will GREATLY, improve their education and work prospects, the fact is it just cost too much. Unfortunately, I have not been able to be creative enough – nor have any others – to create an economic condition where normal market conditions of supply and demand can come together.

Options: Temuco is the closest large city with 250,000. There are several Universities and institutes. I did get a bite last year from an institute that wanted to give me two hours in the evening during the week. It is an hour and half bus ride one way and would take 50% of my income for the two hours. Basically consuming five hours of time for one hour of liquid income. No. The only other option is to go to Santiago or one of the other larger cities in the North. One, that would take me over eight hours from my girlfriend and daughter. Second, if I wanted to live in a large city, I would have stayed in Orlando or gone to one of the other major US cities. So yes, it is possible to travel and live overseas from an income teaching English. But beware that you will probably have to live, or at least teach, in a large city.

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