Working


I love this picture because it makes no sense. Don't worry, I'm not turning into a grammar nazi who is going to point out all of Albert's lexical failings, but why is Einstein teaching English in the first place?

I've been threatening to write a post about work for a while, but as it is not the most fun of topics to talk about I have been procrastinating like a goodun. First let me describe my work, then tell you how it all came about.

I have a roster of around five to ten clients who have private English classes (normally 2 or 3 hours) with yours truly. I teach 20-30 hours which involves travel to different areas of the city (on my trusty bike), and a small amount of prep time. 20 hours a week may sound like the promised land, but I am often on the go from 10 a.m to 9 p.m.

Lessons are generally pretty relaxed, over a coffee or mate and include varied grammar, reading, writing and listening exercises. I subscribed to a good TEFL resources website which negates the need for tedious planning and creating worksheets. I also work from my Kindle (worksheets, readings and dictionaries) which makes me seem environmentally friendly, and super cool.

My students range in ability, background and personality. I teach mostly expats (Colombian, Italian, Hungarian) and have one Argentinian student too. Many people want to learn English to communicate with people in their job. A large percentage of jobs in South America seem to have contact with Chinese offices or factories so English is often used a common business language.

Some of the students need help improving their fluency, and some lessons are simply basic vocabulary and communication. Essentially as a private teacher, your job is to give the client what they want, which is normally fairly easy.

Please like me / spread the word if you haven't already.
Buenos Aires, although it has a large population of more affluent residents, many of whom want or need to learn English, is not a great place for a TEFL teacher. Institutes pay poorly and students are often unreliable.  It seems to me that the pay for English teachers is inversely proportional to the desirability of the city / location. If you want more solid work, or better pay go elsewhere!

I personally prefer recruiting private students and managing my own affairs rather than taking more time consuming and lower paying (although secure) work with institutes. I feel that businesses are terrible at advertising their services to recruit more students, they just sit back and wait for people to walk through the door.

With a lot of effort and by employing a few key tactics it is perfectly possible to build a roster of private clients. Students often get in touch through word of mouth or some other equally random method of knowing you. My tip to other teachers is to never miss an opportunity to hand out a business card, and never give up because something always comes along in this city when you are at your lowest.

Ah . . .  the thrill of hand to mouth living.

I have been in touch with several experienced teachers who try to pay you sweet F.A. to teach private lessons to their surplus of students. They call their business an 'institute' but "having a blog does not a business make". They have no office, no syllabus, no materials and generally no idea. Whilst most of the English teaching world out here operates outside the reaches of the Argentine inland revenue, it makes me sad that these people screw over other teachers as well as the taxman.

For this reason I set up a teaching collective (Language Alliance) with the idea of promoting the business, recruiting students and doling out the private teaching work in a fair way. Essentially teachers advertise themselves, but under a more trustworthy combined banner. They then get to keep all of the lesson fee. I have a pretty busy schedule through these efforts, and will be concentrating on building up this mini empire early next year.

I have also had the odd bit of other work come in, I seem to attract it somehow. I did some recording work for English language CDs in a bloke's home made studio. I also described Bonfire night and other strange British traditions to some bemused teenagers at an institute, and I am currently in negotiations to translate a website for HP servers into English.


He did this pose on his own, without instruction, legend
Overall, the hard work of scratching around for students for a few months, and attending interviews with many airheads and chamuyeros (bullshitters) has been worth it. I get to ride around on my bike in the blazing sunshine, then get paid for reading articles from the Guardian, correcting funny errors, or pretending to be a stern faced journalist asking questions in a role play exercise. My office is the city and I'm my own boss.

A special mention goes out to Filippo, my Italian brother from another mother. He is a lovely bloke from Naples who seems to travel the world at will and speaks very little English or Spanish. We can usually be found laughing it up on the roof terrace with some kind of food on offer (he is a chef). We were learning animals vocabulary the other day and when asked to read the word 'Duck', he loudly and clearly exclaimed "Dick" . . . I kept my composure and said "no, try again" . . . . "Cock" . . .  "no" I said, suppressing a giggle . . .  "Dook" . . .  "close enough", I said "let's have a 5 minute break".

I don't know what's going to happen in the future with my teaching, I have plans to travel in the early part of next year, but I'm sure I'll be back in Buenos Aires scrabbling around for lessons again soon. One thing's for certain, Argentina has a habit of throwing up challenges when the going is good, and picking you up when you're down.