Teaching English in South America

In the summer of 2003, feeling a little apprehensive, I boarded a flight to Colombia. But I wasn’t going for a vacation…I had just secured my first English teaching job in a private school.

The first thing that hit me when I stepped off the plane was the warm weather—the cold winters of home were gone. Now, my biggest challenge would be staying out of the warm Caribbean sun long enough to plan my lessons. Life couldn’t have been any better.

The excitement of my first few days was immense. Even the simple things like food shopping became a treat. Strolling down the avenues and hunting through local markets, I was amazed by the range of fresh tropical fruits on offer. Being a “foodie”, I couldn’t have landed in a better place. This was an organic paradise and I was going to make the most of it.

The locals were fantastic. Everybody greeted me with a warm, friendly smile and made me feel very welcome. Even though my Spanish was only basic, people took the time to listen to me when I tried to ask for directions and that made it so much easier in the early days.

I had never taught English before and I hadn’t really had any training, so, when the first day of school arrived, I have to admit I was a little nervous.

I shouldn’t have worried. You see, when you get hired as an English teacher, you are really being hired as somebody who is a “native English speaker”. Your job will mainly be to just go into classes and speak to the pupils, play games with them, get them to listen to tape recordings of conversations or maybe watch videos with them and have a chat about it afterward.

That’s how easy it is.

And all that hard grammar stuff? Well, generally, that’s somebody elses job. Most schools around the world employ their own “native” teacher whose job it is to deliver grammar classes. Your job is just to fill in the bits in between, answer questions about pronunciation and basically, help the students to develop their conversational English.

Ok, you do have to do some lesson planning and this will involve meeting with other teachers and following a curriculum. But, in general, I have found this only helpful for my classes rather than being a hindrance. And the teachers at my first school were fantastic.

Within a few days, I had been invited to barbecues, parties and the local bar. Everybody made a big fuss of me and when I needed to find somewhere to live, they quickly came to my rescue. I secured a beautiful apartment in a green, leafy district just because I had asked around at school.

I often look back on that year in Colombia with the fondest of memories. I made some brilliant friends who are in contact with me to this day.

And get this, I’ve since taught in Ecuador, Bolivia and Peru. You could say that I’ve become addicted to the English teacher way of life. It’s an addiction that I love and would never be without. So what’s next? I’m thinking maybe Mexico or possibly Brazil for my next adventure. When you’re an English teacher, the world is your oyster.

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