On Teaching English

I´d like to share with you a little about my experience teaching English in Ecuador, as well as talk about the business of teaching English in Latin America and abroad. 

I finished up my 3-month teaching cycle a few days ago.  I taught 3 classes, which I affectionately called my Niños, Chicos, and Sabados.  In my Niños class were two boys about 10 years old, there were three teens in my Chicos class, and my Sabados (Saturdays) class was mixture of niños, chicos, and two adult students. 

Most of my students called me “Teacher.”  Maybe that will be my new nickname, kind of like the boxers who have nicknames such as Joe “Sledgehammer” Wilcox, or Calvin “MessWithYou” Jones.  Now I´m Keith “Teacher” Kreuz … not really that menacing of a moniker, but a part of me always wanted an extra name that is surrounded by quotation marks. 

I have a newfound respect for English teachers, or for that matter all teachers.  Being a teacher is not only a lot of work for comparatively little pay, but it can also feel like a huge responsibility.  This may seem odd or comical to you, but sometimes I was concerned that if I did not clarify a specific grammar point or facet of the language, that I might negatively impact their progress.  Or, if I were too firm in establishing order in my classroom, such as in my Saturday class that included rambunctious chicos, would I discourage them from wanting to learn more English in the future?

 I loved my chicos, but I am not going to miss a single one of them.  Teens are teens the world over.  I hope they all have happy and successful lives, and I´m praying that I never have to teach teens again … ever. 

The niños were great, too.  They were not nearly as disruptive or challenging as the teens were, but in a heartbeat niños can go from being on task … to building castles made of erasers, pencils, scratch paper, etc.  They can be very resourceful in finding building materials.  One of my niños, during the final exam no less, decided to see how many pockmarks he could put in his eraser.  With my niños I felt like a farmer with a cattle prod who constantly had to poke them to keep them going in the direction I wanted them to go. 

My adult students were a lot like me, they were looking for the magic key that opens the door to fluency.  But that key does not exist, for the only way to become proficient in a new language is through consistent effort over a long period of time.  Sometimes I put my adult students through drills such as  … say this … now say it again … now say it in a slightly different way … now say it in the negative, etc.  However, they quickly tired of such drills, and in spite of the fact that they still didn´t fully understand the specific point I was trying to teach them, and in spite of the fact that I know that these drills are helpful, they were ready to move on to something else.  I´ve actually searched for a Spanish teacher who will drill me like that, who will pound into my head in a fun and creative way some foundational blocks I can build upon.  But not all students are alike, and where pounding seems like it would help me, each of my adult students of English can have a different learning style.  All any teacher can do is their best to guide and inform each individual student.

With regard to teaching English abroad, it seems that many of the teaching positions for pay are in schools or businesses that cater to the rich and privileged class, that cater to this extremely small segment of society.  (At least that appears to be the case in Latin America).  And in spite of the fact that this is the clientele, teacher pay remains relatively low.  (Someone is banking the money somewhere).  So then it becomes a game of how cheaply can you live in order to make teaching abroad worth your time and effort. 

In strictly business terms, this opportunity to teach English in Ecuador has not been profitable.  My wife and I invested much more money in this opportunity than we got back in return.  But we knew that would be the case, and we were willing to make this investment in order to learn something about the business of teaching English internationally … and we were also investing in a South American vacation together.

I´ve already decided that if I´m going to teach English to the privileged class in the future, I´m going to seek better pay relative to the cost of living.  I think that private, for-profit, business schools would be the way to go.  The other option is to pursue opportunities to teach English to the marginalized, to the less fortunate, to the poor … and expect to receive little or no pay. 

The ability to speak English as a second language can be a powerful tool that gives someone more opportunities, better job prospects, higher pay … who knows, it could even lift someone out of poverty.  And if it could lift one person out of poverty, perhaps it could be a hand-up to an entire village. 

Do you think that you might be interested in teaching English?  If so, I have some advice for you.  The business of teaching English is a HUGE industry, and getting bigger by the moment.  It seems that everyone wants a piece of the pie.  There are also competing certificates, and one can be overwhelmed by the amount of choices available when wading into this business.  I did a lot of research on the industry, and decided that since I already have my college degree that the TEFL certificate was the one I could get the quickest and without too much expense.  (TEFL stands for Teaching English as a Foreign Language).  The TEFL certificate is widely accepted throughout the world, and paired with a college degree it makes you an even more desirable candidate.  The problem is that you will find hundreds of TEFL certificate providers when searching the internet, including lots of fly-by-night providers that will gladly take a lot of your money and give you a crappy experience in return for a piece of paper.  Again, I spent a lot of time researching the industry, and I narrowed my choice down to 2 very well-known and respected TEFL certificate providers.  One is called i-to-I TEFL, which is based in the UK … and the other is based in the United States and called BridgeTEFL.  I might sound like a North American snob for saying this, but I opted not to go with i-to-I in spite of the fact they were a little less expensive; after watching i-to-i videos and completing their initial assessment, I decided I did not want to be trained by people who spoke with heavy British accents.  Thus, I chose BridgeTEFL. 

BridgeTEFL provides local classes in several cities across the United States; however, the upcoming classes in Salt Lake City were booked when I tried to enroll.  As a result, I opted to do all of my training online at their online site www.teflonline.com.  I went with the 120-hour “Master Diploma,” and it cost about $420.  It took me about 8 weeks to complete the course, and I was very pleased with it.  Something else you should know is that completing the course was not a walk in the park, which I was also pleased about.  They don´t call it a 120-hour course for nothing, for that is the amount of time it takes to finish it.  You will have your own tutor that grades your assignments and is available via email to answer any questions you might have, but other than that you just read the information on the web site and watch the videos and then complete the quizzes and do the writing assignments (that your tutor grades).  When you complete the program you receive an access code that enables you to download and print your certificate, and each certificate issued has a unique number.  You can also give out your access code and certificate number to any school that might want to hire you, and they can go to the Bridge website and verify that you indeed completed the BridgeTEFL program.  Like I said, I was very pleased with BridgeTEFL, and doing it all online was very convenient. 

Regarding pay, English teaching positions in Asia generally pay better because several governments are funding the programs in order to make their people more competitive in the world markets.  I´ve heard that you can make $20K per year in Asia, and in addition receive an apartment and return airfare.  But for me, I don´t have any interest right now in going to Japan, China, Thailand, Cambodia, or any of those other places over there.  My interest is in going places where I can also work on improving my Spanish, so Latin America and Spain are my target areas.  In Spanish speaking countries you can earn enough to cover all of your expenses and bank some cash as well, especially if you can live frugally and hold the line on expenses.  As for my wife and I, we are not so much looking to make this a lucrative venture as we are looking to fund adventures.