Teaching English to adults in Santiago de Chile
For the majority of my adult life, my answer to the question – ‘What do you do?’ – had been, ‘I am a Maths teacher’. Until we left Australia last year, I had taught teenagers maths since I was 21. To clarify though, I haven’t had a permanent, full-time job since 1987, and I have often taken time out to travel. In between I worked as a temporary substitute teacher – sometimes on-call, and at others on contracts ranging from a few weeks to a full year in length. But times changed, and I found I was no longer interested in spending my time with a classroom full of teenagers. So, I set about reinventing myself as an English teacher – specifically TESOL (teaching English to speakers of other languages) – by taking an online graduate course in 2011-12. Whilst doing that I continued to teach as a private tutor.
My first foray into the English as a foreign language classroom was with asylum seekers on Manus Island – an interesting experience, which encouraged me because I found it so rewarding, despite the environment. My second was here in Santiago this year. It now gives me great pleasure to label myself as Profesora de Inglés.
Teaching English in Santiago is a very rewarding experience. I was fortunate to be taken on by two small, but great Language Institutes – Vitacura English and Native Teachers . From a slow start my number of classes has steadily increased alongside my love for the job.
What I love about teaching English
Although it took me many years to realise it, I am a good teacher and I love teaching. The transition from Maths to English has been quite smooth. Sometimes it amazes me just how similar the two are.
Most of my classes are one-to-one situations, and I really enjoy the opportunity of getting to know a wide variety of people as individuals. Their ages range from mid-twenties to mid-fifties, and their jobs are just as diverse – academic researcher at a University, software developers and testers, manager of a prestigious beauty clinic, the next Chilean Consul General in Melbourne, mining engineer, pilot in training. The students share significant hopes and dreams, because speaking English is often a requirement for the fulfillment of them. There is something very personal about helping someone pursue this goal. And I love the way they all greet me with the traditional cheek kiss.
During general conversation in classes I have gathered some very interesting information about the city these students live in, and the country they love. To name a few, I have learnt about the origin of many of the street names in Santiago; the existence of the ‘Crystal Lagoons’ ; Architecture of Ritoque ; famous writers and artists of Chile (e.g. Pablo Neruda, Gabriela Mistral, Marta Montt); the amazing journey to be had with a Shaman guide and ‘Ayahuasca’; where to get the best ice cream, pasta and even English fish & chips… and the list goes on. We talk about families, friends, food, fantasies, books, movies, and television series. I’ve also received lots of tips about places to visit.
Daily life as an English teacher in Santiago
Classes are held either in the students’ homes, at their place of work, or in the classrooms of the language institutes. Moving from class to class can be anywhere from wonderful to tedious and very uncomfortable. I’ve learnt about the public transport system’s best and worst aspects, but I also have wonderful opportunities to walk. At home, in Australia, I would sometimes have to force myself out the front door in the morning to take a walk. Now I often walk 5 km per day just getting to and from my classes. I walk through parks, and down tree-lined streets, where I watch the seasons change. The city is almost surrounded by mountains, so I get beautiful views of the Andes on a daily basis.
On the other hand, the city is one of the most polluted in the world. Depending where you look, it ranks anywhere from 2nd to 5th in the world. We spent the winter months constantly coughing and going from one infection to the next. With the arrival of spring, our health improved. Moving out of the city centre also had some effect on this. Some days you can actually see the mountains clearly instead of through the pollution haze!
Getting a job as an English teacher
Before leaving Germany, I searched the internet for information on teaching in Chile. I chose Chile particularly because there is a lot of government support here for learning English. First there are the agencies that charge well over $US1000 to find you a job. I wasn’t keen on that idea for more than a moment. Some of the blogs I read suggested that there wasn’t any point in contacting schools until you actually arrive here, and that if you emailed you wouldn’t get any replies. Not true!!!
I wrote a lot of emails, but I got at least an acknowledgement for about a third of them. I had two preliminary chats via Skype which led to interview appointments for when I arrived in Chile. I arranged several other interviews via email. I had discovered that most Chileans take summer holidays in January and/or February, so the best chance to get work was to arrive before the beginning of March. When I arrived in Chile on Saturday February 23, I had 5 interviews arranged for the following week, AND I was offered work by all of them. My only problem was to decide who I wanted to work with.
My choices were made on the basis of the size of the institute, the rapport with the person interviewing me, and whether or not they required a demonstration lesson. I was determined to be accepted on my merits – my qualifications as an English teacher and my many years’ experience as a teacher. Native Teachers and Vitacura English are reasonably small and personable institutes, I had an immediate rapport with the persons who interviewed me, and they did not ask me to perform a demonstration lesson. And, to further confirm my choices, they were offering better per hour payments than the others. I get paid between 8000 and 11000 Pesos per hour (somewhere around $20) and some of them were offering as little as 6000! My first classes began on March 10, just 2 weeks after arriving in Santiago. My choices worked out to be very good decisions for me.
Native Teachers also supported me in the process of acquiring a right to work and a temporary resident’s visa. Although there have been an unusual amount of glitches in this process, I think this is the fault of the bureaucratic process and my limited Spanish, rather than any fault in the advice given me by the institute.
Next month I will complete this year of teaching in Santiago. I am grateful for the experience gathered, and will be sad to leave students and colleagues. There seems to be quite a demand for English teachers here and I can recommend Vitacura English and Native Teachers to anyone wanting to come to Santiago to teach (and to any locals looking for English lessons). I don’t know where I will teach next, but I do know that I will continue to teach as long as I find students who want to learn. But first, I plan to move home! That means, into Berta and on to some of the slow travel she is made for.