Danielle in Brazil

Danielle’s Tips for Teaching English in Brazil I’ve been having bad luck with classes and students this week, and I’m home bored. So I’ve decided to write a list that I wish I had seen in my Google searches for “teach English in Brazil” before I came here. I hope it’ll help some people who have the same idea.

Planning before you go…

1. Bring a lot of money with you. It’s going to take time for you to get established as a teacher, and even when you are established, you’ll still have months of ups and downs. Your American currency goes far here. So save, save save. Even if you start making money here, it may not be enough sometimes for you to pay for your living expenses. I would say to bring at least a couple thousand if you plan to stay for the entire 6 months of your visa, and be sure you’ve already bought a return ticket home that is refundable and changeable flight dates. (You’ll actually need to buy the return ticket home to get the visa anyway.)

2. Try to find a Brazilian travel agent in your area. This may sound silly, but if you don’t know much about the country or the visa laws, these agents can help you a lot. (The one I went to also sold Brazilian candies. Fun!) The one I went to also charged a really small fee (only 100 dollars) to go get my visa for me from the consulate. This is a great deal, because it’s cheaper than the gas and missing work to get it yourself. In my case, the closest Brazilian consulate was 3 hours from my house on a good traffic day, and I had to go early on either Tuesday or Thursday morning to sign up, and then I had to go back to pick it up 2 weeks later. So do the math and figure out if it’s worth it for you. If you’re in the southwestern US, I recommend MargoTour, based in San Diego. They offered me the cheapest ticket by far, and were very friendly and helpful. (Also remember the candy.) They also will do some business over phone/email. Just be sure your ticket is refundable! http://www.margotour.com/index.php

3. Don’t pay for vaccines in the US. I’m not saying to be silly and not get ANY vaccines, but I’m saying to wait and get them for free in Brazil instead of paying 300+ dollars to do it in the US. Neither I nor anyone I’ve talked to was asked to prove that they had gotten vaccinated in the US before they could enter Brazil. You just need them for youself so that you don’t die for some dumb reason, like a preventable disease. So when you get here, ask around for where you can get the free vaccines. It’s usually in the local hospital or “ambulatorio,” which is like a government clinic. (I WISH someone had told me this!) You don’t need to buy malaria pills unless you’re going to be smack in the middle of the Amazon (not many English students there), and there’s no vaccine for Dengue, which is actually your biggest threat. (So be careful with the mosquitos.) You can check out this CDC website for the vaccines that you need, but the doctor you see in Brazil will know what you need for the reigon: http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/destinationBrazil.aspx

4. Learn at least a little Portuguese. Don’t be one of those Americans who thinks that English is the only important language in the world, and don’t assume that everyone’s going to speak it, especially if you go to a city that’s not São Paulo or Rio de Janiero. Be respectful, and make your life and everyone’s lives easier. It will also make you a MUCH better teacher, and it will give you the option of teaching beginning English classes (more $$). Check your local community college for a class, or at least get a book on Amazon. If you speak Spanish, you can get by here, but you won’t be able to understand what people say, and all of the basic verbs are irregular in a different way. If you are a Spanish speaker, I recommend a WONDERFUL fabulous textbook called “Brazilian Portuguese for Spanish Speakers.” Also remember that the word tem (or sometimes têm) is your friend. (It’s pronounced “teng” or [tẽ] for the linguists). It means “he/she/you/you guys/they” have, “there is/there are” and “is there…?/are there..?”.

5. Learn how to teach English! Oh, this one makes me crazy. Please, please don’t assume that, just because you speak English, you can teach English. Just because you know how to drive a car, would you walk into a mechanic’s office and apply for a job? No. Do you know the difference between “make” and “do”? Between “for” and “to”? Do you know what a helping/auxilary verb is? What about an allophone? Or the communicative method? Do you know why we need “do” in the question “Do you know what time it is?” but not in the question “Are you hungry?” You have to explain things that you’ve never thought about before. Don’t be a punk, and don’t do a disservice to your future students. Many community colleges offer classes about teaching ESL/TESOL. You can also pay for a TESOL certification class for a few weeks, and get certification to boot. The Oxford one is pretty well known.

6. Buy some English textbooks and bring them with you. You will find that some schools are lacking in resources, or they only have textbooks that are made by non-native speakers. It is in your best interest to have some more options for yourself, and they can also be really helpful if you start teaching private classes. I really like George M. Rooks’s Let’s Start Talking series (There are other books with similar titles in the same series). I got a copy on Amazon for 3 bucks. These can be great, easy, time-consuming activities for intermediate and advanced classes. Any ESL textbooks by Cambridge are usually good. Oh, also, BRING A DICTIONARY. The vast majority of dictionaries here are made by Brazilians, and they have a LOT of mistakes and bad translations. My favorite is the Harper-Collins (not just Collins) English-Portuguese dictonary. My vesrion is paperback, and green and white. I paid 6 bucks for it at a used bookstore, and it has been one of my best friends here. It’s very good.

7. Bring first-world living with you (to an extent). Food and healthcare in Brazil tend to be cheap, but everything else is expensive. Like, offensively expensive. There are things that you don’t think about packing, but without them, your life can be very frustrating.

Bring: makeup (!), razor blades (or an electric razor, for the men… they can cost between 50 and 300 reais), a few pairs of your favorite jeans, shoes for all occaisons (though Brazilian women’s shoes are amaaaaziinng), lithium or rechargable batteries, your favorite face wash and other beauty/grooming products. To give you an idea, Finesse Mousse (1.99 in the US) is 28 reais. A microwave is 300. Another big problem is buying any kind of electronics. If you may use them, bring your American cell phone (and any old cell phones you have– maybe you can sell it or maybe your newest one won’t work), camera, laptop, and MP3 player. Oh, also, I have yet to find an American-style hand can opener.

Another thing that’s a bit of a touchy subject but I’ll say it anyway, for the women: a month’s worth of birth control can be as cheap as 5 reais, and you don’t need a perscription– you just need to know the chemical compound of yours, or the shelf name of your compound in Brazil. So if you pay for birth control in the US, don’t worry about bringing a lot with you. You can just walk into a pharmacy here.

Don’t bring: your nice work clothes. The style of dress is generally more casual here, especially for teachers. I wear jeans and a decent shirt and nice shoes to work. If the school wants you to dress up, they give you a uniform. I wasted a lot of space in my suitcase with this.

8. Have contacts in Brazil, preferrably someone to live with. I don’t know much about finding a place to live as a foreigner, because I was fortunate enough to already have a living situation set up before I came here. But you won’t be able to just want into an imobiliaria (like a leasing office, but the people with all the power in the apartment industry) and pick a place. From what I understand, in order to be the main signer on a lease for an apartment in the state of Sao Paulo, you have to already own 2 properties. It’s really difficult and strict. So I don’t know what you can do; I just know what you can’t. If anyone knows anything else about how to find places to rent, please leave comments.

9. Don’t get caught up in any teaching scams. As a general rule, unless you’re a rich college kid whose just using a teaching program as an excuse to convince your parents to pay for you to party in Brazil, you shouldn’t have to pay to teach here– they’re supposed to be paying you! These programs can be convenient if they offer room and board, but more often than not, they’re just scams. You shouldn’t expect to find a job before you get to Brazil. You’re better off showing up here with the money you saved up (see number 1) and applying to schools in the city you’re in.

10. Pay your American debts before you go. Unless you have someone to help you pay your bills in the US, you will find this difficult to do. Santander bank has a thing where if you have an American bank account and a Santander bank account, you can send money for free between the accounts. However, you can’t open a bank account here because you are working illegally and can’t prove your income. So you have to pay to wire transfer money to your US account, and that can get super expensive. Plus, the exchange rate is bad. So try to finish up those credit card payments before you quit your American job, okay?

When you get here…

1. Put yourself out there. Apply to all the schools in your area, especially the ones in walking distance if you won’t have access to a car. (We just opened the yellow pages and went to “escolas de inglês”.) Also, have your Brazilian contact (see 8 above) help you make and put up flyers (in Portugeuse!) saying that you can teach private classes. Put them up at the local universities and private high schools (if you’re willing to teach kids), and avoid places like shopping malls and hospitals (so you don’t get calls from creepies). Also, don’t worry about translating your resume to Portuguese. It’s polite to offer, but no school took me up on it, since the owners/coordinators are fluent in English. Just note that flyers aren’t a big hit. Your biggest source of students is going to be word of mouth, hands down.

2. Decide what kind of experience you want, but also keep your options open. You’ll basically have two options in terms of English schools: the huge chains and the small franchises. They pay about the same– you should expect between 10 and 20 reais per hour (10 being bad, and 20 being very, very good.) The huge chains, like Wizard and Fisk, and are typically very rigid about what and how you should teach. This can be good and bad. You don’t have to do much prep work at home, but you have to follow a LOT of rules. (These rules usually focus on stupid crap, like seating arrangements, and ignore big problems, like how the test has nothing to do with the chapter.) The smaller franchises will usually give you more leeway, but are VERY unorganized and inconsistent, and often don’t have enough resources (see number 6 above). The bosses at the smaller schools are also more likely to make lots of big promises to you that they can’t keep, so my advice is to make your decisions based only on what you can see for yourself at the school, not what they say that they’re planning. No school is going to pay for a work visa for you. No school is going to make you full-time or give you any management positions. In fact, if you meet a boss like this in an interview who makes you lots of big promises, don’t be naive like I was… run away! If you receive more than one job offer, accept 2 or 3. Here’s why:

3. You have to think about yourself before the school. I know this can go against your American work ethic, but the industry is ruthless here, and you have to always do what’s best for you. Take both jobs and then accept the classes/students that fit your schedule. If you’re working at more than one school, both bosses will pressure you to quit and work exclusively for them. Be polite, but don’t do it. Like I said, neither one can offer you full-time, and neither one is going to fire you if you can’t teach all the classes that they want you to teach. Almost all of the Brazilian teachers here teach at more than one school and also teach private classes on the side, and no one feels bad about it. If you can get between 25 and 30 hours of classes per week, consider yourself lucky.

4. Don’t expect a 9-5. Your schedule is going to change every week. You’ll probably need to have classes spread out from 7am -11:00pm. People change their schedules. Your bosses change your classes. Students come and go. Remember, you’re teaching adults with families and full-time jobs. English classes are not their first priority. They’re going to try to fit it in when they can. Speaking of which,

5. Expect many of your classes to be cancelled. This sucks, but it’s true. Many students are F-L-A-K-Y Flaky. (See #4 for reasons why.) Typically, the schools won’t pay you if you don’t teach, even if the students don’t call to cancel. So yes, you get ready, show up, wait, and don’t get paid. (Sometimes the bigger chains are better about this, which is a benefit for working for them. Ask during the interview.) You can set the rules of your private classes, but remember, if you make a rule that students have to pay even if they can’t come, it may be harder for you to find students. I had a rule with my private students that, if they call within 24 hours of the class to cancel, they have to pay half. Some people offer makeup classes if they give you this 24-hour notice. I was at a point where I had so many students that I didn’t offer makeup classes at all. To give you an idea, if I have a week with 25 hours of classes scheduled, I end up teaching about 19. That’s why I say, if you’re choosing between groups at schools, accept the bigger classes rather than 1-1 classes if you’re trying to decide. The bigger classes don’t get cancelled. (Though put your own private students before the schools, because you make the rules!)

6. Don’t expect to extend your visa for more than 180 days total. So here’s the situation with visas for Americans. Trust me, I’ve become an expert! Your first visa is for 90 days. If you want to extend it for another 90 days, you have to go to the Policia Federal’s website and print a receipt saying that you’ll pay 60-odd reais. You take it to a bank to pay, and get another receipt. You take these papers to the Policia Federal office in your area. You fill out a form and give them everything, and then you get a stamp in your visa.
If you want to stay for more than 180 days, you have to get married or get a “civil union contract.” If you don’t have some job contract and you’re not a student, then that’s it. Those are your options. (See my earlier entries for details.) Like I said, the schools won’t pay for a long-term visa for you. They have to pay a LOT of money and they also have to prove that they’re being legit with their taxes, and they usually aren’t. It’s cheaper for them to just hire a Brazilian teacher.

For each day that you stay illegally, past 180 days, you have to pay $8.80 reais. I don’t know if you have to pay in the airport or if you only have to pay if you try to come back, but you won’t be able to leave and come back without paying, and I don’t know if you’ll get restricted from future visas or anything. You’ll see below in the comments that people have had different experiences with this.

7. Get your CPF ASAP. A CPF is like a Brazilian social security card. A Brazilian address and the tourist visa in an American passport is enough to qualify for one. It’s free, and it can come in very handy. You just have to go the Ministerio de Fazenda and fill out some paperwork, and then they mail it to you.

8. Have fun! I know this list makes it sound like teaching in Brazil is like getting a tooth pulled, but I promise that’s not true. Teaching is fun and fascinating, and doesn’t even feel like work. You’ll meet so many interesting people, and you’ll learn a lot. You won’t get to travel much on your teacher’s salary, but if you’re in one of the big cities, that won’t be too bad. It’s an experience I wouldn’t change for anything (except the same experience with more money, ha).

If you have any other questions, just leave them on the blog.

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