By Joe Lopes
Just when we thought Joe had finished his excellent series of articles on English he sends us more! So here we have part 9 of the series so far. To read the previous parts click the relevant links at the bottom of the page.

In this next installment of my series on teaching English in Brazil, I cover some of the more practical aspects of the profession, as well as look at other types of jobs that are available to teachers.

Weather Patterns: Dress for Success
I quickly glance at my watch and see that it’s now 9:00 a.m. I fly down the stairs to the lobby – no time to wait for the elevator – where I deposit my visitor’s badge, and then head straight for the exit.

On my way out, I run into some former students, who either wave friendly hellos or exchange brisk handshakes with me, as I brush past the guards and bolt across the street before the traffic light changes. Streaking across the plaza, I bound down the steps of the subway station and break out into a light sweat.

The temperature is already 29o Celsius, or close to 84o Fahrenheit. It’s hot and stifling in downtown, which is shrouded in a dull, orange-gray mist that covers much of Avenida Paulista. The noise and pollution levels have risen dramatically – and in close proximity to the temperature reading – as rush hour in the city reaches full throttle.

Today, I decide to take the subway to Santana, and then switch for a bus to Zona Norte (North Zone); all told, about a 45-minute ride on a good day.

I always tried to dress casually but presentably for each teaching session, knowing that São Paulo can go through four different seasons in one day; it can be chilly in the morning, warm around midday, brutally hot in the afternoon, and rain like a tropical monsoon in the early evening. If you are out in this mess, you are constantly susceptible to the elements and must, therefore, dress appropriately.

On one occasion, I simply overdressed, thinking it was going to get colder later on. When the temperature rose higher than expected that same afternoon, I found myself melting under a ton of extra layers of clothing. By the time I got home, I was a pale vestige of my former self. After a refreshingly cool shower, abetted by several delightful glasses of bottled water, I went to sleep off my debilitating dehydration. From then on, I religiously set my Sony clock-radio alarm to the all-news station and listened intently to the weather forecast before deciding on what to wear.

Another time, I almost came down with heatstroke after rushing to a job interview in Pinheiros under a broiling noonday sun. With my baldpated head, I should have known better than to expose myself at that hour, but I was in a hurry (as usual) to get there and forgot to take the necessary precautions.

I finally arrived to the interview with a monstrous headache and a decidedly green pallor to my visage. I managed to survive the ordeal, but only after I had wolfed down two mouthfuls of aspirin accompanied by a hefty ice-cold glass of lemonade courtesy of my future employer. My head hurt so much I had to excuse myself to go to the bathroom and splash water all over my face – and right in the middle of our conversation. It was a fairly embarrassing moment, to say the least.

The next time I went out in that sweltering heat, I made sure to wear a good sunscreen or baseball cap to protect my pale skin from exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays.

Copyright 2006 by Josmar F. Lopes

A naturalized American citizen born in Brazil, Joe Lopes was raised and educated in New York City, where he worked for many years in the financial sector. In 1996, he moved to Brazil with his wife and daughters. In 2001, he returned to the U.S. and now resides in North Carolina with his family. You can email your comments to JosmarLopes@msn.com.

To read previous articles by Joe Lopes click below:

Brazil: A Fever Called Corinthians Part 4
Brazil: Taking Flight on Florencia’s Fragile Wings Part 4
Brazil: A Fever Called Corinthians Part 3
Brazilian World Cup Debacle: Just Wait Till 2010! Part 2
Brazilian World Cup Debacle: Just Wait Till 2010! Part 1
Brazil: Taking Flight on Florencia’s Fragile Wings Part 3
Brazil: A Fever Called Corinthians Part 2
Brazil: Taking Flight on Florencia’s Fragile Wings Part 2
Brazil: A Fever Called Corinthians Part 1
Brazil: Taking Flight on Florencia’s Fragile Wings Part 1
Teaching English In Brazil Part 8
Teaching English In Brazil Part 7
Teaching English In Brazil Part 6
Teaching English In Brazil Part 5
Teaching English In Brazil Part 4
Teaching English In Brazil Part 3
Teaching English In Brazil Part 2
A German Ring in the Brazilian Rainforest Part 4
A German Ring in the Brazilian Rainforest Part 3
Teaching English In Brazil – Part I
A German Ring in the Brazilian Rainforest Part 2
A German Ring in the Brazilian Rainforest Part 1
Down in Brazil,” with Michael Franks Part 3
“Down in Brazil,” with Michael Franks Part 2
“Down in Brazil,” with Michael Franks Part 1
Brazil: A Candid Talk with Gerald Thomas
Getting to the “bottom” of Brazil’s Gerald Thomas
A Brazilian Diva Torn Between Europe and Brazil
The Enraged Genius of Brazil’s Maestro Neschling
A German Ring in the Brazilian Rainforest
Brazil’s Musical Polyglots: What Was That You Were Singing?
Did Bossa Nova Kill Opera in Brazil?

By Joe Lopes
Here is the eighth and final part of Joe’s article about teaching English in Brazil. To read the previous parts click the relevant link at the end of the article.

The Breakfast Club
Due to the daily diversion of having to find an empty classroom, some of my more resourceful students decided at one point to meet me at a coffee shop or restaurant in order to hold an impromptu study” session, while we enjoyed an aromatic sip of Brazilian coffee or a nibble of that delicious French bread.

“Coffee Class,” as I came to call it, was most helpful to break the ice for new students or to get to know the ones you have better – but it could be a real chore for professional teachers. In the first place, there’s no way to teach anything at a coffee shop. You can’t use classroom materials or learning aids if you have to stand up constantly and gulp down your stimulant; you can’t make meaningful conversation, or work on your students’ pronunciation, if they answer you with a baguette protruding from their lips; and you can’t assist in your students’ struggles with the latest phrasal verbs if the many onlookers who step up to the counter keep interrupting by asking the attendant for another cup of Carioca (a small and very strong espresso).

A restaurant or luncheonette is better than a coffee shop for regular early morning lessons. At least you can sit down for an hour or more and concentrate on a particular grammar point.

Try to choose a place that’s clean and decent for yourself and your charge, but not too pricey. If you’re lucky some students may even pay for your breakfast, courtesy of their company’s meal ticket or voucher program. This is a very welcome benefit that can save financially strapped teachers some extra change. Be sure not to overlook it.

And be cognizant of your surroundings. Looking for a place to sit near Praa da Repblica, Avenida São João, or (heaven forbid) Praa da S, can be fairly intimidating. Be cautious and observant at all times, evenings as well as mornings. This is sound advice for any urban-dweller regardless of country or city.

In-Company Horror Stories
There are five minutes remaining in the class, but some of my students give indications they have to leave, so we adjourn the already shortened session and say our mutual goodbyes.

“Bye, gang,” I tell them, over the din of morning greetings and bits of hallway conversation, “and see you on Wednesday. Oops, I almost forgot. Please sign the attendance sheet on your way out. Thanks a lot.”

“Bye-bye, Joe, see you later,” they intone in unison.

Most of the students I taught in-company were pleasant, eager, unfailingly polite, and from the upper-middle-class stratum of Brazilian society. Some were also very good speakers of English due to certain situational advantages (i.e. frequent overseas forays, high school in the States, parents who were native speakers) that their poorer coworkers further down the economic food chain were not exposed to.

These socioeconomic distinctions, while not as readily apparent in more mainstream American business life, can be quite noticeable in class-conscious Brazil. They can manifest themselves in both intricate and disarming ways, such as in how your students speak, dress or act.

Like most normal individuals in a group situation, adult learners of English can appear at times to be manipulative, bossy, gossipy, childish, selfish, domineering, quarrelsome, jealous, suspicious and, above all, petty. Although they are generally respectful of the teacher, they do not always hold their compatriots in the same regard. Granted, employees of firms are under a great deal of pressure nowadays to be ever more productive, but they are also overly preoccupied with making measurable improvements to their language skills. This added level of stress can lead to some annoying personal habits, even to bizarre emotional behavior.

It’s reality television brought to vivid life, as you suddenly discover that some of your formerly tolerant student body begins to express blatantly belittling opinions of their working-class brethren, while other, less stable members exhibit definite paranoid-schizophrenic tendencies.

One of my students was a manager who loved to take up class time with her personal pet peeves, and forced everyone to look at her huge album of photographs from her many European trips. Another manager was absolutely convinced her superiors were watching her every move, and was in a perpetual frazzle over some callous complaint the senior partner had made about her work. One time she broke down in abject resignation over her job situation, right before the start of class. It took a Herculean effort on my part to put her back together again in time for the lesson.

And then there was Luiz Antonio. His was a most “amusing” case: a bright, overachieving auditor of about 30, he missed over half his lessons due to too many late-night numbers-crunching sessions. When he eventually decided to show up for class, he complained that we were still covering the same subject matter:

“Why we are yet in that topic?” he griped.

“What do you mean?” I asked, puzzled.

“Last time I here, we do same thing, prepositions. Why never we can go in to new topic?”

I then proceeded to berate him in a fruitless attempt to make him take some responsibility for his frequent absences, as well as his total lack of desire to do even the slightest bit of outside homework-and if anyone needed help with his prepositions, Luiz Antonio was a prime candidate.

It was a losing battle, though, but from it I learned a valuable lesson, and one I must impart to all my readers: do not try to force your students into coming to class or doing their homework. They are much too busy worrying about their careers to be able to keep up with lessons.

Yet, if given half the chance, they will readily grasp at any straw as an excuse for their lame language performance. The only thing that teachers can do to circumvent this situation is to document the absences as a way to substantiate the students’ inability to pass the course or to go on to the next highest level.

Here’s one more “horror” story for the record. Since ours was an early morning class, Luiz Antonio would often interrupt the lesson by throwing his head way back, opening his mouth widely, and emitting a long, protracted-and very loud-yawn.

I politely hinted to him that somebody in the room needed to get some extra sleep before showing up for class, but my subtle asides went unheeded. Since he was an infrequent visitor to class at the time, I didn’t concern myself too much with his antics.

Finally, a teaching colleague of mine, who taught Luiz Antonio at another level and who did concern herself with his outlandish behavior, put a stop to his diurnal display by informing him that he was being offensive to her and disruptive to the other members of the group; and that if he continued to gape in that animalistic fashion, she would personally escort him from the room herself.

Given that my colleague’s rebuke was a bit harsh, it did help to curb the yawning problem to everyone’s satisfaction. Everyone, that is, except Luiz Antonio, who promptly quit coming to class soon after that exchange, and then went so far as to file a formal complaint against my colleague with the head of the language school.

An English language instructor must adapt to the ever-changing rules of classroom etiquette in order to successfully deal with the heavy workloads of overburdened adult learners.

The teacher must learn to handle the few troublesome types with the deftness of a seasoned camp counselor, and endeavor to lead them back to the main reason why they are taking classes in the first place: to learn English, not to receive ad hoc psychoanalysis or handholding.

Copyright 2006 by Josmar F. Lopes

A naturalized American citizen born in Brazil, Joe Lopes was raised and educated in New York City, where he worked for many years in the financial sector. In 1996, he moved to Brazil with his wife and daughters. In 2001, he returned to the U.S. and now resides in North Carolina with his family. You can email your comments to JosmarLopes@msn.com.

To read previous articles by Joe Lopes click below:

Teaching English In Brazil Part 7
Teaching English In Brazil Part 6
Teaching English In Brazil Part 5
Teaching English In Brazil Part 4
Teaching English In Brazil Part 3
Teaching English In Brazil Part 2
A German Ring in the Brazilian Rainforest Part 4
A German Ring in the Brazilian Rainforest Part 3
Teaching English In Brazil – Part I
A German Ring in the Brazilian Rainforest Part 2
A German Ring in the Brazilian Rainforest Part 1
“Down in Brazil,” with Michael Franks Part 3
“Down in Brazil,” with Michael Franks Part 2
“Down in Brazil,” with Michael Franks Part 1
Brazil: A Candid Talk with Gerald Thomas
Getting to the “bottom” of Brazil’s Gerald Thomas
A Brazilian Diva Torn Between Europe and Brazil
The Enraged Genius of Brazil’s Maestro Neschling
A German Ring in the Brazilian Rainforest
Brazil’s Musical Polyglots: What Was That You Were Singing?
Did Bossa Nova Kill Opera in Brazil?

By Joe Lopes
Here is the seventh part of Joe’s article about teaching English in Brazil. To read the previous parts click the relevant link at the end of the article.

First Class of the Day
The bus ride to the Centro (downtown) is a long but uneventful one, and that’s always a welcome sign. I walk over to the PriceWaterhouse building, register at the reception area, grab my crach (visitor’s badge) from the security desk, and go upstairs to my classroom, which is on the fifth floor.

It’s 7:30 a.m., but no one’s showed up yet. That’s no surprise. It was as early for the students as it was for me, but I usually tried to arrive for class before they did. It doesn’t look good for teachers to be late as it shows a definite lack of respect or seriousness of purpose on their part. Students, however, can always be fashionably tardy.

Ten minutes go by, and then Lcia appears. She’s a teaching colleague of mine who lives just minutes away by subway, but can never seem to get to class on time. As she stifles a yawn, we talk about our respective weekends. After another minute or two, a few stragglers finally come forth to fill up the classroom, which is really more of a conference area.

It’s been a veritable battle around here to find a decent place to hold a class. Recent remodeling and expansion have displaced the only remaining offices available for teaching purposes. This means that there are days when I have to play a regular round of Russian roulette with my students, as we march from one room to another in a never-ending search for empty office space, only to be told that a likely looking classroom has already been booked for an eight o’clock meeting.

Today’s class is no exception. Just as the session is about to begin, a secretary pokes her head in to announce that we can’t use the room because of an early morning conference with the department managers. So it’s back to the drawing board, as we vacate the premises in another futile quest for an empty classroom.

But thanks to the intercession of one of my students, an office miraculously materializes on another floor, only now we’re down to sixty of the original ninety minutes allotted for teaching. We take the elevator to the second floor and quickly head for the empty classroom before someone else takes it over. Turning the knob, I realize that the door is locked. My student runs off down the hall to fetch the key.

After what seems an eternity she returns with a bombeiro (fire marshal), who fumbles for a few minutes with the keys on his enormous key ring until he locates the right one. He opens the door and we all file in, thanking him profusely for his timely assistance.

We attempt to follow the course book, but after this morning’s escapade no one seems particularly interested in class work. We decide instead to spend the next fifteen minutes talking about the weekend, the current political climate, and the latest films to hit the local multiplex, as well as other topical subjects, before moving on to the lesson. As this is an intermediate class, we’re able to discuss a much wider range of topics than usual.

These types of frustrating situations are by no means widespread, but you will find they occur more often in-company than anywhere else.

I had a student, an analyst in the portfolio department of Bradesco Securities, who was prevented from having further classes with me because of the questionable practices of her fellow coworkers. Apparently, some of the employees of her department had abused the privilege of taking in-company classes by never showing up for sessions, yet would put down on their timesheets that they were late for work due to having been delayed at class. Bradesco’s response was to institute a policy whereby all adult learners of English had to take lessons at an accredited language school outside the office-in other words, no private classes were permitted on company property.

Clearly, language instructors cannot be taken to task over this egregious example of jeitinho brasileiro, or the Brazilian method of bending the rules.” But no matter how comical they may appear to be, these kinds of circumstances can-and do-have a cumulative effect on the motivation and morale, not to mention the heightened frustration levels, of both teachers and students, who want nothing more than a peaceful and permanent place to hold an English class.

More often than not, the sharp-eyed professor is forced to improvise a tailor-made solution by employing something Brazilians call jogo de cintura, which, for most foreigners, is best translated as the ability to overcome seemingly insurmountable odds by “thinking outside the box,” what we business types used to refer to as “the old song-and-dance.” Acquiring and mastering this enviable technique can definitely help to smooth over some of life’s more effortful patches when they do occur.

Even still, it cannot be considered a perfect solution to this perplexing problem, a classic example of the Catch-22 situation (you need a classroom to teach in, but one cannot be found; therefore, you cannot teach; yet your students still need to be taught; so you set out in search of a classroom), and one that was never satisfactorily addressed in any of the companies I rendered services to.

Copyright 2006 by Josmar F. Lopes

A naturalized American citizen born in Brazil, Joe Lopes was raised and educated in New York City, where he worked for many years in the financial sector. In 1996, he moved to Brazil with his wife and daughters. In 2001, he returned to the U.S. and now resides in North Carolina with his family. You can email your comments to JosmarLopes@msn.com.

To read previous articles by Joe Lopes click below:

Teaching English In Brazil Part 6
Teaching English In Brazil Part 5
Teaching English In Brazil Part 4
Teaching English In Brazil Part 3
Teaching English In Brazil Part 2
A German Ring in the Brazilian Rainforest Part 4
A German Ring in the Brazilian Rainforest Part 3
Teaching English In Brazil – Part I
A German Ring in the Brazilian Rainforest Part 2
A German Ring in the Brazilian Rainforest Part 1
“Down in Brazil,” with Michael Franks Part 3
“Down in Brazil,” with Michael Franks Part 2
“Down in Brazil,” with Michael Franks Part 1
Brazil: A Candid Talk with Gerald Thomas
Getting to the “bottom” of Brazil’s Gerald Thomas
A Brazilian Diva Torn Between Europe and Brazil
The Enraged Genius of Brazil’s Maestro Neschling
A German Ring in the Brazilian Rainforest
Brazil’s Musical Polyglots: What Was That You Were Singing?
Did Bossa Nova Kill Opera in Brazil?

By Joe Lopes
Here is the sixth part of Joe’s article about teaching English in Brazil. To read the previous parts click the relevant link at the end of the article.

Rates & Things
Which leads us into the next issue for teachers: that of how much to charge students for your wonderful classes. What’s the standard going rate for in-company lessons? And for that matter, what’s the hourly rate for teaching at home? That all depends on a wide variety of tangible and intangible circumstances.

Suffice it to say that São Paulo is the unquestioned Mecca for teaching English in the country, and because of this elevated status your rates perforce will be higher there than for most other regions.

Expect to charge less – significantly less, in some cases – if you live outside the city limits. Conversely, the cost-of-living index in another city or state may be considerably lower than in the major overcrowded urban centers. This is the inevitable and expected tradeoff of living and working in a less hectic environment.

As a general rule of thumb, the rates for private in-company lessons vary from about R$35 to R$55 reais per hour, sometimes even more. You may find that your classes are somewhat longer when you teach at a corporation – the average duration is about an hour and a half – than when you have them at home. In that case, add on an extra 30 minutes to your standard hourly rate to arrive at an acceptable amount.

When in doubt, just negotiate a mutually agreeable figure with your prospective pupils. They will appreciate your having taken the time, and their personal financial situation, into consideration before your teaching fees are etched in stone. I knew a teacher who basically charged whatever her students could afford. There was one catch to this winning arrangement: she was already financially secure and only took up the teaching profession for the fun of it.

Of course, the vast majority of English teachers will definitely NOT be occupying such a privileged position, and will need to charge their students accordingly.

Payment for your classes is due in advance and for the entire month. For instance, on July 1, or whenever you meet with your students for the first session of the month, you will ask for the entire month’s fee for your services. There are exceptions to this and many other regras do jogo (rules of the game), but know upfront that this is the normally accepted and customary practice for all private teachers in the country, no matter the field of expertise.

For teaching at home the rates can be anywhere from R$25 to R$60 reais per hour, or higher. The considerations here are the neighborhood that you expect to live and teach in (of very high importance), the aforementioned financial condition of your students (equally important), and whether or not they have long-term aspirations regarding learning the language. These are some of the most tangible and quantifiable factors surrounding the topic of rates.

The more intangible ones all revolve around the current state of the Brazilian economy, which, as you may (or may not) be aware, is in perpetual flux. For now, things have stabilized somewhat and the currency under the Lula presidency has recovered a little of its former buying power. But like most things in Brazil, the leading economic indicators cannot be counted on to remain healthy and strong for very long.

In the entire time I taught in São Paulo, I was only able to raise my rates once, and that was back in 1997, when the economy was still considered relatively robust. And the course of the economic headwaters has a way of changing rapidly, sometimes overnight-as with the devaluation of the real in 1998. You and the rest of the population have little to no control over these aspects, so don’t spend time worrying about them: just know that they exist and may possibly interfere with the fair practice of your livelihood.

Bear in mind, also, that if you raise your rates too often or too high, you may lose the very students you hope to keep or attract, as well as get yourself into deeper financial straits than you may already be in. Don’t put up roadblocks to what could be a highly satisfying business relationship for you and your students before you’ve had a chance to reap the full benefits.

Like the President of the Central Bank or the head of a major utility company, you should carefully review your proposed monetary modifications against the potential downsides before you contemplate passing along any rate hikes to your customers. And make no mistake about it: your students are your customers, and should be treated as such.

In addition, as a self-employed teacher you are also entitled to paid holidays, regular days off, and a reasonable vacation allowance. These must be made clear to your students before you accept any teaching assignment. This means that if you decide to take the months of January or July off for leisure time, you will still be paid the full amount of your monthly fee. Comparably, if your students decide to go on hiatus for a spell, they will need to pay for the entire month in advance in order to reserve their spots on your busy calendar.

Both students and teachers need to be flexible here, for this part of the negotiations can – and will be – a particularly sticky one to overcome. I’ve had students suddenly quit on me, the sole reason being their refusal to pay for my vacation time. And, as much as I sincerely regretted it, many times I had to bear this loss of income in silence before I would compromise what is a basic and fundamental right of all workers, i.e. to take time off to recharge one’s batteries and to be fairly compensated for it.

On the flip side, there are federal, state and municipal employees who have not had any adjustments to their wages in almost a decade. Unemployment in the country, especially in the large cities, remains cripplingly high. There will be plenty of student cancellations for you to deal with – and many of them permanently – due to this precarious state of affairs.

There will also be thousands of native and non-native speaking teachers of English out there just waiting for a chance to pick up the discarded strays and add a new aluno (student) or two to their busy agendas (schedules). You could be in a perfect position to profit from the turbulence. It’s all in how you view the situation.

Teachers must take all of these variables – including both the known and unknown aspects – into advisement when planning for their own financial contingencies.

Copyright 2006 by Josmar F. Lopes

A naturalized American citizen born in Brazil, Joe Lopes was raised and educated in New York City, where he worked for many years in the financial sector. In 1996, he moved to Brazil with his wife and daughters. In 2001, he returned to the U.S. and now resides in North Carolina with his family. You can email your comments to JosmarLopes@msn.com.

To read previous articles by Joe Lopes click below:

Teaching English In Brazil Part 5
Teaching English In Brazil Part 4
Teaching English In Brazil Part 3
Teaching English In Brazil Part 2
A German Ring in the Brazilian Rainforest Part 4
A German Ring in the Brazilian Rainforest Part 3
Teaching English In Brazil – Part I
A German Ring in the Brazilian Rainforest Part 2
A German Ring in the Brazilian Rainforest Part 1
Down in Brazil,” with Michael Franks Part 3
“Down in Brazil,” with Michael Franks Part 2
“Down in Brazil,” with Michael Franks Part 1
Brazil: A Candid Talk with Gerald Thomas
Getting to the “bottom” of Brazil’s Gerald Thomas
A Brazilian Diva Torn Between Europe and Brazil
The Enraged Genius of Brazil’s Maestro Neschling
A German Ring in the Brazilian Rainforest
Brazil’s Musical Polyglots: What Was That You Were Singing?
Did Bossa Nova Kill Opera in Brazil?

By Joe Lopes
Here is the fifth part of Joe’s article about teaching English in Brazil. To read the previous parts click the relevant link at the end of the article.

Riding to Work
I go to the corner bus stop, which is about two blocks from my apartment in Zona Norte, and wait for the bus. I don’t have long to wait, for there are dozens of buses roaring down the avenue, one after the other, all of them spewing forth thick, black smoke as they screech to a halt in front of me.

I hop onto a bus that’s marked Praa da Repblica.” Thank goodness it’s not as crowded as some of the other buses arriving, all of which appear overstuffed with passengers hanging on for dear life by their fingertips and toes, and from all sorts of precarious perches and makeshift openings.

There are several points to ponder before you take on an outside teaching assignment: first, the travel time it will take you to get from one class to another; second, the form of conveyance, whether by foot, car, bus, subway or private van, that will get you there; and third, which part of the city you intend to teach in vis–vis where you live, or where you need to be for your next class.

This last point may be the most significant, for it directly impacts on the number of teaching jobs you are able to handle at any one time, and will tend to hold true regardless of where you live.

You can’t conceivably teach a class in Morumbi, for example, if you reside in Guarulhos; similarly, you can’t effortlessly go from a late afternoon engagement in Vila Leopoldina to an early evening lesson in Santo Andr, as the distances (and traffic congestion) will be too great for you to reach your destination within a reasonable length of time, particularly during rush hours.

What’s considered a reasonable length of time? That’s a good question, and not always an easy one to answer. I’ve known teachers to travel upwards of two or more hours to get to a class or teaching assignment, and very haphazardly at that. You, however, must decide for yourself what is the easiest, most comfortable, and most convenient travel time for you-and for how long you would be willing to commit to such a schedule.

Keep in mind that the daily commute, especially in the big cities, can grind you down before you know it, and, in the long run, may affect the physical state of your health and your emotional well being.

In my own case, if the potential students were more than an hour or so away by bus and/or subway, I would invariably decline the teaching assignment. It wasn’t worth the added stress of confronting traffic trauma or road rage for a few infrequent lessons a week, no matter how much the student or language school was willing to pay me.

Remember: if you are offered much more than the going rate for a particular teaching assignment, then something is not quite right. I would question it strongly.

Teaching in one’s own home or apartment can be a more viable option for the English language instructor whereby you forego having to face the many rigors of public transportation-but your earnings potential will be severely limited, as will your teaching opportunities.

If this restriction appeals to you, then by all means go for it. However, most teachers juggle numerous job assignments at once, both inside and outside their homes, partly due to the additional income these can bring you, partly because of the inherent job diversity, but mostly out of financial and economic necessity.

Copyright 2006 by Josmar F. Lopes

A naturalized American citizen born in Brazil, Joe Lopes was raised and educated in New York City, where he worked for many years in the financial sector. In 1996, he moved to Brazil with his wife and daughters. In 2001, he returned to the U.S. and now resides in North Carolina with his family. You can email your comments to JosmarLopes@msn.com.

To read previous articles by Joe Lopes click below:

Teaching English In Brazil Part 4
Teaching English In Brazil Part 3
Teaching English In Brazil Part 2
A German Ring in the Brazilian Rainforest Part 4
A German Ring in the Brazilian Rainforest Part 3
Teaching English In Brazil – Part I
A German Ring in the Brazilian Rainforest Part 2
A German Ring in the Brazilian Rainforest Part 1
“Down in Brazil,” with Michael Franks Part 3
“Down in Brazil,” with Michael Franks Part 2
“Down in Brazil,” with Michael Franks Part 1
Brazil: A Candid Talk with Gerald Thomas
Getting to the “bottom” of Brazil’s Gerald Thomas
A Brazilian Diva Torn Between Europe and Brazil
The Enraged Genius of Brazil’s Maestro Neschling
A German Ring in the Brazilian Rainforest
Brazil’s Musical Polyglots: What Was That You Were Singing?
Did Bossa Nova Kill Opera in Brazil?

By Joe Lopes
Here is the fourth part of Joe’s article about teaching English in Brazil. To read the previous parts click the relevant link at the end of the article.

Business For Fun & Profit
I embarked on my in-company career in 1996-97, working for a small English-language school that I located through a wanted ad in the O Estado de São Paulo newspaper. Coincidentally, the same advertisement appeared in the Folha de São Paulo daily as well.

Normally, sending out resums or answering classified job ads in Brazil are a waste of time, but once in a while an opportunity does arise for the enterprising individual that actually appears to be a legitimate teaching assignment. Don’t pass up the chance for a quick interview – and possible offer of employment – by ignoring them. Always give the local papers a quick perusal in case something worthwhile pops up.

The school I worked for was run by Eleonora, a Brazilian teacher of Business English who had lived for several years in the United States, and who was contracted to teach in-company to the employees and partners of PriceWaterhouse, a large multinational accounting and consulting firm with headquarters (at the time) in downtown São Paulo.

In order to work for the school, however, I had to be officially registered with the city as a self-employed language instructor – one of those inescapable necessities mentioned earlier. To accomplish this, I hired a despachante, an individual who knows his way around the myriad complexities of Brazilian bureaucracy. He’ll charge you a fee for his services, but it’s a small price to pay for having it done right, and for your peace of mind.

Although I was a certified EFL teacher, no one ever asked me for my teaching certificate, not even Eleonora. So the question of whether one is necessary to teach in Brazil remains open. Is it an absolute requirement? No, not really, but it does help to have one.

Most language schools provide some form of teacher training to potential applicants, but as you can imagine, the quality of the training is variable. If you don’t have a teaching certificate, then you’ll just have to wing it. If you do have one, then you will already know how to teach English to foreign language learners, and this is a definite plus in the over-crowded, competitive São Paulo teaching market, as is being a native English speaker.

After a few months at Eleonora’s school, I started to make some valuable personal contacts among the employees, secretaries, managers, directors and partners of PriceWaterhouse, all of whom encouraged me to branch out on my own as their private language instructor.

This proved to be a most lucrative move on my part because of the additional business it brought me, and I must emphasize its importance to all potential private teachers: if you are able to get a foot in the door of a large corporation as a private instructor, you will pretty much be able to set your own fees-within reason, of course-and make your own hours, which will most likely revolve around your students’ availability for classes.

The employees of the company will be the primary objects of your focus. Since establishing personal relationships in Brazil is so important, doing a good job for your students-and having them like your teaching style, too-will enable you to obtain multiple referrals and job leads, which can sometimes mean the difference between survival or failure in the business.

It may also open up other job prospects, such as translation work, on-the-spot consulting, interpreting, one-to-one coaching, and a host of others, as you become a virtual part of the company itself. The more you know about a particular company – and the more you have in common with one – the smoother the fit will be for all concerned.

After having worked on Wall Street for a number of years, I was able to use this past experience to my advantage in dealing with accountants, auditors, consultants, and other financial experts. Teachers should always look for facets of their own background and personality that will give them that competitive edge when considering an in-company teaching assignment.

This sounds so simple, yet you’d be surprised at how many teachers ignore it, or worse, dive into realms of job possibilities they are totally unprepared for, such as recording or voiceover work, only to realize later on they jumped in way over their heads.

Unless you’ve had some relevant experience in a particular area, go easy upon entering unfamiliar terrain.

Part 5 next week…

Copyright 2006 by Josmar F. Lopes

A naturalized American citizen born in Brazil, Joe Lopes was raised and educated in New York City, where he worked for many years in the financial sector. In 1996, he moved to Brazil with his wife and daughters. In 2001, he returned to the U.S. and now resides in North Carolina with his family. You can email your comments to JosmarLopes@msn.com.

To read previous articles by Joe Lopes click below:

Teaching English In Brazil Part 3
Teaching English In Brazil Part 2
A German Ring in the Brazilian Rainforest Part 4
A German Ring in the Brazilian Rainforest Part 3
Teaching English In Brazil – Part I
A German Ring in the Brazilian Rainforest Part 2
A German Ring in the Brazilian Rainforest Part 1
Down in Brazil,” with Michael Franks Part 3
“Down in Brazil,” with Michael Franks Part 2
“Down in Brazil,” with Michael Franks Part 1
Brazil: A Candid Talk with Gerald Thomas
Getting to the “bottom” of Brazil’s Gerald Thomas
A Brazilian Diva Torn Between Europe and Brazil
The Enraged Genius of Brazil’s Maestro Neschling
A German Ring in the Brazilian Rainforest
Brazil’s Musical Polyglots: What Was That You Were Singing?
Did Bossa Nova Kill Opera in Brazil?

By Joe Lopes
Here is part 3 of Joe’s article about teaching English in Brazil. To read parts 1 and 2 click the relevant link at the end of the article.

Sizing Up the Competition
As I approach the bus stop, I glance across the street at a new branch of one of those English language schools that have just recently cropped up around my neighborhood. The school building must be three stories high, with at least a dozen or so classrooms on each floor, and a spacious parking lot serving as a drop-off and pick-up point for the busy parents of EFL students.

I shake my head and sigh wearily as I pass the school. Nowadays, private English teachers are faced with the harsh and terrible reality of going up against language schools that are heavily armed for the battle of attracting new students to their courses.

Just take a look at some of the advanced weaponry most of these schools hold over the average individual instructor:

The latest generation of computer hardware;
Sophisticated marketing techniques, including TV, radio and newspaper ad campaigns;
Up-to-date computer software and DVD-ROM packages;
Video and conversational language labs;
Internet chat groups, customized websites, and 24-hour customer service lines;
Cassette recorders, television monitors, VCRs, and DVD player-recorders in every classroom;
Erasable whiteboards, endless streams of school supplies, and other pertinent paraphernalia.

Indeed, most private teachers may get the uneasy feeling they are nothing more than puny Davids sent forth to face monolithic, multi-headed Goliaths. This is not really the case, but the perception of the deck being firmly stacked against them is obviously there.

Schools have the ability (and the luxury) to recycle the bulk of revenue received into their basic infrastructure. Because they consciously try to be on the cutting-edge of technology and sophistication, they can afford to pay teachers dirt-cheap salaries.

This is why the turnover rate for teachers at these institutions is so high, sometimes by as much as 50 percent-or more. This is also the reason they are constantly hiring new teachers at the end of each semester.

Meanwhile, they charge their students the highest possible fees for classes. It’s a workable and surprisingly successful strategy for the schools.

So how does a small, lowly, independent private instructor compete against such deep-pocketed giants? It’s difficult, to put it mildly, but the difference can be in how you set your sights.

If all you see is this monstrous foe striding towards you, then you’ll go down in defeat as quickly as the Biblical strongman did; however, if you are able to supply a missing ingredient to your teaching that all the high-tech hardware and software in the world cannot possibly fill, then you would have found the winning combination to your success.

What could that winning combination be? It’s up to you to find it. It can be an extra degree of individual attention, say, more innovative teaching methods, or more competitive rates. Let your students tell you, for they should know better what they’re looking for.

Don’t forget: as big and as rich as some of these language schools appear to be, they can be as lumbering as brachiosaurs in the fast-paced language-learning market. Change for them can come about more slowly than it can for you.

Your best bet is to try and stay one step ahead of them by offering a more personalized type of service, such as going to a student’s place of business at a more convenient hour, or throwing in the price of all classroom materials into your monthly fee, even offering discounts of one free class every six months to selected students. Use your imagination. The sky is the limit here. Teachers who think quickly on their feet and can bounce back from adversity do well in the big city.

Who will be your students? Start out with people who are the closest to you, i.e. friends, relatives, girlfriends, boyfriends, next-door neighbors, business associates, you name it. Get the word out you’re looking for students. Word of mouth spreads quickly in São Paulo, sometimes quicker than you realize. Network as much as you can. Teaching opportunities can appear from the unlikeliest of sources, from your local supply store to the shop where you make photocopies.

Try to put an advertisement in the neighborhood newspapers or trade journals. You may get more nibbles than bites, but if it’s good for at least one new student, then you’ve more than paid for the ad. It’s sometimes just a matter of marketing your services in a highly targeted and organized manner, and going for it with all your strength and conviction.

Copyright 2006 by Josmar F. Lopes

A naturalized American citizen born in Brazil, Joe Lopes was raised and educated in New York City, where he worked for many years in the financial sector. In 1996, he moved to Brazil with his wife and daughters. In 2001, he returned to the U.S. and now resides in North Carolina with his family. You can email your comments to JosmarLopes@msn.com.

To read previous articles by Joe Lopes click below:

Teaching English In Brazil Part 2
A German Ring in the Brazilian Rainforest Part 4
A German Ring in the Brazilian Rainforest Part 3
Teaching English In Brazil – Part I
A German Ring in the Brazilian Rainforest Part 2
A German Ring in the Brazilian Rainforest Part 1
Down in Brazil,” with Michael Franks Part 3
“Down in Brazil,” with Michael Franks Part 2
“Down in Brazil,” with Michael Franks Part 1
Brazil: A Candid Talk with Gerald Thomas
Getting to the “bottom” of Brazil’s Gerald Thomas
A Brazilian Diva Torn Between Europe and Brazil
The Enraged Genius of Brazil’s Maestro Neschling
A German Ring in the Brazilian Rainforest
Brazil’s Musical Polyglots: What Was That You Were Singing?
Did Bossa Nova Kill Opera in Brazil?

By Joe Lopes
Here is part 2 of Joe’s article about teaching English in Brazil. To read part 1 click the relevant link at the end of the article.

In the Wee Small Hours…
I leave my home before the crack of six. Since it’s fall and the sun is up, I feel a little bit safer, but during the winter months I walk briskly to the bus stop under cover of complete darkness. There are only a few commuters around, which fills me with a shared feeling of commiserating with my fellow paulistanos. It can be pretty bleak out here at times, especially when it’s damp and foggy.

Before I moved to Brazil, I was told that most people in São Paulo worked a normal nine to six shift, or something resembling those hours. So why do I have to get up so early? The answer is that the average salaried employee gets paid for eight hours of work a day, with one unremunerated hour for lunch.

As far as taking English classes are concerned, employees must not let them interfere with their regular job function. That’s why most in-company private language instructors teach limited hours, starting at 7:00-9:00 a.m.; then during lunch hour, between noon and 2:00 p.m.; and finally after the close of business, usually around 6:00-7:30 p.m., and sometimes beyond.

These teaching hours are fairly consistent for most regions of the country, with only minor variations here and there, depending on the locale. In Rio de Janeiro or the Northeast, for example, where things tend to be a bit more relaxed,” overall, the teaching environment is not as physically debilitating as it is in workaholic-driven São Paulo.

For teaching in the many established and accredited English language schools, such as Alumni, Berlitz, Cel-Lep, CNA, Cultura Inglesa, Seven, União Cultural, Wizard, Yazigi, and many others, the hours are dictated by the needs of the student body, which is primarily made up of school kids in the lower and upper grades (75 percent or so) and a proportionately smaller percentage of adult learners (around 25 percent).

Since my teacher training in New York focused exclusively on adults, I gave up trying to earn a living in places like Alumni and Cultura, which cater mostly to kids and young adults, and for which I lacked the appropriate pedagogical background.

Besides, to work as a permanent employee in one of these institutions would require official certification by the Ministry of Education and Culture (MEC), a needlessly time-consuming prerequisite for private instructors. The salaries at most accredited schools are so miserly in comparison to private tutoring you’d be better off giving them a wide berth.

I decided early on to make my fortune giving private lessons in-company and in my home.

Copyright 2006 by Josmar F. Lopes

A naturalized American citizen born in Brazil, Joe Lopes was raised and educated in New York City, where he worked for many years in the financial sector. In 1996, he moved to Brazil with his wife and daughters. In 2001, he returned to the U.S. and now resides in North Carolina with his family. You can email your comments to JosmarLopes@msn.com.

To read previous articles by Joe Lopes click below:

A German Ring in the Brazilian Rainforest Part 4
A German Ring in the Brazilian Rainforest Part 3
Teaching English In Brazil – Part I
A German Ring in the Brazilian Rainforest Part 2
A German Ring in the Brazilian Rainforest Part 1
“Down in Brazil,” with Michael Franks Part 3
“Down in Brazil,” with Michael Franks Part 2
“Down in Brazil,” with Michael Franks Part 1
Brazil: A Candid Talk with Gerald Thomas
Getting to the “bottom” of Brazil’s Gerald Thomas
A Brazilian Diva Torn Between Europe and Brazil
The Enraged Genius of Brazil’s Maestro Neschling
A German Ring in the Brazilian Rainforest
Brazil’s Musical Polyglots: What Was That You Were Singing?
Did Bossa Nova Kill Opera in Brazil?

By Joe Lopes
In a previous piece for another publication, I mentioned some of the inherent problems and difficulties I encountered as a teacher while living and working in the city of São Paulo between the years 1996 and 2001.

As a result of that article, many people have written to me concerning my past experiences with the profession, and have expressed curiosity as to what teaching English as a Foreign Language, or EFL, is really like there.

Because of this interest, I have decided to begin a series of pieces that expand upon my original article and delve into greater detail about the everyday trials and tribulations as well as the joys and highpoints of being an English teacher in Brazil.

By most accounts, teaching appears to be the preferred, most widely accepted-and fundamentally easiest-method of obtaining work for most foreigners and native speakers of English, who come to Brazilian shores for more than just a cursory tour of its beautiful beaches.

Unfortunately, for those adventurous souls willing to take the academic plunge, good, reliable information about how to go about doing it is hard to come by, and relatively little data are available either in the country itself or abroad. Even a film such as Bruno Barreto’s Bossa Nova (1999), which paints teachers of English in a romantic but highly fictionalized framework, tends to distort the true image of the profession.

This series, then, is my attempt at an all-purpose guide for budding pedagogues. Its aim is to elaborate on the teaching of English as it is practiced today in South America’s largest city, and to place the teaching profession in its proper professional context.

It is written in the form of a journal, with additional commentary and explanations where appropriate.

Wake Up Call

Jeez, what time is it?” I mumble to myself, as my Sony desktop clock-radio alarm sounds. “Oh, it’s 5 o’clock a.m. Time to get up.”

I struggle to rise out of bed and rid my eyes of the sandman’s residue. It’s Monday morning, mid-March, and I get ready for my first class of the week.

I usually leave the apartment at a little before 6:00 a.m., so I have plenty of time to change, shave, eat a quick breakfast, and get my things together for the trip to downtown.

Before leaving, I make sure I have my student folders, my pasta (portfolio or bag), cassette player and tape, course book, teacher’s manual, subway ticket, and spare change for the bus. Oh, and I mustn’t forget to take my identidade (identification card, also called RNE). Teachers can’t get past a company’s reception or security desk unless they carry around their photo I.D. at all times.

I used to take an authenticated copy with me, which is good enough for this purpose. You really don’t want to have the original on you anyway, as it might get lost or stolen. It would then be a veritable nightmare to get replaced.

This is just one of those little quirks of Brazilian big city life you have to learn to deal with-and get used to-as a teacher in the Big Abacaxi (pineapple).

Big City Blues: Stats and Facts

When I first started teaching English in São Paulo, I was simply astounded at how huge this major city is-and how long it takes to get anywhere.

It’s not so much the physical distances between the North, South, East and West Zones that test your patience and endurance, but rather the disorganized and improperly maintained public transportation system, which most teachers are forced to use in order to traverse this massive metropolis.

Incredibly, there are more than 18,000 buses and lotaes (private vans) on the streets at any given time, but only three full subway lines that serve the city’s 15 million or so inhabitants. The lines crisscross São Paulo in a more or less well-planned pattern, and the subway system itself, called the Metr, is fast, clean and reliable, but due to its limited reach doesn’t always get you to where you need to go.

That’s when you’re forced to use the city buses, which have acquired a near legendary reputation for poor service among its many riders. In all honesty, the numbering system used to identify each bus by its street route is actually quite sophisticated and efficient. It’s the physical state of the buses themselves that’s the most harrowing thing about them, along with their kamikaze-style “pilots.”

The poor driving habits of Brazilian bus drivers are matched only by the rudeness of the cobrador (change-maker), a pitiable fellow who sits all day behind a turnstile-like device while wielding a misplaced power over anyone who deigns to pass through his metallic domain; strangely, for a change-maker, he never seems to have any change, even when you need it the most.

The older electric buses, which date back from the 1950s, are so worn and dilapidated they look like they were ridden by the Flintstones and are as tick-infested as a starving mongrel. They’re also privy to multiple breakdowns, so steer clear of them at all costs. The sleekly built newer models are a pure joy to ride in, but are as slow as tree sap.

The private vans that dot the city landscape should also be avoided, except as a last resort. Many are illegal or clandestine operations that carry little to no insurance coverage for their passengers, and are run by persons of dubious competence. Use them sparingly, if at all. The same goes double for the city’s trains, which appear to be from another era entirely.

In addition to buses and vans, over three million automobiles clog the city’s main roads during the day, not counting the innumerable taxicabs, motorcycles and delivery trucks that seem to be everywhere at once. I didn’t own a vehicle when I lived in São Paulo-why add to the already elevated pollution and noise levels, I thought-so my principle mode of transportation was always the subway and bus, as it will probably be for most English teachers.

The sheer number and quantity of these conveyances can have a truly mind-boggling effect on a person’s sanity, and they exact an equally heavy toll on the city’s streets and highways, which are persistently pock-marked with gaping potholes of immense proportions.

This aspect of the teaching profession, as well as the endless traffic jams and choking exhaust emissions, can be exceedingly trying at times. If you are a clock-watcher or a nitpicker and want to be an EFL teacher in São Paulo, my advice would be to put away that timepiece, give yourself plenty of leeway to get to where you want to be, and go with the proverbial flow.

Otherwise, you will have a very tough time dealing with the situation, especially when there’s little that can be done about it.

Copyright 2006 by Josmar F. Lopes

A naturalized American citizen born in Brazil, Joe Lopes was raised and educated in New York City, where he worked for many years in the financial sector. In 1996, he moved to Brazil with his wife and daughters. In 2001, he returned to the U.S. and now resides in North Carolina with his family. You can email your comments to JosmarLopes@msn.com.

To read previous articles by Joe Lopes click below:

A German Ring in the Brazilian Rainforest Part 2
A German Ring in the Brazilian Rainforest Part 1
“Down in Brazil,” with Michael Franks Part 3
“Down in Brazil,” with Michael Franks Part 2
“Down in Brazil,” with Michael Franks Part 1
Brazil: A Candid Talk with Gerald Thomas
Getting to the “bottom” of Brazil’s Gerald Thomas
A Brazilian Diva Torn Between Europe and Brazil
The Enraged Genius of Brazil’s Maestro Neschling
A German Ring in the Brazilian Rainforest
Brazil’s Musical Polyglots: What Was That You Were Singing?
Did Bossa Nova Kill Opera in Brazil?