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

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?

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