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?“