Coming to Brazil to Teach English – a rough guide

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Many English speakers come to Brazil to make what they perceive to be easy money teaching the language. Though it can certainly be a fun way to pay the bills on a semi-prolonged stay and even lead to a full time job for more permanent residents, it’s not as simple as it looks. Teaching English in Brazil requires some knowledge of how the country operates, and a lot of stamina and drive. Here is a rough guide to prepare you for what to expect when you come to Brazil to teach English.

Before you Teach

Location

Not all location are created equal in Brazil – especially the further away you are from a capital city. Research the area where you plan to move well. See how many companies or English schools where you could teach there are.The cost of living may be lower outside of the main capitals but so are the job opportunities and salaries. Although this is true in most places around the world, the disparity in Brazil can be quite drastic. Be smart and plan ahead.

Get Some Training

In Brazil nearly anyone can go around calling themselves a teacher. Although I don’t think this is beneficial to the industry, it may work in your favor at the start if you have no degree or experience. Be warned, though, that good clients and schools can tell the difference between someone who is faking it until they make it and someone who really knows how to give a good lesson. That said, if you don’t have a background in pedagogy, or have experience in another area but want to teach, all is not lost; there are language teaching courses and certificates you can take at some of the better schools in Brazil and probably some in your native land too. Also, most schools offer some sort of training, free of charge, if they hire you. This training is mostly designed to explain whatever methodology they use at the school, but it can work as a primer for general teaching techniques.

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Many foreigners who begin to teach English start off with conversation classes. However, depending on the language level of the client, it will be in your best interest to learn parts of speech, verb tenses, and other subjects to better explain to them how to construct and understand more complex sentences and structures.

One doesn’t need to be a grammarian to give a great English class, though. In fact, too much grammar may make your client’s head spin or bore them. However, a good grasp of what you are saying and why you are saying, as well as a giving off an air of preparedness, goes a long way from setting you apart from a solely conversation-focused English instructor.

It’s important to remember. If you do not know an answer to something, do not lie. Tell your client that you are not sure and will get back with an answer. Research the topic in question and make a class out of it next time around. Or better yet, if you have internet access during the class, look it up with the student right then and there. You can make it as an English instructor not knowing it all, but lying will catch up to you eventually. Clients have friends, some who may speak decent English and may ask where they are learning to speak “that way.” This conversation between clients can either be a networking opportunity for you, or a cut class.

Learn Some Portuguese

Although speaking Brazil’s main language is not a deal breaker for entering the teaching circuit, it certainly does give you a bit more of an edge when you can understand how the Portuguese language works, specifically when it comes to identifying why certain errors in your client’s English keep popping up. While most people recommend that instructors use as much English as possible in a class, knowing how to correct someone or explain something very quickly in their own language can save you a lot of time and from a lot of stress, especially if you are teaching very basic levels.

Also, knowing the language will help you in your business dealings. Outside of class you will have to communicate and get other things done. The more Portuguese that you can speak or understand, the easier it will be to network and get more clients.

Entering the Workforce

Brazilian Currency and Wage Expectations

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Brazilians use the Real and usually pay your full salary monthly, although some places will pay twice a month. Some schools and private clients prefer to pay cash, while others will want to pay you into a bank account or give you a check, in this case you need to get the proper documents to receive payment.

Classes are usually charged per hour, although there are cases were a fixed monthly fee works for both the client and instructor.

Most expats will tell you that living with less than R$2,000 a month is nearly impossible, and it will certainly be very tough unless you are renting a small room for R400-R600 a month, cook at home, and rarely go out. The goal is to make double or triple that amount, though. Keep that in mind as you consider the various teacher hourly pay scales.

Where to Work

Franchise Schools

These schools are separated into two basic tiers. The hourly salary is reflective of this.

First there are the franchise schools like Wizard, CNA, Wise Up, Fisk and others. These schools are everywhere, and they operate almost like the “fast food restaurants” of the English business. They usually offer programs that run for a little less than a two years while promising that the client will be speaking by then. Their focus seems to be less pedagogical than it is to sell their ridiculously expensive didactic material. You will find that many of the instructors at these schools are Brazilians with a decent command of English, but certainly not someone who could be teaching at your hometown elementary school. Although I recommend that native speakers stay away from these schools, you’ll at least never go homeless in Brazil if you ever decide to show up at their doorsteps. Once they realize you are an expat, you’ll become an instant star and be filled with classes.  The pay at the schools can vary, but I have seen some that pay as little as R$15 and up to R$25 per hour.

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The second tier of franchise schools are the better quality sort such as Cultura Inglesa, Berlitz, Seven Idiomas, Alumni, and others. Most of these schools prefer to hire native or near native instructors. They may even offer an internationally recognized language proficiency certificate at the end of the course. These schools tend to be a bit more strict about not sharing you with anyone and some even offer contracts with full worker’s benefits. The pay scale at these schools is usually a bit higher, ranging anywhere from R$25 to R$40 an hour or more for starters. Although, I have heard of instructors  who were making upwards of $80-R$100 per class. The dark side to these schools is that many have a bit of a hierarchical system, which benefits the instructors who have been there longer, thus getting the highest pay grade may take some time. The pay is still better than working at the aforementioned franchise schools, but don’t expect the money nor the amount of classes to flow in so quickly. And also remember, if you sign a contract, you become exclusive property – working at another school or having private clients may create complications.

Small Private Schools/Agencies

Next on the list are the smaller English schools that may have one or maximum two physical buildings and companies that set teachers up with clients a bit like a headhunting service. These smaller operations are everywhere, although they are not always easy to find. They tend to pay more because of their lack of back office and also because they prefer to work with business clients who pay them more. The usual starting rate can vary widely. I have seen wages as low as $30 – 50 per hour, but most can begin you at as high as R$70 or even R$100 an hour.

Given the higher level clientele, chances are that you will be able to expand your network by meeting other instructors who can pass your name around. Also, since these schools and operations usually work with business clients, you will most likely be working in a business district. What this means is that invariably someone will notice that you speak English and catch you in an elevator or on your way somewhere and ask for your contact details. You’ll eventually begin to grow your own client base.

A final benefit to working with these type of schools is the freedom that most of them give you to teach a class without having to follow too much of the school’s programming or methodology. They are also usually much more open about you having private clients while working for them.

Private Teaching

Private teaching is the goal for most instructors in Brazil. You can set your own times, teach your own way, and most importantly, get paid a lot more than you would while working for a school. Hourly rates for private classes can run as low as R$60 and upwards to R$120 or more. Usually private teachers go to a client’s house or company, but some welcome clients into their own homes or teach via online platforms. It is in every way the most freedom you can have as teacher. Nevertheless, teaching privately has its pitfalls, and one should be aware of them.

1. It’s not a year-round gig. While most of the schools have classes up until a week before Christmas and start up again in January (with a short break for Carnival), private clients may take longer breaks throughout the year in which you may not get paid. If you end up teaching kids, the work stoppage may be even longer as they take long school breaks and may go on vacation with their parents. You can certainly put a vacation clause into a contract with a private student, but many expect to not pay or suspend the classes if they not going to be able to be present. A simple agreement can be to have a client always pay you 50% of the classes for a given month. This way you won’t be left completely out in the cold (or the sun.)

2. Payment is on you. Schools, for the most part, will have your payment on time. Private clients require that you become the enforcer and this can be stressful to begin. Eventually you will weed out the bad or late payers and your more professional clients will recommend you to other more professional colleagues of theirs. But always be prepared for a headache or two when it comes to receiving all your payment on time.

3. The economy drives demand. Brazil is famous for its roller coaster style economic ups and downs. If there is any type of economic crisis that affects your client, you may be the first thing cut out from their monthly budget. If you don’t have any suspension clauses in your contract, you could see one to two thousand Reais disappear from one month to the next without much warning.

International Schools

Finally there are the international schools. These are regular day schools that operate fully in English. Instructors at these schools can teach a variety of subject in their native tongue, not simply the language itself. These schools offer the best stability and pay, although you will require a teaching degree or other type of diploma to work at one. Some of these schools will pay much more than a beginner private instructor makes, upwards of R$10,000 a month, while others have comparable rates of around $4.000 to $6.000 a month.

The negative of working at an international school is that you will work exclusively for them. For those that prefer more flexibility, it will feel stifling and like working at a regular middle or high school back home. The obvious plus side is the good salary and employment stability.

How to Find Work

If you are planning to start out at a big franchise English school, those are scattered everywhere, so they are very easy to find. Usually getting a job at these schools requires nothing more than walking in the door and dropping off your resume with the receptionist or coordinator. The better franchise school usually prefer that you send a resume via their online platforms or e-mail.

Smaller private schools or “headhunting” style services require a bit more effort to find. In this case I recommend doing google searches, but also don’t be afraid to ask other expats or new friends you make about work opportunities; they may know of a school or a friend who runs a school. There are also numerous Facebook groups for teachers working in Brazil, and even in specific regions of the country. Many smaller companies post job openings on these sites.

Getting private students is a bit more complicated at first, but not impossible by any stretch. You should print out some business cards or pamphlets and ask to drop them off at places you usually eat or drink. Some teachers have actually stood on the streets passing out their business contact, although be sure to know the law restrictions before you do this. Online platforms, such as craigslist type sites, can also be a useful aid. Most likely your first clients will come from simply talking and meeting people, though. This will start a word of mouth chain reaction. The key is to be proactive. The bigger the city, the more saturated the sector, but also the more numerous the client base.

All English schools are usually well advertised. A simple google search or talk with a friend who has kids will produce results. Send in a resume and set up a meeting as you would for any job. If you know someone who works inside, your chances are even better at getting a quick job.

Don’t forget to use the internet as a propaganda tool. Start a Facebook page for yourself and have other social media presence. LinkedIn is also a great tool for networking with possible clients.

What To Choose

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The average full time teacher salary is between R$4.000 and R$6.000 a month. With a bit more effort and the right clients, it’s possible to run that figure up R$8,000 or more.

I find that the most successful teachers mix their schedule up with mostly private clients and some clients from smaller private schools or headhunters. Although the temptation is to always go out completely on your own, working at a school can save you in case you fall on hard times with your own clients. Even if you only teach two or three classes for a school, they are a good partner to have because they almost always have a new class to offer. Also, one should never burn good networking bridges.

In the end you have to do what feels right for you, though.

For example, it’s not impossible to dedicate your full day to a franchise school and make enough to live. I know people who do this while doing translations or other English related services on the side.

Also, being a full time teacher at an international school can be a perfect fit for your profile.

Another thing to consider is whether you want to focus on day-to-day English or Business English. Although both types of English classes have their merits, Business English certainly pays more on average. My mantra is always, diversify, therefore work a bit of both.

The key to being an instructor (and surviving in Brazil) is flexibility. You must also know your salary and living goals and understand what each type of job can and can’t offer you towards meeting those goals. And finally, one must be quick and have their wits.

Once You are Working

Planning Your Day Wisely

I work in São Paulo, a city big enough to fit many other major Brazilian cites inside, so I take scheduling very much to heart. But from speaking with other instructors from smaller cities, I have noticed that scheduling is just as important for them too. Simply put, if you fill your day up to heavily with classes you are liable to burnout.

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This burnout happens due to a culmination of factors.  The main factor being the sheer strain of having to get to one class to another while fighting traffic, weather, and people. But one’s voice can also be affected. If you are not trained in using the diaphragm when speaking, a few weeks of talking will blow your vocal chords right out.

My advice, for starters especially, is to pick your time periods and locations wisely. Either work early morning until lunch time, or lunch time to the evening. Use the gap-time between classes to eat and relax, or in some cases, arrive at your next class. Do your best to center your classes around the same region. Spending two hours or more on the road to teach a one hour class is a losing man’s game.

This time period schedule usually only affords you two classes a day, although depending on the location of a class, you can usually fit in a third. But if you consider a two one-hour-class a day schedule at a low, but reasonable, rate of R$70 per hour, you’d be pulling in R$700 a week (five day week) and R$2800 a month. It’s not an extreme amount of money, and definitively a tight budget the big metropolises, but it’s certainly a workable wage if you are just arriving in the country.

How do you pump that salary up, though?

Although two classes a day is the safest way to stay healthy and get accustomed to the rhythm of teaching, eventually your body will be able take more. I have found that rotating between a half day and a full day works for me. For example, Mondays and Wednesdays I may leave the house at 8 am and only be back after 9 pm, but on Tuesdays and Thursdays I make sure to start my first classes after lunch. This still leaves me Friday and Saturday to work however I want. As these are not always the most popular days for class, I tend to stack them with back to back students at a local business school while fitting in a private client or two.

Using your time period schedule as a base you can then sprinkle in your extra clients as necessary, and easily make an extra one to two thousand Reais a month.

But as I said, unless you truly feel that you are fit and able to do so, I don’t recommend doing full day schedules five or six days a week. Nevertheless here are some things to consider when taking on a heavy schedule.

One, you will have no social life. I know teachers who work Monday to Sunday. Some are happy doing it, others not so much. In both cases these teachers don’t exist in any real world that I know. Their life is lived on public transport. There may be a sighting of them every 6 or 7 months when they take the money they have saved up and go on a week’s vacation at the beach, otherwise it’s a pretty hard life.

Two, even if socializing is not your thing, you must consider health – and that’s even for the healthiest of you. If your schedule is arduous, chances are that you’ll be eating out a lot and at irregular times. This is a recipe for disaster and unless you are super organized, make little healthy meals to take with you on the road every day, or have abnormally strong genes, you will probably gain weight, raise your stress levels, and contract some weird stomach virus from under-cooked meat.

This is, of course, only my advice. I based it on both my experience and of others. It’s simply something to think about before you go gung-ho filling your day up with clients. Remember that working as an instructor is not simply composed of working the classes, but the time it takes to get to these classes. With that in mind, running around from 9-5 in an office is very different than a 12-hour shift running around a big city.

Planning Your Year Wisely

As I mentioned above, there are many drop off months in Brazil for instructors, especially private instructors. If you happen to teach kids and add their school breaks into the equations, it is quite possible that you will only be working at full capacity for 8 months of the year.

Be sure to save up for the slow months. What I tend to do is work double time starting in September through November so that I can relax while everyone is away. The general consensus is that Brazil stops from mid-December until after Carnival in February.

Payment

Be strict with payments.

If you choose to work at a school and they begin to pay you late, unless they have a very good reason for it, start looking for a new school.

If you are dealing with private clients, I suggest making them pay upfront for classes. I also recommend giving them a mini-contract with a 30-day’s notice cancellation clause among other regulations.

Don’t play around when it comes to money. I have heard enough horror stories, and have even experienced some of my own to know that when it comes to getting paid you must be ready to show your more sinister side. The good news is that the more rigid you are the better your clientele, and the better the clientele the better the clients you will get from them.

Get Constant Feedback

Brazilians are notorious for not wanting to create conflict or an uncomfortable situation. They may stick with you for a month or even two but never verbalize that they really aren’t enjoying your class. When you are getting your material prepared for month three they’ll hit you the, “Sorry, teacher, I simply have no time for class,” bit. This is where a 30 day warning clause in a contract comes in handy.

Getting feedback after the first or second class can save you a world of pain. I then recommend that you keep asking for feedback every four months or so. This will save you from some unpleasant surprises. The Brazilian “Keeping up Appearances” poker face is very hard to read – ensure yourself.

Teaching English Can Be Very Rewarding

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These are only some basic tips to get started with teaching English. There are many more skills that you learn on the job, and each one’s experience is unique. As you gain that know-how you will gain the confidence to build a strong client base. You’ll also likely create your style to adapt to your client base.

Remember, what works for one teacher may not necessarily work for you, and vice-versa. What is important is that you feel good doing what you are doing. Teaching is something that can start out as a hobby, with no qualification or certificate needed in many cases, and blossom into a real career.

Take your time to consider all your options, and good luck.

P. Ray

Note – Much of the information above can presumably apply to those who teach other languages. As I have experience working mainly with other English instructors, I chose to focus on only this segment.

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Read about the ten things that I love about Brazil by clicking here.

Read about the tent things that I hate about Brazil by clicking here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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