Why did you decide to teach English in Brazil?
My interest in Brazil goes back over a decade, as I’ve been heavily involved in capoeira (an Afro-Brazilian martial art and dance form). I studied abroad in Brazil in 2004, and since then I’ve made several trips to spend long stretches training capoeira with the masters of the art. Eventually I met and married my Brazilian husband, and I’ve been here ever since.
I decided to teach English because I’d had some previous experience that I really enjoyed, so I figured it was the perfect new career for me.
Salvador – the capital of the state of Bahia, in northeastern Brazil
How long have you been teaching in Salvador?
Did you have any prior experience or qualifications? Do you think these are necessary to teach English in Salvador?
I did a couple months of volunteer ESL tutoring in Israel to get my feet wet, and that experience prompted me to go ahead and get my CELTA qualification.
I don’t believe a certificate is strictly necessary; however, it has been extremely helpful – particularly in terms of learning the communicative approach: how to get students talking and interacting as much as possible, not just the teacher lecturing and explaining.
Another great part of the CELTA is the live teaching component where you can try out your skills in a real classroom, and more experienced instructors observe and give you personal feedback on your teaching – I think this accelerated my learning curve in being able to give a good class.
Finally, if you’ve never taught before, I highly recommend at least trying it out on a volunteer basis to see if you really enjoy it before “taking the leap” into English teaching as a job.
What has your experience been like so far?
Brazilian students are a pleasure to teach because they typically have positive attitudes and are very personable; they love to talk, laugh, and have fun in class. I was also fortunate to find a school that pays a decent wage ($13/hour) and pays on time, which I’ve heard isn’t always the case, sadly.
This school also provides the materials and curriculum but there is flexibility in how the teachers choose to present the material and we are welcome to innovate and use alternative or extra activities.
The schedule can be a bit annoying – since most of my students are professionals working typical business hours, my classes are usually from 7-9 AM and from 6:30-9:30 PM, or on Saturdays. On the plus side, it means the entire middle of the day is free; on the downside, it makes it hard to go out or meet up with friends at night.
There are also frequent cancellations due to holidays or private students having a schedule conflict; standard practice is that if a student cancels with less than 24 hours’ notice, the teacher is still paid for that time. This is a pretty frequent occurrence, and I do other work (freelance website work and translation) to help stabilize and supplement the teaching income.
Was it easy to find work?
Yes, for two reasons: 1) both schools and private students here LOVE having teachers who are native speakers; and 2) I took an aggressive approach, sending my résumé and a cover letter to 25 schools whose addresses I found online, even though they weren’t advertising any openings. This tactic, along with follow-up on the letters I sent out, resulted in several interviews and job offers.
What is your cost of living like?
I pay about $400/month for rent and utilities (including internet) in a simple furnished apartment in the city center. Food is about $200 – I usually cook at home but occasionally eat out. Transportation averages seven bus trips a week and comes to about $75 for the month. Adding in miscellaneous expenses and activities (entertainment, etc.) and the total comes to about $850 per month for everything.
The housing is a big variable – if you want to live near the beach, or in a bigger or more luxurious place, rent can cost $700 and up. Of course, if you find a roommate, you can split the rent. Also, entertainment options and cultural events range from free all the way up to $100+ for access to a VIP area during a major concert. A meal can be $5 at a “home-style” restaurant, or $50 at a fancy steakhouse. There are truly options for all budgets and tastes.
If there were anything you could do differently, what would it be?
What is your favourite thing about living in Salvador?
Salvador is known for the strong African influence on its culture, and this is very apparent in the music, food, and religion, among other elements – such as capoeira, which was what first drew me to become interested in Brazil. So for me, the best part is being able to learn capoeira every day from a master of the art with 30+ years of experience; to train with experienced practitioners as well as visitors from all over the world who come here to learn.
In addition, I love the year-round warm weather, the fresh tropical fruits and coconut water, the proximity to beautiful beaches (there are some really spectacular ones just outside the city) and the overall joyful culture and optimistic mindset of the people of Bahia, which is known as a terra de alegria (the land of joy). People here are friendly and always look on the bright side.
What did you find most difficult about adjusting to life in Salvador?
I was fortunate to have several years of experience in Brazil, including proficiency in Portuguese, before moving here to teach – so my transition wasn’t as rough as it could have been.
I’d say one of the most difficult things has been learning to have patience with the many inefficiencies, mistakes and screw-ups, bureaucratic complications, and general slowness to make things happen. It can be absolutely illogical and infuriating at times, but I’m slowly learning to shrug it off, laugh about it, and not get upset.
What are your top three suggestions for someone looking to become an ESL teacher in Salvador?
1) Come to Salvador for the culture and lifestyle, not for the money. Teaching 20 hours a week will put you in the lower middle class here, and you probably won’t save much (if anything). But this city has a lovely climate, warm and welcoming people, and a rich blend of cultures that make it a unique and wonderful place to live!
2) Definitely learn Portuguese. Not only will it make the functional aspects of day-to-day life MUCH easier, but you’ll be better able to make friends among the locals and this will have an enormously positive impact on your enjoyment of the experience.
3) Take advantage of the opportunity to try new things. Salvador has world-famous cuisine (much more than just rice and beans), dozens of festivals and interesting religious traditions, classes in percussion, African dance, capoeira, and more. Getting outside of your comfort zone and jumping into some of the local activities will make your time here unforgettable.
Can you provide some links to resources that would be useful for people who want to know more about living and teaching in Salvador?
Although the website is a little disorganized, http://bahia-online.net is one of the best online portals for life in Salvador. It has descriptions of neighborhoods and links to places to stay; information on Carnaval and other cultural events (particularly music-related); listings for Portuguese, dance, percussion, and capoeira classes; recommendations for eating, drinking, and places to visit both inside and outside the capital city.
There are dozens of English schools in Salvador and unfortunately, there’s currently no comprehensive list of them all. However, one school that often has openings for English teachers/tutors as well as teachers of other subjects is the Pan American School of Bahia – http://www.escolapanamericana.com/index.htm – it’s a bilingual school that is also known to help their teachers with visas and even housing expenses.
Thanks a lot for doing this interview Shayna!
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