What Classroom life in Brazil is REALLY like…

If you’re thinking of going to Brazil to live it up in the sun, party hard in the carnival, and learn how to speak sexy Portuguese, then go for it. Don’t forget you’ll have to do some TEFLing while you’re there though. (This post is as seen on the i-to-i TEFL blog)

Here is a quick insight into what you can expect from inside the classroom.
How was TEFLing in Brazil?
Brazilian students in Salvador were first class, (well most, but more on that later). I found their attitude towards learning extremely positive and interacting was easy and fun. I taught in three different academies so the student’s reasons for learning were different. (Photo by Fotos GovBa)
My favourite place to work was for an academy on Friday evenings. The atmosphere was more like a youth club than a school. Students came to learn English by listening to a couple of songs and singing along followed by informal conversation classes. My job was to create dynamic and fun conversational topics for groups of about ten students. Most students were chatty and keeping the conversation going was relatively easy, but there were a few dry moments where I had to think on my feet. I loved it though and it didn’t really feel like “working.”

In the afternoons I’d teach business English. The best part was the thirty-minute taxi ride with Georgie; my own chauffer paid for by the academy. Georgie was a goofy Brazil man with long greasy hair. We had a laugh and he taught me ample Portuguese phrases, all of which are unrepeatable here. The students were a mixed bag. I expected them to be serious and formal, but the grown men were almost as immature as the teenagers I taught in another academy. They’d often giggle, draw pictures on each other’s notebooks, and take the mick out of each other. Unless the director was in class, then they’d turn into responsible adults and behave. Keeping them motivated was difficult at times because we had to follow a strict schedule with a text book and the director made them attend the lessons. I enjoyed teaching adults and gained a deeper insight into the Brazilian way of life.

In the evenings I worked at a family-run academy in the outskirts of Salvador. The location was a bit run down and I stuck out like a lanky foreigner on the bus rides there and back, but the teaching was good fun (most of the time). In one of the classes my students were two men in their fifties, a young lad in his late teens, and a couple of women in their twenties. They were a keen group and we had a laugh. The two old boys used to joke that they were only learning English just so they could escape from their wives. My other class with four women was hard work. At first only one could understand me and she acted as a translator for the others. It was a challenge getting them to speak in English, but over time they improved. (Photo by JorgeBrazil)
Worst moment
One evening, the director of the family-run academy called me into his office. By his side was the co-director, his mother. The week before there had been a misunderstanding over my first paycheck and I thought they were going to apologize; fat chance.
“It has been brought to our attention that you are not doing your job properly,” he said with a stern face.
“Oh, why do you say that?” I said, genuinely surprised. The students had all seemed happy with my classes. His mother whispered to him in Portuguese.
“One of our students has told us that you are not teaching much grammar.”
“That’s right,” I said. “We had a chat at the start of term and voted that we’d concentrate mainly on speaking and listening activities.” The mother whispered again.
“Are you sure you’re a qualified teacher?” asked the director.
“What?” I said, raising my voice. I felt insulted. “What do you mean? I showed you my certificate and references. Surely this is a misunderstanding.” We argued for a while and in the end they apologized. I had been teaching some grammar, but not enough in one of the student’s eyes. They never told me which student had complained, but I knew. The rest of the students weren’t impressed with the extra grammar homework.
A word of warning
The reason that I got all three jobs was because I said I was going to stay for the whole term, but I lied. I’d already planned to go to Australia and because of the visa situation I could only stay in Brazil for four months. I felt guilty for lying and should have planned my time better. As you can imagine the family-run academy wasn’t impressed when I handed in my notice half-way through term, even if I did find a replacement. Since then I’ve committed to every contract. If you go to Brazil then give yourself between 6 and 9 months at least.
On the whole
TEFLing in Brazil was pretty amazing. I met some great people, had some fun lessons, and discovered that I wanted to pursue teaching English as a career. Compared to my old office sales job I loved working abroad. If I went back then I’d probably live in Rio; I was there for a couple of days and had an amazing time.
What’s your story? Are you teaching in Brazil or thinking of going there? Leave a comment and let us know. 
(Photo by fhmolina)

7 thoughts on “What Classroom life in Brazil is REALLY like…

  1. Hi Barry,
    I love reading your blog posts! I'm thinking of making Brazil my first TEFL job experience, as it's in the race with Spain, Croatia, Netherlands, and Uruguay. I taught in elementary schools in the U.S. and took a break from teaching but wanted to try it in a foreign country. Is the safety issue and your shared experiences something that men and women can relate with, or primarily for men? Also, do you recommend securing a job with a language institute/school/agency before arriving in Brazil or after? I want to look up some good places but dont know where/how to start. Thanks!

  2. Hey Amy,

    Welcome to the TEFL adventure…great idea about making Brazil your first stop. I think you've just missed the boat for when schools start though, when are you thinking of heading out there? I'd say the safety issues are for men and women. If you have a read of my book you'll see that I had about 4 different encounters, which could happen to anyone…

    If you can get a job before then great, but if you have some cash and time then I'd get out there first and choose the place you want to settle. Tefl.com is the best place to start, or just search for language academies on google. Teaching English Abroad (Susan Griffiths is a excellent reference book too).

    Good luck…


  3. hello, i am australian, celta trained and with a bachelor of primary teaching. i was wondering if you headed off to brazil with a working visa or if you obtained one when you arrived, or if you were able to get jobs without it?
    is the general tourist visa valid for four months? have you heard of companies wanting to take people on for short periods? i will be in salvador from feb-end of may 2014, hoping to work with either adults,youth or children.
    thanks for your help
    i enjoyed reading your blog

  4. Hey Jessica,

    Sorry for the late reply…been a bit manic on the DELTA. I didn't get a working visa while in Brazil. I worked cash in hand for about 4 months. Not ideal conditions, but better than nothing. I've heard it's quite hard to get a working visa, but if you're only gonna be there for 4 months then I wouldn't bother. The only problem is that school don't generally take you on for short periods, you might have to tell a porkie pie, but if you can find someone who will take you on with the working visa then great.

    Perfect time to arrive in Salvador before the carnaval starts. I worked for P.E.C, A.E.C and another school that is closed now. There must be loads more, have a look on forums and in yellow pages based in Salvador.

    Good luck. Glad you like the blog!


  5. Hello Barry,

    Im looking to teach English in Brazil from june/july in Salvador or Recife. Im 18 (will be19 by then), I don't have a degree but I do have TEFL and Alevels,as well as teaching experience e.g football coaching and tutoring kids in english/maths. I wanted to ask, do you think my chances are slim getting a job due to my age and no degree? Some people say you need a degree, others say its not necessary
    Kind regards

  6. Hey Lawrence,

    Wow, you are starting young, I guess some academies would prefer you to be a bit older, but if you can convince them that you are going to stay around for the whole term, even if you don't, then you should be fine. Re the degree, it'll depend on the school, some say yes, others say no. Have fun, you're arriving at a mental time. I loved Salvador, would recommend staying until the Carnaval next year!

  7. Hi Barry,

    I am in a university class where I have been assigned to study Brazil's education system. For part of my assignment, I am to find people that experienced Brazil's education system in some way and ask them questions. While I do not have the questions yet, I am wondering if you would be able or interested in assisting me with this 10-12 week project. It should not be super extensive. Really writing you some questions occasionally and you responding. Thank you for considering this.


    Julie Whiteacre

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