How To Become An English Teacher Without Looking For A Job

The brothers arrive, nervously clutching their notebooks. We exchange names and smiles.

I lead them upstairs to the living area – the site of our new classroom. We sit down at the dining room table awkwardly. They look at me, expectant.

I’ve been roped into giving English lessons. I had no intention of becoming an English teacher, nor was I particularly interested in another job – I’ve got several already.

But here we are.

teaching English
by sixintheworld on Flickr

Being the only foreigner in a strictly Colombian neighborhood, I’m kind of a novelty. Neighbors chat to me regularly to find out about my thoughts on Colombia, my life, and to hear my foreign accent.

In the midst of one such conversation is when I unwillingly scored my first job teaching English.

A couple of my host dad’s customers sit in his shop, slurping tinto from Nariño out of plastic cups, the coffee stirrer bobbing to and fro. They begin asking me questions about my travels and the difficulty of learning Spanish.

Abruptly, one asks me, “Why don’t you give English lessons to my kids?”

Ugh. Ever since I moved in, neighbors and friends of friends have been asking my partner how much I’d charge for English classes. I have always dodged the question with a laundry list of excuses. I don’t know how much to charge. I have never taught English before. I have work to do.

The proud dad begins to boast about how intelligent his children are and how much he’d love for them to have a head start in life with knowledge of a second language under their belts.

The conversation stops. The three men look at me expectantly.

My mouth opens. The words, “Porque no?” slip out. He shakes my hand heartily and agrees to send them over on Saturday afternoon.

A sense of dread fills my chest. What will I teach them? What do they already know? What if they behave like brats or fall asleep during class?

Maybe this is just another situation in which, for the sake of social niceties, someone makes plans without having the intention of following through. It’s happened before. Maybe the kids won’t show.

I try to break the ice. I tell them to relax, and assure them that I want this to be a fun hour and not something that they dread at the beginning of the weekend.

They behave like angels. They’re interactive, responsive, and eager to learn. They ask questions. They open up.

I couldn’t ask for better students.

The clock chimes 12 and I see them outside. They tell me the class was chévere (cool). They wave at me from across the street, smiling.

I’m smiling too. I’m content. It’s the special kind of contentment that comes from working with kids, teaching them new skills and helping to build their confidence.

Maybe I am cut out to teach English after all? Now about my pay…

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