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…

  • David
    April 11, 2011

    Yes! The pay! Now tell us about that :)

    I’m sure it was a wonderful time though. Sometimes the barter system works out even better :)

    I spent some time in Colombia and yes, it is the most wonderful place on Earth!

  • Jasmine Stephenson
    April 12, 2011

    Honestly I haven’t even talked to the guy about payment… oops. :)

    PS – I love people that agree with me! Haha

  • Jack and Jill
    April 12, 2011

    Ha, sounds like fun! I always imagine what it’d be like to be a teacher — always think that I’d have stage fright, but I guess teaching such eager students would be different.

  • Stephanie Sadler
    April 12, 2011

    Hi Jasmine,

    That’s great it turned out to be a fulfilling experience!

    Wondered if you might be interested in either a guest post or interview on my blog? You’re a great writer and maybe you could give some insight into an aspect of Colombian life you’ve experienced? If you’re not up for a guest post, I have a section where I interview expats… Let me know and keep up the great work on the blog. I’m enjoying your stories :)


  • Uncle Jim
    April 12, 2011

    One of James’ best friends from elementary school through high school is now teaching kindergarten kids in South Korea, and he is pure heaven doing it! Maybe you found a niche.

  • Jasmine Stephenson
    April 13, 2011

    I think it would be a lot different in front of 30 kids, but 2 was definitely manageable :)

  • Jasmine Stephenson
    April 13, 2011

    Hey Steph,

    Great site you’ve got there. I’d love to do an interview. I’ll send you an email to coordinate :)

  • Tom Stockwell
    April 14, 2011

    Great article! I’m an English teacher in South Korea and those kinds of students are an absolute joy to have….then again, there are of course those who don’t want to learn and treat my classroom – and their classmates….and me – as play objects merely there to entertain them for an hour after school. Sigh.

    Still, awesome that you had such a positive experience and I hope it continues to be that way for you! :)


  • Jasmine Stephenson
    April 14, 2011

    Hey Tom, thanks for the input! I’m sure teaching in front of a more formal class would be a LOT different. I have lots of respect for people who can do that… not sure if I’m there yet :)

  • Aaron's Worldwide Adventures
    April 15, 2011

    Haha interesting! Much like you, I’ve always thought that I would hate teaching English. But should the opportunity present itself, who knows?

  • Brady Stump
    April 17, 2011

    Thanks for the great read. Keep it up!

  • Mike Hower
    April 20, 2011

    Hey Jasmine,

    Just visited your blog and wanted to say it´s very impressive! We should meet up for coffe one of these days and swap our gringo Bogota stories


  • Jasmine Stephenson
    April 21, 2011

    Thanks Mike! Sounds good :)

  • GoatsOnTheRoad
    August 15, 2013

    Great post Jasmine! It’s so awesome when unexpected things happen. I’m sure you’ll be a great English teacher. We taught English in China for a year and loved it..and are actually thinking of moving to Colombia in the near future!

    Thanks for the great post and great website :)

  • Jasmine Stephenson
    August 15, 2013

    Hi Nick,

    Teaching English never panned out but if you move here I’m sure you’ll enjoy it :)

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