5 Worst Things About Teaching English

Posted on April 6, 2011 by Vivi in TEACH ENGLISH

I think teaching English abroad can become a little too glamorized in some online forums, including my own blog.  While I had a blast spending the last year teaching English in Buenos Aires, it wasn’t always pleasant, and was sometimes very difficult.  I’m about to unload some honesty…

Let me describe for you my schedule for an average work day:

  • 8:00 – 8:40 – TRAVEL TIME to first class
  • 8:45 – 10:15 – First class on the day
  • 10:15 – 12:45 – Free time.  What am I supposed to do?  I would either go home only to turn around and come back downtown, walk around downtown window shopping, or go to a cafe and work on lesson planning.
  • 1:00 – 2:30 – Second class of the day.
  • 2:30 – 3:15 – TRAVEL TIME to third class.
  • 3:15 – 3:30 – Lunch.
  • 3:30 – 5:00 – Third and Fourth Classes, if you’re lucky enough to get a block schedule.
  • 5:00 – 5:45 – TRAVEL TIME to go back home.

So now that you have an idea of an average schedule, let me tell you my complaints.

5. Travel Time and Free Time.

So in an average 9 hour day I spent over two hours in transit.  I had almost three hours of free time and I only taught 4 classes.  This isn’t what I would consider a very productive use of time, and leads me to my next point:

4. Not Enough Money.

4 classes a day equals a total of 5 and 1/2 hours at 30 pesos an hour.  That is 165 pesos a day, 825 a week, 3,300 a month.  Or roughly $825USD a month.  That certainly isn’t a living wage in the USA, and it is barely enough to get by in Buenos Aires.  Here is why:

3. Expenses.

Let’s account for travel expenses.  At 1.25 pesos per trip, travel expenses equal approximately 75 pesos a month.  Now you’re making $3,225.  If you’re lucky enough to have inexpensive rent, say around $1500 pesos a month you have $1725 to live off of for the whole entire month.  That’s 430 pesos a week, or 61 pesos a day.  When I first arrived in Buenos Aires, that went quite a bit farther than it does today because of ….

2. Inflation.

Now inflation changes rapidly, so by the time I post this, prices will probably be different, but a coffee at a cafe could cost between 6 to 10 pesos.  A sandwich between 15 – 30 pesos.  A glass of beer at a bar will cost no less than 15 pesos.  A few kilos of meat for an asado will cost you hundreds of pesos.

I get a lot of emails from potential English teachers asking the same question: ‘can you make a living wage teaching English in Buenos Aires?’ My honest answer is: No. You cant.  Not to say that there are people who don’t, and not to say that this should stop you, if it is something you really want to do.  Just bring savings.

1. Am I Your Teacher Or Your Geisha?

I really need to vent about something.  While I try not to use my blog as an outlet for my tirades, when I do, I usually get a wide array of offensive responses, which has only encouraged me.

I recently decided to retire my post as English teacher and start a new career path.  When I gave notice to my institute of employment, they politely asked that I recommend a replacement teacher.  I knew my friend (and blog contributor) Brennan was looking for some new teaching positions, so I recommended him.  Being a charismatic, educated, delightful person and good teacher, I was sure my boss would hire him on the spot.  I was shocked when in response they told me: “thank you, but we’re really looking for a pretty girl to take the position.”

I was (am) SO offended.  Is that why I was hired?  Did my qualifications count for nothing?  I suddenly second guessed my students’ intentions.  Did they actually care about learning English or did they just want to spend an hour a week with a woman who wasn’t their wife nor secretary?  Suddenly small gifts I’d received from my students seemed very suspicious.  I felt so degraded, like I had been hired not for my skill or intelligence, but for my straight teeth and semi-blonde hair *.  I ignored the email, and did not send them another candidate, nor did I respond in full angry feminist fashion saying that despite typical gender roles depicted on Argentine television, I refuse to let my status as a woman equate to being treated as sex object to be pimped out under the guise of ‘English Teacher’.

I will note, that all of my students, while mostly men, have always treated me with respect and professionalism. ___________________________________________________________

Now, I know, I can’t complain about any of this, because I willingly chose this career with my own free will.  So I’m not complaining.  Teaching English gave me the opportunity to move to Argentina and experience the full glory of its locura.

That being said, had I found a legitimate job out of college, and not spent a year unemployed, I probably never would have left the country to accept such a low paying, almost ridiculous job, but c’est la vie.  Personally, I’m living with no regrets, but would like to provide other potential English teachers with enough information that they too, can live regret free.  You’re welcome.

Tell me, other English teachers – what is your opinion?

* Please note: I don’t personally identify as a blonde, but my honey hued locks are considered by most Argentines as ‘rubia’.

15 Comments

  1. Hello. Yes, we all experience this the first year or so teaching here in BA. The thing is, to actually make it worth your while you have to stick around for several years, but by that time anyone who came to teach English has moved on to bigger and better things so to speak. I enjoy reading your blog and as a fellow English teacher enjoy these posts especially. I might need a sub to replace me this month through the end of May. The job would be Tuesdays and Thursdays 9:30 to 12:30 – 3 classes – and pays 40 pesos per hour. Classes are in Parque Patricios in a large international company. Please email me if you are interested! burgess.allison@gmail.com

  2. And you don’t even mention the time spent preparing classes and grading tests! 😉 I taught for 4 months — not for the money, but for the experience (as a TESOL master’s student who was in BA on holiday.) I can’t even IMAGINE trying to support myself on 30-45 pesos an hour. I suppose it would be possible, but would require a very austere lifestyle and many, many hours of work (and honestly, what’s the point of staying in a large, expensive city if you have to live on lentils and work ’til you drop to get by?)

    My favorite part of teaching was my students – most of them were warm and intelligent people, with whom I had very interesting conversations. I became close with a few of my private students, and we still keep in touch. Unfortunately, the market wage reflects the fact that studying English is just not taken very seriously in BA. Stressed-out, busy adult students routinely cancel, don’t do their homework, and have varying levels of motivation, while institutes want you to use those horrible textbooks from the Stone Age.

    Teaching in BA is a great opportunity for EFL teachers who need some overseas experience on their resume, or anyone who loves the work and doesn’t depend on the money. But a sole means of support? No. What really irritates me are these corporate TEFL-certification institutes and their blatantly misleading advertising. They charge students what, about $2,500 USD for the course + lodging, promising “guaranteed job placement” in exchange for the investment? What they don’t mention is that your “guaranteed job” will be a few hours a week at $7.00 USD per hour. I’ve met a couple of TEFL students who had come to BA with NO savings — so broke they literally couldn’t afford a beer — who were desperate to finish the course and start earning a living. Unsurprisingly, they weren’t able to make ends meet, and ended up back where they started, in the U.S., only 4K poorer.

    • I took the TEFL course, and while it was expensive, I really think it prepared me to teach. It was a great review of English grammar too. However it taught me how to teach group classes, and when I got a job I only taught individual lessons to adults, so it wasn’t always relevant. And they did not provide a job for me after, although it was not difficult to find one. They also offer very little assistance with legal working or living visas and encourage teachers to stay in Argentina under false tourist visas.

      I forgot about lesson plans and grading! There are not enough hours in the day! I would do a lot of that prep work on the subway while commuting. Thanks so much for the awesome comment!!!

  3. I agree with your points…teaching english in Argentina can be a physically draining and low paying position. My friends teaching in Asia have none of the exhausting logistical puzzles we face. I try to keep the expenses such as rent and transportation low by living closer to where I work, or by flat out refusing to travel to some locations. What kills me though is sometimes starting at 8:30 am and ending at 9:30 pm, with only a small window of rest in the afternoon which inevitably gets spent planning classes. I feel tired all the time!

  4. I started teaching English back in the early 90s in Italy where I had what was considered full-time employment for language teachers, but was barely enough work to get by on. It was exhausting and wonderful. Though I’ve only taught a few private students in Argentina, I did teach English in various settings for over 15 years.

    If you like teaching and plan to make a career of it, it’s like any career. You have to build up your experience and become the best so you can demand better hourly rates. Language schools won’t pay more because there are 10 other teachers out there waiting to take your job and the schools don’t much care about the quality of the instruction. Plus, there will always be tons of students that don’t really want to learn English. That’s what the schools bank on… those students who will be in English classes forever but never improve much.

    I’d suggest that young teachers supplement language school work with private lessons and strive to build up their schedules with their own students. Try getting into companies that do business overseas and by showing them that you can teach English combined with business communications. Don’t let a school set this up for you. Go there and get the job yourself. Market yourself.

    To demand top pay for your lessons, you have to show results. Your students must improve and quickly. When they do, the company will start sending you more work. If the company is paying for the classes, the students are more motivated because their job relies on how well they do. It’s better for you and for the students.

    • This is such good advice! I think marketing yourself to a company is a great option to make a living wages. One difficulty may be finding the ‘facturas’ so that they can bill the classes. If you can get that figured out, I bet this would be the most satisfying and prosperous way to teach in Buenos Aires. Thanks so much for the comment!!

  5. I feel you my love! Teaching is exhausting and teachers are completely underrated. And it can be incredibly expensive to live abroad. I know the feeling and travel (when I get a chance to travel) always empties my bank account. But, it is an amazing experience, so I guess that’s the price we pay. Love you and miss you! PPL

  6. Hi there,

    Thank you for sharing your experience. That having been said, I have a few things to say:

    -I agree with the fact that a person can´t make a living in Buenos Aires out of Teaching in Company. But we can if we hold a teaching degree recognised by our Ministry of Education, hence, being able to apply to vacancies in schools.
    I say we and our, since I am an Argentinian living in Buenos Aires, teacher and translator.

    -My husband is British and he spent his first year and a half in Argentina working as a “teacher in company” and all you say is true. But I can tell, he has never been treated as second hand labour. I, in my young years, did the job myself and I shared my students with plenty of male colleagues. So, I have to apologise for your sad experience. But I also have to say that the unfortunate reply you got does not represent us as a country. Taking one isolated experience, though real and absolutely valid, to describe a nation of over 40 million people is, at least for me, a bit offensive.

    -Finally, what I would recommend, above all things, is that before coming to the country to work on any field, check the immigration requirements and work visa guidance provided in most of the gov sites. That will give a clear picture of what it is requested to enter the country, and will also help to understand that probably coming to the country (or any country) with credentials not accepted or not legalized by the national agency of education will lead to what I call “border employment”. No teacher holding a degree certified by the Ministry of Education in Argentina, will go through such adventures.

    I really appreciate your blog since I met many other girls in your situation and it is true that it can be easily said that it is great to teach English abroad and how easy it may be to find such positions, however, there are many “details” that usually remain secret, such as the ones you provide in this post.

    I wish you the best and really wish your stay in my city had been a better one.

    Best, Laura

  7. I took a TEFL course at IberoTEFL http://www.iberotefl.com in Buenos Aires, Argentina. It was a great opportunity to get to know how everything works in Buenos Aires. Great introduction. I liked it a lot.

  8. Hi there,
    This is very useful advice for those considering teaching English in Argentina. And yes, you’re right, prices have gone up drastically since your post was written! I went to BsAs last month and it is expensive. Right now, Nov 2015, a cup of coffee is more like 30 pesos and a sandwich more like 40-50 pesos now. Wages have gone up, but of course, not enough in relation to rate of inflation.

    I’d like to suggest that people consider the city of Salta, instead of BsAs. It’s in the Northwest, which is a beautiful part of the country.
    I’m currently teaching English here – since Feb 2015 – and it’s great! It’s small enough so travelling about is not a problem, but big enough that there are plenty of things to do. Not as expensive as BsAs and it’s been possible for me to live off my wages. A bit of keeping track of my ingoings and outgoings has made it possible for me to do trips every month or two, and to eat out at restaurants at least once a month. Not spending extravagantly, but living comfortably and happily!
    I’ve written about it on my website – The Mini Explorer – if you want to take a look. I’d definitely recommend Salta! 🙂

  9. I can’t agree more with you but I think it became much worth since the money controls have been implemented in Argentina. I traveled recently to Chile and there you don’t get much for your hard-earned Pesos. I also think that you need to stay for a time, to build your own clientele and then you can make a living. If you work on hourly basis for institutes, you only get a share of what the customer pays.

    However I totally recommend doing the TEFL Certification in Buenos Aires and then move somewhere else. It’s one of the cheapest places to get certified. I paid this year $1,100 at Ailola Buenos Aires and still the quality of the classes has been excellent.

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