I began my career as an English teacher back in 2013 with a TEFL course in the UK. That simple short course has turned out to be invaluable on my travels around Latin America and has enabled me to find work in several different countries. Although I had little to no experience as a teacher, I was delighted to discover that the TEFL certificate and the simple fact of being a native English speaker was enough to guarantee me work almost wherever I went. In fact in many cases they didn’t even ask me for the TEFL certificate.
At the beginning when I arrived in Santiago, Chile I found there was an immediate demand for my services doing private classes. Once the word got out I found a steady trickle of private students were keen to work on their English with a native speaker, especially a British one. In Latin America British English is often thought to be a superior form of English, kind of the ‘expensive brand’ in comparison with US English. I don’t happen to agree with that, as I think that English is basically English and can be spoken well or poorly wherever you go. But whatever the case may me, if you are from the UK this can definitely work to your advantage.
I then started exploring other options, looking for something more regular and formal. As much as the private classes were a lot of fun and could be quite well-paid, they were also often unreliable. The good news was, there were plenty of options available, mostly through ‘institutes’, which are private organizations offering language course to adults, and in many cases organised as official classes through work. I was lucky enough to sign up with one of the better ones, despite my almost total lack of experience and got started right away with small groups and one-on-one classes.
I found it to be a lot of fun and also quite educational for me personally. I liked to think my level of English was pretty good, but I soon discovered I actually had quite a lot of holes in my grammar. With my first English teaching job though, they provided very structured courses comprising individual classes each covering a separate grammar topic. This allowed me to look good in front of my students and never be at a loss for words, as I always had a handy reference in front of me. It also gradually filled in all my blanks as regards grammar and drilled them in through sheer repetition.
Later on I decided to embark on some further travels and used my initial experiences with teaching in Chile as a springboard and set off for Bolivia. I worked for a few months in a school, which was very different experience and somewhat more challenging, dealing with groups of older kids and teenagers. In Peru I picked up some private students and some larger professional classes in several different locations in Cusco and Lima and eventually put together quite a varied CV in only 2 or three years. I wouldn’t compare myself to a ‘proper’ teacher, who has done all the professional training and has jumped through all the required hoops. Indeed, I doubt I would be able to get paid teaching work in the UK on the strength of my work experience in Latin America. However it would be more than enough to find well-paid work in many countries around the world which are looking for native speakers with teaching experience as the main criteria. That’s good news for those of us who are looking to jump right in despite limited qualifications as a teacher and need an immediate means of funding travels in different countries.