On Teaching English

I’m personally not a great fan of teaching English, not because I have anything against teaching English in principle, but because I find I don’t care very much whether people learn English or not, so I find it hard to give it my best.  That and the fact that most of the students I’ve worked with here have been kids sent under sufferance by their optimistic/desperate parents because they’ve got an exam next week and everyone’s hoping that I’m somehow going to perform the miracle that makes up for the fact that they spent the rest of the year at school flicking pencils and sending Facebook messages to their mates. 

But I’m coming round to thinking that I might try and do a bit this year, partly because I’m going to have time on my hands when Danny starts nursery (given that I haven’t managed to make any progress at all with my own bureaucratic mine-field).  And in the city here at least, teaching English does make reasonably good mission sense since teaching English is a good way of reaching the nominal/secular Catholics from the middle / professional classes who are the vast majority in San Francisco.  To quote Martin from a recent email… “The evangelical church here exists among the poorer parts of society and therefore the less educated. The Catholic church is much more middle class. Because of this, they tend to think that the Evangelical church lacks theology, is not thought through and is all based on emotionalism. They are so surprised to hear that the Evangelical church in England is mainly middle class. Unlike England, it is socially acceptable to discuss religion and most of my clients are practicing Catholics. So, I can do missionary work there and get paid for it.”

Instituto Londres San Francisco, Córdoba, ArgentinaMartin works for the Instituto Londres (you can find the bones of a website here or slightly more filled in on Facebook)  This is very much a symbiotic relationship; it meant that to start with there was a ready made pool of potential clients, an advertising campaign underway and a physical space to work in, in exchange for the “kudos” of having a native language speaker on the staff list.  A couple of years down the line and he/we could very easily branch out on our own with some existing clients and probably enough contacts to gather a few more.  It might even pay better given that there wouldn’t be an institute taking its cut in the middle.  But, a couple of years down the line we have also discovered that we like the brand, we have friendship and loyalty to the other people involved, and it also cuts out a whole lot of hassle.   Firstly we can slide away from anyone who we don’t want to teach (like reluctant kids being dragged along by their desperate parents) by referring them the institute and that lets us off the hook of either having to take them on personally, or let them down by saying no.  Secondly it means that we aren’t responsible for setting prices or collecting money.  This is quite important here.  San Francisco has an average household income which is twice that of the rest of Argentina, and yet they also perceive us to be millionaires merely by the fact that we have English birth certificates.  Added to which, the Piamonteses (the dominant socio-ethnic group) are also the butt of many “Jewish/ Scottish” type jokes regarding tightfistedness, which all in all means that we have too many times been on the wrong side of a conversation in which members of the pony club are trying to persuade us that we really should be teaching their children English for free because we can afford to and classes are so expense you know darling,…  Yesterday was a case in point,  “But we could have a discount if we just did it privately?”  The real answer might have been “Actually I have no interest in teaching your kids, and as for a discount, not only have you never given me a penny off in your shop, but I’m lucky if I make it out of the door before you have made some just-short-of-barbed comment about los ingleses, so if anyone was going to get a discount it certainly wouldn’t be you”.  So the fact that I am able to say “Actually no, all our work goes through the instituto londres” might mean exactly the same thing in practice, but it sounds so much kinder. 

Leave a Reply