A lot of people plan and prepare for their long-held dream of teaching abroad, but others just kind of fall into it. Heather Morrison, a resident of New Hampshire, USA, became one of those 'unexpected' English teachers. In our interview with her, she shares her experiences and advice for those thinking about teaching English abroad.
Hi Heather! So, why Brazil?
When I realized that my husband had finished all the coursework for his PhD and just needed to write his dissertation, it hit me that this would be the perfect time to make our dream of living abroad for a year a reality.
When we first started seriously talking about it, I first suggested Thailand, but he insisted on at least having an alphabet he could recognize. Then out of the blue I said how about Brazil? And he just said sure!
So then we kicked the planning into high gear and four months later. we were boarding the plane.
How did you decide on Florianópolis?
Once we were settled on Brazil, then we started narrowing down the options based on finding the right school for our 8-year-old daughter to attend.
Back home she goes to a Waldorf school, a particular philosophy of education that originated in Germany. As it turns out, there are a lot of German immigrant communities in Brazil and quite a few Waldorf schools as well. Most of them are in Sao Paulo, but we knew we didn't want to live in a concrete jungle with high crime rates.
We dug deeper and found the perfect, small Waldorf school that turned out to be on an island we'd never even heard of. So that's how we ended up in subtropical paradise.
By the way, our daughter is now totally fluent in Portuguese. My husband and I? Not so much.
What did you do to prepare for teaching English?
That's the ironic thing – nothing! I wasn't even planning on teaching English when we first arrived. I didn't really know what I was going to do for work.
After arriving in Brazil, I realized my options were going to be limited because I came on a tourist visa rather than a work visa, which is much harder to get. I visited a couple of the language schools in our neighborhood, and they loved it that I was a native English speaker, but it was also clear they weren't going to hire me without a work permit.
Then one day I stopped by a private tutoring center and the director there was so happy to meet me – she had been hoping to meet an American who could help her out with the increasing number of students taking private lessons from her.
I had no formal TEFL qualification but I do have extensive teaching and tutoring experience which I used as the backbone for my new job. Since the majority of teaching in this instance was conversational practice we managed to make it work, playing to my strengths despite my lack of formal training.
What advice do you have for others thinking about teaching English abroad?
Well, first of all, if you know that's what you want to do, make it official by at least getting a TEFL certificate of some kind, as well as the right kind of visa so you can work in an official capacity. If one of those two things is missing then you need to start getting creative.
It's useful to know that just by doing a bit of networking and poking around, it really is pretty easy to get yourself set up tutoring individuals privately, which can also be a great way to supplement your other work if you have an 'official' job too. The key is just getting out there in the community, meeting people and talking to them. You'll be surprised how many of them want to learn English, or know of others who do. If there are colleges nearby, many times the students are required to do at least some of their writing in English, so editing their papers is also a way to make a buck.
It's all casual, cash-in-hand work so it lacks the long term security that some might desire but it helps many a travelling English teacher pay their way and stay in paradises like this that little bit longer.