Chapter One: Santo Domingo
When I moved to Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic four years ago I hadn’t really thought about what I would be doing for money. I knew that I had somehow gotten by in New York for the past thirty years or so, and figured that I would somehow get by there. I had a few months worth of cash to figure something out and wasn’t too concerned at first. Within one week of arriving in the city a neighbor of mine asked me if I would like to teach English at a local University. I made a phone call, took a quick grammar test and was teaching the next week. This first job was with Universidad APEC. APEC has several campuses around the city and I quickly started to learn the layout of the city.
My initial classes were for children and teens, groups of up to thirty, mostly well behaved but there was always one or two that made it a challenge. I made myself available for substitutions, and could usually pick up a few more classes each week. The material was a standard text and workbook, which we followed closely. Although I consider myself fairly well educated, having gotten through law school, and having worked as a writer, I must admit that I had to catch up with my grammar rules. There is a difference between knowing what is right and explaining why. Most students don’t really want to drill on grammar rules and explanations but you can always count on some student asking for a rule or an explanation and looking frustrated with the answer “Because, I say so”. I also took a test for a teaching position at The Dominican-American Institute, I never heard back from them.
After one semester at APEC, working for 100 pesos/hour (US$3). A friend who worked at Verizon gave me the name of a company that gives lessons there. CENLA is a small company that has the Verizon and other business accounts around Santo Domingo. I had a quick interview with them received an increase to 175 pesos/hour, and started teaching small groups and individual classes to managers and executives. This job entailed wandering around Santo Domingo from 7 in the morning until 10 at night, with long breaks during the day. Classes were conducted at the business offices, and occasionally at the homes of clients. I was making about five dollars per hour, paying my own travel expenses and clearing about $1000 per month, in a good month. My wife was also working for the same company, and for a time things were under control, the boss even paid for our family medical plan, and it seemed we were making progress. After one year the boss brought in a management consultant, things started to change, hours were cut, benefits lost, time to move on.
One day, on my way to teach at KPMG, I was riding in the elevator and noticed a teacher with some text books. He was on his way to teach at Gillette and we got to talking, he gave me the number of Progressive English Services. A quick phone call, an interview, a little easy test, and an offer for 215 pesos/hour, a shared cost health plan with pretty good dental. I gave my notice and made the switch. Another raise after 1 year brought my pay up to 265 (about $9US) per hour. I enjoyed working at Progressive, It was a mix of outside classes and groups at the institute, adults, children and teens. I was able to develop my own teaching style at Progressive as their materials are an eclectic mix of handouts and text books that are easily adjusted to the needs of the students.
Getting a job teaching for institutes in Santo Domingo is a very easy task. Surviving on the wages, getting to classes on time, and enduring the grind without losing your cool, is a daunting task. There is an extremely high attrition rate amongst expat English teachers. It not just the flaky nature of expats to begin with, although that does account for maybe 20% of the candidates. It is a rare teacher indeed who makes it through that first year, and finds their way into a career as a TESL teacher. Most of the long term expat teachers I have met are married to locals and have other reasons for being abroad. Many teachers come with romantic notions of life on a tropical island and go running after a month or two. I too ran after a couple of years, to Uruguay where I imagined I could simply pick up where I left off, in a more relaxed environment, out of the frying pan, into the fire…