Chapter Two: TEFL in Uruguay
After my experiences teaching in Santo Domingo I imagined that teaching in Uruguay would be pretty much the same. Considering that the climate would be more temperate and that the people are known for their commitment to education, I was looking forward to an easier life. I assumed that I could easily recreate my success and find a job quickly. What I discovered is that not all Latin American countries afford the same opportunities and that cultural differences can sometimes become an insurmountable obstacle. I had been surprised at the few mentions of TESL opportunities in Uruguay, compared to other countries there was not much discussion going on, on the TESL forums and blogs. I figured that it was simply because of Uruguay’s size that it is generally overlooked, under the radar. In my ignorance, and looking for the silver lining, I believed that meant that a niche needed to be filled!
As I write this, I realize that my experience here so far may be tainted with failure, and that things may reverse themselves, I will let you know if my opinion changes. Just as in my last country in the first week of arrival my neighbor gave me a phone number to call for an English institute just down the block. I made the call, had a nice chat, and was very excited to start my teaching in Montevideo. The interview did not go well. I was very surprised at the confrontational manner of the director and the institute’s commitment to drilling the students in preparation for their tests. I had developed my teaching skills and business along the lines of useful conversation and content focused discussion, creating a fun and interactive atmosphere in the classroom. This is not what you find in Uruguay. It seems that the schools and the students as well, expect strict and structured drill in preparation for the “Level Tests”. The level tests are standardized exams that are a must pass for advancement in one’s career. It seems that here in Uruguay you’re not really marketable without a certificate, and this fact has colored the perception of what is useful in education. The sad fact remains that many who pass the highest levels, still lack the skills of basic conversation.
Not one to be deterred so easily, I believed that I simply needed to keep on looking, and would find the right school and an administrator who would compliment my approach. I kept on asking around and networking, e-mailing and calling. I landed a few more interviews, this time out in Maldonado, not far from where we had settled in Piriapolis. It took me one month of working for an institute out there to realize that there was no way I could keep up the commute, leaving at 6am for morning classes and returning at 11pm. Also the salary that was negotiated at the interview was not honored and due to a “misunderstanding” I was being paid 87 pesos/hour, about $4.30 US. I was really looking for a way to gracefully quit that job, when at the end of the month I was handed a pink slip! Didn’t really see that one coming, some of my students complained that I wasn’t addressing the level tests, that I was focusing more on learning how to speak, enjoy and communicate. Some of my students had approached me about private lessons, and perhaps the director didn’t like that idea. I’ll never really know why, but it wasn’t a good outcome.
Perhaps there are other local institutes that I might be able to work for, and maybe I could find a situation teaching in companies that would work for me. I have made some calls and sent some e-mails, but the connections aren’t developing the way they had in the past. I sense that things are difficult in Uruguay for ESL teachers…