Saturday, June 19, 2010

My Teaching Experience

My teaching experience in Buenos Aires was as different as I expected it to be from that of Ankara.  In Turkey we were put up in some pretty nice digs on the university campus, with return airfare, health insurance and meal tickets to boot.  It was also (supposedly) Turkey's most prestigious university, a gargantuan, not-so-smoothly-oiled machine of bureaucracy.  On the other hand, my quest to find a job as an EFL teacher in Buenos Aires, while not lengthy, involved a bit more elbow grease, such as a lot of emailing and hoofing it round in an Argentine summer to various institutes, resume/CV in hand.

As providence had it, one of the apartments I went to see--and which I eventually chose--also happened to double as an English institute in the room above our place, the director (and half of the staff) also being the landlady of the apartment.  But that would only provide me with enough hours to fill half the week, so I had to keep looking.  Fortunately within three weeks of arriving I'd landed a job at IdiomaNet, a business English institute on Viamonte in the financial district of downtown Buenos Aires.  This turned out to provide the lion's share of my teaching, but it was nice to be able to finish the day's teaching above my apartment and to already be home.

I won't lie and say teaching English in Buenos Aires is anywhere near as lucrative as elsewhere in the world, for example as it can be in the Middle East or the Far East.  But nor was I nearly as bad-off as many local people, so I couldn't really complain.  If I'd wanted to I could have survived on what normal hours of teaching would have made me.  But it didn't take long to determine that if I wanted to travel around Argentina and the rest of South America a bit I would have to work as many hours as they could give me.  So I did.  No two days were the same in terms of schedules, but some went from 8.30 am to 9.30 pm, and none ended before 7.30 pm.  This wasn't solid teaching throughout the day, however; the system worked as follows.  IdiomaNet would either host classes at the institute, or if the company preferred (remember it was all business English), send the teacher to their company building, where the class would take place.  I would get the train into Retiro every morning, and walk to the institute, where several days of the week I taught my first class.  Otherwise I would get a bus from Retiro straight to whatever company I was teaching my first class at.  Throughout the day I was constantly crisscrossing the city on its underappreciated but very overused, extensive network of buses.

Depending on the particular day and hour, this could mean stopping for a leisurely coffee or lunch someplace in between classes, or, as was more often the case, a mad dash for the bus stop the second I could get out of class in order to ensure I got to the next class on time.  The upside of this system was that it was rarely monotonous and I got to (if in a sort of perverse way) 'see' some of the city.  The downside was that we didn't get paid for our travel time, of course, nor were we reimbursed for the insane amount of bus fares that inevitably added up.  More frustrating even than that is that the bus system, at least the vast majority of lines while I was there, operated on a coins-only basis, which meant you were constantly having to either a. make sure you had enough coins to last the day before you left home or b. buy chewing gum and other sundry items you didn't need throughout the day in order to have enough coins!  Of course this latter option (which I inevitably had to resort to on most occasions) meant shrewdly calculating, at a frantic pace while rushing for the next bus, what item you could buy, based on the bill denominations you had in your wallet, that would mean the vendor would give you enough change for the bus, but not so much that he or she could give you a bill back, thus stymying your efforts to make your next lesson on time because you couldn't take the bus or had to make another useless (and increasingly expensive) purchase.

It all worked out in the end.  I made some friends through my classes, which were a lot more relaxed and low-key than in Turkey, since in Turkey we were not supposed to 'fraternize' with the students.  Their words, no joke.  There were also plenty of good-natured and somewhat heated debates on the various pros and cons of Spanish vs. English, to say nothing of all the political, sporting, business, cultural, gossip, religious, and philosophical bases we touched on.