… and you say that there’s absolutely nothing that I can say that will deter you from you dream? No horrific anecdote that I can tell you that will discourage you from reconsidering? *Sigh*
Very well. You have come to the right person. I’ve been teaching ESL/EFL for over 11 years, 6 of them in this fine city. By now, I feel that know enough about the field to impart a few pearls of wisdom for those who wish to endeavor the world of teaching English in Argentina.
Teaching English as a foreign language (EFL), English as a second language (ESL), English for speakers for other languages (ESOL), or however you prefer to call it, is a complicated business. If you come to Argentina sight-unseen with unrealistic expectations, I can guarantee you that you will last no more than a year, and will leave Ezeiza pissed off, utterly jaded, and broke. It’s not to say that teaching English (or teaching in general) cannot be rewarding. It absolutely can be. If that weren’t the case, I would have jumped the ESL ship long ago. But be prepared to pay your dues, learn from trial and error, and as they say, “put your faith in God and keep your powder dry.”
Okay, now here are all my juicy tips, the low-down, the good stuff:
First, the “DO NOTS”:
- Do NOT (repeat, DO NOT) work for an institute. As a general rule, almost all institutes are essentially “teacher pimps,” as they make a huge profit off your services while you are making a fraction of what they charge their students. Additionally, the hours are random and highly erratic, an hour here, a couple of hours there, etc. They will always pay you “en negro” (that is, off the books, in cash), but additionally, in some cases, they can totally exploit you, cheat you out of your pay, dismiss you without warning or reason, all of which have happened to me. Because you are working under the table (and very possibly on a tourist visa), your legal rights are limited.
- Likewise, DO NOT become a “monotributista.”. For those who are not familiar with the monotributo system, it basically legally makes you like an independent subcontractor for tax purposes. After your register in the Argentine version of the IRS (known as AFIP), your earnings are put into a bracket and you are taxed monthly based on your range of income. As of mid-December 2014, the minimum monthly amount that is paid to AFIP is AR$429 pesos. The advantage of paying this monotributo tax is that you can write an invoice for classes,which many companies that hire English teachers require. Moreover, if your long-term, intentions are to retire in Argentina, if you pay your monthly taxes for several years, it will eventually become a retirement benefit. The first, most obvious downside of being a monotributista is that it takes a pretty significant chunk out of your earnings (not that you will have much money to spare at the end of each month). Moreover, if you don’t stay current on your taxes, there is of course, a fine and many bureaucratic complications. No one had informed me when I had to sign up for this that I had to make payments, and eventually wound up paying out the nose for it many months (and headaches) later. That, and getting out of the system is a royal pain.
- If you do freelance work (which I successfully did for nearly 3 years), DO NOT bother to teach classes that are too far out of your way. Don’t spread yourself and your classes out too thin. Apart from the fact that you do not get paid for travel time (and usually travel expenses), the Porteño public transportation system is unreliable. Buses and subways and trains go on strike at the drop of a hat. Traffic here can be a formidable nightmare for a variety of reasons. It’s better to stay concentrated in a specific area. Whenever possible, try to have the students come TO YOU in your apartment or meeting place of your choice.
- DO NOT expect to land a sweet university job when you’re fresh off the plane, with no DNI and an elementary level of Castellano. I frequent different ESL/EFL forums online, and am incredulous at some of the forum members who confuse Argentina and Latin America with parts of Asia where they will accept anyone with any degree to teach in a prestigious school or university. The bottom line is that if you do not have a DNI (documento nacional de identificación), you will have limited options, apart from institutes (which you already know not to do!) and freelancing.
- When searching for a job, DO NOT use Craigslist. I know that this may seem surprising or perhaps even counterintuitive. After all, I know people who use CL in the States as frequently as they use Google. But hear me out. Craigslist is generally fine if you are looking for individual students as a freelance tutor/instructor. However, when it comes to actively seeking a position, ojo. Many people and companies who advertise on CL know that most expats don’t know of any other resources to use or have no other frame of reference in terms of what to expect for a salary (speaking once again from painful experience!).
With that being said, here are some of my DOs:
- DO look for employment through an organization other than an institute through the following websites:
- When advertising your services, DO mention that you are a native English speaker (if you are). Highly desirable. Moreover, don’t forget to include other information that sets you apart from the stereotypical expat trying to make a few extra pesos while backpacking through Latin America, calling himself a “teacher.” There is no shortage of English teachers in this city (both native speakers and non-natives), so you really do need a selling point that distinguishes you. This could be an important degree or some sort of certification (not just TEFL). It could be having lived here for an extended period of time, additional experience abroad, or specialities that you may have (including playing a musical instrument, gourmet culinary experience, or teaching a standardized English test, such as the TOEFL or the IELTS). Whatever the case may be, it’s important to find your niche.
- DO have some simple business cards printed out with your contact information and a few bullet points about what you have to offer. Get them double-sided (“doble faz”), with English on one side and Spanish on the other. You can get these done in any “imprenta” in the city. You NEVER know when there might be an opportunity to do some self-promoting, and it’s always far more professional looking to have a business card to offer than hastily jotting your phone number on the back of a random receipt or napkin. Remember that this spiffy-looking card has the opportunity to change hands, which leads me to my next point…
- DO remember that word of mouth is everything. Word gets out, especially when a teacher is particularly rave-worthy. It’s happened to me, and trust me, investing the time in providing quality classes pays for itself many times over (literally and figuratively).
- Whenever possible, DO be picky about your clientele. Once again, this may seem counterintuitive, but speaking from personal experience, it is invaluable and non-negotiable for me. If a student is flaky and doesn’t show up for classes, fire them. Plain and simple. You have that right, keeping in mind the proverb, “He who accepts the insult invites the injury.” Furthermore, speaking from a female’s point of view, follow your gut. If a student gives you the creeps or is simply incompatible with you for whatever reason, it is not worth risking your sanity (or potentially your safety).
- DO give your students the incentive to pay for their classes in advance. There are a few reasons for this. Just like a psychologist, a personal trainer, or any other professional, have a cancellation policy in mind and make the student aware of it from the get go. This will not only help to ensure that your students flake out on you less frequently (“Because it’s raining,” “Because “something” came up,” etc.), but if your livelihood will depend on your teaching classes, you need as dependable an income as possible.
- As cliche as it sounds, DO have fun. Teaching for me is the ideal profession because each day is different from the previous one, I love interacting with people, sharing my language, sharing knowledge, and have even made a couple of friends along the way. I have to be honest- when I work with my students, they are not the only ones who wind up learning a thing or two.
I hope that you found this information helpful Any questions or comments, don’t hesitate to contact me. Suerte! 🙂