Sunday, April 7, 2013

Teaching English in Brazil (interview)

Image courtesy of Ohmega1982/

This is an interview with an American teacher who works in Brazil.  (It's anonymous simply because she prefers to keep a low profile online.  She's a good friend of mine and I appreciate her willingness to share her experiences.)

Generally speaking, how is Brazilian culture different from American culture, and how is it similar?

Brazilian culture places a high value on sociability and getting along.  It's an outwardly warm and affectionate culture.  I have personally rarely seen an individual Brazilian 'creating a fuss' over a wrong-doing.  An example of the desire to keep the peace was when I tried to return a broken necklace to the boutique where I bought it.  

I was told by the store manager that it could be exchanged only. When I questioned this and did not back down, the manager told me she would call the store owner to see if the policy could be changed just this once and went into a back room. She had actually called the mall security and within a few minutes the guards came to quietly escort me out of the store.  

A strong similarity between the two cultures is that they are both part of the New World and populated by immigrants from all over the world.  There is a blending of many cultures, people,  and beliefs in Brazil, similar to what you would find in the U.S.

Did anything surprise you about teaching at an American school in Brazil?

Most of the students are Brazilian who enter the school in pre-K and become bilingual over the years, even though there may be no English spoken in their homes.  That was amazing to me!

What advice would you give to someone who wants to teach in an American school overseas?  

Most American schools overseas and international schools recruit teachers through various organizations which host hiring fairs throughout the year.  Most of the hiring occurs at these fairs, so attending one is the best way to get a job.  The most popular recruitment organizations that I know of are:

Association of American Schools in South America (they specialize in recruiting for American and international schools in South and Central American, the Caribbean, and Mexico.)  

Search Associates

International Schools Services

University of Northern Iowa Overseas Placement Service

I recently reviewed Quiet, by Susan Cain.  Have you read the book?  Do you consider yourself more of an introvert or an extrovert? 

I consider myself more of an introvert, especially after having read the book.  I identified with most of it! 

As a teacher, do you find any advantages to being an introvert?

I feel as I teacher I am pretty sensitive to my students.  I am able to interpret their facial expressions and non-verbal communication and adjust my teaching as needed.  I can see the questioning, raised eyebrows in the back of the room and know that Esther needs me to slow down and go over things again.  

Do you agree with Susan Cain's perspective on teaching introverts? 

Absolutely.  In fact, after reading her book, I could look back and clearly see why through middle school I did terribly in math.  The teachers taught a lot of content through competitive games which required quick 'thinking on your feet' problem solving.  I thought I was slow in math until high school when I finally had a teacher who taught things in a very methodical way, not moving forward until each student was at the same point.  She also maintained an orderly and quiet classroom.  

Do most of your students seem more introverted or extroverted?  How does this manifest itself in the classroom?

In Brazil, I am working with mostly Korean students, whose parents have moved here to work at a Korean company.  Susan Cain, in Quiet, devotes a whole chapter to talking about Asian-Americans and how certain cultures are either more extroverted or introverted both through nature and nurture.  

My Korean students come from classrooms in their country where a student didn't speak out, direct eye contact with teachers was considered inappropriate, and a teacher was never questioned. Most of the teachers at our school really struggle with this type of classroom behavior from the Korean kids. 

Have you changed your teaching in any way as a result of reading the book?

Absolutely!  Now I know that it's okay to ask for and make accommodations  for my students who are introverts.  

I am frequently in English or social studies classrooms with my English as a second language students, and I often find that my brain shuts down as soon as the teacher puts on music.  Teachers often do this during 'desk work' time when students are reading and writing.  This is exactly the time when I need quiet.  I see in the faces of many of my students that they also can't work when the music is on.  I've talked to the content teachers about this and you would be surprised with the looks of shock and...gee...are you weird or what?

In the age of differentiation and thinking about our students as individuals, we need to consider introversion and extroversion as another way to tap into bringing out the best in our students.  

What does "mindful teaching" mean to you?  Do you have a mindfulness practice, and if so, how does it help you in your work?

I think a mindfulness practice for me is not something I do consciously.  I feel balanced and in sync with the world when I can pay attention to what I´m doing.  That means not rushing around too much or multi-tasking and being aware of each moment of the day.  

This applies to my teaching.  When I´m with my students my goal is to focus on them and make them the agenda, not my syllabus or materials and ´what I need to get through each day´.  I´ve worked in different schools and programs that have made that easier or harder to do.  My current job gives me the flexibility to go at my students´ pace.  I can pay attention to them and focus on their needs each day. 

related posts:

Teaching English in Turkey (interview) 

English Language Teaching in Central Asia (interview)

Quiet (recommended book)

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