Notes from the TEFL Graveyard

Wistful reflections, petty glories.

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Location: The House of Usher, Brazil

I'm a flailing TEFL teacher who entered the profession over a decade ago to kill some time whilst I tried to find out what I really wanted to do. I like trying to write comedy (I once got to the semi-finals of a BBC Talent competition, ironically writing a sitcom based on TEFL), whilst trying to conquer genetically inherited procrastination... I am now based in Brazil, where I live with my wife and two chins.

Wednesday, 30 July 2008


As I glide towards 40 like a drunken, partially-naked man down a freshly polished bannister, I am resolved to get myself out of TEFL once and for all. She's a siren that has drawn me onto the rocks once too often, and if I don't send her packing with true resolve, I shall be hunched and nervous in the midst of a lengthy midlife crisis.

For this I need to concentrate, and so I have decided to leave the blogalaxy for a while to focus my efforts on regaining some self-esteem through hard labour. I've always fancied the idea of a sabbatical, something totally impossible in TEFL unless you're an eccentric millionaire just in it to chase perfumed foreigners. This time I cannot, and will not fail, according to my wife, Show.

I apologise for not commenting on your blogs recently, but I'm trying to wean myself off spending hours a day reading other peoples' largely brilliant writing, which is something most people do while taking a break from work, rather than instead of work.

This is not adeus, just até mais.

Let's see how long it lasts...

Friday, 25 July 2008


Continuing my public-spirited series of Free TEFL Tips, here is a little list I tossed off last night when none of my students turned up. (Don't worry, I've learned not to take it personally.)

This list is totally personal and does not represent the opinions of any person, real or fictional, except myself.


  1. You will receive a starting salary well below that of fellow undergraduates and it will remain largely unchanged for the rest of the century. Your Gran's earnings will easily outpace your own;

  2. You will be expected to be witty, bouncy and enthusiastic at all times, even if your house has just been repossessed or a favourite pet maimed in a freak glass blowing accident;

  3. You will start seeing caravaning as an economic holidaying alternative;

  4. You will find yourself joining calls for more bicycle lanes;

  5. You will be expected to relentlessly suffer gibbering incognates very gladly indeed;

  6. You will be expected to ditch all opinions that may be construed as individual or offensive to the arms dealers and/or corporate fanatics you are tutoring;

  7. To have any chance of professional progress, you will be expected to fork out large sums of your hard-earned salary on cash cow qualifications that few seem to pass first time;

  8. You will escape to foreign climes only to find that, while, if you're lucky, you're marginally better off financially, the job is exactly the same, only with all the complications that come from living abroad;

  9. Every time you take a day off sick, an effigy of you will be burned by both the teacher who had to replace you and/or the Director of Studies/school owner, who will feel vindicated in their belief that you are a recovering alcoholic who has plunged from the wagon;

  10. You will develop a passion for overwhelmingly desirable and impossibly complicated foreigners, and pine away into an emotional sack thing when they inevitably leave you for somebody real;

  11. You will spend your days feeling like a hamster on a wheel. A hamster on a wheel of a heavy goods vehicle.

Before I am accused of negativity, I shall soon be scraping together a list of reasons to suck TEFL and see.

Monday, 21 July 2008


The municipal elections take place in October of this year, but campaigning has already begun. Every day, including Sunday, between the hours of 9am and 10pm, baseball-hatted clowns are driving around town belching out some of the worst electoral jingles ever scrawled on somebody's hand during a bender in Pirapora do Bom Jesus. They are uniformly degrading of the political classes (if that's possible to any greater extent than they manage themselves), and my prediction is that it could lead to an outbreak of random knifings, particularly if I don't find professional help soon.

When I was a child, local elections were greeted in our leafy English suburb by a lone Ford Cortina containing a member of the ruling class meekly urging voters to, "Vote Conservative, you know it makes sense". In a scandalous (to me then) attempt at vote-buying, the Tories once offered my mother a lift to the polling station, only for her to vote for the SDP, making it the closest she's ever come to civil disobedience. But Brazilian elections are handled in an entirely louder, more strident manner.

The jingles range from the Brazilian sertanejo-style country music (the current Mayor's effort at re-election), to the warbling Whitney Houston-style homage to everything kitsch (some other candidate) and a more samba-laden number from one of the others. The lyrics are really what inspire, however. As each candidate has a five-figure number, some fairly ludicrous rhymes are concocted. My personal favourite remains one that assaulted our senses during the last round of local elections, involving the coupling of the number 7 (sete, pronounced setch-y) with the word lanchonete, or snack food establishment (pronounced lan-shon-etch-y), due to the candidate's ownership of the same. It proved a tragic tune, nay his requiem, in fact, as in the middle of his mandate, the victorious vereador (local councillor) was ruthlessly gunned down as he opened the same lanchonete one morning. Politics is not for the faint-hearted, or indeed the unarmed, round these parts.

Personally I thought it was an overreaction - there were far worse jingles during that election campaign, that stood out for their unimaginative time signature, deeply inane lyrics and failure to spark anything but an apathetic torpor. If I were a candidate, I would avoid meeting a violent end by employing the sublime composing skills of the Legend of Olinda, Alceu Valença.

I doubt he'd accept, though.

Friday, 18 July 2008


Thursday, 10 July 2008


Recently, the local papers have been filled with the gap-toothed grins of local dignitaries posing next to piles of loose chippings, newly asphalted roads or bleak locals holding a length of soon-to-be-installed sewer pipe. The explanation for this explosion of civic progress? Why, it's election year.

As we are fortunate enough to live in a bairro nobre da cidade, we have been particularly blessed by the politicians' eagerness to gain the votes of the literate. No sooner had the grass verge the length of our whole avenida been planted with 100 cherry blossom trees to mark the centenary of Japanese immigration (<little-known fact>: the largest Japanese population outside Tokyo is in São Paulo</little-known-fact>), than the sides of the same avenue are, as I type, being graced with palm trees of varying health and height.

Whilst this crude vote-courting is broadly welcome, it does, as most things around here, suffer from an almost total lack of planning. An attempt to gentrify a piece of wasteland near our house by planting a hotch-potch of undergrowth and making an inordinate number of concrete benches (upon which only the infirm in transit and stray dogs appear to rest their aching bones) gives weight to my opinions (see photo). The low walls demarcating the beds of limp flora alone look like the result of a well-intentioned, but ultimately overly ambitious, infant school outing.

The gardens of secure psychiatric institutions are probably subject to better horticultural practices than this, for obvious reasons. The only possible feelgood factor arising from sitting drunk on one of the concrete seats commemorating another six months of unemployment, whilst gazing at the sorry state of the not so hardy perennials, can be the thought that "life could be worse, I could have a withered limb and be dying of neglect too".

In fact, this photo was taken since the replanting of the entire area. Rather than waste time and effort looking after the plants, every couple of months short, grubby men appear in a flat-bed truck and remove the dead plants and replace them with dying ones.

And the brass band plays. I, for one, shall not be voting for any of them. I'm not allowed to. But I wouldn't anyway. Technically, I'd have to, because it's compulsory, but I'd scrawl "less gardens, more jobs!" on my ballot paper in protest. But I've just remembered that they use electronic voting here...

And they call it a democracy...

Monday, 7 July 2008


Having spent the last six years bobbing about in the Sea of Unbridled Chaos that is the largest country in South America, it has been a revelation to me over the past few days that the nation still has the potential to surprise, if not delight.

On Thursday I found it impossible to use my Internet connection as I received the repeated message, "Access denied: username and password not recognised." Imagining it was a temporary glitch, I resolved to try later, and again received the same succinct message. I decided to call the boobie-run, Spanish-owned Telefonica to find out why their laughably-titled Speedy service was even less so than normal.

The first time I called, I was informed by a recorded message to press 8 for Speedy services. After doing that, another recording told me to dial different number, which was babbled incoherently once before the line went dead. I hastily scribbled what I thought was the number in the message, but, of course, it wasn't as I got another, "number unrecognised" message when I called it.

I dialled the original number again, only for it to hang interminably and not get through to anyone. I called again, sat through the whole menu business again and managed to jot down the correct number. When I called this one, I got an engaged tone the first time and some relaxing piano solo the second time, which made me wonder if I'd got through to a secluded corner of a sophisticated piano bar in Grenoble by sheer luck. As relaxing as the music was, the lack of human input led me to hang up and stab redial with growing emotion.

Eventually, after several more attempts, I was informed that the system had indeed crashed and should be back by 1pm. I managed to access the Internet only between 2 and 3pm the next day.

Since then, my connection has been dead, now for a little over three days. The mendacious halfwits at Telefonica published a dignified, full-page, half-truth-ridden apology in the Sunday papers, regretting the inconvenience and informing the people that, although 50% of the entire state of São Paulo had lost their Internet connection, including public services and, most worryingly, the Polícia Civil, due to a worker in nearby Sorocaba spilling his coffee over a router or something, normal services had been restored by 11.30 pm last Thursday.

I am writing this from a cybercafé, surrounded by adolescents furtively seeking adult thrills or eagerly machine gunning each other as if they were in the Polícia Militar.

I would promise to keep you posted, but that would be something of an empty gesture.

Thursday, 3 July 2008


Am cold, busy and fretful. More soon.

(We were visiting the castle in Pomerania and our guide asked us to belt out a number. Most of the choir were sobbing by the end, but I remained masculine and Anglo Saxon. It's Morten Lauridsen's O Magnum Mysterium, in case you don't recognise it... I'm the shadowy one with the shiny forehead.)