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.

Thursday, 12 March 2009


I'm tempting fate with this one, but I really am quite busy. Good luck!
  1. Move to a Third World country;
  2. Cry yourself to sleep for the first six years as a penniless TEFL teacher;
  3. In desperation, try to learn to become a Web Developer;
  4. Give up trying to become a Web Developer;
  5. Listen to your wife’s suggestion to use the skills you already have, instead of bumbling around trying to learn new ones * – then stubbornly ignore it;
  6. Try to become a Web Developer again;
  7. Give up trying to become a Web Developer again and return to point 2;
  8. Decide to use the skills you already have, instead of bumbling around trying to learn new ones – and pretend it was all your idea;
  9. Become a translator and charge just below global market rates;
  10. Sit back and enjoy profiting from the economic chaos that has engulfed the planet and turned exchange rates in your favour, like a Bond villain, or summat;

* Expletives removed for the sake of human decency.

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Tuesday, 3 March 2009


I have to admit that, over the years, I have developed a robust loathing of banks, perhaps because my late father, and his late brother, both worked for one, neither of them ever having a good word to say about them.

Towards the end of my father’s career, bank employees went from being administrators of customers’ finances to being salespeople, something he simply couldn’t abide. Elderly customers always sought him out for his wisdom, patience and genuine credibility, and this relationship of trust was totally undermined by his being expected to sell them something at every opportunity, he felt.

His exasperation grew as he neared retirement, to the point that, in one of those horrible motivational meetings only the David Ickes of this world can possibly find uplifting, the manager goaded staff that they simply weren’t selling enough insurance.

[Name of high-street bank] makes enough bloody profit as it is!” my father protested, taking the stand that I think I still most admire him for today.

Swiss banks are particularly hateful institutions. Hiding behind the concept of “discreet banking”, their unidentifiable accounts are havens for the pillaged billions of African dictators, South American “politicians” and sundry money launderers and criminal organisations worldwide. The sooner this hypocritical veil of supposed "sophistication" is removed, the better, in my humble opinion.

The current financial crisis has just served to demean banks even further. Their reckless baboonery got us into this mess, taxpayer’s cash has been used to bail them out, and all of us are paying the price through job losses and economic turmoil.

One of my favourite students was the carioca Marcelo, who unfortunately has found a new job in São Paulo and no longer attends his one-to-one classes with me. He told me the following story, which made him my instant personal hero.

One day his bank sent him a letter telling him that the manager wanted to see him urgently. Always meticulous about his finances, he worried that there had been some kind of problem with his account, or that he’d been victim of identity theft or some other kind of fraudulent activity so common here, so he was in the queue before the bank opened the next morning, having had a restless night.

“No, sorry, I don’t understand,” he told the salesgirl for the fifth time. Drawing a deep breath, she started on the sixth rendition of her well-rehearsed sales pitch.

At the end, Marcelo stopped and thought. “So, if I understand you correctly, you’re telling me I have R$ 2,000 in credit, instantly available to me. If I decide to take this, I’ll be paying you interest on it at double the rate you pay me interest on the money I keep in my account, which I make available to your bank for your bank to invest and make profits from.”

“Well... yes...”

Marcelo asked her to summon the Manager.

“You shall NEVER, EVER call me here again,” Marcelo addressed the oaf who shortly after appeared, suit and tie disguising his recent emergence from a nearby boteco, “and if you do, I’m going to sue you for loss of earnings, because I’m a salesman and I earn while I’m working, not while I’m wasting my time in a bank. This time I’m going to let it go,” he said, “but I’m not leaving this bank until you’ve paid me for my car parking.” Like a schoolboy caught doing unnatural things in the bathroom sink, the Manager scurried off to deduct some money from somebody’s wages.

If I’d been there I’d have broken into spontaneous applause, which I imagine may have become a ripple, then a torrent, as all the sweaty bank customers acknowledged this everyday hero, like in an American film where the one-legged geek finally stands up to the bullying jock, and gets the cheerleader.

Or summat.

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