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.

Monday, 29 March 2010


Last week was a strange old week on several fronts. Firstly, I managed to bugger up a translation test for a potential client, the second time this has happened recently. As soon as I see the word “test”, my brain seems to freeze and I lose all discernment. I commence mentally hemming and hawing about what to change and what to leave in, often ending up with a text full of awkward phrases that look like one of my English students wrote them. Actually, that is a gross exaggeration, but there’s a sniff of truth to it.

It’s significant that my two main clients never asked me to do a test - they just started sending me projects straight off the bat, and I’ve never looked back. Place the word “test” in the mix and I become a gibbering bell end. I’d therefore ask anybody who wants me to translate anything never to mention the “t” word, lest my fevered brain goes all Chernobyl on me again.

In other developments, after six years of largely peaceful coexistence with the town’s hundreds-strong mendicant community, my mutt Moby finally came up against some quality opposition last Tuesday and came out of it with his pride, and luckily only his pride, somewhat battered.

By the time I saw his assailant, it was already too late. A large grey hound (note the space), he had that look in his eye characteristic of a drunken Millwall supporter on his way to Upton Park – indeed, I’m sure he can probably howl along to No One Likes Us – We Don't Care, and answers to the name Bushwacker. My first instinct was to turn round and run away shrieking for help, but the area was crowded and I can do without some kind of homage to my valour in battle being posted on YouTube by some baseball-capped iPhone user.

Despite having identified 203 vagrant canines on my customary daily route, this specimen I had never come across before. After some tense sniffing, things began to kick off in spectacular fashion. I tried vainly to drag Moby away, but before I knew it he was upside down with jaws firmly clamped around his neck, squealing just like I’d been planning to. I had visions of him losing a chunk of his neck such was the distress he was in, but then one of those bizarre moments that only happen in Brazil occurred.

A large 4x4 drew up and a portly fellow leapt out, and after a split second analysis, he wordlessly stole up on Moby’s attacker from behind and caught him by the tail. I was hopping around unhelpfully at this point, aiming half-hearted kicks at the brute, keen in doing so not to lose a limb below the knee. Then, with a look as surprised as mine, the dangerous dog let go of Moby’s throat and I was able to drag him out of harm’s way.

Or so I thought. Being a little too English, I stopped to thank the Good Samaritan, which only gave the enemy time to regroup, and before I knew it Moby was in his sights once again. On the advice of one of the quite substantial group that had gathered by dint of the commotion (we must have been at least 20-handed by then), I released Moby’s lead and encouraged him to run like buggery, but the fool looked dolefully at me, before launching into a braying scream the likes of which I’ve never heard before from any living creature as fangs clenched once again around a chunk of his rump. Three or four of us tried to release him once again, only for 4x4 man to calmly stroll over, take his position on the tail again, and coax the beast into submission as gracefully as before.

This time, I snapped Moby’s lead back on and headed for a side street before things turned ugly again.

“You know what I did?” the have-a-go hero confided as he hopped back into his vehicle, appearing genuinely thrilled with his improvisation. “I scrunched his pods in my fist,” he chuckled, explaining the dog’s wide-eyed alarm and bringing tears to my eyes.

“You had more balls than me!” I wanted to quip, but that wouldn’t have worked in Portuguese. Like many things.

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Monday, 8 March 2010


Whilst they are thankfully rare, there are times when students manage to genuinely put the fear of God into us. Principally out of desperation, I recently implemented a new strategy to try to keep my pupils' wandering attention away from Biggy Brother Brasil 10 and/or Carnival-themed pornography and firmly fixed on the task at hand, which, if they haven't already forgotten, is learning Engleeesh.

It involves me sending them a text message three times a week with a simple question in English, normally with a model reply of my own. They then respond, presuming they have enough credit, which seems to be becoming an issue for at least 50% of the class.

In reply to my enquiry, "What did you have for lunch today?", I received the following:

"I HAVE WHO MEET A BEUTIFUL CAT" (uppercase letters his own)

Unable to see an obvious connection, and considering correcting him practically impossible, I lamely replied, "Good for you!", imagining that he was translating literally the word "gata" (cat), which round these parts may be employed to refer to a foxy lady. This theory was quickly dismissed as we pressed on with our encrypted communications:

"It is dark and smelly," he stated, directly from leftfield.

I simply couldn't find any words to respond to this, so I sent him a winking emoticon ;-) for lack of any other constructive option.

If he was still referring to the foxy lady, she certainly wasn't sounding quite so beutiful any more, and objectifying her by using the word "it" was a can of worms I wished to maintain firmly shut.

"TODAY I HAD SPAGHETTI," he finally shouted back, causing me to almost weep with relief.

I think it was Yazz who once made the wise observation, "The Only Way Is Up".

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