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.

Tuesday, 4 September 2007


One of the many things I love about Brazil is the copious use of nicknames, which are often creative and humorous and help to forge informal bonds of friendship, even affection. A couple of years ago, during an all-too-brief interlude, I actually worked doing something other than teaching English (before my cover was blown and I was unceremoniously defrocked – more about this another time.) I had muddled my way into the Human Resources department of a large Brazilian metallurgical company, immediately receiving the sobriquet, “Chuck Norris”, due to the surly, if not exactly intimidating, photo on my company id badge.

Every large Brazilian company has to have an Internal Committee for the Prevention of Accidents, or CIPA, whose members are elected by co-workers. When the list of candidates circulated the factory it was a positive orgy of name-calling. As virtually nobody in the factory was known by the name they were christened with, the list had to include the contender’s real name and its more informal alternative, in order that the candidate be identified. Some favourites for election were “Cuecão” (Whopping Underpants), “Telemensagem” (Telemessaging?!) and “Carequinha” (Diminutive Slaphead).

My favourite ever nickname, however, belonged to a TEFL teacher, R, who went by the mysterious moniker “Ticket”. After a couple of summers running into him in various pubs I eventually discovered the origin of his abstract title. He had been teaching a closed group of Spanish teenagers and at the end of one lesson he had entered the staff room with a bemused look on his face. He had approached my friend D and confided, “Something really weird just happened in class. All the students kept calling me “Ticket”.” D hadn’t revealed the truth immediately, preferring to leave R to wander from colleague to colleague trying to find out if he was the only victim of this queer form of persecution.

Later, in the pub, the truth was revealed. D had taught the same group just before R and had made an underhand arrangement with them. They had established that, when answering R’s questions, they would append “Dickhead” onto the end of every response - given their marked Spanish accent, “Dickhead” had become “Ticket” to R’s unsuspecting ear.

As a reflection of how mud sticks, and how fast news travels in the Internet age, when R left to winter in Spain, much to everyone’s delight, a Spanish-speaking school secretary that called to offer him teaching work asked for “Señor Ticket”. At least, they think she said Ticket...



Blogger The TEFL Tradesman said...

Ah, that reminds me. Many years back I was doing a summer school, and there was the ever-so obligatory 'fashion show', in which teams of students had to make original-looking items from rubbish like bin-bags, sticky-tape and cooking foil, etc, and then parade them in front of their peers.

Well, there was one loner, a Spaniard or a Venezuelan if I remember well, who refused to co-operate or do any group work. He sat at the back, as surly as ever, and just ignored the whole thing.

Then, when a staff team appeared, featuring a teacher with a very short skirt and equally nice legs (female, of course), he started shouting 'puta, puta!', thinking nobody would understand his name-calling.

Fortunately I did, and at the end of the show I pulled him over and asked him, in Spanish of course, why the fuck we was calling my colleague a whore. He just sneered - until I told him I was going to cal, his parents and tell them what I'd seen!

As he had been such a despicable runt of a student for the entire course, I did just that. His parents claimed to be shocked - I just wished I could believe it - but he wasn't too keen to go home at the end of the week!

4 September 2007 at 13:48  

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