Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Teaching- Part One

Since my last blog, I have moved into a new apartment...and I can’t begin to tell you how nice it is not to have tramps chilling outside my front door (and then of course there was the human shit incident, which I would quite like to forget!). I now live with my Brazilian friend Kiko, and we have quite an eccentric landlord. The guy is in his 50’s, and he had previously told me his twenty-something-year-old daughter is an actress on a popular Brazilian soap. So within the first few days of being in our new apartment, we were sat in his study about to sign our leases for the apartment.

My eyes were drawn to a picture of a blonde woman in a photo frame on his desk. This woman was leaning (a little inappropriately!) over a banister with a low cut dress on, and to fill the silence I asked, “is this your daughter?” I certainly wasn’t expecting the reply that followed, “No Andrew, this is not my daughter. That is my wife”.  AWKWARD! He then explained how his daughter is about the same age as his wife.

Our landlord’s front door is just a few meters from ours, and whenever he wants to speak to either me or my friend, instead of just knocking, he will walk over to the frosted glass window on the door, and press his face up against it. I guess this way he can check if anyone is moving before he knocks! Only he doesn’t knock, he stands there and calls out our names (with his face still pressed against the window!). As you can imagine, the curtain over the door is now permanently drawn! 

View from the window of my school.

So let me describe a little bit about the world of English teaching in Sao Paulo to you. When I realised my life in telesales was coming to an end, (around the same time that I was so poor I had to stop myself rummaging through other peoples bin bags for food!), I seriously began looking into teaching English full time. Because Brazil is a third world country, I had previously been under the impression teaching was not going to be very well paid over here. However it quickly became apparent to me that this was not necessarily the case, and that I would certainly be able to support myself teaching.

I spent four years teaching in Japan, and it would be fair to say a large portion of my adult students tended to be quite quiet in class, and if you explained something to them, then asked if they understood...and answer of 'yes' didn’t always mean they had really understood. Often you would have to check this, to ensure they weren’t simply trying to save face in front of the other students.

However, my Brazilian students aren’t in the slightest bit embarrassed about letting me know they don’t understand. One of the things that shocked me the most within my first few classes here, was when I was teaching a man and a woman in their 30s. The guy I was talking to mispronounced a word, and after he had finished talking, I told him to be careful...because to me it sounded like he had said the word ‘slag’. I explained this was a bad word, and then attempted to move on to the next section of the text book. However, as soon as I had said this, I noticed the woman’s eyes had lit up, and she asked “so what does slag mean?”

As I explained to this business executive that ‘a slag’ was a negative term for a woman who enjoys sex, and has multiple sexual partners, she smiled. Then responded by asking, “well....what’s negative about that? As long as she isn’t taking money for sex, this isn’t a bad thing!” I’m British, and get embarrassed a lot easier than I would like when talking about things like this in formal settings. And as my face turned a light shade of red, it was at this moment I realised that teaching in Brazil would be a whole different ball game to the one I had been used to!
 Yet I do not want to give the impression that my experience was that ALL of my Japanese students were shy, quiet and reluctant to reveal anything about themselves. This was simply not the case, as one of the most shocking things I have had to deal with happened in a Japanese classroom!

Nova-The first school I worked at in Japan
 (obviously I couldn't put a picture up of
the woman who had had a smear test!)

I learnt that the Japanese have no qualms about letting you know all about their aliments! I remember on more than one occasion respectable middle aged women going into detail about how they were unable to enjoy their weekend because of really bad diarrhoea! And don’t even get me started on the woman who brought pictures the doctors had taken....internally....of her intestines! 
Whilst I have yet to discuss smear tests with my Brazilian students, I have definitely also been shocked during some of my classes over here. I was once asked by an older lady, “do you like bitches?” Turns out the 'ee' and 'i' sound is difficult for them to differentiate. So this woman wasn’t actually enquiring about my choice of hoes!
Also, a lot of people have told me about affairs they have had....and it took me a while to work out they simply just meant relationships (with single people), and that they were not telling me about the married men and women they were sleeping with!
I had a student ask me, in front of the rest of the class, with a straight face, if I wanted to see a picture of his fantasy! As he pulled out his camera phone to show me the picture, I gasped in horror! Thankfully though, over here fantasy simply refers to a fancy dress costume, so he showed me a picture of him in his carnival costume...and not a picture of Angelina Jolie in a gimp mask or something!
However nothing tops the class I gave to the owner of a security firm. He was explaining to me how advanced security systems are nowadays in airports; and to illustrate his point, he put his backpack on the table. He then told me how someone would only need to scan the top of the bag with a high tech device to find out what is inside the whole bag. He then said “for example, they could easily detect my gun at the bottom of this bag, without even looking inside”. At that, he pulled out his pistol and casually put it on to the table (next to his textbook). Well, I absolutely SHIT myself! I later told my boss about this, who said to me “I’m sorry Andrew; we should have warned you! He likes to get his gun out for the new teachers!” 
It is illegal for Brazilian’s to carry guns around with them unless they have a licence, and I guess the nature of this guy's job meant it was necessary for him to have one. So it’s really not common for people to be carrying guns around with them in Sao Paulo. Luckily!
The guy had blatantly done this to get a reaction out of me, and it had worked! And of course...I couldn’t fault his English at all for the rest of our class!