SAYING GOODBYE

Letting Go | Hoffman Institute
Letting go is bittersweet

The act of saying goodbye has bittersweet notes. There’s always the excitement, the glad anticipation of a new student starting and that strange feeling when it’s time for you to say goodbye to a student.

Teachers and students traditionally say goodbye at the end of the term. That’s expected and part of the program. In the case of the relationship between private teacher and student the situation is rather different. The duration of a language coaching program has no pre-fixed termination date and it quite often flourishes and goes on for years. It’s like a therapy process (it sure feels that way). It’s an amazing feeling to observe how students grow in the process. But all good things must come to an end.

Saying Goodbye to a Client. – Florida CAM Courses
A bittersweet feeling

This week I’m saying goodbye to two long-time students. Student A is leaving because the bank he works for has acquired an “automated platform” for English learning where staff may do exercises and in case of questions consult with an online “teacher”. NO NEED FOR REGULAR CLASSES WITH ANOTHER HUMAN. Student A had been having classes for over 3 years and was successfully developing his listening skills. But it was slower than he would have expected or wanted – it took him all this time to go through level A2 – next semester he would be starting his B1 level. His progress would have been faster had he been fully committed to the program – but at times, no homework, no practice and having classes only 1 hour a week – will take its toll. Very optimistically after 140 hours he finished his pre-intermediate level. Not bad. Of course, he still has a long way ahead, he still mispronounces “son” and soon” , for example and thinks when I ask him “Who won the game?” He replies that Juan was not there. LOL.

The second student to leave is Student R. Initially she hated English, she was B1 and was terrified about the prospect of speaking in English and considered herself unable to understand anything. Having 1-hour classes only once a week -but as they like to say, better one hour than nothing – slowly I started to introduce audio files with English conversations, reading aloud helped her overcome the speaking barrier, role playing also had a positive impact. Student R started to attend meetings without suffering from anxious stomach pains and could increasingly state her points and understand what her colleagues and clients would be saying. With some information gaps, of course. We persistently worked her listening skills with lots of fill-in-the-gap activities, which really helped her immensely. In her case, she is leaving because she has been let go by her firm and now she needs to cut expenses.

In July two new students will be starting their programs with me but the feeling of ” it’s out of my hands circumstances” still bugs me. I always require a 30-day minimum notice for the suspension of classes which protects both me and the student from unpleasant situations and that allows me to wrap up that student’s program, provide some feedback and advice.

Do You Know the Chautauqua Salute? – Isabella Alden
Waving them goodbye with a white handkerchief

I wish them all the luck and all the best in their pursuits. Despite that nagging feeling of “I wish I could have helped them more” I also know that I am growing in my resolution to learn from their experiences and incorporate them into my own teaching career.

Cheers,

Mo

VIRTUAL TEACHING TIPS

Most of us have been teaching exclusively online for over a year by now and it’s always good to review and refresh our personal approach when teaching on a virtual platform:

Positioning: Try to position yourself in the center of the screen, unless you’re showing a “whiteboard” or some other image. Keep the camera at your eye level so that students won’t be looking up your nostrils or down your balding spots 😉 . Remember to maintain eye contact – don’t be looking at your own image or your students’, rather, look into the camera (usually that little dot on top of your screen).

Look into the camera when speaking not at the screen
  • Appearance: make sure you’re dressed professionally – I’m not telling you to wear a tuxedo or a dress fit for a night at the opera. Just keep it neat and as wrinkle free as possible. Remember students can’t smell you but they do expect to see you. Pants are optional as long as you’re not planning to stand up. Should I wear a shirt or t-shirt? In my in-person classes I mostly wore shirts (and a jacket in colder weather) and on casual Fridays a polo shirt. Since the beginning of the pandemic I’ve gone down a notch by mostly wearing T-shirts , but trying to avoid brand logos and indiscreet messages on them. I know I’m going on a limb, but count on your common sense and anything with F*** would be deemed inappropriate. Of course check your teeth – nobody likes the embarrassment of seeing “a deer in the garden” or something else stuck in one’s teeth.
When You Have Food In Your Teeth But No One Says Anything - YouTube
When You Have Food In Your Teeth But No One Says Anything
dishevelled hair - Brandingby Pixels
You’re not expected to look like Brad Pitt post-Covid19 but check your hair before and overall appearance before switching on your camera.
  • Background: Choose something neutral – a white wall or whiteboard would be perfect. A bookcase is fine but the simpler the better – a tv monitor switched on behind you could be very distracting, for example, as well as your pet(s) and toddlers. they’re lovely once or twice but they’re not included in your agreement pack with your students. Keep them away whenever possible.
Self-Adhesive Magnetic Permanent Whiteboard Wall – Myndflo.com
Keep your background neutral as much as possible
  • Timing and Pacing: Some studies have showed that group response rates can be up to 20% lower online than in person, especially in a group setting. Remember that your voice is important but students’ talk time must be higher than yours. Don’t go lecturing when your students could be using that time to practice THEIR communication skills. Keep track of your class activities and always have one or two activities up your sleeve in case you go over all tasks and there are still 10 mins left. But that’s quite unusual. Usually it’s too much for such a little time. I have a student who has two 45-minute classes per week – and I always go overtime with her… that’s not good business sense or academically and I have to cut back on the activities and focus on key points. Remember that sometimes students (or yourself) might be having connection issues. Don’t lose your temper and be accommodating to the situation as it presents itself.

Reflect on your courses from the first session on a regular basis, make sure you’re delivering content that is useful and attractive to your students while keeping them satisfied. After all they’re your customers.

Cheers,

Mo

Teaching online is easy but requires preparation and equipment

Recounting a teaching-related “Unsuccessful Event”

After 1 year of the Covid-19 Pandemic with companies and individuals cutting down on their expenses and labeling “language learning” as non-essential, I feel that my network of prospective students has been shrinking. New potential students don’t know me and are more focused on price than experience and great qualifications. And there is no shame in saying I need help to find new students.

Nothing better than counting on the support of an international organization with students and teachers from all over the world with expertise in student prospecting. I am sure we can both benefit from this synergy.

Part of their vetting is based on an online grammar test and writing test. Here’s my writing test:

Recount an endeavor, personal or work-related, that was unsuccessful. Provide as many details as possible. If you were to do things over, what would you do differently to ensure the success of the endeavor? *

The following will be assessed: grammar, vocabulary, and sentence construction/organization.

I have always felt that learners and teacher are partners, collaborators in the exquisite adventure of learning. The teacher will create opportunities for learners to grow and, in the case of learning a second or foreign language, to improve their listening, speaking, reading and writing skills. To learn to be comfortable in their own skin with their acquired language.

One side cannot be held responsible for everything. The student must show interest, commitment, dedicate time, money and effort towards their goal. Likewise, the teacher must be fully interested in their students’ progress.

A few years ago I had a student who was often cancelling her classes, never did any homework or any reading/writing assignments and she came up to me asking why she couldn’t feel she was making any progress.

I looked at her, took a deep breath, and said that her progress depended on her commitment and effort. She needed to, at least, try to do some of her homework and make an extra effort to show up in class.

She got furious, fuming through her eyes and nose, and said my job was to teach her. That’s why she was paying me for. I said apologetically that maybe I didn’t have the right profile for her. I expect my students to be committed.

She stormed out of the room and told her assistant that from then on I was banned from her company.  Weeks later she contacted me and apologized for her attitude, she said she was going through rough personal times and my comments had been the last straw.

That just confirmed my purpose to have students as my partners and if the partnership is suffering I cannot sugarcoat it. Only that way, shall we have cooperation and growth. 

May our efforts be rewarded,

Cheers,

Mo

Teaching in Brazil in Times of Covid-19 – Year 2

A fellow teacher, Ms. Teresa Thompson, based in Lincoln, Nebraska sent me this email last week:

The Teacher's Notes | OUTLOOK magazine
Teresa Thompson

Just got through hearing about Brazil again on National Public Radio (hope it’s not too large a file–can send the link instead, if you want -https://www.npr.org/2021/03/18/978832056/brazil-covid-19-cases-climb-as-deaths-overwhelm-hospitals-and-funeral-services ). Here’s what we are saying about your country...you guys are a global threat! It’s your turn to lead the world in this pandemic. Not exactly an honor though, I’m afraid. Please take precautions seriously and by all means, don’t turn down any vaccines!

Here’s my reply to Teresa Thompson’s email:

States in red have a fast advance of Covid infections, yellow stable and green declining (March 10, 2021)

Thank you Teresa for your concern. Yes, the situation down here is cause for concern especially around the poor areas of the large urban centers.” 

“Many pastors in our union and local conferences have already died or are in the ICU  – the grim reaper is taking also younger people – contrary to last year – now the number of deaths of the elderly is down by 25% while the numbers of deaths of people between 20 and 50 has increased by 65% .”

“All we can do is stay home as much as possible, keep clean hands and wear a mask when outdoors. “

“I still notice a strong international bias against Brazil because of our moronic president – and I mean it – he still insists that COVID is just the flu, people who die is because they were already sick and would die anyway, he preaches that masks are filthy, useless and make people sick from wearing them. No wonder many Brazilians now blame him for the nearly 300k deaths and call him a genocider.” 

Bolsonaro, um presidente provocador e sem máscara - ISTOÉ DINHEIRO
While Covid spreads like bushfire, our President refuses to wear a mask saying that the mask will make him sick

“And also the nation is divided – at least 30% of the population blindly believes what president Bolsonaro says (I’m calling him now Bolsominion 😜) – and so many people keep on walking around without masks and saying that a lockdown would be devastating to the Brazilian economy – a few deaths wouldn’t be as bad. 🤦🏻‍♂️ And going to group protests on streets to defend the president. “

“To add salt to the wound, state and municipal governments opposing the president started bickering among themselves and not following a coordinated movement to raise awareness of the population … approving mini lockdowns and labeling some COVID treatment hospitals as “catastrophe hospitals” and changing directives about what should companies and citizens do during this time. 

Let me give you an example: One day the state orders: No food takeaway. Only through delivery or drive-thru. The next day: Takeaways are allowed. The next day: No takeaways. Are we entitled to feel a little lost and confused?! “

Bares e restaurantes de SP enviam ofício a Doria pedindo liberação de  retirada dos pedidos no local | Jovem Pan
No takeaways in SP. Only delivery or drive-thru

“The picture ain’t pretty in our sad tropics but hope still shines. “

Profissional de saúde trata paciente com Covid em UTI do Hospital São Paulo, em São Paulo, no dia 17 de março. — Foto: Amanda Perobelli/Reuters

“Stay well. Stay safe and Happy Sabbath. “

Teresa replied with the following:

“Thanks for the first hand reporting there. Sounds like you not only had mixed messaging about the virus, like we had with ex-President Trump. Sounds like all your messaging has been bad!”

Wonder if that variant is responsible for the increased deaths in younger people. Now that’s something I bet they are concerned about–or should be!

“I’m actually concerned that now that I’m vaccinated, my daughter’s family won’t be quite as cautious. I’ve worried all along about them getting sick too. There’s just no rhyme or reason involved in this covid (sic).”

“But it’s sad that something that should be uniting the world, is actually dividing it so much. I keep praying that God will have mercy on all of us….no matter how we mess up and disappoint Him.”

Hope this message gives you, dear reader, a glimpse of the situation in Brazil.

creative title* - Imgflip
Yes, Virginia. Laughter IS the best medicine.

Staying safe and hopeful.

Cheers,

Mo

Visual media as more than just entertainment

I remember when I was a wee kid in a state school in a corner of this giant metropolis called São Paulo, I would be daydreaming in class about the time the bell would ring and I would rush back home so I could watch some of my favorite TV shows. I don’t recall a time a teacher used some visual resources in class other than the illustration in a book (sometimes, which would totally grab my attention).

Stanford 'tips-by-text' program helps boost literacy in preschoolers, study  finds
Images boost literacy in children and adults

At church they were more “sophisticated”. From an early age, our Sabbath School teachers would use flannel board bible stories that would transport us to bible times and I had a red-letter day every time I was allowed to touch the figures and place them on the board. How many stories did I learn and understand thanks to those illustrations.

Staying Christian: Why I Don't Just Pick Up and Leave the Church for Good |  Resurrection & Recovery
Flannel Board Bible Stories were awesome visual resources

Today I know that Visual Literacy helps learners to follow a story and predict what’s going to happen, activates their memory and their vocabulary, as well. Many times, visual resources were used simply as entertainment or a distraction to keep us children quiet.

The influence of images on learners

Church also introduced me to the first slide projector – with colorful pictures illustrating prophecy or projecting the words to a new hymn, at a time when television was still black and white (we got our first color tv in 1978 – that was so memorable that I remember the year).

Magic lantern - The latest novelty in Church music. Substitution of... News  Photo - Getty Images

Only in college after 1983 was I introduced to the amazing overhead projector and the ability to write and highlight texts on the screen.

Mary Loftus on Twitter: "Jerome Sheahan going old-school with with the  OverHead Projector - and the lecture style - getting some laughs 🤣  @NUIG_UL_RDay… https://t.co/KMRNbDxWeC"
Overhead projectors allowed teachers to highlight points on the board

In the 1980s VCRs became more popular and pretty soon we started using some video lessons in the language classroom – those videos were especially prepared for the class as companions to their coursebooks (nothing much has changed today – maybe some time in the future I’ll talk about the video courses available for the ESL/EFL market).

If you knew somebody living in an English-speaking country maybe you could ask them to mail you one or two VHS tapes with the recordings of some tv shows and commercials and explore them to your heart’s content. (In my case, only in the early 90s did I come across some VHS tapes that somebody from the school where I was teaching had recorded when traveling to the US).

But videos were still seen as just a “break” from the lesson. When the teacher wheeled in a TV set and VCR the students knew they would have some “down time”. At best, the video was seen as a glorified listening activity or simply as a decorative resource giving a break to both teacher and students.

Today, however, we know we can use videos and images in a much more purposeful way. Here’s an example of a talk at the Global Teacher’s Festival on Visual Literacy and the many different approaches we can have:

Visual Literacy uses

Most teachers will agree that video use in the ESL/EFL classroom brings many benefits:

  1. it exposes students to authentic materials
  2. it provides more motivation and interest
  3. it gives learners the opportunity to read as well as listen to messages simultaneously

But there are also disadvantages in using videos in the classroom:

  1. video technology might be scarce or you might have connection problems
  2. it may be boring if overused
  3. it may encourage passivity on both teachers and learners (“the other day an adult learner said: why don’t you give me songs to listen to and fill in the gaps?” My answer – “do you need ME to give you a song to listen and get the words? Have you ever heard of MTV? Can’t you google it up on your own?”)

The appeal of visual media continues to make videos and pictures an amazing educational tool with a high potential impact when properly used. They are now more accessible and less cumbersome to use. Let us take advantage of them in our lessons.

Cheers,

Mo

In-Company Teaching in the Age of Covid-19

First I would like to define in-company teaching: teaching of a specific course or program inside a company. It can be fully paid for and sponsored by the company itself. In my case, usually one VP or senior director would get in touch with HR and request English languages courses for himself or someone in their team. Then other VPs or directors would start requesting the same benefit and it would become part of a company’s benefit policies.

English In Company | Canadian Language Institute
Companies need people who can speak English

Other times, the company would allow teaching within its premises but the costs would be paid partly or in full by the students themselves.

Ideally a company would hire a language consultant/language school to assess the language level of the students and set up a language program with frequent evaluations in order to gauge the progress and the return on the investment.

In practical terms, many companies, for different reasons, would start the language teaching program in a more serious way, but gradually they would flex up their controls, and language classes would be considered one more benefit like lunch vouchers, for instance – the company does not want to know how or what the employees use their vouchers for. Are they eating healthily or only eating junk food? Are they selling their vouchers out for cash at a discounted price or passing them on to someone they know?

In order to give students a sense of control, companies would set a time limit. For example, those selected to attend English classes will have, let us say, a 2 year limit for English lessons. After that they would automatically lose their benefit so that another team member could start with classes.

Of course, there have been students who applied themselves and would make progress in their language learning process, I had students who started at intermediate level (B1) and ended up at C1/C2 levels.

But quite often there would be those students who would not take their learning seriously. They wanted the “benefit” but wouldn’t benefit from it. Lots of class cancellations (work-related or not); no commitment to studying outside the classroom; no motivation to have a class but rather a moment to chit chat and shoot the breeze in the midst of their busy schedule.

In-Company Language Classes - Expath
Face to face training inside a company has all but vanished.

The material mostly included a business English course book. I personally liked Business Class and Market Leader especially Upper-Intermediate and Advanced programs. Intelligent Business is pathetic with typos in almost every unit. Shoddy quality. In the late 1980s and early 1990s I enjoyed using We Mean Business.

We Mean Business: Students' bk.: Elementary Course in Business English |  Amazon.com.br
We Mean Business was my first teaching textbook in Business English – it had short dialogues with photographs of real office scenes where the characters spoke through speech balloons and key vocabulary -I love the cover’s dated Artwork.

Of course, if the teacher had some business experience – he had lived across an office building, for example (just kidding – sort of) he or she would be a plus in the school’s in-company teaching program.

Now with Covid-19 and the Pandemic, in-company teaching has all, but disappeared, at least physically. None of my corporate clients in IT, Manufacturing, Banking or Law Firms are open to service providers. The requirements and expenses of frequently testing their staff wouldn’t warrant additional costs testing teachers as well. I half-heartedly joke with my now online students that “pigs will be flying wearing masks” before I get access to their companies’ facilities. So, online we stay.

Will it prosper online? Will companies prefer local language schools or schools located anywhere cheaper? Will language progress be effectively assessed? Will employees be allowed to have their lessons during their working hours? Will they be held accountable for their learning and the investment the company has placed on them?

Let us wait for the new developments in 2021.

Cheers,

Mo

Using video in the Foreign Language Class

Videos in class are great, right? I mean – if you didn’t plan anything for class – just tell students they’re going to watch a tv series or film and there you go. Ready for your next class. I’m not gonna lie that I’ve seen teachers (including myself) who used a video presentation to breaking up the monotony or the lack of interest the students had, or just to get a respite from having to be the “center” of attention.

Video use in the classroom is a natural technological extension of the blackboard

You may ask me: center of attention? Teachers aren’t supposed to be that. Agreed. But at the end of the day, your presence there draws attention to yourself.

But, no, Virginia – that might even be a side effect but just killing time should not be the main reason for using videos in class.

Videos are a great way for your students to practice their language skills. Having said that a 3 to 5 minute video will have plenty of material for one or even more classes. So scratch that idea of having your students watch a serialized Dr Zhivago for a few weeks.

The trick (you can use these steps with any short film, commercial, interview or Ted Talk)

English Video Lessons: Winning Strategies for the ESL Class
Video is a great tool for learners to develop their four skills.

First, listen to the story – check their comprehension. Ask them to describe what they see: Who is doing what? What do they look like? What objects do you see in the video? Summarize what they are saying.
What is the problem/challenge/idea presented in the video?
Ask your students: “Have you, your family, or friends ever experienced the problem? Describe what happened.
What do you think might be the causes of the problem?
What solutions could a person get on their own? What solutions could people get working together? Would one be better than the other? Why or why not? What was the message?”

There are tons of ways and materials online with full lesson plans and other suggestions, but I hope these pointers will get you started using videos with your learners. Remember, there’s nothing wrong with entertainment, so the videos should be at least minimally interesting to your target audience.

Happy watching.

Cheers,

Mo

Racism in my ELT Experience

Racism in Brazil shows its ugly face in some subtle ways – white people like me many times don’t even realize it. I grew up in a white family but at least one of my grandmothers was brown skinned (fruit of white and indigenous relations, I’m told) but she passed when I was seven and I don’t remember her very much. A cousin of mine married a black man back in the 60s and the family despite the initial shock welcomed them (to the best of my knowledge) and they had 3 children – with their own families today. My older brother sometimes would say that black people were lazy or something to that effect, but even he had a very close black friend (who also criticized black people – but that’s another whole story). My wife is light skinned but her father was black and her mother Italian – her siblings are darker than she is – so where does one’s race begin and another’s start? What color is one’s soul?

But talking to one of my students this morning I was made to think about my own experiences as a teacher regarding racism.

My niche market has been for the past 30 years in the business and corporate world, coaching and teaching executives and helping them to brush up their language skills and presentation skills, for example.

In all these years I can’t recall a time I taught a black person, not because of their color, but because of their absence in the corporate world I circulated in. I never had a chance to teach them.

When I had a language consultancy office back in the 90s we hired teachers and translators and 90% of them were white – it’s true but we did have an English black teacher (born in London to Brazilian parents). We also hired two Nigerian teachers and I can’t recall having problems with them due to racism from clients. Sometimes there would be academic or punctuality problems but nothing related to their race, methinks. (Or was the clients’ racism disguised in comments like ” they don’t have a clear accent”, “they’re usually late”, etc).

Now, black or white is a just a matter of skin pigmentation, but the fact that they are not selected to higher positions besides cleaning offices and being the kitchen help is quite disturbing. … Coming to think of it, even the waiters and waitresses working for the boards of directors at different companies and banks tended to be light skinned.

I’m told that in some countries just the fact that a person has one black ancestor (one drop of “black blood”) already makes them black, no matter their skin color. In Brazil that’s not so. Thanks to the miscegenation of races in our country you can find at least “50 shades” of blackness or “negritude”. One can be light-skinned with white facial features and straight hair and their sibling may be darker with curly hair and both although coming from the same social, economic, and educational background, may have had entirely different experiences with racism.

Zero Chillz on Twitter | Different shades of black, Black girl aesthetic,  Black is beautiful
Different shades of black

On a brighter note, people know that money is color blind and Brazilians have been discovering that dark-skinned fellow men and women can also spend money in services and goods.

But we still are far from Martin Luther King Jr’s dream when he declared: “let us judge one another on the content of our character rather than the color of our skin” .

Happy Teachings,

Cheers,

Mo

How’s English teaching changed over the last 30 years?

Wow. A landmark. 30 years of Teaching English and Spanish as foreign languages. And counting. But honestly speaking, English has always taken the lion’s share of my teaching hours.

Out of those years, over 25 have been teaching one on one so I can say a thing or two about changes in language teaching in this segment.

1. Accessibility: when I started teaching cable tv was limited. Students could watch videos of movies in English but subtitled in Portuguese. No radio programs in English…lots of English songs but how could they understand what was being sung? Limited access to lyrics. Now they have all the English speaking world at the touch of a button on their cellphone.

2. Technology – when I started teaching I not even had a cassette player and the school followed their own coursebook without cassettes. If I wanted to play a song I had to take my portable turntable and vinyl record. From cassette – to CDs and we moved up from VHS – to DVD’s and now to streaming and millions of channels on YouTube. Not to mention the hundreds of language learning apps.

3. Pedagogy – teachers were the reference in pronunciation, grammar, vocabulary. If the teacher didn’t know it how could a simple student know that word? From teacher-centered the language courses have moved on to a learner-centered approach (at least in speech). Learners can do way more than what their teachers might tell them to do (well, it doesn’t mean they’ll do it).

4. Resources – from coursebooks and the occasional imported magazine or newspaper now we all have Doctor Google. There are loads of apps for students to practice vocabulary, pronunciation, even using AI for actual conversation. They can record themselves and self evaluate their progress.

5. Creativity – that’s changed but still the same if you get my gist – I mean, we teachers have always had to resort to creativity from role playing to imaginary conversations to using tv commercials recorded on a VHS tape as part of our class material.

Despite all the improvements in pedagogy and technology some things still continue wearily unchanged.

Many students still think that a native teacher is better than a teacher who HAD to learn the language as they are doing now. After all, if the teacher says, “come, come, it’s not that difficult”, they can always argue, “not for you”. Still language schools give priority to a teaching candidate who’s spent 2 years washing dishes or cleaning houses abroad over a local language college graduate.

Many students also think grammar should be taught first even though they hate it… so it must be good like the bitter taste of medicine, right? Still controversies over teaching pronunciation and cultural values of the English speaking countries. Even those who defend the teaching of a global English accept the fact that some parameters must be defined, otherwise the English someone is learning in Indonesia might be incomprehensible to someone learning it in Ecuador.

The future will present even more changes, but some things I’m sure will remain the same: the importance of knowledgeable, committed and caring teachers working along students who have developed or discovered their own motivation.

Here’s to 30 more years of teaching!

Cheers,

Mo

RACISM* IN THE ELT INDUSTRY

You don’t need to be a genius to know that prejudice exists everywhere you find people gathered together.

The English Language Teaching industry wouldn’t be different. After all, it’s made up of people from all nations and races.

Do teachers (not necessarily language teachers) suffer from prejudice and racism?

Yes, since forever… You don’t need to go far -just watch the trailer of my favorite classic film – To Sir, With Love with Sidney Poitier.

To Sir, with Love

But in this blog I’m not going to be talking about national or linguistic prejudices as in “he’s not a native speaker” or “I don’t like his accent”. The smelly goat in the room is about racism and skin color.

Back in the day (1990s) when I was a partner in a language school in São Paulo, we hired teachers to provide private business lessons at different multinational companies – one pre-requisite was “English native-like fluency” (hey, it was the roaring ’90s, don’t judge me)- no color stipulation.

We had some Brazilian, American, British, Swedish, Nigerian, South African and even a Tasmanian teacher (a loose cannon for sure – some day remind me to talk about him) – most of them were white, mostly in their 20s or early 30s, but not exclusively. I remember Charlotte, who I thought was an old lady back then(now I think she must have been probably in her 50s or early 60s).

I remember in special, Kendra, who was a great teacher, students loved her and not because or despite of the fact she was black. She was an exchange student between her US university and São Paulo University (USP). She was pursuing a degree in linguistics and she took on several classes with us.

We also had a Brit teacher – mixed race and nationality – mother Brazilian, father English – had been born in London and had decided to try his life in Brazil. He was a good teacher, can’t remember his background, but we could see he didn’t want to be a teacher for long. Either he would become a partner or he would jump off ship, which he did.

Never did a student call us saying “I don’t want teacher A, B or C because he or she is black”. NEVER. Sometimes there were misfits due to teaching approach, some of the foreign teachers, the famous backpackers, were not reliable with time and class preparation, etc.

Did our clients get surprised to see a black teacher waiting for them in the room? I’m sure some of them did. Talk about stereotypes – “my English teacher (any gender) is tall, slander, blue-eyed and has perfect teeth”.

Now I know that Brazilian black teachers are few and far between, especially in the self-employed segment. Why? Racism? Lack of economic and education opportunities? A combination of it all?

All I can say is that during my school (Uni) years one of my best friends (and classmates) was black. She had also had more exposure to English than I had at the time and her economic situation was also better than mine, a white boy. Go figure.

Yes, racism exists and we must fight it, but it shows itself quite often in subtle ways, as if hiding behind the skin tone of a person.

Skin Tone Color Palette
Skin tone palette

We must be aware and mindful of its presence and stand up against it when it rears its ugly face. Racism sucks.

Cheers,

Mo

*DISCLAIMER: all the statements here are my own and may not reflect the reality of every single living creature on the face of the earth.