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4 Rules to Follow When Finding a Job Teaching English in Chile
Written by: Scott Mistler-Ferguson
Last Updated: January 13, 2021
For starters, let me explain my job in Santiago. I currently work at Adolfo Ibañez University located east of Peñalolen. I teach a prep course for the TOEFL exam (Test of English as a Foreign Language). For anyone who’s unfamiliar with the exam, it basically serves as a proficiency test in English for potential students who are not native English-speakers. It is required for entry into universities in the USA, UK, Australia, and many other English-speaking nations.
Because I’m teaching at a university, I’m lucky enough to have students who are, for the most part, very near to my own age. This has definitely made things easier in terms of relating to my students. Furthermore, I have a lot of flexibility in how I teach ESL as well as test-taking strategy. We’ll often have quick sparring debates, and I like to keep a list of good shows to watch for English learning outside of the classroom. Obviously I’m biased, so I’m only recommending the shows that I can stand to watch. The only major drawback to my job is that I teach about four hours from where I live. This has meant that I commute into the Capital at the beginning of the week, spend a couple nights in the city, and usually bus back to Viña Del Mar on Thursdays. Traveling between Santiago and the Valparaíso Region is cheap, easy and comfortable. However, we’re not here to learn about commuting. We’re here to learn about getting hired.
Now let’s get to the part that everyone actually cares about: finding a job. I took the TEFL certification course in Heredia, Costa Rica, and began sending out emails to schools near Valparaíso and Viña Del Mar. Of the several institutions I emailed, only one responded to offer an on-call position that unfortunately did not offer enough pay to live in South America’s most expensive country. When I arrived in my new city, I continued with the same process of sending out my resume and a shortened cover letter that I’d translated into Spanish. I must have emailed 25 institutions, but the number of responses was disheartening. Then I talked to other English teachers in Chile and was informed of the first rule in finding a job in Chile.
Rule #1: Do not rely on Email
I cannot speak for other countries in South America, although I’ve heard this rule exists in Peru and Argentina as well. Unlike the States, where you can find a job, apply for it, and become hired all from your laptop, Chile requires hands-on work. When you arrive, you should have a nice stack of copies of your CV and a list of school addresses that you’ll be visiting. Obviously, it does not hurt to send out emails as well, but if I relied solely on the internet, I’d probably still be jobless. The perfect example of this would be my job at UAI. A fellow ITA Alumni had told me about an available position at the university and I emailed the director immediately. The course was set to begin in only two weeks, so I assumed they’d be in a hurry and respond. Again, do not rely on email. Rather than risk missing out on the opportunity, I visited UAI’s Viña Campus and was fortunate enough to be offered an interview. This brings me to my second rule.
Rule #2: You will need to speak a little Spanish
Remember that just because you are teaching at a language school, that doesn’t mean the director, coordinator, or owner speaks the language. This was especially true of private institutions, and I would estimate that over half of my interviews took place in Spanish or a mix of Spanish and English. If you do not speak any Spanish but still desire to teach in Chile, rest assured, it is possible. You will however, need to memorize just a few key phrases for when you initially walk into the building. Another solution could be to have another ITA alumni accompany you on your job search and translate for you. If you’re searching in Viña or Valpo, I’d happily fulfill that role! I accept payment in coffee.
Rule #3: Be flexible about the location
Speaking as someone who commutes for four hours twice a week and then about an hour (by metro daily), I feel I’ve earned the right to add this rule. Ask any English teacher in Chile and I’m confident they’ll agree: for most jobs, you’ve got to be willing to commute all over. This will become especially true if you’re tutoring privately on the side. I haven’t been tutoring, but friends in Santiago have confirmed that this will mean a good chunk of your work day has to include the bus or metro.
Rule #4: Know your selling points
This final rule relates to the interview process, and I’ll again use my experience with UAI to explain. Many of the institutions where I interviewed preferred a major in education, and the universities typically wanted someone with two years of prior experience in TEFL. I had neither of these, so I had to… know my selling points. If you have experience tutoring or teaching in another field, that should be on your CV. If you majored in something that relates to English or Education (Creative Writing in my case), that is a talking point for you. If your friends in University were not native English-speakers and you sometimes assisted them with writing papers or preparing for presentations, that is a selling point. You are not being interviewed solely on your experience. You are being judged on personality as well. If you can show yourself to be engaging, passionate, and adaptable, your lack of experience can be overlooked.
Bonus Rule: Balance persistence and flexibility
There are plenty of different types of teaching options in Chile. You can tutor privately, teach ESL to children, teach Business English to adults, or prepare people for English-proficiency tests. You could even teach Naval Cadets in Viña! The key is that yes, you need to be persistent and dogged in your quest for a job, but you should not set yourself on one specific type of teaching. Be open to one of the aforementioned options and the responses will become increasingly positive
Hailing from the town of Bethlehem, New York, Scott graduated from The University of Rochester with a degree in English (Creative Writing) and Political Science. He moved to Chile immediately after graduation in pursuit of adventure, learning, and some awesome story-telling material and has been teaching English in Viña Del Mar since.
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