Teaching English In Ecuador
English is a global language, a true Lingua Franca, and this applies to Ecuador as well. The government is keen on improving the levels of language proficiency and requires that English should be taught from Grade 2, rather than Grade 8 (as before). As a result, there is a huge demand for well-trained English teachers everywhere: not just in the largest cities like Quito, Guayaquil and Cuenca, but in small towns and even in the Amazonian jungle!
I have been living in Ecuador for more than four years now and I have done a whole range of things associated with ELT: I had private students, both paid and unpaid. I did MA modules at a state university and became thesis director for a number of students both at BA and MA level. I do quite a bit of proof reading and editing and have been part-timing at a private university in Cuenca for two years now. I do teacher training and part of my brief is to promote research and publishing as well.
The first thing that comes to mind regarding teaching English in Ecuador is the fact that English is a foreign (and not a second) language here. Some linguists insist that the difference is immaterial, but I do believe that the distinction is meaningful. In Ecuador, especially away from the cities, there is very little support for English outside of the classroom. I always say that in India, even a shoeshine boy has some English; it is one of the official languages, there are hundreds of papers written in English and hundreds of TV channels broadcasting in that language.
In Ecuador English is not spoken in the home, there are very few English speaking radio or TV stations (some are run by US expats), very few newspapers (mainly online daily bulletins for English speaking foreigners). Therefore, you are the main input in your classes and this gives you a lot of responsibility.
There are various challenges facing English teachers who arrive from abroad: apart from the paperwork that is required to stay in Ecuador for a fair amount of time, you need to find out about your best options. Gone are the days when you could walk into a private language school and got a job just because you were a native speaker. Most institutions that pay a decent salary, especially universities (whether they are state or private), will require not only native (or native-like) fluency, but will look for a degree in English and require experience in teaching. In a year or two, it will be impossible to get employed at university level unless you have a Master’s degree. Since I have two, I had no problem getting employed; by now, almost all my colleagues at the university have either finished their MA courses or are working on the theses right now.
I would say that pay at university level is reasonable. If you have an MA, the gross salary is about USD 2,200 and income tax is low. Your national insurance contributions are paid for, so you are entitled to free health care and also build up a pension. This salary is actually 5 times the minimum wage and you can live comfortably so long as you don’t have crippling financial obligations in your home country or the responsibility of bringing up several children whom you may wish to send to a private school.
One of the things that I find difficult in my teaching (even at university level) is class sizes. Having 26-28 students in any one group in an old-fashioned classroom with metal tablet chairs for an hour and a half is quite taxing and you have to do your best to keep your students interested. At the Language Center where I teach, there are no degree courses in English: all students (whatever their profession), need to learn English and reach B2 level by the time they graduate: without this level of language competence they simply cannot graduate. This means that motivation is extrinsic rather than intrinsic, even though many of my students who study medicine, dentistry or law are keenly aware that they will need English in their future jobs.
One place where I did not complain about class sizes was the Amazonian jungle where I taught members of the indigenous Achuar tribe. To start with, it is a tiny community. There are only about 8 thousand of them in Ecuador; the other 12,000 live in Peru. I taught for about six months over four years in the rain forest as a volunteer, and I had groups of 3 or 4 students in a traditional palm-fronded hut built by the River Pastaza. I worked as a volunteer, and besides teaching at the high school (specializing in eco-tourism) I taught English to employees of an eco-hotel called Kapawi Eco-Lodge. I had my own cabin overlooking a lagoon with a proper flush toilet and shower! The job is still open to volunteers, although recently teachers have been staying at the principal’s house in Kapawi community itself.
The place where I live, Cuenca has everything that you need for a good life: the weather is balmy, the town center is a World Heritage site, the architecture is spectacular, the people are both cosmopolitan and family-oriented. While Quito is famous for its history and Guayaquil for being a huge port and coastal city, Cuenca is famed for its vibrant cultural life.
No wonder that Cuenca has been named as one of the top destinations for people where to retire. There are about 8,000 expats, mainly from the US and Canada. Most of them are delightfully interesting people who arrived in Ecuador with the intention of enjoying whatever the town and its people can offer, but also wanting to give back to the community that has welcomed them (most of the time) with open arms. They often give informal English classes and a cohort of 30 of them regularly sit in with my students and hold conversation sessions with them in small groups. For many of my students these expat volunteers were the first native speakers whom they met.
Under the circumstances of teaching English in a country where there is no immersion (English is not being used in everyday life for communication), you have to be inventive and use each and every opportunity to include authentic elements in your teaching. Of course, good course books (my university uses ones that are published by Cambridge University Press) and well-equipped language labs are essential. But beyond that, the Internet offers an immense amount of authentic material to be exploited and several teachers, like myself, use quirky or emotionally charged resources like, for example, the Humans of New York blog post that is excellent for the purposes of teaching colloquial American English.
When it comes to Continuous Professional Development, my colleagues and I are on a journey together: we apply for scholarships, hand in research proposals, and attend international events like the IATEFL conference in Birmingham in April this year. We watch TED talks, share teaching materials and seek out opportunities to improve our Academic English by doing relevant MOOCs (massive open online courses).
So, the opportunities are endless. No doubt, you will have to be resourceful and resilient, but if you feel you want to become part of the ELT scene in Ecuador, take the plunge: be it a university or a jungle job, you won’t regret having tried.