Before arriving in Salta, we had been teaching in Zamora, Ecuador. There, we weren’t working many hours and we had lots of free time. We had the easiest life imaginable, surrounded by rainforests and living amongst bright and beautiful birds and other spectacular wildlife. Life was sweet. And super tranquilo. We will definitely consider Zamora for our future retirement.
However, at the moment, we are still in our twenties and we were in need of a more sociable and lively atmosphere, somewhere we could meet people our own age and speak more Spanish. We were after more of a challenge and a chance to have a more real day to day life, rather than feeling like we were tourists. With that in mind, we headed to the city of Salta in the north of Argentina.
Applying for the teaching job and arriving in Salta, Argentina
As we had travelled around Latin America back in 2012, we had an idea of where we wanted to go. As we had done the first time round, we emailed our CV out to many, many, English institutes in Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, Chile and Uruguay (click here to see a list of contacts for English schools in South America). We received perhaps just a handful of replies, with only three offers of jobs. We skype-interviewed with an institute in Iquique in Northern Chile and another in Montevideo, Uruguay. Both jobs and the schools themselves sounded great and were offering a pretty good salary. For us, though, the location just wasn’t what we were after. What we had loved most about South America was the Andean culture that was so prominent in Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador and parts of Argentina.
Good News English Institute in Salta was our third offer of work. After a simple exchange of some emails, I was offered a job of 20 hours a week teaching English to kids and adults.We were also put in contact with an American girl who had taught at the school previously, so we could find out a bit more about working for Good News and living in Salta. We felt she gave us a very honest account of her experience, which was overall very positive.
We had loved Salta when we visited the first time and we had fond memories of its beautiful region of mountains and vineyards. Located in the Northwest of Argentina, Salta still had the Andean feel we wanted, but within a lively city with lots to offer. We knew our weekends would no longer be spent solely birdwatching.
A few doubts
We accepted the job, despite still having a couple of doubts. One concern of ours was the visa situation. Whoever we spoke to and whatever information we read, we were told that there was a mile of red tape to get through if we wanted to apply for a work visa and it was near on impossible to get it all processed in the ten months we would be there. The alternative was to have our passport stamped every three months and stay out there on a tourist visa. We were told that we could have our passport stamped twice at the immigration office in Salta, which meant that we would only need to border-hop once.
The second doubt we had was whether we’d regret leaving Zamora in Ecuador. We loved the different way of life of Ecuador. It was so different to our lives in England and we were worried that Argentina would not be different enough. We knew we had it good in Zamora, but we also knew that we wouldn’t truly appreciate what we had until we left it behind. On the other hand, we also knew that we had left England to improve our Spanish, make friends and learn new things. We were doing very little of any of these things in Zamora.
So we left Zamora, made a little trip to the Galapagos, and then headed south. We travelled from Ecuador to Argentina via a combination of various bus journeys and two internal flights within Peru. Flying directly was super expensive, so we had to travel over three days, crossing three borders to arrive here.
We finally arrived in Salta on 26th February 2015.
Teaching at Good News English Institute in Salta, Argentina
We started teaching at Good News at the end of February 2015 and worked the complete school year until the beginning of December. Although not always easy, overall it was a great year working in a lovely school with lovely people.
Good News is a private English Institute that offers classes to children of all ages and adults. They also provide one-to-one private lessons, exam preparation and offer classes to companies at their place of work. There are about 20 teachers and about 400 students. It seems that most years they have at least one native English teacher working for them. It’s quite a big institute with 12 classrooms, an open plan seating area, a patio and a staff room where Graciela, the cleaning lady, makes sure there is always fresh coffee available. Classrooms all have a whiteboard and some kind of CD player. Technology is used very little in the lessons so one laptop, one projector and one portable interactive whiteboard device is enough for all staff.
The school day
At Good News, classes go on throughout the day from Monday-Friday. In the morning there are some classes for the tiny kids. Early afternoons and late evenings, there are adults classes. Late afternoons from 4-9pm are when the majority of the kids come after they finish at their normal school.
A lot of the kids have been going to the institute throughout their school life. They might begin at the age of 8 or earlier and continue until they finish school at 16 or 17. These students have about 6 hours of English classes a week. As you can imagine, after 8 or so years of English classes, some of these students are of a pretty high standard!
On top of normal classes, they had several social events throughout the year, which created a lively atmosphere in the school. The biggest event was Ollygames, which was a day of team competitions and games. There were loads of prizes for the kids and they seemed to really enjoy it!
I was given a teaching job of 20 hours a week. This included an adults group, 3 upper-intermediate groups of 15-17 year olds, 1 intermediate teenage group of 15-16 year olds and 1 group of 12-14 year olds. On top of that, I offered exam preparation classes for the Cambridge First Plus certificate. My boyfriend, Rory, did more adults one-to-one classes and gave classes to the local mining company. He also did a science club for the little ones, which they loved!
The adults class
My adults group started with about 6 students, went up to about 8, and then by the end of the year, there were just 5 attending. Yes, attendance could be really irregular, with most going on holiday for weeks at a time. 4 of the 5 remaining students at the end of the year were the ones who had been coming to the institute for over 5 years and so were very used to how things worked. I definitely felt the pressure of trying to fill their previous teacher’s shoes. They had to get used to my style of teaching and the way I spoke. Some really struggled to understand me, but over the year, I think (I hope!) they got used to me.
We worked from an intermediate text book, which I and the students soon found was a bit ambitious for their actual level. Particularly as my group saw their lessons as a social event, a place to have a chat and maybe learn a new word or two in English. Every lesson, they were served coffee and they always brought a cake or some biscuits too, which was great! They had busy lives and often went on holiday for weeks at a time. They didn’t take their learning too seriously and as a result, did not advance at a fantastic rate. This was fine, but it took me a while to realise this and adapt the lessons accordingly.
The teenagers classes
Most of my teenagers were in their last year at the institute and most were preparing for their international exams. They were a clever bunch and I remember being super impressed with their level of English when I arrived. A couple of students in particular really stood out and were so articulate with their English, often using such sophisticated expressions – it was a pleasure to teach them! The kids were generally well behaved, although me being a new teacher and not fluent in Argentinian slang, some naturally took advantage! They are teenagers after all, so it was to be expected. However, I did find a small handful of them perhaps a little rude and arrogant at times. I have little experience working in a private school, so maybe this is normal for private school kids, but it was something I hadn’t come across before. For the most part though, the lessons were fun and interactive with lots of discussion.
I’ve heard of other English teachers in South America having problems with payment or getting paid on time. This was definitely not the case at Good News. The institute was very well-run and organised, which meant that we were always paid on the first working day of the month. We were paid cash in hand and would have to sign to receive it. For more information about our work situation and visas, click here.
At the beginning of the year, I was receiving about AR$7500 (approx. £520) a month based on a 20 hour week. It gradually increased to AR$8000 (approx. £550) in the middle of the year. In the last month I received AR$8655 (approx. £600). We also were given a Christmas bonus before we left. As you can see, throughout the year our pay increased in small amounts to try to ease the high inflation. As with the rest of the country, our pay did not actually increase at the same rate, but it did help a little. As we were a couple both earning money and living together, we found it easy to live comfortably on our salary. For more information about cost of living in Argentina, click here.
There were about 20 teachers working there, all of whom were women, except my boyfriend! They were lovely ladies, always available to help us and support us. The staff room was always a great atmosphere with the ladies chatting away. For us as foreigners though, it did feel a little overwhelming at times trying to keep up with their conversations and gossip! But they were all great, and made us feel very welcome.
Throughout the year there were various socials, which meant we had lots of opportunities to get to know each other more outside of class. The head of the school is very generous too and was always organising raffles and prizes, and ordering in food for the staff meetings and people’s birthdays. We received lots of presents over the year, as well as something a bit more special for our goodbye gift! In our last week, she even took us all out for pizza!
A few challenges
My adults group was not always fun for me. They saw it as their lesson, their classroom, and they had their own idea of how they should be taught. Actually, sometimes I felt like I got in the way or that I was being ignored. I would be explaining something and a couple of the ladies would start having their own conversation. And in group discussions, they didn’t always listen to each other. It was a very strange class to teach as I had never experienced mature adults who did not always ‘behave’! By the end of the year, however, I think we understood each other a bit more and the lessons went a bit more smoothly.
Another thing I didn’t appreciate at the beginning of the year was how everything slowed down after the half-way winter holidays. Later, I found out that teachers in Argentina actually plan their year with all the important main topics at the beginning, leaving the easier things or revision until the second-half of the year. The two-week winter holidays falls in July, and then after that there are so many disruptions to classes. The teens in their final year of school all go on 2 week holidays with their classmates half way through the term. There are also lots of social events at the institute. On top of this, Argentina has about 15 bank holidays throughout the year! I loved all the long weekends we had, but it was disruptive to the classes. So, with all this going on, the students were too tired or just didn’t have the motivation to study. And I didn’t blame them.
Also, I found that at certain times of the year there was a lack of support or acknowledgement from above. Our boss rarely walked around the school or came into our lessons, so she had very little presence in the school. She came into the staffroom every day to say hello and have a chat to the teachers. However, during exams or busy periods, she was often head-down in her office and so it felt difficult to approach her sometimes. If we had difficulties with our students, for example, in terms of behaviour, it seemed it was up to us to deal with it. There was no protocol or behaviour policy, which I was used to working with in schools. Equally, we didn’t know when we were doing a good job or not. Sometimes this was frustrating and we felt like we were blagging our way through the year or that our work wasn’t appreciated. We were only told when there was a problem. By the end, however, we learnt to accept that if our boss didn’t say anything, she was happy with us! For the most part, though, she was very kind and fair to us.
Working at Good News was a fantastic experience and overall it was a fun and positive year. Although it wasn’t easy at times, it was nowhere as difficult as it was working in my secondary school back in England. It was a lot less stressful – less paperwork and more teaching!