My Experience Teaching English in Medellin (UPDATED)
Teaching English in Medellin (UPDATED May, 07, 2017)
(Note: I wrote this article on January 17, 2015, but I always update.)
As most of you know, I have a business here in Medellin and it takes up all of my time (Red Door Studios). Before my digital marketing agency took off I was working as a freelancer from home and teaching English, part time, at a private institution here in Medellin.
Six years ago I never thought I would be teaching English in Medellin. Yet here I am teaching, so why do I teach?
- It’s a passion – I’m not in the NBA, but I love to play basketball, and I do it practically every day. I was raised with the attitude that “If you’re going to do something, do it 100% or do not do it at all.” I love teaching and helping others, therefore, I teach English in Medellin, and I think this attitude is what makes me good at it.
- Routine – I only teach in the morning, starting at 6:00 am. This means I have to be up at 5:00 a.m. and I’m done with class at 8:00 am. This gets me going for my work day.
- Socialize – I run my business from home, so getting out, catching the bus, talking to students and coworkers, and getting to know them personally adds to my social life in Medellin.
- Power – My class is not a democracy, I am the dictator, all hail to the ME! Haha. Teaching is really fun for me, I like to lesson plan, I like to be a clown, I like to get people out of their comfort zone, etc, etc.
- Rewarding – Yeah I know it sounds cliché, but if you’ve ever taught anything and watched students progress, learn, graduate and then become teachers themselves you’d understand. It’s pretty amazing.
I have had many people from all over the world write me asking for advice on teaching English in Medellin. Therefore I will start with some advice before getting into my own teaching experience in Medellin.
- First of all, yes, a teaching certification or pedagogical degree is important. Colombia is a developing country, not some 3rd world where just because you are a native speaker you will land a job teaching kids in a hut in the middle of the jungle.
- I’ve had many friends who have landed teaching jobs with a university degree not related to teaching. So it is possible, be warned: there is a learning curve. If you’re going to teach something for two hours, no matter what it is, you must be prepared, therefore, I advise you to get some sort of teaching certificate.
- If you do not have credentials the worst case scenario is that you can get lucky and land a job teaching at a smaller language center, with low pay.
- Some private institutions that pay very low (that are not certified by the secretary of education), $10,000 per hour or so, will hire a native English speaker, and pay cash under the table, even if you don’t have any teaching certificate and/or degree or teaching experience.
- CELTA, TEFL and TESOL are the most commonly accepted English teaching certificates in Medellin.
- Second, as an EFL (English as a Foreign Language) teacher and test preparation teacher for over 5 years now I am a big fan of the communicative teaching approach. I’m not a fan of the sit, read, write, grammar, repeat after me approach, which many language centers, schools and universities here in Medellin use. I, as a learner, get very bored with that methodology, thus I tend to stay away from it.
- Third, when it comes to getting a teaching job in Medellin, whether as an English teacher or not, it comes down to persistence and many times to whom you know within the company. I do suggest sending your resumes via email, but always follow up over the phone and in person.
- When you go in person you must dress sharp. No shorts, no flip-flops, shave and comb your hair, brush your teeth, and of course wear deodorant. It sucks that I have to write this stuff, but you would be surprised at how many hipster-doofuses I have interviewed.
- Fourth, Spanish is not necessary at all! You do not need to know how to speak Spanish. As a matter of fact most of my students do not know that I am a native Spanish speaker. I do all of my classes 100% in English, if a student does not understand something I will bend over backwards to help them understand, without the use of Spanish. I cut out that dreaded “Teacher, how do you say (insert word in Spanish)?”Any student with at least three months of proper English classes should be able to express themselves enough to form a question in English, and if they can not, I make them mime whatever it is they are trying to ask. For it is important to establish this in class the very first day. Why? Because most people around the world are lazy, even me. When I was learning French I caught myself asking the teacher to translate, luckily I had a great teacher who would scold me.
English Schools in Medellin
- Winston Salem – they have their own books and curriculum that you have to follow – you have to wear a tie – they pay well (well for Colombian standards, which means over $19,000 COL per hour) – salary – no help with work Visa – require teaching credentials.
- Wall Street English – (UPDATE – I walked by the school that was located on Avenida Poblado in El Poblado neighborhood and it was empty. I’m not sure if they moved or just shut down. Anyone with info please send it to me or make a comment below so I can update. Thanks) they have their own methodology which is listening first then reading and writing and finally speaking – you have to wear a tie – they pay well – require teaching credentials.
- Berlitz – Direct Method – the direct method works really well – classes are small – you have to wear a tie – they pay well, salary – help with Visa – require teaching credentials.
- Lexicom – they have their own books and curriculum that you have work around – you have to wear a tie – they pay ok – help with Visa – I’ve had a few friends work there and they say the atmosphere is good – and according to a recent comment (below) they pay as much as $28,000 – require teaching credentials.
- Colombo Americano – they have their own books and curriculum that you have to work around – you have to wear a tie – they pay ok (about $20,000 COL per hour) – help with Visa – I’ve had a few friends that have worked there and have said that the staff and fellow teachers are competitive and kind of negative – require teaching credentials.
- Smart – they have their own material – they pay ok – no help with visa – teaching certificate required – they give their teachers a uniform – I have a couple of friends who work there and they say that they like it and that the actual facilities are nice and modern.
- Idiomas Blendex – Communicative Approach – jeans and t-shirt – no books – only worksheets – a lot of freedom – staff is great – fellow teachers are super friendly – the director is Cesar Fernandez (who by the way is an amazing person) – semesters starts in March/April then in August/September depending on the level – pay is not so high, usually around $18,000 per hour for intermediate to advanced levels – no help with work visa – paid as an independent contractor – always paid on time – require teaching credentials – require you to pay health insurance.
There are many English learning centers in Medellin, all you have to do is search online or look in facebook for centro de idiomas en medellin, aprender ingles en medellin, coursos de ingles en medellin.
If I were trying to make a living teaching I would probably work for one of the bigger institutions or a university. Being entrepreneureal, I would probably start my own private test prep organization. I would set up a website (all in Spanish) optimize it for keywords to get to the first page (this is easy in Medellin) I’d use Facebook ads and boosted posts to get clients initially.
If you’re looking for a job I suggest you get on facebook and join the expat groups like Colombians and Expats in Medellin and start networking.
I had a roommate who has been a professor at a university here for a couple of years now and he said that all he did was walk into the language center of the campus and inquired about leaving his resume. The director talked to him that day and he was hired shortly after.
My Experience Teaching English in Medellin
As you can guess I teach at Blendex. Teaching English is a hobby/passion, thus the creation of the Medellin Buzz. I only work in the mornings with the advanced level classes and people there have become best friends for me.
When I started out as an English teacher in Medellin I was a little nervous. The class sizes where anywhere from 8 to 12 students and since Blendex’s methodology is Communicative the material was limited, so lesson planning was key.
The students at Blendex range from the ages of 18 to 35, and like anywhere else in the world they can tell when a teacher is not prepared for class. This is why certification in teaching English is essential. If I did not know how to lesson plan, I would be lost, and my classes would be boring. I have seen some disasters in class with native English speakers who do not know how to teach. Students get bored and at times will complain.
Most students in Colombia see English as a mandatory class in High School. English classes in public and most private schools in Colombia are shit. They use the Grammar Translation approach, hence the mediocre to poor speaking levels. It’s pretty much the same as Spanish class in high school in the U.S. I had many friends take 2 to 4 years of Spanish n high school and were still not able to have a conversation.
The majority of high school students in Medellin do not get passed the verb “to be.”
Beginner English Students
Teaching beginners is a challenge, but very rewarding. I taught beginners for a year, just to get my feet wet, and to learn the lower level teaching methodology of the institution. It was definitely a lot of work. Why? Because at Blendex the whole 2 hour class is in English, even if the students are beginners. You have to be able to communicate through body language, cognates, games, etc. This can be very demanding, but it is where as a teacher you see the most growth in the students.
Those first 6 months are amazing because they learn so much and they get very motivated. Teaching beginners was fun at the beginning, then exhausting. I would not want to teach beginners every semester.
I have a lot of respect for those teachers that do it day in and day out, like my friend in the picture below, Fry, one of the best damned teachers I’ve ever seen. When I first started at Blendex I sat in on a few of his classes, the guy is very talented and I have never heard him speak in Spanish, ever.
His students come to class very motivated because he pushes them and doesn’t set a bar, he keeps pushing until the students are ready for the advanced level.
Surprisingly, he is not the only great teacher at Blendex, there’s Freddy, who has a very relaxed approach, which puts pressure off the students.
There’s Peter (Venezuelan) and Juan David (Paisa), who are not only great teachers, but who become great friends with their students, so there’s never any intimidation in the class.
There’s Marco (German) whose boyish look and silly German humor makes every class a real joy.
I think the key is to incorporate one’s personality and never bring in your personal negativity into class.
Intermediate English Students
Teaching intermediate students is interesting. This is where I had to be more creative with my lesson planning. Since the classes had a varied level of intermediate students I had to really work on my lesson planning. Intermediate level English teaching for me is about speaking, speaking, speaking.
The higher level intermediate students at times feel as if they are not progressing because of the giant leap they had from when they were just beginners. So this is where I as a teacher have to be creative with the lessons to incorporate advanced grammar deductively, so as to not bore the crap out of them.
Blendex has new T.V.s, USB enabled boomboxes, DVD players, projectors, laptops, and WiFi. This makes my lessons more dynamic and fun for the students. Since I love computers, websites, etc, I am able to show students different online resources to help them at home.
Advanced English Students
For me, teaching advanced level English students is the most enjoyable. I have a lot of fun with these classes because we are all able to express ourselves in a very natural way.
Jokes, videos, movies, music, literature, poetry. I am able to use all of this in class because the students understand, at the very least, half of what is being communicated.
Advanced students are also much more dedicated than beginners and intermediates. These are students that have been studying English for at least a year and are committed to learning more. Not to mention that if they are waking up to get to a 6:00 a.m. English class they must really want to learn. So the classroom dynamic is awesome. I usually do not have to pick people to participate, they usually volunteer. They do not grimace at the mention of grammar or writing. They have favorite songs, books, movies in English. They usually have more extracurricular activities and hobbies. It truly is a joy.
Teacher Student Relations
Colombia is way different than the United States in respect to teacher student relation. In the United States there is a fine line between teacher and student. As a teacher you treat the student with respect and professionalism.
In Colombia the teacher student relationship is much more relaxed. Establishing a leadership role in class is very important because it is very easy to lose control if you have students with strong personalities.
Teenage female students like to hug here. Colombian people in general have loose personal boundaries, they kiss on the cheek upon meeting someone, so when I started teaching I was caught off guard when female students wanted to hug me or kiss on the cheek to say hello or goodbye.
Personal boundaries must be set. I give high fives. As corny as that sounds it has worked for me for five years. I still get hugs once in a while, but limiting physical contact with the students has helped me maintain the leadership role in the class.
Aside from the personal boundaries issue I also had to get adjusted to the fact that students here really do confide in me. I have students come to me with problems they have at home, relationships, business, drugs and university.
I have become good at detecting when a student is having personal issues and I usually ask to speak to them after class. One time I had a student who was being abused at home. I spoke to her and told her that it was a bigger issue than I could handle, so I reported it to the schools administration.
In Medellin marijuana is pretty much legal. Some times I have had student come to class stoned. The way I handle this is by putting the class into dyads, having them do an activity and pulling the stonner out of class. I let the student know that he/she cannot stay in class and that if it happens again I would have no choice but to report it.
When it comes to dating students I have never had an issue. At Blendex they are strict about not hitting on the students. Cesar, the director, once told us in a meeting that he understands that most teachers are there at the institution six days a week for 50 hours. Naturally there is going to be a time that you are going to be interested in a student or a student is going to be interested in you. He emphasized the importance of handling it professionally, that it is not the end of the world to actually date a student, but hitting on students constantly and trying to get dates repeatedly is not tolerated.
Every semester there is a student that gets a crush on me. In four years I have never dated a girl that was a current student. I have however dated former students. I would never date a current student, I would hate to lose my leadership role in the class. I find that dating students is best after they graduate.
If you’re interested in my dating life here in Medellin, Colombia check out my blog post on my experience dating Colombian women.
Teaching Other Subjects in Medellin
Teaching English is not the only option in Medellin. As a matter of fact I have friends who are elementary school teachers, high school teachers and university professors that teach different subjects. There are a few elementary and high schools (that are high end schools) that require English teachers. Here are a few:
Elementary & High Schools:
- Vermont School
- The Columbus School
- Instituto Musical Diego Echeverria
- Colegio Canadiense
I personally have never taught at an elementary school or high school in Medellin, but I do have a few friends that do, so it is possible to land a good job with a private school.
In regards to Universities, I have only done workshops at EAFIT and CESDE. I was invited to teach at SENA, but turned the offer down due to lack of schedule availability and, frankly, the compensation was too low.
Teaching the computer workshops at the universities was very fun. They were all in English and all had to do with computer science subjects that I like: HTML, WordPress, SEO, PHP, Digital Marketing I even had a Microsoft Excel workshop.
University students are definitely very motivated to learn and always want to speak in English. Just like anywhere else you’ll get those that are shy, but I always work hard on my lesson planning thinking about those shy or less motivated students.
I always incorporate some sort of group activity that doesn’t involve the use of a computer, usually an icebreaker at the beginning of the workshop. This gets the everyone comfortable with each other, I make sure that I participate in the activity too, so that the students feel comfortable wit me. The worst feeling for me is if a student thinks I’m unapproachable or intimidating.
What makes teaching English in Medellin so awesome is the students. For the most part they are fun and willing to learn. One thing that they all have in common, even the worst student in the class, the one that does not want to be there, will always say “thank you teacher” and shake your hand at the end of the class. I work long and hard to make my classes fun and different, so when students say thank you or that it was a good class it makes me feel great.
Landing a teaching job in Medellin can be tough. You have to deal with the way Paisas do business, and the hiring process. This can take time and some ass kissing. Luckily I did not have to go through any of that. If you really want to teach English, become a great teacher, work on making your classes fun and dynamic.
My business is at a point where it requires a lot of attention, however I still teach Monday through Thursday from 6:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. As long as I can manage my business while teaching I will continue to do so.
About the writer – Andrew Macia
Hello, my name is Andrew Macia and I am the founder of the Medellin Buzz. I am an advanced level English teacher, and I also run a digital marketing company here in Medellin.
I love Colombian and Medellin has been my home since 2010. I like to write and I want to give back to the community. This is the best way I know how. I hope you enjoy my blog!
About the Medellin Buzz
I started the Medellin Buzz as a resource for my English as a foreign language students. A site where they could read about their city in English, that wasn’t boring. It slowly turned into a personal blog and hub for information for people discovering Medellin. I check comments frequently, so feel free to leave your comment and/or questions below.