Let go the idea that teachers have to be perfect.

“If you know you are going to fail, then fail gloriously!”

Cate Blanchett



It was a group of six prospective students from a well-known multinational company in São Paulo. It was back in the day when VCRs were cutting-edge technology, so we had a brand new one at our school. We’d specially bought it to play movies and the videos that accompanied our business English materials. It was a Saturday morning class and I’d arrived one hour early to set up the materials and the VCR, and also to make sure that everything was in place for that special class.

The first half of our class went smoothly and the timing was just perfect. Everything had been carefully planned and the VCR was ready to be used after our 15-minute break. And it was not without a sigh of relief that I left the room straight into the teachers’ room to relax a little before the big moment. I’d planned and rehearsed every single move. When we came back from our break, I went through the handouts, the pre-viewing tasks, and finally reached for the remote control. Just two clicks and … nothing happened. Across from the round meeting table was the pitch black TV screen. Then another click. My blood ran cold. Still, nothing happened. That was when one of the students said: “The VCR’s gone.” I realized that I’d have to do without it and I improvised something else.  I learned later that day that during the break one of the teachers had taken it from my classroom without asking.


It was a beginner class for adults. One of those audio-lingual methods in which you do nothing but drill and drill until you finally move on to the role-play tasks. The lexical set of the day was hair color, so to spice things up a little I went from one student to the next asking them to repeat something like “I have brown hair” or “I have black hair” until I reached a totally bald student and I quickly came up with “I have no hair.” Luckily my student had a great sense of humor and the whole class burst out laughing.


A one-to-one class at a French company in the automotive industry in Rio. My student was a young, advanced level expat French engineer, who’d been in Brazil for less than three months.  His French accent was so thick that it was impossible for me to make out what he was saying, so at one point I gave up and started to pretend I understood him.  It was probably the most insane conversation I’ve ever had with someone. He continued to have classes with me for two or three more weeks, but honestly, we felt like cavemen trying to communicate with each other. Eventually, he ended up teaching me some French words.


An adult class of beginners. I was teaching a lesson about age and background information. A woman volunteered to say her age in front of the class, but she suddenly changed her mind and asked me to guess how old she was. Without thinking twice, I said “thirty-five?,” “No,” twenty-five,” she said. I wanted to dig a hole and bury myself inside. I couldn’t bring myself to have eye contact with her for the rest of the class.

My say

Well, there are times when words fail us — at least we’re not the ones failing the words, but whatever happens,  just get comfortable failing and get back on your feet. One step at a time.

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Teresa Carvalho

Teresa holds a Master's Degree in Language Studies from PUC-Rio, a B.A. in Linguistics from USP, and Delta Modules 1 and 2 Certificates. She has been teaching for over 30 years and has presented at webinars and at both local and international Conferences, including ABCI, IATEFL, and the Image Conference. She also holds a Specialization degree in English Language from PUC-Rio. She is interested in Systemic-Functional Linguistics, identity studies, visual literacy, and in language development for teachers of English as a foreign language.

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