What does it take to be an English language teacher in Brazil?

I think I must have seen this question a million times: “What does it take to be an English language teacher?”

“Courage” springs to mind. At least that’s what I needed when I broke the news to my dear father that I wouldn’t be a lawyer like him (“Quem não faz Direito faz errado,” he must have replied). Joke aside, we can interpret that question in several ways. What I would like to explore here is perhaps the easiest of them: the minimum qualifications that will land you a teaching job.

Easy, perhaps, but definitely not simple. Requirements vary a lot and there is no single road to Rome, especially in a country the size of Brazil, with the plethora of teaching contexts we have. So while you read this, please bear in mind that this is my view of the market and my view only. Although this text is intended to help people who haven’t started in the career, I may have inadvertently misrepresented the TESOL reality in Brazil, and I welcome corrective feedback.

Let’s start with English language proficiency: you definitely need it, of course. What level, though? It depends on the school you are applying for. I will stick my neck out here and say most language schools and many private regular schools in Brazil will probably want at least a CEFR B2 level (sort of an upper-intermediate level, but it pays to know more about the CEFR, as many places are adopting it now: click here for a quick intro and here for an extensive explanation). When it comes to a teacher’s language proficiency, though, there is no such a thing as being overqualified. A C1 (advanced) or C2 (“proficient”) level is a likely requirement at the most prestigious language institutes and wouldn’t hurt your chances in any other place.

However, a difference has to be made between language proficiency (speaking the language to the level required) and a language proficiency test (having the certificate to prove it). So-called native speakers, for example, are assumed to have the former, but never the latter. Also, many language institutes ask candidates to sit a test of their own and hence don’t demand other proof of proficiency, such as an international proficiency exam. Again, if you have a certificate, it can only help. In a few cases, the certificate might be the only way you will get an interview. Here’s a list of certificates per level:

Those are definitely not the only proficiency exams out there (British Council’s APTISTrinity and Pearson come to mind), but I believe they are the best-known and widespread in terms of testing centers in Brazil. TOEIC, by the same company as TOEFL, is another test I’ve seen teachers take. When you are choosing a test, you might want to take into consideration that IELTS, TOEFL and TOEIC scores are only valid for two years, whilst Cambridge certificates have no expiry date in theory

Of course, it takes more than English proficiency to be an English teacher. One needs also to know how to teach. Where do you learn that? Frankly, most of what you’ll learn will be on the job: planning lessons, teaching them, reflecting on what works and what doesn’t, listening to yours students’ feedback, etc. Still, learning from experience also requires studying about it, a combination of practice and theory. But I digress. The point here is what the hiring company will want you to have as a qualification prior to considering you for the vacancy.

Regular schools must/should follow MEC’s requirements. Therefore, you will need a degree in Education (Pedagogia) to teach up to the 5th year or a major in English (Licenciatura em Letras com habilitação em inglês) to teach the language to any year. On the other hand, language institutes do not usually consider that degree a conditio sine qua non to hire personnel, but they may wish their teaching staff to have a higher education diploma in any area. In addition, a teacher training course, such as Cambridge’s CELTA or Trinity’s CertTESOL, is definitely a foot in the door (common misconception: CELTA is not a language proficiency or a language teaching test. It’s not a test at all. It’s a month-long course in its intensive version or a six-month course in its part-time edition, at the end of which you’ll get a certificate from Cambridge if you meet their minimum standards). Also, some language institutes will ask you to undergo a pre-teaching course as a prerequisite for you to get in. That training course won’t help you get a job anywhere else, but be on the alert: your performance on that course is usually part of the selection process. Take every day of the course as a long job interview.

As these things come in threes, it’s not only language proficiency and teaching qualifications the hiring school will want. It will probably ask for experience. And here’s the Catch-22: how can you get teaching experience if teaching jobs require experience in the first place? Well, if you go to uni in Brazil, there will be the practicum (the compulsory “estágio da licenciatura”). Volunteer work or a job as a teaching assistant can also be a way in. And finally, I may be going out on a politically incorrect limb here, there are always the less demanding schools, which will probably pay you peanuts but will teach you a lot nonetheless… and serve as a springboard for future careers opportunities.

Whatever your initial qualifications, you will have a lot to learn. There is a myriad of other courses you can take, and each might open yet more opportunities. There are free webinars you can watch, communities you can take part in, seminars you can attend, books and articles you can read. Just don’t stop learning. After all, you’ll be in the business of helping other people learn. It is only fair that you do, too.

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Natália Guerreiro

Natália Guerreiro has been a teacher since the year 2000 and currently works in Aviation English assessment and teaching for the Brazilian Air Force. She holds a CELTA, a B.A. in English & Portuguese from UFRJ, and an M.A. in Applied Linguistics from the University of Melbourne. She's been elected BRAZ-TESOL's Second Vice President for the 2019-2020 term.

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