This article was contributed by a British teacher at a wealthy, private high school in Medellin.
Teaching at Colombian Colegios (a Warning)
Many expats go to exotic tropical climates to escape the 9-5 stressful job with bosses who micromanage, only to find themselves doing the same type of job. Teaching at a Colegio in Colombia is worse than customer service from a cubicle.
Classism is an unfortunate part of many cultures. Not everywhere in Colombia is infested with the rich, the cartel families, and the political movers and shakers. To understand corruption in Colombia and its future, look at their private schools. To be fair, not all students are bad. There are always a few exceptions that give you hope for the future. Not all Colegios are bad either. I’m sure there are a few who are modern and adapted to the 21st century.
But not my school.
If you are a licensed teacher go to Brazil, go to Asia or even Europe where the pay is better and they give you the proper status your position deserves. Colombian schools will will treat you more like a niñera (nanny) and punish you if you step out of line.
I never expected schools in Colombia to be so poorly equipped. You will probably be expected to enter grades online with a connection that barely works. You will find yourself teaching subjects you were never good at when you were in school, because they just want you to teach in English. The subject content doesn’t matter. You will teach with books from the 80s or 90s, maybe the ones you used in school.
The lackadaisical attitude towards the technical fields is shocking. At a parent teacher conference the biggest issue of the day wasn’t math or science, but handwriting … in high school. I dare not disdain the noble art of good penmanship, however there is more to education than the ability to write your name nicely.
Most students are barbaric little cretins. These kids are given everything from birth. They’re raised like royalty with maids and toys and all their desires instantly satisfied. My entire 9th grade class owns iPhone 5s.
Because they have a chauffeur to pick them up and a maid to care for them while mom is at the gym making sure the non-plastic parts are kept in good shape, they’re starved like paupers for attention. Students argue and tell me I am wrong, that’s not how their Colombian teacher does it, etc. It makes no difference how many times I write them up. Nothing changes.
In a “typical” school setting teachers are given the title “Mr.” Or “Mrs.” I never cared for students to call me that because I didn’t want to feel old and stodgy. Now I understand that the title is and had always been meant to allocate respect and distance to ensure a proper measure of professionalism. “Professionalism” is sorely lacking in the posh colegios of Colombia. I have students who call me “puta” and “perra” when they yell and argue.
Each grade retains its own individual classroom necessitating that all teachers go to them. The students don’t attend the teacher’s class; the teachers attend to the students’. It seems subtle but it makes a difference. Students treat their classrooms like their bedrooms – a place to relax, hang out, and do whatever regardless of what is destroyed or lost. They write in the textbooks, throw them on the floor, write on the wall, and discard trash anywhere.
The estrato-6 Colombian parents are the rotten source from which these waters of life flow from. I don’t blame the children for being soulless cretins without a conscience; I blame the parents for allowing their behavior to be acceptable. “Spare the rod, spoil the child” isn’t prevailing wisdom in Colombia. The upper-class parents have trained everyone to give their children what they want this instant … or else. And teachers will be blamed!
One child ignored and pushed past me when I tried to stop and talk to him. He called me a dirty name. I gently caught him by his shoulders and held him still until he stopped and listened. Rather than requesting a civilized parent-teacher conference, his mother waved me over after a parent-child event and screamed at me like I was a mass murderer. In the mom’s mind I handcuffed him to the desk and screamed for his attention. I was suspended for a day because the school was afraid of the mother’s threats to report me to the ministry of education.
Do I hate my students or the school where I worked? I have had my days where forgiveness did not come easily after being thrown under the bus by the administration at the whims of the parents. I simply wish to finish my year, leave in peace, and never look back.
My advice for aspiring teachers is to work in the public schools, the institutes, the middle-class colegios even. If a bigger paycheck is desired, go teach the wealthy. Just make sure you have Jesus-sized dose of patience and don’t try to “make a difference” or “raise the bar.” You will only meet resistance and cultural fossilization.
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