Within the international staff of an ESL school, the overwhelming majority are typically young – early to mid-twenties, fresh out of college, unwilling to sentence themselves to the corporate world just yet.
During my time abroad, I was a part of that group. Never before having worked full-time, aside from short summertime gigs, my peers and I in the post-collegiate category perfected the art of complaining about work.
- An ESL schedule can be quite irregular and unpredictable: you might teach at 7:30 AM, have the afternoon free, and find yourself with chalk in hand once again at 7 in the evening. So, we'd complain about the lack of routine.
- Your students might not do their homework, or they might throw fits in another language when the textbook appears. We'd complain about our lack of authority, and then we'd complain about the belligerent adults we called students.
- You'll inevitably have some work to do outside of class, lesson planning, homework-grading, exam-writing, and you likely won't be compensated for that time. So, we'd complain about being overworked and underpaid.
This is where I learned to be appreciative of the older folks on staff. Whenever a post-collegiate began to moan, our elders provided some perspective.
They had a bit more life experience behind them. Some were our parents' age, perhaps fresh divorcees, perhaps recently laid-off. Those I knew all seemed to be handling mid-life crises with huge life shake-ups. Others were a bit younger: newlyweds in their early thirties or corporate burnouts in their late twenties, escaping after just a few years climbing the workplace ladder. All had experienced a bit of life, but all were searching for something more.
They were mentors for those of us in the younger generation, preparing us for the real world we had yet to face. They taught us to appreciate what we had.
Sure, teaching hours weren't ideal. But having a free Tuesday afternoon week after week is something anyone in corporate America would kill to have. And yes, the students could grate on our nerves, but better it be a student we could reprimand, than a boss around whom we'd have to remain tight-lipped. And, again, while there was work to do after class ended, twenty minutes of lesson-planning at home in our pajamas would always beat slaving at the office two hours after the sun has gone down.
Like any job, ESL has its ups and downs. It's good to understand what you'll be getting into before accepting a post, but at the same time, it's important to keep the glass half full. It can always be worse, and at the end of the day, you're living abroad. That simple fact makes every complaint well worth it.
Leslie currently lives in New York, where she freelances in publishing and writes a food and health blog, The Whole Plate. Aside from travel, she is (almost) equally addicted to theater, thrift shopping, yoga, and cooking with natural foods.