I don't want to be the kind of person who is good at this job.

   Photo by  rawpixel  on  Unsplash


Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

This day two years ago, was the end of one of the worst months in one of the worst years of my life. I had taken a job working as an ESL teacher in a summer camp. The job had been sold to me as half work half vacation, so that is how I intended to treat it. As it turns out, that was just a sales pitch. These people expected me to work with an American work ethic for a Spanish salary. To understand what this means, consider the fact that in one month, I had one and a half full days off. That's it.

To give it more context, this was just after my horrendous first year of living in Spain. While I had a great relationship with my students and the teachers I worked with, the principal and I continuously butted heads. He was in no uncertain terms a narcissist who was completely unqualified for his position. What do I mean? Well, consider the fact that he was a former gym teacher who somehow worked his way up to being principal of a brand new bilingual school. This was despite the fact that he had no experience in the actual classroom, an advanced degree in education or an ability to speak English. It was, in no uncertain terms, a clusterfuck. By the time summer came, I was in dire need of a reprieve. 

Unfortunately, my lack of finances meant that I had to keep working. So I took this job.  The first week in I was already tired and overwhelmed. But I was trying my best to make it through, the worst thing happened--twice in one week. Two Black men were shot by police. The first was Alton Sterling and the second was Philando Castile. Although I didn't know these men personally their deaths struck me like a bat to the face. And magnified any distress I was already feeling. To make matters even worse, I was also stuck in northern Spain without another black person around for miles. Which meant that there was no one to mourn with. No one to share in my distress. 

I had to endure all of this while trying to teach a classroom, something I had no experience doing on my own. While I liked my students and enjoyed teaching, I was unable to cope with the sheer volume of work that was expected. Teaching in a camp is not like teaching in a classroom. The students have no incentive to actually do any work. This meant that every activity had to be turned into a game. And as the teacher, I was expected to make that happen. One of the main aspects of my job was to make sure that they were having fun--not that they were necessarily learning. Under ordinary circumstances, I would have been up to it. But at this point of my life I simply couldn't.

Meanwhile, everyone else seemed to be loving, or at least well adapted to the skill and pace required for the position. I, on the other hand, could never quite get my footing. And given the year that I had just endured, I couldn't muster the courage to try. And at some point, I just decided to give up, because the reality was I was not the type of person who wanted to be good at this job.



While my coworkers were lovely, some of them had spent years working for this company. And for the life of me, I couldn't understand why. Yes, their pay increased yearly. But given the fact that most of them worked up to 14 hours a day, only four of which were spent in class, they were still being compensated with a meagerly wage. I just wasn't built like that. If was going to be an over-achiever, I was going to be paid accordingly.

It was then that I realized that trauma--no matter how small or meaningless--lessens your capacity to tolerate nonsense. Now, let's be clear. I was by no means a slacker. I created lesson plans, corrected notebooks and tried my best to create activities. But what I had neither the interest or ability to do was spend ten hours creating giant puzzles or scavenger hunts. All to be awarded the "best activity" sticker by the program director. To be honest, I found it all rather pathetic to be so competitive about something that offered so little recompense.  It just fed into my entrepreneurial mindset, the one that never understood the idea of working hard for a person or place that doesn't give a fuck about you.

So, here I am two years later. Another summer and this time I am the one making the rules--and my own schedule. It hasn't always been easy and money is still hard to come by, but it beats working at that terrible camp and fighting feelings of inadequacy because the reality is...I don't want to be the type of person who is good at that kind of job.

So, my advice to you dear reader is this. We all have times when things are lean. When there are jobs we have to take to keep the lights on and the refrigerator full. But sacrifice has its limits and exploitation means different things to different people. If you find yourself in a position at a job that requires more than a little humility to make it through--walk away. Dedicate yourself instead to building up a skillset that will eliminate you having to be in this position ever again. Because if you are like me, you don't want to be...well, you know the rest. 

Candace FykesComment