Sunday, October 14, 2007

Sunday Scribblings: First Job, Worst Job, Dream Job

My first job was also, coincidentally, my worst job.

I was 15 and living in Maringá, Brazil as an exchange student. As commonly happens, local English schools are willing to turn a blind eye to the fact that students on a temporary residency visa cannot work, so desperate are they to hire native speakers that will, as an added bonus, teach for next to nothing.

The lure of $250 reais per month (at the time, roughly equivalent to USD 250) to teach conversational English was too great. I didn't really stop to consider what the reality of teaching back-to-back 2 hour classes on Friday afternoons would be like. I thought the job would be easy, a relatively painless way to get some extra cash so that I could travel to the Amazon at the end of my exchange year.

Boy, was I wrong on all fronts.

To start, I was teaching English to teenagers. Teenagers, for God's sake! They are a tough crowd any day of the week, but keep in mind that I was only 15 at the time. Half of my students were older than I was and therefore paid me no respect. A good portion of the boys were more interested in trying out their flirting skills on the American girl than learning about phrasal verbs. The kids would throw things while I had my back turned, and would torment me by yelling out words in Portuguese that I intuitively recognized as filthy, but didn't yet know their meaning.

It was clear to me that all of my studetns were only in conversation classes because their upper-middle-class parents thought it was the appropriate activity for after school. They didn't give a crap about learning new vocabulary; they just wanted to get the hell out of the classroom.

After my first double class session, I went home and had a breakdown. The class had been a disaster. It is damn hard to fill 2 hours of time, especially given that the language school didn't supply me with any teaching materials, books or curriculum suggestions. I was on my own, and improvising my way through the classes once my hour or so of prepared material ran out was taxing, to say the least.

Every week I'd struggle to come up with ideas for class. One day we talked about food habits and made a meal in the courtyard of the English school on a double burner that I'd brought from home. Another day I brought in my high school yearbook and we talked about the differences in being a teenager in the US and in Brazil. Yet another day, at the very end of my creative ideas, and quite frankly sick of the job, I had both classes watch "Say Anything" without subtitles, then write me a paragraph about their reaction to the movie.

I lasted about 2 months at this job, then resigned. I missed the steady income, but still managed to make it to the Amazon, mostly thanks to the help of my parents. It would have been satisfying to pay my own way 100%, but the stress of my job wasn't worth it. I gladly accepted the help, knowing there was no way I wanted to pass up the chance to visit the rainforest.

So that was both my first and worst job, though I've certainly been through much more terrible situations in jobs since then (i.e. the time in my job as Director of an HIV Prevention Program when one of my staff members yelled, when asked to arrive on time to work, "Fuck you! I don't gotta do what you tell me. You aint my mother!" and puffed out her chest, challenging me to discipline her. I fired her on the spot.). I've certainly had my share of drama in jobs, but that first one as an English teacher was without a doubt the most painful on a regular basis.

As for the last bit of the prompt, I'm sure it will come as no surprise to those of you who have been reading my blog over the past month that my dream job is actually my current job! Yes, I know, I am one lucky girl. :)


Shelby said...

What a great story of your first job - although I'm sorry that it was so awful.. take care and happy day today :)

Jane Poe (aka Deborah) said...

Happy day-after-your-birthday, Ali! I know what you mean, some birthdays don't bring a lot of excitement, but chin up girl, you've got your dream job and you're truly coming into your own! Peace & love, JP/deb

Safiya said...

I do love your Sunday Scribblings, they're almost as good as Post Secret and you know how much I love Post Secret, so this is massive praise.

I still haven't seen Say Anything, I'll have to keep an eye out for it. I love 80's teen films, my favourite is The Lost Boys.

Have emailed you a YouTube link, so enjoy!

Betty C. said...

What a nightmare! 15 is awfully young to be teching anything -- especially to a group!

paris parfait said...

That was a tough job for 15! Glad you're now enjoying your job. And a happy belated birthday!

DJPare said...

Wow! Teaching that at 15? Brave...

Happy belated birthday by the way! Hope you had a wonderful day! First time I've stopped by your site, so I missed you on the actual day.

Nice photo - you have lovely eyes.

jenica said...

a very happy un-birthday to you! i hope you let go of feeling *un* and enjoyed yourself. ;-D

i can't imagine trying to teach english to teenagers AS a teenager. after i was married we worked on the navajo reservation in AZ, we worked for a mentoring group so we were teaching values and character. it was so intimidating trying to teach rebellious teenagers that they didn't have to do drugs, drink, or sleep around in order to get ahead in their classes... but that was my most rewarding job.

thanks for your sweet compliment! you know i would go to africa to help you! ;-D

colleen said...

It sounds like your first job didn't dampen your spirits to move on.

Abzdragon said...

Happy late birthday!! I hope you had a good one :) Also, that's a really interesting story... it's sometimes how I feel teaching English to native English speakers. Teaching at 15 is amazingly brave, I am still terrified sometimes at 21.

Also, I gave you an award at my blog so when you get a chance, check it out xoxo

Gilson said...

I know exactly what you mean. I've also taught English for teenagers that didn't care a bit for the language. Lately, I've been very lucky with my groups though.

Masd said...

Happy Birthday.