So, early December I was done with TEFL and ready to enter the world of teaching.
…or was I?
I can’t speak for anyone other than myself, but for me, the end of the TEFL course marked the beginning of a challenging new period in my life. TEFL was intense – constantly busy, from before dawn ’til long after sunset. Which really isn’t saying anything because the sun set around 4 PM, but with or without sunlight, they were long, frantic days. After 30 days of this, I was ready for a few days off.
Which turned into a week, and then another… until it was nearly mid-January and I still hadn’t even touched my resume or sent out a single job application. So what happened?
First, I’d like to say that The Language House offered me all the resources I needed, and more, to find work in the city. In fact, I could’ve begun my job hunt while still in the course, if I had somehow found the time. But even after graduation, the school was available to review resumes and assist with where to look for work, tips on interviews, as well as adding all of us to the Alum Group – a constant source of job openings. For a full month after the course we had our own “Jobs Board” as well, just for us November, where one of the staff posted job openings that were sent her way by employers who trusted the reputation of the language house. Many of my friends found jobs through these resources, so they weren’t just for show.
I recall that first week after the course – I felt finally free to explore Prague! I had moved overseas only to be living in School Land, consumed by the world of teaching and homework and lessons. Unable to summon the energy to venture far in this strange land, my world was the school, the flat, and on weekends expanded slightly to various restaurants and bars around Zizkov. The end of the course meant I was finally free to wander, see the sights, spend time with my new equally unemployed friends, and relax. So I gave myself a break, and figured I’d start with the job hunting soon – just not quite yet.
But the next week was the week before Christmas – and well, no one is really hiring around the holidays. I knew I should at least be editing my resume to reflect my new TEFL grad status, and drafting a cover letter or two, so when the holidays ended I’d be ready to start job searching. But although I opened up my resume a number of times, and stared at it – I’d always end up closing it. Most of my friends were still unemployed through the holidays too, as it really is a slow hiring period.
I moved into a new flat the weekend after the course as well, and spent a lot of time, energy and money into making a home for myself in it. Ikea is located about an hour away on the metro, but I made the trip twice. I was one of a few of my graduating TEFL group to move out of Zizkov – most stayed in the area, as we were already familiar with it and it’s centrally located. I moved a bit farther out, into a neighborhood called Vrsovice. I moved into a 4-room flat with a lease on one room, paying a considerably cheaper rent than some of my friends who stayed closer to the city center. One of my fellow Novembers who I got along well with, a Serbian named Marko, also moved in. The other rooms were filled by a Slovakian gal and then an Italian, who then moved out shortly after, and was replaced by a Portuguese gal (the current flat demographic).
I got along well with my flatmates, I arranged and re-arranged my belongings, and began to settle in. Over the holidays I didn’t even think about work all that much – I got a bit homesick instead. I stuck to hanging out with friends, I obsessed over getting a Christmas tree and re-creating an American breakfast like I could get at any greasy spoon back home. (Properly crispy hashbrowns still elude me). I spent more money than I probably should’ve on my own little tree, buying lights and baubles and ribbons, and threw a Christmas Eve party with my friends.
The early sunset coupled with my lack of ability to wake up early meant I only got about 4 or 5 hours of sunlight a day, and often I was indoors for most of it anyhow. I missed the sun, I missed being warm, I hated having to put on so many pieces of clothing every time I needed to walk out the door. The days in the weeks after Christmas all began to blur into each other – I would sleep in, feel guilty, stay in my room or nap on the couch. I am lucky I had friends messaging and getting me to come hang out fairly often, but even so as January approached they all began to get busier, looking for jobs and then interviewing and then getting hired and beginning to work. In the meantime, I was feeling furtively guiltier and guiltier for doing none of that, sleeping and living off of my savings.
Every time I sat down at my laptop I would think about how I was failing to look for work, and feel bad – but not fix it. I began to dread any encounters with anyone from the school (save from my closer friends), because of course the inevitable opening question was always, “So, how’s the job search going?” – “I’m not,” just never seemed like an adequate response.
Then it snowed. I’ve spent the last ten years before Prague living in Texas, where the attitude about snow is definite – if it snows, everything closes. Schools close, work closes, people stay home. So I did what an sensible long time resident of the south would do – I stayed home. I hibernated, waiting for the snow to stop. I slept a lot, I read some, I surfed the internet, and slept some more. My friends posted photos on facebook of beautiful snow-covered views in the city, snowball fights and snow angels. I just thought, it’s too cold, it’s too wet, I’m tired. And so I slept some more.
There is light at the end of the sleepy, snow-buried tunnel, however. I finally left the flat, to see some friends, and learned that snow does not, in fact, kill you. The inconvenience of having to get dressed, as huge as that was, could not damper the benefit of being around my friends, talking to people and eating and just in general operating more like a normal person. Unfortunately, then I got sick.
Not terribly, deathly ill – just your general it’s-winter-and-of-course-I’m-sick type of sick. Headachey, tired, and just general crappieness abound. So, another week of sleeping too much, staying in too much, and not getting anything done about my job situation. But as time wore on, the feeling of failure, guilt, and inadequacy only got stronger and stronger and made it more and more difficult to break through.
I’d think about teaching and recall the stress and anxiety I felt during TEFL, and just felt completely incapable of becoming a teacher. It’s not that I thought I couldn’t or wouldn’t get hired – just the opposite. I’d seen enough of my friends get jobs by this point to know it would happen for me if I just put myself out there. I was terrified to actually get hired and have to be a teacher for real. My internal work ethic has always dictated I go into things prepared as possible, to be competent, and in order to feel secure I needed to feel like “I know what I’m doing.” But even with all the things I’d learned and preparation I did during TEFL, I still felt like a fraud.
But, after six weeks of procrastinating and these feelings not going away, the pressure to address the problem finally grew too large to ignore. I had to do something. So, I wrote a blog post. Probably one of the most pathetic, self pitying blog posts to even grace the WordPress editing page, but that’s what I did. I couldn’t sign up for the embarrassment of publishing my failure, but I did send it to a few online friends, as well as to one of my friends and fellow TEFLers. She had yet to apply anywhere yet either, and after I sent it – she told me she had similar feelings.
It turns out having someone else who understood how I felt, and was going through the same thing, was just what we both needed. That week, we met at a cafe and vowed to stay until we had both applied to at least one job – and we did it. With her I applied for four jobs, and the next week had four interviews, and now I work for three language schools, teaching 12 classes a week. I still struggle at times with my feeling of somehow being a fraud and not a ‘real’ teacher, but it’s manageable.
I wanted to write this post, not to look for pity or congratulations, but just because I am sure that if two people (at least) out of our course went through this period of self-doubt and insecurity, others will too. I don’t think I ever fully lost hope, but sometimes it was close to it – which is saying a lot for an idealist like myself. I have no doubt, though, that what pushed me out of my slump and into normal operations, was my friends. We survived TEFL together, I think a lot of them went through a version of this funk, just a bit faster than I did. But we all leaned on each other and came out the other side employed… if not all entirely legal. But, that’s a topic for another post.