Teacher Tim's TEFL International Blog May 7th, 2011

Are You Wokin’ Hard or Hardly Workin’?

There is a poignant moment in the Preston Sturges movie Christmas in July, when Dick Powell’s boss calls him into his office for a little chat. Powell is a lowly clerk, chained to an adding machine for eight hours a day, and has been daydreaming of winning it big in a radio contest, which makes his work suffer.

Powell’s boss doesn’t give him the standard chewing-out; instead he goes into a mellow reminiscence about his own youthful hopes & ambitions, his dreams of conquering the world and reaping fame and fortune – and finally realizing that his life was not going to amount to much more than the daily grind at the office. But did that make him feel himself a failure? No! Powell’s boss explains that he decided he would do his best at the work that was put in front of him, and that that would be the true measure of his success – if he did his daily work well. He encourages Powell to think the same way, and then dismisses him.

The movie itself is a rip-roaring screwball comedy, but that little monologue was a serious piece of writing on the part of Preston Sturges, who always wrote his own movie scripts. I think Sturges was trying to slip in a little old-fashioned common-sense. Most of us will never become Hollywood stars or make a killing on Wall Street or discover a ruby mine in Thailand. We’ll have to grub for a living; ”in the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread.”

The reason for this tedious prologue is that I have been getting an increasing number of inquiries here at TEFL International from prospective teachers who want to know how easy it will be to become an English teacher; these individuals are worried that they are going to have to work “too hard” at their new careers.

Say what?

Ex-squeeze me?

Where is it written that a career, any career, has to be easy?

I started out in life, at the tender age of 17, as a circus clown. I was in full makeup and costume 12 hours a day – on weekends I was in makeup and costume for 16 hours a day. I had to create my own costumes, mend them, and keep them clean. I not only had to perform in each show, but had to work a half hour before each show started, warming up the audience; not to mention sell coloring books and help set up and tear down the tent.

During the winter, when the circus laid off, I worked laying sod in Florida and California.

When I got a little older, and, I thought, a little wiser, I went back to school to get a broadcasting license so I could work in radio. Easy peasy.

My first job was as the News Director at radio station KGCX in Williston, North Dakota. I had to be at the station every morning at 4 am to turn on the transmitter. I worked steadily through the rest of the morning and into the afternoon until about 3 pm, hunting down news, writing news, broadcasting and recording news. At 3 pm I was officially done for the day – unless, of course, there was a city council meeting or the school board was meeting or the county commissioners were in session; I was expected to cover all those things live and write them up for the next broadcast. Accidents and fires happened any time of the day and night, and I had to be present at those as well.

After several years of this I finally wised up and said to myself: “Listen, dummy, what you need is your own business – get it going and it will run itself so you can sit back, order pizza, watch old Preston Sturges movies, and take it easy!”

So I started a company – one that I was certain catered to an obvious yet overlooked need. THE TOILET PAPER OF THE MONTH CLUB. I kid you not. Americans are dead serious about their toilet paper; they want it quilted, diaphanous, scented, shaded, organic, and unique. I intended to give the American public all the snob appeal they wanted. I found a company in London that would export English lavender-scented tp. A Chinese company promised me milled rice paper with a silky texture. And a company in Brooklyn produced tp that had a joke printed on every other sheet. I would get people to sign up for a dozen rolls of new tp each month, for a modest fee.

I won’t go into the sordid details – suffice it to say that my brain storm turned out to be a slight drizzle. So I had to go back to working for someone else, and eventually wound up here in Thailand as an English teacher. 8 hours a day at school, five days a week – with a few weekend activities every once in a while.

Let me tell you something . . . that felt like a vacation! And it still does.

Of course teachers are overworked and underpaid here in Thailand. So what?

It’s good, honest work, and it will keep you out of mischief.

Some of the saddest people I know here in Thailand have the misfortune to be living on inherited money or fat government pensions. They often come by TEFL International to see about taking the 4 week course to become TESOL certified to teach English in Thailand. Most decide it’s too hard. They’d rather drink themselves into a stupor each day. I’m not criticizing them – I’d probably do the same thing myself if I had an independent income. But the fact is I don’t, and so I’ve had to work all my life, and must continue to work long past the traditional retirement age (whatever the hell that is nowadays!)

And I’m grateful for it.

So if you’re interested in becoming TESOL certified to teach here in Thailand, please don’t expect any sympathy from me when you say “Oh, that sounds too hard!”

Life is too hard.

Deal with it.