“Each suburban wife struggled with it alone. As she made the beds, shopped for groceries…lay beside her husband at night – she was afraid to ask even of herself the silent question – ‘Is this all?’” – Betty Friedan, from the Feminine Mystique.
For as long as I’ve lived, I’ve never wanted to earn money. I’ve wanted money – absolutely. It’s the earning part I’ve had qualms with. Through the course of my life, I’ve worked in the produce department of a grocery store, a deli, a car wash, a video store, a non-profit organization, a group home for people with traumatic brain injuries, and as a public school teacher. Each job was entirely too much work and left me looking for something else. Why was I exhausted all the time, and why did I look so forward to days off like a Seventh Day Adventist waiting for the Second Coming?
In my last year teaching in the USA, I burned out. Along with classes and managing student caseloads, I was on numerous committees. It sometimes felt like I never left the school. Free time consisted of thinking about school. My social life consisted of talking about school. Sometimes I wrote down the school address when I was supposed to write my own. The job was defining who I was, and that frightened me. I secretly longed to be like others whose lives are taken over by things that are more fun, like gambling, alcohol, or germ obsession.
It was time for a change, so I took a job in South Korea and off I went. Not in search of happiness, but instead in search of laziness.
Yes, I wanted a job with less work and less stress, which I certainly found being a “Native Teacher” in Korea. My schedule has me teaching fifteen hours a week, which computes to an average of three hours a day. For the remaining five hours each day, I listen to music, play around on the Internet, and talk to people on Facebook. Occasionally I make a lesson plan. In addition to the light work load, classes are constantly cancelled due to testing. This week, the students went on a field trip, effectively obliterating English class for the next three days. And then there are the summer and winter breaks, for which I’m paid to come and sit at a desk for eight hours a day. There are no students and no classes. I sit alone at my cubicle, earning my paycheck just by being here.
It’s the perfect job, right? I can come in hung over. I can take naps and smoke breaks. I can talk to people on Skype. My students don’t even get a grade. There are no term papers, no No Child Left Behind, no High Stakes Testing, no Pay for Performance, no IEP Meetings, no Liquid Office where I have to sign my observation or T-Sparta where I have to keep student grades on the Internet so the parents can see them. There’s none of that. No stress. No pressure.
Just a whole lot of time and a big blue chair to sit in.
Sounds nice, but when I talk to the other Native Teachers, I hear the same things from just about everybody. I nod, because I understand exactly what they’re saying:
“The job sucks. I don’t do anything.”
“I feel useless.”
“All I do is waste time. Why am I here?”
“It’s like I don’t exist.”
We’re being paid to do very little, and yet almost everyone is unhappy with it. Thinking about it, I couldn’t help but be reminded of Betty Friedan’s famous “Feminine Mystique,” where she talks about the existential crisis housewives faced in the 1950s. The great question that Friedan posted – Is this all? – is something that I’m feeling every day at my school in Korea. Just as there’s a Feminine Mystique, there’s also a mystique that goes with being a slacker – The Slacker Mystique, if you will. Being a slacker, I’m finding, isn’t all that great. The housewives Friedan wrote about wanted something greater than a husband and a home; the slackers I know, it turns out, want something more than self-amusement and an easy paycheck.
Everything else about Korea is great, but sometimes the job gets me down. Getting in first thing in the morning, at the start of an empty day, thinking of how rewarding teaching was back home, I ask myself a silent question as well, one that goes something like this: “If I’m doing something I think is important, is being defined by a job all that bad?”