After eight months of working as a Kindergarten teacher, and one month of longing for the end of the school year, the last day (yesterday) was surprisingly poignant and lovely. It was really only the final month at the school that was a struggle. In early May, I was still planning to renew my contract and stay at the school next year. This was second job in Prague, and my first job teaching children. I was in a good situation and there was no reason to look elsewhere; my three month probation period had finished and I had just got a pay raise, I was teaching 5-6 year olds, which is a good age group for me, I had a wonderful head teacher and great colleagues in a cozy little school, and I felt happy, comfortable and appreciated.
Then at the end of May everything changed. The head teacher sat down with me and told me that she wouldn’t be here at the kindergarten next year. I was rather shocked because she had already made the decision to stay, she was a great boss, and she was one of the main reasons that the work environment was so pleasant. She told me that she changed her mind because of growing frustrations with the management of the company. I completely understood.
One of the trickiest things about living and working is Prague as an expat is dealing with the numerous bad language companies. In the early 1990s, a few years after the Velvet Revolution, the desire and need for Czech people to learn English (which wasn’t taught under communism) was enormous, and a language school industry emerged, and boomed. For the next ten years or so, Prague was a sizzling hot spot for young people traveling abroad to teach English. The demand for teachers was huge, and the regulations for getting a visa and work permit were pretty relaxed. In 2004, the Czech Republic joined the EU, and things got much stricter, but it remains a very popular destination. Because English teachers come and go so quickly in Prague, language schools have realized that they can get away with treating their employees like cattle.
When I starting teaching here, the first company I worked for was more of a factory than a school. Teachers arrived, stayed for an average of about nine months on the contract that only paid you a small sum per lesson taught with basically no benefits at all. Most of them don’t mind, though, since generally people come to Prague for the experience rather than to teach seriously. I soon realized how shady the TEFL industry in Prague was, so I chose to leave it for what I thought was a more reputable and stable business: teaching children. It certainly was a good choice for me, and it was definitely a better job than teaching English to adults. It gave me regular hours, a regular salary, I could stay in one place rather than run all over the city teaching lessons, and have benefits like health insurance and paid holidays. A real job. And most importantly, I found the work itself much more rewarding.
As an ESL teacher, your function is really to give your students a chance to practice their English every week; you can maintain their current level, and maybe teach them some new things, but you can’t really improve it very dramatically. At the end of the day, you’re not really helping them that much. With kids, though, you’re their one and only teacher, they look up to you completely, and you’re teaching them about life. With children younger than six, you have an amazing chance to help mold their self-esteem, manners, and character. It’s a very demanding, challenging and responsible job.
While many aspects of my job at the kindergarten were great, the management of the company was much the same as the first school I worked for. There was poor communication with teachers, illegal activity, shady deals, problems with being paid the correct amount and on time, and a general lack of care for the quality of education and the happiness of teachers and students. Everything was about money, money, money. Even in kindergartens, foreigners only stay for about one year, so the management could get away with a lot of bullshit. The head teacher was fed up with this, and so she left. And she took me with her. I immediately started applying for other jobs, and luckily within one week, I found one. I will start in the middle of August, and I’ll still be working with children, but it will be an international company (and they are awesome), rather than a dodgy Czech language school.
Since I got my new job at the beginning of June, I’ve had a serious case of senioritis. Every time I showed up for work, I grumbled and groaned my way through my day. My energy level was nowhere near what it was a few months ago, and I stopped putting so much time and preparation into lesson planning. I just wanted to finish, be done with it, and take a holiday. The last two weeks, with our summer show performances and field trips and parties, was exhausting. But the last day, surprisingly, was special. The children were very sweet and lively that day, most of them showing up with flowers and small gifts for the teachers. I shook hands with most of the parents and said goodbye to each child. When I hugged the troublemaker in my class, (who I would probably miss most of all) I found my eyes welling up with tears. I really made an impact on the lives on these children, and I could see their deep love and gratitude. My job was over; I was happy, but I cried.