Dispatches

Dispatch № 108: Precarity

Please forgive the delay, and please allow me a bit of a complaint this week. I am tired and frustrated. I promise to have a positive post next time around.

Again, I have found myself in a malaise brought on by the pandemic and its ability to eliminate my work, endangering my ability to get by.

The last two years have made it abundantly clear that people in certain jobs are in a more precarious position than I think we often let ourselves realize. Besides being low-status and low-wage, life as English teacher is also one lived without a safety net. Employers regularly cut benefits and reduce pay to the greatest extent that they can get away with, then have the temerity to insist contractually that you not have any outside work.

Fortunately, some teachers they the option of teaching remotely. This has saved many people. Unfortunately, I do not have that option because I don’t work at an English school, exactly, at least not in the way that you’re probably imagining. Really, I am a childcare worker, taking care of fifty-plus kids every day, between when they finish school and when their parents finish work.

There is simply no way to do this job remotely, so when the school closes (as it did last week) because of infections in the student body, we cannot work and are not paid. When this happens, the mind goes to other possible income streams that may help make up the difference, other income streams that are prohibited by your contract but necessary to your ongoing survival.

You admonish yourself for having neglected them until you needed them and wonder why you have also for so long put up with a job in which you are forever making up for the incompetence of others and the broad failures of an industry that has no respect for you.

Of course, these last couple of years have been difficult for almost everyone. I get that. And I accept that I’m the one who took this job and am therefore complicit in creating these conditions. It’s a job (and line of work) I intend to leave as soon as it becomes possible to do so. But in the meantime, things are precarious and it’s exhausting.

Occasionally, I’ll hear from someone who wants to come teach English in Japan. And while it certainly can be an enjoyable and enriching thing to do, the precarity revealed by the pandemic and the decades-long slide into worse and worse compensation and conditions make it a hard thing for me to recommend to anyone.


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