Short Stories II


A few more extracts from the weird, wacky and wonderful (see story #3) world of Korea.

Slave Labour

I feel like I’ve gotta start with this one, as I find it the most ridiculous. Hopefully it’s not too indicative of what other Native Teachers’ experiences have been like, but given the commitment to hierarchy and harmony here I’m not so sure. In a setence: my principal wanted me to teach one extra after-school class every single day for a monthly salary of 50,000 won (or roughly £1.30 an hour); I didn’t. The problem stemmed from the fact that I can’t speak to him about any issues I may have (hierarchy) and my direct superiors and his subordinates won’t say no to him (harmony). Over the last few weeks and months there’s been a prolonged struggle about this, via various middlemen, that has gone something like this:

Principal: I want Joseph-teacher to take an extra after-school class.
Someone else: OK. Joseph, you must take an extra after-school class.
Me: What are the details?
SE: What are the details?
P: Grades 3-4, an hour a day, 25,000 won per student per month.
SE: Grades 3-4, an hour a day, 25,000 won per student per month.
M: How many students?
SE: How many students?
P: Dunno yet.
SE: Dunno yet.
M: Right. Well this would bring my teaching hours up to 33 a week, leaving no time for planning, so I don’t want to do it regardless.
P: I want Joseph-teacher to take an extra after-school class.
SE: Your extra after-school class starts on Monday.
M: What?
SE: There are only two students.
M: What?! I can’t work for that little money. Do I have no choice?
SE: Does Joseph have no choice?
P: No.
SE: No.
M: Yeah I do. I’m not doing it.
SE: Joseph’s being a work-shy waygook.
P: Well we’ve already told the parents.
SE: We’ve already told the parents.
M: Well, untell them.
SE (to parent): We’re cancelling the after-school class.
Parent: No you’re not.
SE: Your extra after-school class starts on Monday.

…and so on, and so on. Anyway, with a little help from the one co-teacher who was willing to stand up for me (she’s leaving at the end of the year and never wants to become a principal so she’s under no pressure to score points from him), I’ve managed to get out of 21.5 extra hours of basically free work per month. At least I think that’s how the situation currently stands…

Mind Control

There’s been a very slight reshuffle at school amongst the English teachers, and I now co-teach grade 5 with the director of English who has been responsible for my well-being at school since I arrived in August but who I’ve not taught with before. It’s been interesting getting to know a new teacher’s methods. At the beginning of every class he tells the students to close their eyes while “I will control your mind”. I know what he means, but it’s pretty funny nonetheless. He’s also been asking me to describe how “awesome” Prince Charles is (who he’s named after); to sing Hello Goodbye by the Beatles to the kids by myself with no background music; and to teach them the word “yo”.

Free Money!

Just thought I’d include this to show that not having a clue what’s going on around me 90% of the time can have some benefits – someone came into the English office with a wadful of cash, asked me to sign by my name, gave me 8,000 won (about £5), and then didn’t have the English ability to describe what it was for. Nice-uh!

On-screen Disagreements

Every few weeks I’m asked to write a record on video a quiz for the school – one question for grades 1&2, one question for 3-6. I usually do a “I have four legs, a tail, I can run very fast, blah blah, what am I?” and a “I’m the biggest country in Europe, I’m famous for blah blah, where am I?”, and this time the answer to the latter was China. A few students record me and a co-teacher making small talk before I read out the descriptions and he sums up, and when I mentioned that this country was famous for a huge wall there, he brought out the old “this wall can be seen from space” line. I deliberated for a second over whether or not to bother dispelling his misconception – I did try to, and it was a big mistake. We ended up arguing for a minute or so – camera still rolling – while trying to maintain smiles and appearances for the kids without getting to exasperated. He finally settled it by saying “well I read it in a scientific magazine so it must be true” – there was no coming back from that. I wonder how it came across to the students. (For the record, mathematically, from space the Great Wall has the same thickness as a hair does from two miles away. If he can see that then fair play to him.)

Too Young to Teach!

When I was at school I sometimes used to wonder what kind of deprived individual became a teacher. What kind of human being was soulless enough to join the boredom-inducing, fun-denying dark side that was a job in education? As a student it was often a case of us against them – children joining forces to fight the oppression of those we were made to call “sir” or “miss”, by chewing gum, untucking our shirts or anything else we could think of. Now I’ve become what I fought for so long against, and I’m sure some Korean students feel the same way. However, at heart, I still feel like a student. Today I caught a kid’s eye during a rendition of some song and pulled a face at her – she burst out laughing, which in turn made me laugh. This song was repeated over and over again and each time it got to that one part it would become even harder to hide our giggles from the co-teacher. I also decided not to punish a kid for eating Mentos during a lesson because he gave me one. Despite my job, I’m not quite fully on the dark side yet!


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