roll with it


The first week of the second semester down, and the third week of continuous ’round the clock lesson-planning, dozens of videos and a thousand images later and my index finger is about to fall of and my arm has pains shooting up it.   I make it harder than it has to be (like everything) but I just hate compromising…

I feel sorry for the person who replaces me, as I’ve set the bar pretty high.  Just yesterday, the co-teacher was asking why I can’t put a picture on the cover of the daily broadcast book I wrote, and I kind of snapped at her.  “It’s GOT a graphic on it!  It’s MINIMALIST…Besides, the last teacher only put ONE picture in the book, on the cover, and my book has pictures on every page, is done in publisher with text boxes and word art, uses different fonts, and.”  She stopped short and said (umm) maybe we don’t need a picture on the cover.      …    Damn straight.  So I stayed late and put a picture on the cover.  Downloaded a line-drawing of a hoodie:  front and back for the respective covers, and basically designed it so it looked like the book jacket was the hoodie.  Curses.  I am doing all the things I advised my friend not to do about undermining our value by giving away free work.  Actually, I don’t mind being conscientious or being proud of my work, but when it raises expectations, and my arm has repetitive stress pain, then I guess that’s when I get snippy.

BUT today, I was told I could purchase teaching aids and was granted permission to have an after school conversation class for pay.  So I’ll stay at school even later (already stay an hour and a half late to take advantage of the cheap and yummy school dinners) but what the hell, there’s nothing going on at my apartment except randomness centered around this stupid laptop and total lack of discipline and sleeping and waking up at God awful hours in the morning.  Plus I get to hang out with students who like me.  Yayy! Maybe I can get them to teach me some Korean…

One of the lessons this week (resuscitated from last year) went over really well and the co-teacher said, “this is really fun!”  I could tell she really saw the value of the lesson, too.  (I like to make the kids do multi-disciplinary things like draw and describe their drawings, so it’s their own story and their own voice)  And then after class, the proactive co-teacher goes and gives ice cream to all the students who participated.  (goddamnit, wtf…)  First, she wanted me to pick the two best and I told her that everyone who tries is the best, so I don’t like having to create losers… The other co-teacher grudgingly did her part and instead of prodding the kids to participate, she just hung back and kind of pleaded with them.  Almost a half hour of this went on and I was just getting more and more disgusted with her.  It’s just weird to hear someone (this is by inference) saying, “Oh, please…come on…look at the poor foreign teacher…”  I was, admittedly, getting pretty dejected and thinking what is the goddamned point of me being here and what is my job and what a waste of taxpayer money and…when two more mature students came up to the board about seven minutes before class ended.  They kind of had this oh-please-just-quit-whining-for-the-love-of-god-it’s not THAT big a deal to work so hard to ignore you, so if I do it maybe you’ll shut up attitude.  So there you have it.  English education in the public schools is entirely dependent on the level of support you get from your co-teacher.  But, to be fair, the proactive/stronger teacher is also a kill joy and her students really don’t have as much creativity, energy or fun as the passive teacher’s students do.  But the weak teacher also has twice as many problems with insubordination…but as irritating as it is, it’s so wonderful I’M not left alone to manage the class in a language I can’t speak.  It’s much better to occasionally be the poor foreign teacher than to be the control freak foreign teacher…

There is this horrible tight rope the public school English education walks.  It’s all about personal economics.  They’ve taught the kids that the only gains in life are obtainable through metrics.  And since there’s nothing that can be measured for speaking English, there is nothing to be gained by speaking English.  And so, the public schools have kind of painted themselves into a corner.  Those Korean English teachers who recognize that English is also about communication know that the system screwed up horribly and it’s almost irreparable for the current high school students.  (but the teachers themselves are also products of this education, so can’t really comprehend alternatives)  So their expectations are usually very low.  If the kids aren’t pissed off at Speaking class, that’s something in and of itself.  So if some of the kids sleep through this class, at least the kids aren’t pissed off at English.  And in a way, I can appreciate this.  Imagine if you’d spent four or five years being forced to take a subject you’ll never use and having grammar drilled into you and being forced to memories words you’ll never use that are only for an exam that your entire future hinges upon.  If the kids aren’t pissed off by this time, it’s really remarkable.

So what always happens after a few days of this is I start just rolling with it and let the classroom dynamics play itself out and forget all about having any control or pre-conceived ideas of how it should work, and then things sort of fall into place with a logic of their own.  For a time there, the co-teachers would kind of look surprised when I would be easy-going about something, and then that surprise would be exchanged for something akin to gratitude.  And then they see me putting so much effort into the lessons, and I think they are very happy with my work.  So I feel like there’s a certain amount of teamwork going on now so I’m less and less the visiting foreigner to them.  (thought it seems to stop at professional relationship)

In the classroom, I’m also finding there are always one or two in every class that are outgoing, and kind of western in their thinking, who manage to turn everything to their social advantage, so pandering to their egos and their enjoyment makes it look interesting to the rest of the kids.  There is really a pack mentality kind of thing here.  Maybe this is true in all schools everywhere, but I am not so old I don’t remember what being in a classroom was like, and it seemed more complex than that where I grew up…

The nice thing about my job here in the country and this particular school is precisely that the kids aren’t pissed off at all.  In addition, the school is too small for there to be huge egos and power politics amongst the teachers.  And there are about a half dozen geeky kids who are like a throw back to Leave it to Beaver days of politeness and respect, which is really genuine and very nice as well.  Except for one or two lingering boy crushes, my celebrity status as the new foreigner has kind of worn off, but each day is met with lots of equally friendly and enthusiastic grammatically wrong scripted greetings in the hallways, which I have zero idea how to respond to, but manage to communicate something friendly to them nonetheless, though I’m sure in someone else’s hands there would be high-fiving, etc. going on.  But I am what I am…

Aside from the one or two times at a lesson’s first introduction where prior to my bubble being burst when I actually have really lofty expectations of “this is so cool” which doesn’t materialize and it’s momentary disappointment, I really do like this job.  They watch and listen and don’t hate it.  So as lame as it sounds, that’s a good thing and progressive.

I owe Mihwa an email.  She says it is good I am busy, so I will forget the loneliness.  So true.

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