Posts Tagged 'teaching in korea'

Back to Korea…

I have 3 days left on my vacation here in the states.  Man, it’s hard to go back to Korea.  I now see why folks advise against going home over the holidays.  On one hand, I have a significant other back at home, so it was sort of necessary for me to go home in the interests of the strength of the relationship (plus, you know, I missed the guy!), but on the other…man, it’s so tempting to just stay here.  Thankfully, I only have 3 months left, which shouldn’t be too bad.  It’ll go fast.

By the way – just reminding you guys – this blog is basically defunct at this point.  To see my new blog, go here.

Contract Renewal

Here in Korea, about 3-4 months before a teacher’s contract is finished, the school will go to the teacher and ask them if they think they want to renew. That’s a reasonable amount of time, as they have now spent 8-9 months here, and probably have a good idea of whether or not they want to stay.

However, yesterday my co-teacher informed me that they want an answer now, after only 6.5 months here.  Barring a breakup with Marc, I will be going home, but I don’t really want to close the door here just yet, not until I get back from winter vacation.  

I was told in the morning to make a decision by the end of the day, but since I had to judge an English competition in the afternoon, and then hold a meeting about the teachers’ workshop that I teach, I didn’t remember to email her back about it.  I did, however, receive an email from the provincial office saying that some schools may be asking early this year, but that we did not need to give them a decision until December 29th.  So, I figured that was that, and that I would give myself a couple days.

Well, I got a call at 7:30am this morning (thankfully I was already awake due to my internal clock being set on “Dali” these days), asking for my decision.  I explained that the provincial office said that I had until the 29th.  My co-teacher insisted that no, she needs an answer today, and that Tuesday or Wednesday will not do.

I told her to mark me down as “No”, but that that could change sometime in the future, potentially.  Really, though, it’s highly unlikely.  My school seems to exist in an alternate universe to the one that the provincial office exists in, and that really bothers me.  Even if I were to stay in Korea, I do think I would switch schools.  I like Jindo, but I think that this area has some major kinks to work out, and as an experienced teacher, I can be put to better use elsewhere, at a school that knows how to actually use their foreigners.

I’ve been feeling better about things here lately, but today’s early morning phone call, combined with the gray weather I’m staring at right now, has put me in a bit of a sour mood.

 

[Originially posted over at Teh Blog]

Frustrations in Korean Education

Most of the time here in Korea, I am not exactly happy, but not really actively hateful; grouchy is a good term.  I even have some happy days.  But, I do have what I call “hate Korea” days an awful lot.  Today was one of those, and I’m so glad my school let me go early, because I was seriously stressing out while fuming at my desk, and my shoulders were quickly turning into bricks.  

You see, Koreans often have trouble with the process of planning ahead.  They don’t do it.  They also are not the world’s most logical thinkers, especially when it comes to critical thinking.  It’s not their fault, it’s just a product of their education system, and, to a degree, the culture.

Public schools in Korea typically offer winter camps and summer camps for students who want to work on a particular subject.  English is popular (though the kids usually are there only because their parents make them), and so most of us ESL teachers get roped into teaching said camps during the holidays.  That, in itself, is not a problem.

What bugs me is when my school waits until TWO WEEKS before the winter holidays start to begin preliminary planning for said camps.  They don’t even know when exactly they are going to happen, or how many kids there will be, etc.  Not only that, but everyone is in the middle of exams right now, so teachers are busy with all that, instead of being able to plan for these camps, because nothing was done beforehand.

What this means for me is that this afternoon, my co-teacher/minder came to my desk and told me that I have to make 20 hours of lesson plans by Monday morning.  Not only that, but the lesson plans all should ideally be along a theme, and they should all be of such a sort that will work well consecutively, since I am seeing the same students every day for four hours.  Yes, you read that right, they expect that middle school students will be able to pay attention in a foreign language class for four hours.  Even in the immigrant classes I taught in the US, our longest classes were 3 hours, and even with those, which were comprised of adults who really, honestly, enthusiastically wanted to learn the language, by about the 2.5 hour mark, keeping their attention and energy level up was a constant battle.

I have tried to explain this to my co-teacher, and have requested that rather than one class of, say, 30, they will get far, far better results with two classes of 15, even if each class has me for half the time they would have otherwise gotten.  Koreans tend to have difficulty with the concepts of quality vs. quantity and of diminishing returns, and this is truly a prime example.  Argue as I might, she wouldn’t give in, and insisted that forcing 30 kids to try and pay attention for 4 hours is far, far better than giving 15 kids more personal attention for 2 hours.

I miss my friends back home, and my boyfriend Marc, but the times that I really think about coming home are the days like today.  I miss folks dearly, but if I were ever to “pull a runner” (leave in the middle of the night), it would not be (primarily) because I want to go back home, it will be because this country has finally driven me to my breaking point.

Exam Time

Inspired by CowsByTheFence‘s recent post, I figured I should mention about teaching here during exam season.

Exams are the paramount part of the Korean education system.  Those exams determine how good of a middle/high school the students are able to get into, and they study for a ridiculous amount of time, both in school and at cram schools.  Toward the end, many of my students are out at cram schools until 2am – remember, these are middle schoolers.  What this means for me at school is that I end up with a severely reduced class schedule.  Usually I teach 3 classes or so a day at my schools.  When the students are studying, I don’t teach that class, and so I have been having days where I only teach once, or sometimes not at all.  That doesn’t mean that I get to go home though – two of my three schools require me to sit idly at my desk until 5.  Now, it’s okay, as I use that time to work on my blogs, my reenacting units’ websites, and to chat with folks back home.  But, to counter what I suspect will be cries of “but you don’t have to work!”, I will say that really, I would rather be working.  Sitting at your desk for 8 hours, with nothing particular to do, does get boring when it’s day after day, and I feel somewhat useless.

Now, technically that time is “preparation time”, but in reality, I only teach one lesson plan per week, and weird as it sounds, I tend to actually literally “dream up” my lesson plans as I sleep – I keep a notebook on my bedside table, in fact.  My co-teachers find this hilarious, but really, my lesson plans have been pretty popular with the students, so they don’t seem to care where they come from.  Since it looks like I will be teaching 2-3 weeks of camps during the winter holidays, I will soon start to use that time to plan activities for those, but until I have something concrete as to the length and preferred content of the camps, I don’t really want to put any effort into it, as it would likely just have to be discarded.

I am really surprised that my school district has decided to run a middle school camp this winter.  The camp they ran this summer was so unpopular that they had to pay the students to attend, rather than the other way around, and I’d imagine that they’d have an even stronger negative reaction for a winter camp.  Ah well, that’s Korean logic for you.

At least the new foreigner arrives today.  Everyone in town is greatly anticipating her arrival.

Huzzah!

I feel rather accomplished at the moment. I had a conversation, without using any English! Sure, I wasn’t really using full sentences, but it’s a start. I have translated my words pretty literally (as you can probably figure out from the choppiness).

While I was out walking to the ATM to get money for my oil, I saw a guy playing fetch with his Jindo. I waved and said hello. He spoke back, and it went something like this (Korean translated to English):

Guy with Jindo: This is a Jindo dog. They are very beautiful and smart. High IQ!
Me: Yes, Jindo dogs are beautiful and cute.
GWJ: Do you like Jindo dogs?
Me: Yes! I like Jindo dogs. Jindo dogs beautiful because orange fur. (playing with dog: Come here! Sit! Good dog!)
GWJ: Where are you from?
Me: America. (Migook) Boston.
GWJ: Ah! Boston marathon! Red Sox!
Me: Yes.
GWJ: Are you a teacher?
Me: Yes. Middle school English teacher. Teach at G******, U****, G******. Three schools.
GWJ: Ah! English teacher! Rotation?
Me: Yes.
GWJ: Difficult!
Me: Yes.
GWJ: Do you speak Korean?
Me: A little.
GWJ: A little?
Me: Very little.
GWJ: *laughs*
Me: Nice dog! Cute dog! Goodbye!
GWJ: Thank you! Goodbye!

As I walked away, I had a huge grin on my face. It really felt like a breakthrough. It was probably the first conversation (and certainly the longest) that I have had where I didn’t have to resort to English or gestures. I felt very accomplished. Sure, I’ve been here 6 months, but Korean is a very difficult language to learn purely by osmosis.

*sigh*

Because, you know, I’d want to work at this job if I spoke Turkish!  I particularly love the “ps: hurry up please” remark.

God, how insulting. Almost as insulting as the fact that the teacher who they have hired to replace our previous English Town teacher has been delayed because, once immigration saw in her photo that she is Asian, despite the fact that she was born and raised in the US, they have insisted that she has to go to the nearest Korean consulate to have an interview, “to confirm that her English is native”. This is not, by any means, the first time I have heard of that happening.

Oh Korea, your institutionalized racism is so entertaining. Only, not.

Hey, nice view…

There are definitely times when I really enjoy working out here in the countryside, “in the middle of nowhere”.  This was taken not 10 feet from my school’s front gate, and the others are from the snow we got yesterday.

snowday-1-5

A little chilly…

For for those of you unaware, Korea is actually rather cold.  It is also very hot in the summer, but the winters here range from cold to bitterly cold.  The warmest uniforms the US Army has ever produced are those that they made for the Korean War, including a fur-lined parka (which you can see a friend of mine modeling at a Korean War demonstration at a museum if you click here), which should tell you something.  Korea gets wind that sweeps down from the steppes of Siberia, and it is a very dry, harsh cold.  It has been getting progressively colder here, but mid-last week we had another wind storm (which usually foretell a temperature shift) and it has not gotten above about 60F (15C) here since, and most days are around 55F (12C), with a low around 40F (.  Jindo is one of the warmest areas of Korea (I think Jeju island beats us, but that’s about it), but it is still quite cold.  It doesn’t help that Jindo is, well, an island, and as such the air is quite damp, which makes it feel colder.

Seeing as that I ride what I have nicknamed a “scootercycle” to my schools, I have to wear even more layers than normal, on my way to school.  But, even for just wandering around town, I still bundle up quite a bit.  For anyone curious, here’s what I wear on an average evening, these days:

On top I am wearing a long-sleeved shirt, a sweatshirt, a twill jacket, and a quilted vest. I really need to get some gloves soon.

Lovely.

The other day one of my students hocked a lougie into my motorcycle helmet at some point during the day.

Sometimes they test me, they really test me.

Mondays

Mondays are my hardest day.  Everyone is tired and grouchy, and my worst class (the students that broke the windows in retribution for being punished) is my first period of the day.  The three classes which follow it are better, but still quite difficult to control, in comparison to the students I have at my other two schools.  Part of that, I’m sure, is that due to the disrespect the students here treat me with in general, I am not very friendly to them in return, whereas at the other schools, my students like me and come and chat with me at my desk, etc, and so thus I am friendly back.  If I can make it through my Mondays, the week feels in a way like it’s already winding down.  It makes the time go much faster.

I have also noticed that staying at home on the weekends has made my time go by faster as well.  When I travel on the weekends, I leave Friday afternoon or evening, and return Sunday evening, and am busy all weekend.  Even though it’s leisure, I end up wondering where the weekend went.  When I stick around Jindo, I feel no pressure to do anything, and that, combined with my half-day on Fridays, tends to make the weekend seem decently long.

I do, however, need to remember on Monday to ask the school that is in charge of my paychecks to show me my pay receipts.  In looking at my bank account, I seem to be being paid around $400 under what I should be getting, which is a significant amount.  Korean schools are notorious for cheating their foreign teachers out of parts of their paycheck, and I really hope it’s just a mistake, rather than that.  However, it would give me an excuse to request that my employer be switched from this school to one of the others, which would be nice.  My co-teacher here does relatively little and has absolutely no interest in being around me more than she has to, outside of school, and the school itself seems to rather dislike me, unlike my other two, which love me.  Ah well, life is life, and you learn to deal.

Here, have one of my photos from my lung-cancer-inducing photo walk the other day:


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