Last Week of Winter Desk Warming (For Real This Time), Day 1

I had an existential crisis over the state of English education that was prompted by the meeting of my other new co-teacher, who it turns out, will be my new “S”.

From this point, you can effectively drop G, H, and S from the roster.

E as I now dub her, my other new co-teacher who studied abroad in Atlanta and also the former homeroom teacher of horrendous 6-3, came by my makeshift desk this morning to ask about my previous schedule. I asked if she knew who the other teacher English teacher is.

“Ah yes, she is new to the school and will teach grades four and five. She will be your head teacher.”

A tendril of dread crept up my spine. Would nothing stay the same?

“She’s upstairs now for the planning meeting. Come up later and you can meet her.”

So nervously I did.

At first glance, it seems S and this new replacement are nothing alike. My new S, I’ll dub her C for now, seems very serious and professional. She asked me if I have any experience in such a way that I rushed to say I taught in college and to Chinese students for three years.

I have no idea what C’s teaching or management style is. She speaks English well but will she speak it in class? Will she be very strict? Would she report me if she discovered my flute playing during office hours?

She told me in perfectly polite and measured English, “How did you teach English as a co-teacher before? Some foreign teachers teach all, some do fifty-fifty like you mentioned. I’m not sure what is the best.”

There was something behind her tone that told me she is not a fan of the co-teacher system which I perfectly understand. But I don’t know if this means she will have me do all the work while she files her nails in the back or she does all the work while I file my nails in the back.

My thought was, “I’m not the licensed teacher here. You decide and get back to me.”

I couldn’t help but bemoan the lack of guidance from the government program and how it leads to wildly different experiences for foreign teachers at schools right next to each other.

The fact that any licensed Korean teacher gets away with having the foreign teacher lead the class while they sit at the back (not an uncommon scenario) is a bit confusing to me. Seoul continues to cut foreign teacher positions but does not increase English training for the Korean teachers nor does it provide training on how best to use the foreign teacher. Foreign teachers are usually unaware of local laws and even the school hierarchy which can contribute to unseen friction between the teacher and school.

Local press also tends to stereotype foreign teachers as unqualified drifters who only care about partying. It explains the wildly different reactions I get from native Koreans versus Asian foreigners when I say “I’m a teacher”. The suggestion for Seoul would then be, of course, only hire licensed teachers or people with some form of teaching experience. Let’s go all in!

Obviously I don’t know all the ins and outs of the government education office and I wouldn’t presume to know. (SMOE, if you’re reading this, I’m grateful for a job!)

It’s just that… I like teaching, I’m passionate about teaching, I’m good at teaching, and I want people to recognize that. I’m not one of those whose primary motivation was “to travel” or “experience another country”. I never forget that my kids come first and that’s why policies de-emphasizing English education and resources upset me.

So I spiraled into a crisis that lasted through my ritual ramen while watching the snow fall until about 1:10PM today, or honestly, 2:12.

The kids were antsy today and the lone daycare teacher (there are three but it depends on the time of the day) who is normally quite patient was sternly reprimanding kids left and right. I reviewed the alphabet and introduced lowercase letters. I gave each team about five pairs of alphabet letters and had them match upper/lowercase and also arrange in alphabetical order. Some teams really struggled, even with the alphabet on the fridge (the kids are in the senior center lounge; I don’t have a whiteboard or computer but I do have a running sink). I finally brought out the alphabet puzzle I bought in December 2018 when I knew, before I had told anyone, that I’d be applying to move to Korea. Each team had one minute to put as many pieces together as possible and we repeated until it was complete. They were too antsy to focus on much besides colors so I’ll work in age and body part review later this week.

After class I used the bathroom on the same floor where there was also a meeting of elders and ran into three girls from class. I helped one wash her hands (“don’t forget soap”) and one asked 이름이 뭐예요? while tapping me on the hip.

이비갤 선생님이에요. I’m teacher Abigail.

One of the shy boys happily said “goodbye, teacher!” as he came out of class for his bathroom break. Another said “great” and threw two thumbs up.

At that moment I realized, ah. This is why I do this.

My world was tilted back on its axis.

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