This has been the strangest afternoon.
In the morning I uneventfully typed out my previous post while eating leftover Chinese stir fry.
This afternoon, C and I were on book pickup duty for first graders outside by the school gates. Wearing masks and gloves, we took temperatures of all the students and parents who came and squirted sanitizer into their hands. Students could then pick up the green school canvas bag from their homeroom teachers stationed at three other tables in the school field.
At one point a line of daycare kids came out of the school to enter the gym. A few recognized me from afar so we all jumped up and waved at each other. Later the vice principal meandered by and told C “the students are not good at English” which brings up the question of why they’re expected to be good at English outside of school. A mom commented that I was pretty. Oh yeah.
Yesterday I had stumped C with a question about Korean counter words. To be brief, every counted item in Korean needs a counter word, similar to English: two sheets of paper, three pieces of chocolate, a pair of socks… Korean extends this to everything though: two 명 (people-units) of people, one 마리 (animal-units) of chickens, one 줄 (jool) of kimbap, 개 (ge) for general nonliving things that don’t have a category. Wikipedia said “jool” is for “things aligned in a row”.
“If kimbap is one jool because it is oblong, then why aren’t burritos or churros also jool? Why do we use ge for these? ”
She told me today, “I thought about what you said and asked my boyfriend. He thinks it’s because you cut then eat kimbap.”
“But traditional log shaped rice cake is also counted as jool even though it’s eaten whole…”
“Huh.” She didn’t have an answer.
I asked her if her boyfriend was also a teacher since I know very little about her personal life:
Okay, got it! No personal questions. She then did ask, “Is it okay if I ask if you have a boyfriend?” Yes, ask away! I’m all about overshare.
About an hour in, the Principal came out in all her glory and started talking to me (C, actually) in Korean asking how big my apartment is.
She mentioned that if I renew my contract she’ll move me to a bigger apartment that is closer to the school.
But only if I renew?
C told her that I wanted to visit my parents and because the summer vacation was so short I probably wouldn’t renew.
The principal also said my current apartment is too expensive.
What? That wasn’t my choice!
It upset all my plans to leave things behind for the next teacher and I felt extremely pressured standing there on the sidewalk as the principal stood in the shade asking me in Korean if I would be renewing my contract. I stalled, uncomfortable, and a rush of students came in.
After she swept back to the innards of the school, jolly security guard who had been a witness to the entire incident, absolutely popped off. I could only catch bits of what he was saying to C: “too far… a workout… so many apartments around here… should have done from the start….”
I asked C after he turned around to help some parents what he said and she replied “uh nothing”. C doesn’t yet understand how much gossip I know about this school. I can keep a lot of secrets.
I asked her again later and she said, “Uh, he is very very worried about you.”
See? Here’s another thing to be thankful for! The security guards do look after me!
C asked where I lived and after looking at the map was shocked at how far it was. She said she would see if I can move to this so-called new place before my contract ends in August, but we both think it hinges heavily on my commitment to renewal.
Still, it took me another hour and a half to realize why this had made me feel off balance.
My first thought normally would not be to assume negatively, but I have seen firsthand how this principal communicates. The first case was when she told H about English camp instead of simply talking to S directly, since S would be the one working it. The more obvious case is G’s judgement and subsequent non-renewal.
G told me “This principal never introduced herself to me or said hi. This is the first time at any school for this to happen; principals have always introduced themselves and appreciated my work. And often wanted me to stay longer.” When G came in over winter break to do her taxes in the makeshift office, I asked her if she would be coming back to this school which had been introduced as a possibility.
She said, “the VP told me he really wanted me to stay but the principal denied it. He doesn’t know why but is really sorry.” She was disappointed but not surprised: “I wanted to work with you again.” But I think we both know that she’ll enjoy her next school more, where she is appreciated.
I realized that I felt so off balance because I had been emotionally manipulated. “Let’s dangle this shiny thing in front of you, but only if you renew, but no other benefits.”
I really stood there thinking that maybe I should renew because the school wanted me. It felt like every toxic interview I attended in the spring of 2018. Sign here, hurry! Before we offer this underpaying position to another overqualified candidate!
Then I considered more: the principal doesn’t like me or dislike me. It is simply more convenient to keep on the same teacher to reduce training burden. That’s to say: her motivation to keep me has nothing to do with me at all. Teachers have said they like me, students have said they like me, the staff says I’m considerate, and I speak enough Korean to lessen certain communication burdens.
While I love the ego boost of winning school favor and teacher appreciation, that means nothing. Well, nothing that moves my life forward.
If I renewed, it’s not like I would get extra special vacation days to see my family. I would still have to work summer camp, I would still have to wait until 2021 to visit my family, and my raise wouldn’t be any higher than any other guest English teacher.
You say you like me but I’m still your side chick.
I took out the trash, still contemplating, when I saw “Handsome” Girl (Jeongyeon) and Monster Girl. I wondered if they would recognize me and Jeongyeon did, shouting TEACHER! Through the green metal fence that separated us.
Like a wartime movie I ran up (trash can still in hand) and put my fingers through the fence holes.
We chatted in Korean while passing Grannies looked in wonder at this strange situation. Jeongyeon and her friend told me life is boring.
“Well then you should go home and sleep.”
“But I have to work.”
They asked me if I would stay another year and I realized I already had my answer:
“Oh, so will another teacher come? A…. man?” Her friend asked excitedly, forgetting any sadness about my parting almost immediately.
“I don’t know. Nobody knows. But maybe an ugly man will come.” They both groaned in protest.
I wondered when they might come back to school and Jeongyeon said maybe as late as August. August?? Thanks, I hate it. They will be attending the middle school across the street next year and said I should come there and hang out with them. Alas, kids, if only I could!
Jeongyeon is speaking faster Korean with me now which is probably the best sign I am improving.
My head is still spinning, though.
Stern security guard showed up towards the end of my hand sanitizer shift presumably to trade off with Jolly and I like to think they are sitting in the guard booth throwing shade and defending my honor.
I read somewhere recently that heads or tails doesn’t determine your decision but the moment before the coin lands does, because you realize in that moment what you want the decision to be.
I love my students and I finally got my footing, so I do wonder, am I giving up a good thing for an unknown thing? Or is that the “fear of breaking up” and would I be committing simply for comfort? We can never know if a decision was right until after it’s been done.
If you know me, though, you know I almost always take the hard way.
As I was taking out the trash I remembered that I needed to go to the US anyway to take my teaching exams. And while they could be taken anytime in the next two years, the relief I felt was a strong indicator of the choice I had already subconsciously made.
To quote my mother (quoting the movie “Meet the Robinsons”):
Keep moving forward.