September 24, Re-center

Because of (another) Christian cult, cases spiked a few weeks ago in Seoul and haven’t been completely eradicated. 

I texted with C briefly and she told me they are now doing online interactive classes at the elementary school. “All the kids look sad and bored,” she said.

I was inexplicably filled with that ghost of rage regarding English education and I had to take a step back to ask myself why.

It’s no secret that I am not a fan of public school English education in Korea. A focus on reading comprehension is a detriment to the most fundamental use of language: communication.

It feels in my experience that Korean teachers of English are neither prepared for nor passionate about the subject they teach which is opposite to the experience I’ve had from every teacher I’ve personally learned a second language from, including Korean language teachers.

Toward the end of last semester you can probably tell that I started to have serious misgivings about the whole institution, and wondered why I should even stay if my native language wasn’t particularly of any concern— everything is taught just to pass a test anyway.

Some native English teachers (in Korean we are called “Native Speakers” rather than “teachers” as our title) come as a gap year, or to take a break from teaching in their home country, or to travel and sightsee in Korea.

For those of us that want to teach for the long, or longer haul, it can be somewhat depressing to work in an environment that doesn’t seem to care. Or maybe that’s just the attitude of elementary teachers here and I didn’t know; that’s at least the feeling I got in the challenging spring semester.

That’s not to say that working as a “native speaker” at a public school is bad. The kids enjoy and benefit from seeing someone unlike them and they at least hear a little bit of native intonation.

Plus the benefits are good, the job is easy, and I saved about as much in a year here as I did at my manager position (rent in an American metropolitan city took a huge chunk of my pay along with health and car insurance) so these are the good points to remember.

I’ve broken from the spiraling thought pattern of spring semester that “nobody wants you in Korea”. Somebody does, but maybe not at public school. Or a city public school.

I’m returning to America at the end of November to finally take my teaching exams. FLDOE never did bend to making accomodations even given this global pandemic but what else would I expect from the state that opened back up even at the peak of its infections?

This is all to say that even though my last school, and maybe my next school, don’t or won’t value English (and me, as a result) it’s not the end of the world. I know that I may have to put in my time as an “entry level” employee before I can move on to bigger and better opportunities.

There’s no shame in putting in the work and not getting an early promotion. I have the rest of my life to learn and teach all over the world.

I say this because I really forgot what my visa was for– job seeking. I have been so filled with adventure (and stress) from my new experiences here in and around Busan that I literally forgot that I am also supposed to be ensuring my future.

I also say this because when I think about what jobs I currently am qualified for and the ones I’m almost qualified for, I wonder what is possible. I want to work in a place where I am valued, but I also want to be with kids from average families.

The reality is private school jobs come by word of mouth, and there are very few, and international school jobs are no dice unless you are already certified and have legitimate experience. There’s an international school on Jeju that sounds wonderful but I am very far from being competitive (currently).

So by next March, which is fast approaching, what are my options?

Most schools are hiring now, or soon– and I have no license to show, though that won’t stop me from applying if the opportunities do appear.

Public school is my main plan given that I likely won’t have my license in hand when the school year starts and I desire stability of a confirmed job over the promise of a position given our global circumstances. Likely in Gyeongsang as we’ve discussed, or maybe Jeolla.

I like to think that country folk might be a little more interested in the foreign teacher.

I just have to remember that if I ever feel undervalued or a bit unchallenged, it’s okay– this is a stop on a long journey. There is no shame in stability or working at entry level; everyone has to start somewhere and the promise of a fixed (if low) salary and housing for a year is a boon given, well, everything.

I’m the type of person who has always felt if I am not absolutely running myself into the ground with work and extracurriculars, that I am lazy. I’m trying to break free of that and understand that living well and progressing steadily rather than immediately is nothing to be ashamed of.

What I mean to say is, even though teaching at Korean public schools is not my long term goal, I’ll happily do it for another year to get some more experience and live with ease while I make my next move.

Or as one of my favorite poems goes, “[you are] the hook at the end of a long, long line”.

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