Somewhere in the midst of trying to communicate with the sixth graders I was struck with a thought:
This is dumb.
Wait—I don’t mean teaching or English is useless. Far from it.
I mean the setup of this job could be better. How much are the kids gaining by our language barrier, even when I’m a Korean speaking certified teacher? How much harder was this for the native guest teachers before me?
I have a lot of thoughts about public English education which at current I do not have the energy to address; all resources have gone to battling the ceaseless appearance of drain flies.
When my high school debaters can’t put together a sentence after seven years of formal English classes, I have questions.
Native speakers are a bandaid on a curriculum that needs a complete overhaul.
So yes, there are things I’d like to change about this job but much more so, about the state of the system at large.
That is for the Korean government to decide, however, and if they think they need me here in this strange arrangement I’ll take it.
I’ve had actually useless jobs before, in fact, my last one paid $75,000, but this isn’t one. Let me tell you that spending five days on an excel spreadsheet for imaginary projections that your manager takes one glance at then throws away is soul sucking.
(Since my projections were always wrong in his eyes, and also completely out of my wheelhouse as an engineer not trained in finance, I asked him to teach me. He said that forecasting was an art and couldn’t be taught. I about pulled my hair out.)
I’m not like other standard teachers— EFL is its own beast. I don’t have my own classroom and I don’t see my kids outside of one 35 minute class per week.
I want to teach them grammar and hammer away at phonics but this job is not setup for it. Native speaking positions in public schools were not designed for it, though they should be.
This is all to say that when I feel frustrated, when I feel that the resources available to me are inadequate, when the teaching boards online are filled with the same five PowerPoint games, I don’t have to be so emotionally entangled. I’m doing my best in a system that never quite decided what English was for, and as long as I keep trying and loving the kids, it will all be fine.
I was reminded of this in my last class of the day. 6-6 was getting on my nerves, though I think it was mostly my exhaustion with 6-5 that had been carried over. I think the more astute kids can sense it so I need to manage my emotions better. I’ve resorted to repeating my callbacks rather than raising my voice to be heard over their excitement. It takes a little longer but it’s easier on my nerves (and throat).
But as we wrapped up with one last daring competitive pair, my best boy burst into tears. He had been at the board not one minute earlier where he was victorious so i and half the students were confused.
I heard a murmured, “say you’re sorry!” And made the executive decision to carry out our goodbye to take some attention off him. As I packed up my things, a group swarmed the boy reassuringly.
Another student comically pushed the boy’s competitor from the last round by hugging him around the midsection and walking him forward like a puppet. I peered through the window on my way out to see the group had expanded and the tall marionette had crouched down to apologize. It wasn’t at the level of teary fist fighting intensity from the fifth grade boys. Everyone involved seemed gentle and mature so I thought, the kids are alright.
As I passed their homeroom teacher in the hall, I told him in English that two students seemed to fight and one was crying. He nodded in a way that told me he didn’t understand anything I said but I figured he’d get my crying gesture when he got back to class and saw the commotion.
The saying goes, “you cry like a little girl” but in the last two years I’ve seen more 11 year old boys cry than all the girls combined.
I think it’s sweet, in a way. They’re still tender and earnest and haven’t yet been crushed into feeling that expressing emotion is bad— though that will come very soon, unfortunately.
So I want to tell you, let your boys cry. Let them be heartfelt when they’re young and when they’re older too.
And let’s get everyone vaccinated ASAP so I can see their sweet little faces once and for all.