Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Morning Walking

I'm increasingly aware of the language barrier at school mostly because I now have things I want to say and ask beyond basic courtesies. I want to be able to talk to the teachers and staff I've been working with for the past five months or so. They seem like really interesting people and the broken conversations in English only get a person so far. 

One thing I'll take from this whole experience is the beauty of speaking the same language; the worry of knowing what to say versus the ability to say words the other person can actually understand -- Before all this, I internalized a lot of things. I still will, but I've realized being in a foreign country, surrounded by people who mostly don't speak English, that I like casual conversation. Today, Sin Hyeon Gyeong, my second co-teacher, came into school to use the computer. It took all but five minutes for me to tell her about the rash I have on my forearms. 

Another aspect of the language barrier that completely frustrates me is the lack of finesse. Today, I was very close to tears over my schedule for next semester, partly due to how the news was broken to me.

I was working in my classroom when the phone rang. I don't have a co-teacher right now, so I knew it must be for me. I pick up, I hear my name, and a bunch of Korean. I made the assumption that I should go down to the teacher's room. I slide the door open, and yep. The entire teaching staff, Principal, and Vice Principal are there: staff meeting. I am gestured to sit down and am handed paperwork, all in Korean. Looking at it and sounding out some of the words, I could see that it was the grade assignments and classroom layouts for the upcoming year. 

The meeting lasted about thirty minutes. I waited until everyone got up from their seats before I stood up. I stalled at the water cooler before I started to head back up to my classroom when the Head Teacher stopped me. Okay, I sort of expected this -- I don't usually get invited to staff meetings. 

The sixth grade teacher then quickly comes up to me and asks if I know my schedule for next year. I didn't and was glad to finally have some clue about the upcoming year. But then she said, "You will teach at Do-ji School." Wait, what? It took a few minutes to understand because I'm not used to hearing the sixth grade teacher's English, but apparently I'll be teaching at a new school two days a week next semester. I felt upset and just aggravated. 

I know that I'm at the bottom of the hierarchy. I know that they don't need to converse with me about schedules or let me know about anything, but geez it would've been nice to have that information prefaced with the smallest something. New school means a whole new teaching staff, new set of kids, and an additional dose of Korean school expectations and schedule. I'm still not happy about it. And it means that I'm going to be missing two days of teaching at Doam a week. I like working at Doam Elementary, and I was actually feeling pretty good about the new school year. I have solid lesson plans for them and now I'm going to be missing two days a week.

Image from one of my morning walks to school

Incidentally, I know where Do-ji Elementary School is. Sin Hyeon Gyeong went to Do-ji when she was a kid and we drove past it once. It's even more rural than Doam and there's no way I'll be able to walk there. Walking to school in the morning is one of my favorite things. To trade that in for an inevitably stressful bus ride makes me even more disappointed. 
I knew about this aspect of teaching and living in Korea. Maybe I'm just not as flexible as I thought or maybe it's because everything is so far away that the small things have a bigger impact on me. Maybe it's because lesson plans take me forever and it feels like I'll be moving back to square one my first day at a new school. Maybe having Moonee or Sin Hyeon Gyeong tell me about Do-ji would've made it easier to swallow. Maybe not. 

It honestly feels like they're clipping my wings, just as I was figuring out how to fly. I think that is what's bothering me the most about this whole situation; it's making it difficult for me to really dig my heels into teaching. I want to do a good job, and for me that takes a bit more support than Korea can give. Working in Korea is so much about duty. Watching all the hoops Moonee had to jump through -- things are expected, not discussed. A certain amount of that comes with every job, but in Korea, that is the job. I'm not saying this way is "wrong" or "impossible." Though, it does yield a different sort of working environment based on obligation and making the best of a situation. 

I just don't want to have to go back to the "first day" setting. But I will because that is what the school wants me to do. I'm sure it'll all be fine. I'm better equipped than I was when I started at Doam. And I'll still be able to walk to school three days a week. Reset and go. 


  1. Oh I'm so sorry Abby! That's rough. The teachers at my school had an all-staff meeting yesterday, during which the principal announced assignments for who is teaching what this school year (and maybe schedules were distributed too, but I haven't been given anything yet). When I asked my co-teacher how it went afterwards, she "lots of surprises". So I'm assuming that many teachers didn't get the grades/subjects they wanted, and it was all just announced yesterday (though I'm guessing the timing is normal here).

    Maybe during that Doam teacher's meeting it was the first time that your new placement became official? If anyone else did know something about the possibility of you teaching at two schools, maybe they didn't want to say anything until it was announced, or maybe they were told to keep it secret. (When I was finding out that CT1 would be teaching music, and I heard from CT2 who the new co-t might be, CT2 told me not to say anything to anyone because it wasn't for sure yet.) I wonder if Do-ji unexpectedly lost a NET or if they only have budget for partial? Not trying to lessen the blow - it's really crummy how they broke the news to you, and who broke it - just some scenarios to consider.

    So maybe there's more to the story that would have made the news easier to take, but what I'm finding increasingly difficult/frustrating is that we only know what's told to us in English. So our "reality" may not be the actual reality, just what we know because someone decided to tell us that in English. Which is just recipe for disaster when you live in your head most of the time like me, but in your false "reality"! Sorry, that's what I've been feeling like this week, and it seemed to relate.

    Kudos to you for dealing, but it's perfectly okay to be upset about it for a while. I know how great walks to school are! And then yes, it will come time to accept the schedule and find that silver lining. Maybe you'll be able to re-use lesson plans from Doam at Do-ji and cut down on lesson planning. Maybe Do-ji will have really great students or a fantastic co-teacher. Or maybe they'll give you really great blogging material ; ) At the very least, you now have a great example if anyone asks you about flexibility in an interview!

    And you're right - you're super well-equipped for a second first day. You'll rock this! Stay strong : )


  2. You are awesome, Rebe. Thanks, I needed to hear all this. I talked with Moonee and she was surprised to hear about a second school, too. She told me that she was sorry that I'd be much busier than last year but that she thought I had the ability. So sweet but it also kind of reiterated my feelings. It's strange to me that they get their teaching assignments like that -- Moonee was all set to teach phy ed at her new school before she decided to take the year off to care for her baby. She's an English teacher, by her account, assigned to teach gym class?

    I also heard rumors that the NET at Do-ji left the contract early -- soooo that's what happened there. It's an interesting thought about a false reality; it really works to help make sense of and cope with the experiences of teaching in the Korean school system.

    I hope your new English books come in soon so you can start piecing together what your new semester may look like :) I'm excited to read more of your posts! Unending thanks for your comments and support ::