If it is one thing I don't want to do it is to constantly talk about my work life. There are so many other aspects of life here in Korea. But really I can't help but pass along these experiences since I know it will be helpful to other expats.
In the springtime at school it is usually warmer outside than it is inside. The school seems to act like a refrigerator. These days they have turned off the heater to the entire school. I don't really mind since they were blasting the heater anyways and it was making the air way too dry.
This week, it seems, was full of ups and downs. On Monday I had succeeded with my open class and felt really positive. But then I came in Tuesday in a moody way. I had PMS symptoms, which made me look moody (seriously if you are a woman and know what I am talking about...). As the others sat around mingling over coffee I barged my way around asking where the dice were. It didn't look good of course. Later before lunch my coteacher Mrs. K asked why I was so wrong to do that. I said sorry of course. Then apologized at lunch time to everyone. Mrs. K then reminded me, "This is your second time, Joy."
I know the mistake I made of bringing my mood onto others and bringing everyone down. But inside I just get a bit tired that they don't get past that and accept I am human. Yet, I am in Korea and being moody in front of others is a taboo. So making sure I don't upset others with moodiness is something I am going to be mindful of.
Then Wednesday came and some little change occurred. Mrs. K told me she will give the 6th graders a listening test outside the classroom, which meant that I will be teaching alone. I wasn't too shocked by the news since giving tests in this manner was familiar to me. However it was going to be my first time at this school teaching by myself and so I knew things needed to be shifted around in my mind.
What ended up happening was a mistake that I didn't recognize would be so grave. It was second period and the class was being very rowdy and unfocused. Also I had the period mixed up with the next one so I accidentally finished 10 minutes early. As soon as I said, "It's time to say goodbye." The students closed their books, got up and started playing their small games. I lost control of the class and didn't get it back. I just resigned myself to play some English videos. I treated the situation in a casual manner and even considered the incident not that big of a deal. I apologized to my coteacher when she came back in the room to make sure she knew it wasn't the students fault.
Yesterday I went to work thinking all is fit as a fiddle. I worked with my other coteacher Mrs. W and we enjoyed our time in the classroom. Then a few hours after lunch Mrs. K came up to me and told me to come with her to have a talk. I figured she just wanted to talk about our coteaching.
We left the teacher's room and went into the Audio / Visual room. At a desk she sat in front of me. We sat down and she asked me, "Do you know why you are here?" I was honest and said, "Not really." ...."To talk about coteaching?" (With a big grinning smile.)
She shook her head and gave a heavy sigh, and then went into yesterday's events. Apparently it greatly upset and disappointed her. Immediately I explained the mix up with the time and that the students were already not focused. But she grilled me harder about it. She used this event to come to the conclusion that I am not a good teacher. That I am a "cold person" who does not have a warm heart. She told me about how she doesn't like my teaching style at all.
Her complaints were that I am not using a loud voice (truth is my voice is not naturally loud), I am not moving my arms, I am not touching or hugging the students (with 6th graders I draw the line), I am not being active enough, I am not in control of the class (when we are coteaching the class is usual under control and I use a point system and other techniques...just don't yell at them), I use too many powerpoints (maybe 1 or 2 a lesson...so just 2 times a week), I don't keep track of time (not entirely true...just end things quickly), I don't give a review with the class....and so on.
In other cases I have cried and become very emotional when an older Korean woman rips me to shreds. I know a supervisor's role is to check their employee's job but when an older Korean woman does it she hits you over the head so hard with her message that you are left feeling tiny and insignificant. Anyways, this time I didn't cry or have a tantrum. I let her talk and I explained where I was coming from.
Some explanations I gave were that although I have taught at public school before, the teaching situation was a lot different. At Hwasan Elementary we taught basically 50 / 50 and made things up as we went along. Last semester, at my current school with the previous coteachers, I taught probably only 30% while they did most of the work. (It wasn't my choice...they made it that way). So I explained to her that this is my first time given 80 - 90 % of the class. Really it is the first time they have told me, "This is your class you can do what you want." I tried to relay the point that I am new to this concept and working it out. Another explanation I gave her in regards to my class management style is that I like not to be aggressive like the Korean way. I told her that I like to use certain methods and techniques besides the familiar Korean ones of yelling and scaring a child into learning. Her response: You are in Korea and you have to teach the Korean way.
This is where I realized that it probably didn't matter what I said in defense of myself. She had already chosen an image of me and all I could do now was tell her that I would consider everything and make a change.
Throughout this were some pretty oddball things. For example, at first she made me write down "in detail" explaining the event that took place Wednesday. Then she made me write down what I would do next time to make it better. Both pieces, when she read them, she gave another heavy sigh and said that I didn't write what she was looking for. I just wrote things very factual and added stuff like discipline methods and a promise to not make the mistake again. In addition, she had a written letter from a student from that class explaining what happened (it was in Korean...but I put two and two together).
We talked in that room for, I believe, two hours. There were a few times when she tried to finish up the conversation but I kept on talking and trying, in a polite and calm way, defend my position and explain myself.
At one point, towards the end, she mentioned how she will take what I said and share it with the other coteachers and have a discussion and then give me my "result." I asked her what kind of "result" this was and she just said it was a "result." Of course in mind it made me think they were going to fire my ass. That is probably why I kept on talking to her...to give her all the info I could. I also told her that I felt defenseless. I even mentioned how I felt like she is forgetting the cultural differences. But she said that I have to be like a Korean here since I am in Korea. I wanted to argue with her that I agree I should follow the Korean way but it is not something I can't do 100% of the time or expect to get it right. But I knew it was useless and also just generally disappointed she couldn't realize this herself.
We finished and it was already nearly 15 minutes to leaving time. So the day ended on that note. Needless to say last night was spent a crying mess.
On the way home I walked with my coworker (the other foreigner) and burst out in tears about the situation. I told her that I was sorry for any problems I have caused her. She listened to me about the meeting and told me how shocked she was to hear that Mrs. K did that. Her impression is that she is really going after me and not being fair. Not considering the cultural differences.
What was funny was that in the meeting Mrs. K mentioned my coworker. Saying, "P is younger than you...you know?" "You need to look after her because you are her older sister." I nearly burst out laughing at hearing that. Yea my coworker is younger than me but we both consider each other on that same playing field that Westerners do. I told my foreign coworker this and she was a bit surprised.
Well my coworker told me to not let it get to me, but that is what I did last night. I know I screwed up Wednesday but really I am trying my darnedest to get every aspect of this job right. From keeping things happy and charming in the teacher's room and around school, to teaching the kids in a wholesome and fun manner. Yet, it feels that no matter how hard I try and suffer that in the end if someone doesn't like you because of X, Y & Z than you are in the shitter no matter what. Yes I disappointed her with that incident but does she have to go to such extremes with dealing with it? At the meeting she literally crushed my teaching spirit. This morning on the way to work I couldn't see how exactly I was suppose to teach.
Yet as I got closer and closer to the school I told myself, "It's Friday" and I imagined one of my 4th grader's smile. (He has the cutest and funniest smile.) This pepped me up enough to get through the day.
Oh yea, I also brought with me one of those spongecakes from Paris Baguette to grease the wheel with everyone today.
Of course, at work, Mrs. K showed no signs of disgust towards me during the day. And I never got that "result"....not that I was expecting to. We went to our classes and she sat in the back giving the listening test.
But I did my darndest to rock up the class and talk with excitement, move my arms and laugh...whatever it took to show I gave a shit. I don't want to amp up my classes to please her but do it for the kids. Of course I agree with her teaching philosophy but you know you can't insult someone thoroughly and then tell them to go teach classes with a positive chipper attitude. Yet that is what I did today. Playing the insane fool was kind of fun.
I know Mrs. K is freaking out and taking things too far. I also know that I will never really be able to please her. But I am going to keep on teaching until they fire me or my contract ends, and then we will see what comes next. By the way, Mrs. K is only at my school for one semester and then the Teacher dude comes back.
One last thing... I also feel somewhat shocked by all this. For a while there I was really getting along with Mrs. K, talking to her, laughing, sharing about my boyfriend and American life. One afternoon I knew JH was coming to my house so I invited her to swing by and meet him. I honestly thought all was well on this front. I guess she just snapped when I made the mistake on Wednesday. I want her to forgive me but I want her to know that she needs to be forgiven as well.
Well there you have it another post about the casualties of teaching life here in Korea. Last night I seriously thought to myself maybe it is time to pack up and leave. Go back to my poor life in San Francisco, maybe go back to school and get a Masters in something. Shop at thrift stores and only spend my money on groceries. Oh the good old days.
Of course I talk about these troubles with JH, even cry deeply over it with him on the phone. He is comforting but there is a cultural line that he struggles to cross. Yet as long as he is willing to understand and help lift my spirits I will take that.
To anyone else struggling with these issues here in Korea or ever experience your supervisor telling you that you are not a good teacher. Just take it in one ear and don't let it go up to your brain. The point I am trying to make is that do what you can, and don't give up.