I mentioned that this page would be about the trials & tribulations, the laughs & the head shakes, and the overall quirks of living in South Korea. I guess it’s time to get down to it, so let me share some of the stories that have stood out over the past few years.
We’ll begin with my stressed-out co-teacher.
As some of you may already know, I have a number of co-teachers. Delightful ones who translate when necessary, help run games, discipline the kids and generally support my classes by being awesome. Then I have the co-teachers who sleep, and snore, in my office during class. The ones who, in plain view of me, will read personal cards from family that I keep on my desk; the ones who simply don’t show up to class, and the ones who forget to tell me when class is cancelled. Happy, happy, joy, joy.
My favourite and the most infamous of these head shake worthy co-teachers is the one who is borderline paranoid. This co-teacher runs to class, and when I say runs, I mean she waits until the last possible minute and then sprints through the hallways like a deer dodging a hunter’s rifle…and to heck with the kids who get in her way! Student bowling, anyone? When this co-teacher does manage to make it to class, always late might I add, she immediately makes the most grandiose of entrances, steps in FRONT of me (I’m not kidding, one time she stepped so close in front of me that I became a creepy neck breather through no fault of my own) and starts talking to the students about something completely unrelated to our class, interrupting the start of my class (and yes, I have usually already started talking when she does this).
After this, she’ll set up her computer and disappear behind it for the rest of class. Mostly though, I prefer when she stays on her computer, because the minute her head pops up from it, I know there is more fun about to be had. At these times, I feel like she’s a traffic cop trying to make her monthly quota, only hers is a quota for how involved she feels.
And let me tell you, when you have a co-teacher who has no idea what’s been happening in your class because she hasn’t been paying attention, that involvement is a lesson in patience. So what does she do? Well, as is her habit, she will begin by talking over me to translate. Does she wait for me to finish a thought or a sentence or heck, a word? Nope, she just steamrolls right over and “translates” EVERY word I say. EVERY. WORD. If you’ve ever tried to teach ESL you’ll appreciate how vastly unhelpful this is, and how detrimental it can be to the kids’ learning.
My favourite part though, is when she “translates”, quotations intended. In these instances, not only does she talk over me, but her “translation” simply consists of her saying the same words as me (also in English), the only difference being the way she pronounces them because she doesn’t have the “Canadian accent”. I wonder, at times like these, if she is actually an English teacher or was, as it so often happens, simply given the job because not many other people wanted it (sad, but true). The repetition isn’t so bad, but when we attempt to do a listening exercise, she GIVES THE KIDS THE ANSWER. How, might I ask, does this help them improve their listening skills? Simple answer, it doesn’t.
And when all of this is said and done, what does she do? Why, she packs up her stuff before class is done and leaves, RUNNING, to play another game of knock down the students on her way back to the English office. But better she do this than stay, because on one of the occasions that she did, we had a lovely interaction that went something like this:
Her: Oh, will you lock the door?
Me: Yep (*I have done so every day for the past 1.5 years, I know that I need to lock the door)
Her: Are you sure you can lock it? You know how?
Me: Yes. (what, do I look like someone who doesn’t know how to close a padlock?)
*I close and lock the door*
Her: ohhhhhhh so good, you did it. You locked the door. I worry that you cannot do it.
Me: *very tight smile* (woman, do you want to start a fight? Because this is how you start a fight.)
Needless to say, sometimes there are frustrations with co-teachers, and the need to take long, deep breaths. Ok, maybe the need to take 10 long, deep breaths and eat a cookie. At the end of the day though, it’s all part of the universal “because Korea” motto that most foreign teachers have adopted. Sure, these kinds of moments can be teeth-clench worthy, but if we just remember to shrug it off, and that nothing is ever intended as an insult (except, of course, when it is), we can focus on the important stuff: the kids…and deal with everything else by adopting a smile, and drinking a nice glass of wine when Friday night rolls around. Heck, drink that wine on Wednesday if you need to, just remember to smile the next morning, because you know that it’s all 100% part of Korea’s charm, and you’d kind of miss it (in a weird, masochistic sort of way), if things were any different.
Next time, comments on weight and hair petting on the subway!