Thursday, February 4, 2010

31. Summary

Strange to think about, the largest numbers of people that come to Korea are English teachers. These government programs which are supposed to hire and, presumably, retain good teachers are failing miserable to do so. For those that have a very good time here in Korea, though rare, great for them. If only everyone could be so lucky. For those in the majority that hated some to many aspects of their job in Korea, it creates a generation of people who will hate their experience here for the rest of their lives. They will tell others of their experiences one way or another. Create enough of these people and it creates a bad overall image of Korea. By the way, Korea doesn’t have a great image to begin with; no real tourist attractions, lack of diverse and distinctive foods, and lack of a friendly society. How do you hire people for jobs that no one wants… throw more money at the problem and hope it goes away, which seems to be the procedure here. I look at the recruiters ads and laugh; never believe recruiters, they’ll never tell you of the negative side – what awaits you on the other side, where it’s past the point of no return.

All in all, it’s been a good old round of behavioral warfare between me and them. Although they really can’t do much to you at the school, don’t let them convince you that they can. They like to pretend they have power and use the whole lecture and empty threats procedure. They seem to have major problems working with all their English native teachers; or shall I say, they weren’t ready to have one to begin with.

You are not alone in certain regards; the people from the other middle schools generally hate their jobs as well. We all start off as curious people afraid of the new world, and then we grow up. I was hardcore into the job for like 3-4 months and then it just hits you – Why? And you start to open your eyes. There are three kinds of people you will run into here, the kinds that like their jobs, hate their jobs, and those that think they’re okay. I tend to believe the stats, most people you meet aren’t veterans for good reason. About half of all foreign English teachers don’t renew their contracts and less than 1 in 10 that do renew have multiple years of experience. The elementary schools tend to be better from what I’ve seen.

I came to Korea a pretty calm and relaxed fellow. I will leave with a chip on my shoulder. The only way you can get the Koreans to attempt to do what you want is by beating them over the head with a logic club. Mildly ineffective, but they need some common sense more than they need English teachers.

I came here with good intentions. Something changes over time. Your belief that you are making a difference in the students’ lives turns into a lost cause. Your belief that they (students/teachers/admin) give a rat’s ass – disappears. Your belief that they are actually capable teachers – vanishes. You will remain, alone, to spend your year in purgatory. Teaching in South Korea is the midway point of nowhere. You won’t grow professionally or skillfully. You will instead grow to hate your job. I learned a word while being here: schadenfreude. Literally, it means “harm + joy,” it’s the pleasure from the misfortune of others. This is what I have learned in Korea.

Like anyone would have, I tried to fight the system in my random bouts of overwhelming desire. Where do you or should you vent when you feel trapped by the co-teachers? Good question. You’ll want to release some pent up frustrations at something. Generally, I’ve found it to be futile, if and when teachers are lectured to by the principal which happened to Hong one of the 2nd level teachers and Bak the 1st level teacher, they will be fuming for a bit because you made them look bad in the eyes of their superior, then they will return to their normal routine almost immediately… so much for that. Out of sight out of mind – too often this is the case for them, for you, and everyone in Korea.

I had a support structure while here; I could and did talk to my fiancĂ©e too much about my troubles. I can’t imagine not being able to do that. Trying to face this insurmountable opposition alone would have easily made me leave earlier. I’ve had enough of its absurdity to last a lifetime.

I write this as a bit of advice, warning, or training if you will. Such simple things like a letter from the last employee can help transition from one job to the next, but Korean’s have no understanding of this. Training, advice, support – who needs that? What is the cost of this ignorance? The answer: 1 billion plus USD spent on English education, more bad publicity, and very little results. Korea spends the most out of any other country on ESL, but has the worst results.

If you survive the year, I salute you. Even if you don’t, I salute you as well. Never have I worked for a company that knew and cared so little about what I was doing. Working here will change you into a person you do not want to become and you will hope to reverse its effects.

30. Everything Else

Often, you’ll have to wonder if doing something is okay… just do it until they tell you that it’s not. They’re not confrontational and it’ll take them a long time to actually build up the courage to tell you otherwise. Also, their logic isn’t very sound, so feel free to poke holes in it at will… I found it quite entertaining.

This school is spending money left and right on everything but education. I’ve never seen a school spend/throw around more money than they do here, in order: new windows, new parking lot, new part of the building with more unnecessary classrooms, new sliding doors for classrooms and teachers room, water dispensers, and new regular doors for other rooms such as bathrooms. Mind, nothing was wrong with the old ones.

One of the last things they added was computer podiums and electronic projectors were installed in the classroom. This I find very amusing and wasteful. Korean English teachers at my school barely used the whiteboard or chalkboard. They are generally amazed at any power point slides that I create, and have quite basic skills, if any, at creating them. They never used the computer podium in the English classroom except to occasionally try to progress my slides in one direction or another. I have seen them teach myself and have talked to some students and other native teachers about this as well; the Korean English teachers are notorious for the “standing still reading from a book” method of teaching. If they ever do use a projector or monitor, it’s to play a movie or a barely-educational lecture on learning English phrases. They already had flat screen televisions in every classroom to show those.