Category Archives: school

It’s camp time again

As the semester heads into its last third, we’re nearing English camp season again. I’ve been through one camp already, and this one looks like it’s going to be as troublesome as the last one. The only good thing about this camp is that I know about it much earlier before vacation season than I did in the winter. The positives seem to end there.

In the winter, I worked at my school for two weeks from 9 am to noon, had lunch and lesson planned with the other teachers, and was out of the building at no later than 2 pm. SMOE had the great idea to lengthen camps to a minimum of three weeks for the summer, which is the shorter of the two breaks in Korea. This time around, my school has decided to lend me to another school in the district, which isn’t a big deal in itself. The gripes come in the camp setup.

The camp hours are from 9 am to 4 pm — essentially what I work now — except they’re chock full of classes. The camp contract, which I haven’t signed and makes me angrier each time I read it, states I will teach seven (7) 50-minute classes with 10-minute breaks after each lesson. I’ve been counting this over and over in my head to make sure I have it right: on top of almost doubling my normal teaching time, I have no lunch period. I’m not a fan of that.

In addition to the ridiculous working hours, the contract says I would have to work the two Saturdays during the camp. My co-teacher explained the first Saturday is for the kids to go ice skating (in the middle of the summer?) and the second Saturday is for closing ceremonies. About three weeks ago, I was essentially forced to go on a hike with some students from my school on a Saturday. This wasn’t a friendly hiking Saturday, either: a cold rain drizzled from the gray skies all day. I chatted with the kids throughout the day, but I’m sure the educational (not to mention the diminished entertainment) value was minimal. It was basically babysitting for a couple hours on a mountain, and I’m envisioning the same thing for this ice skating trip — another waste of a Saturday.

If that weren’t enough, I still have to work another week at my own school to fulfill SMOE’s three-week requirement, even though I work more than three weeks’ worth of hours (including those dreaded Saturdays) during the first session

Now I’m poring over the camp contract and my SMOE contract to check the legality of this harebrained scheme, and I’ve finally noticed how disingenuous the contracts are. In Article 8 of the SMOE contract, which talks about working hours, the first point says, “Employee shall work eight (8) hours per day for five (5) calendar days per week from Monday to Friday and shall not work on Saturdays, Sundays and any national Holidays of the Republic of Korea.” Not more than two inches down the page in the fourth point of the same article, it states, “The head of work place may require Employee to work overtime in addition to normal workdays and work hours. In this case, overtime pay will be provided.” Basically, they can have free reign over our hours as long as we’re paid our 20,000 won per overtime hour.

While it doesn’t surprise me at all, these business practices are some of the major issues that are driving me away from Korea. The living is easy here — once you take dealing with Koreans on a “professional” level out of the way. It’s very possible that if absolutely nothing pans out while I’m in the States in the next six months, I could be back here, but the time away from the mess that is Korean bureaucracy should help the transition back to Korea if it comes to that.

In the meantime, let’s hope it doesn’t come to that. I have to worry about surviving tomorrow’s camp contract discussion without making anyone cry.

Advertisements

1 Comment

Filed under Korean inefficiency, school

I suck at blogging

winter-camp-3787

One of my third-grade students who is clearly hard at work.

I’m now in the second week of a new school year here in Seoul. (The school year starts in March and ends in February.) Usually moving to the next grade was just another chapter in the same book of our childhood education. As a teacher in Korea, each year is like a different book written by a new author. Very little is the same from year to year.

I was the only teacher in my school who ended the last school year and knew his position for the next school year. Most of the teachers are teaching different grades now than they did last year. Teachers apply for certain positions, and then the higher-ups (the principals and vice-principals) place the teachers in their position without much rhyme or reason, it seems.

The results are drastic changes from the previous year. For example, of the six sixth-grade homeroom teachers, two taught second grade, one taught first grade and one was the P.E. teacher. I previously had three co-teachers (one for third and sixth grade, one for fourth grade, and one for fifth grade), but now I have four co-teachers — three of whom were homeroom teachers last year. Two of those three had never taught English before.

I don’t understand why the teachers get shifted around so much; in fact, teachers can only teach at a school for five years before they’re transferred to another school. (Again, they apply for a district in Seoul and hope for the best.) I’m no pedagogy expert, but it would seem that the teaching styles in first and sixth grades would be quite different and that keeping someone who has continual experience in the same grade would be more beneficial.

It’s been quite a transition period to say the least. I’m adjusting to the three new co-teaching styles — which right now means I run the classes to show the Korean teachers how we’ve done things and have them become more or less involved as they see necessary. It’s hard for them because the kids already know who I am from last year.

For the most part, things are going pretty well. It’s a similar dynamic to when I started six months ago, but now the roles are reversed. There are bumpy moments here and there, but the new teachers and I are smoothing those out pretty well. There’s always one exception, though, and it happens to be the most important of the new teachers — my official co-teacher who is responsible for me.

She might be one of the most awkward people I’ve ever met, and she’s extremely disorganized on top of that. My other three co-teachers have been prepared for their respective classes with me, so the lesson planning between us have been quick and to the point. With this other co-teacher, though, things are always a mess.

I don’t know what else she does (fifth-grade English is the only class she teaches), but she doesn’t prep during the three hours we have after school. Yesterday, I had to stay 20 minutes after I was supposed to be leaving so that we could sort things out — only to have her try and change them this morning. She over-thinks everything and consequently becomes a nervous wreck about it.

Her presence in the classroom is rather ambiguous as well. I’m not sure where she wants to be in the teaching balance between us, and I’m indifferent to whether she wants to do less or be more in control. She just needs to decide on what kind of role she wants to have so we can teach more effectively and not bore/confuse the kids.

The school year and half of the faculty might be new, but the struggles are still the same. I’m sure they’ll pan out, just as they did last year. As the saying goes, the more things change, the more things stay the same.

3 Comments

Filed under school

Welcome to Korea, pt. 2

“Korean organization” ranks right up there with “War on Terror,” “reality TV” and “good morning” as some of the biggest oxymorons, and that’s the kind of (dis)organization with which I deal on a daily basis. I accept it as a part of Korean society, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less annoying. Of course, this source of the anger behind this little diatribe is the dreaded winter camp. I’ve actually known my camp dates for a little more than three weeks now and even have some winter break plans organized. The dates of the camp, however, all pretty much all I’ve known — until last week.

The school continues to test my patience as they decided last week (or at least that was when they informed me) to hold a school camp instead of having me work for the district camp — the same school camp that wouldn’t fit in the budget three weeks ago. This camp will comprise 60 students from first to sixth grade, grouped by ability into four classes. It all sounds like standard fare, but we’re in Korea where nothing is standard fare.

Because the higher-ups decided so suddenly to have an English camp for our school, they weren’t able to to find any other native-speaking English teachers. It gets even better: they told me that after trying to put the burden of finding help on me. Everyone I know in Korea is an English teacher — meaning they’re all doing the same thing I’m doing. The talent pool is a bit shallow during that time of year and on this short of notice.

Yesterday the teacher directing the camp asked me to help her with the student interviews by which we’ll separate them into their classes. Of course, I told her it wouldn’t be a problem to figure out a time to do that, especially since camp isn’t for another four weeks. Monday turned to Tuesday, when it became a problem: we have to find a time to do all 60 interviews this week because the camp’s orientation is next Tuesday. This is especially fantastic because I had already re-scheduled a class into the remaining free time I had this week, which was already limited because of the supposedly nine-hour workshop I have on Wednesday — and learned about on Monday.

I don’t know where the breakdown in communication occurs; however, a lack of communication would imply there was information to pass along to me. As with the original dates (and location, even) of the camp, there was absolutely nothing my co-teacher could tell me because there was nothing to know. For a country that seems like its brains should be hard-wired to logic and reasoning (since its educational system excels in math and the sciences), Korea doesn’t seem to be able to keep its days straight.

Even though I know it won’t come anytime soon, all I want is a little more notice and organization. Korean inefficiency will continue to boggle my mind.

Leave a comment

Filed under Korean inefficiency, school

Welcome to Korea

Today is November 11, and the winter break begins December 24. In Korea, the school year is the opposite of Western nations: the school year starts in March and ends in December (except for a seemingly random two-weeks in February during which the sixth graders take exams and graduate to middle school). As a result, the winter break is the longer of the two holidays.

While having essentially 2.5 months off in Asia sounds fantastic, it’s not such a dreamy gig for the native-speaking English teachers, or NSETs. While some principals let the NSET have the entire break off, most English teachers will have to do some sort of winter camp. The duration of these camps vary from district to district and even from school to school, depending on who organizes these camps. Camps can last from two weeks to five weeks, but often the point is moot. During the time there isn’t a camp, many schools require the teacher to come into the office and do literally nothing. There may be only one other teacher in the school at the same time.

We NSETs working for the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education have 21 paid vacation days in our contracts, which they prefer for us to use during these long breaks. My problem, though, is the complete lack of communication from the district down to my school to me. I was told, in early October by my liaison teacher, that the school doesn’t have money in its budget to run a camp, that the district usually does one each year, and the district would have these dates set sometime in late October to early November. I was also told by a less official source — my English co-teacher — that I wouldn’t have to come into school during the days without camp, but that decision is usually left to the principal.

Today is November 11, and the winter break begins December 24 — and I still have no word from anyone on whether I have to work a district camp or whether I have to come into school during the off days. Even though this camp is an annual event, the district hasn’t figured out if or when it’s going to happen, yet. As a result, I will summarize my winter break plans with the following word:

Umm.

I can only watch flight prices continue to rise as I’m stuck in this red-tape limbo. I can’t even begin to plan my trip since I don’t even know how much time I have off. Two weeks? Three weeks? Five weeks? If push comes to shove, I will decide my two weeks’ worth of vacation dates, and the district can have a camp without me. This is Korean efficiency at its finest.

2 Comments

Filed under Korean inefficiency, school, travel

Teaching troubles

I’m in my third week of teaching now, and it has been every bit of an adventure as I had imagined it. The kids are doing the things kids do (especially the swooning fifth-grade girls), but they’re nowhere near unmanageable. All in all, it’s still, not unexpectedly, a learning experience.

The biggest challenge in this job is the fact that I’m co-teaching. The rapport between each of my three co-teachers and me still isn’t quite there. We’ll accidentally cut each other off thinking it’s time to transition, and other times, we won’t even have a transition. This lack of chemistry affects how I present my part of class, and I’m sure the Korean co-teachers are adjusting, too.

The hardest part of finding this balance is the lack of hierarchy. I’m obviously the better English speaker, but they’re the more experienced teachers. These kids have been with these teachers since March (because their school year starts in the spring), and I’m still a fresh face to them. Because of my lack of authority and experience, it’s hard to tell co-teachers certain things (i.e. the curriculum) don’t really work. Sometimes I get bored teaching in my own classes because we work from the CD so much, but I’m not confident in my own alternatives — if I have any.

With each week, though, I hope to be able to invoke more activities (especially with my fifth-grade class where I hold the reins) separate from the curriculum and turn it into a more conversation-centered class. Singing “I like apples” over and over can only go so far.

2 Comments

Filed under school

Who is she? Who is he?

My elementary school. Its only four years old.

My elementary school. It's only four years old.

I just finished the first day of my second week of teaching (yes, on a Wednesday thanks to Chusok ), so that means there was a first week of teaching that happened, well, last week. Convoluted syntax aside, it was definitely an eventful week — especially since I have 23 different classes a week. Twenty-three classes each with roughly 30 students — most of whom have only Korean names — means that I will never know their names. It’s kind of sad really.

I have five third-grade classes, six fourth-grade classes, five fifth grade classes and six sixth grade classes. While it sounds like a handful (and in some aspects it is), I only have to make one lesson plan for each grade per week, and on three of the five days of the week, I have three hours after classes to lesson plan. It’s not easy being me, though.

I’m kind of a rock star around this place. The first day I was here, the principal introduced me over the announcements — the same announcements they do on closed-circuit television. From what I’ve heard this is a very common occurrence, and that means all the kids know who I am before I’ve ever met them. They’re always excited to see the new teacher to whom they can say “Hello!” and practice their English. Well, most of them do. The girls often just say “Hi!” and giggle incessantly.

The first set of third- and fourth-grade classes went pretty smoothly. Those classes are really easy because the students don’t understand most of what I’m saying (think back to your first couple of years of foreign language class), so the Korean co-teacher directs most of the class and works mostly from the book and accompanying CD, which results in annoying songs being stuck in my head. Then Wednesday arrived along with my first fifth-grade class. My fifth-grade co-teacher and I don’t share an office, so we didn’t quite plan a lesson before the class started. I figured she would ease me into it with the CD and book like the other teachers.

After I finished my Powerpoint presentation about myself, I looked at her…only to see her looking back at me. Fuck. After an awkward second, she finally whispered to me that she was expecting me to lead the class and she would translate instructions or ideas the students didn’t understand. I had to improvise the activities for the rest of class. It’s not something I would recommend to any teacher, but I was much better with the rest of my classes since I already knew what to do from the first class.

Sixth graders, however, are the bane of my existence. The Korean school year starts in the spring and ends in the winter, so this is their last semester of elementary school. They simply no longer care. They’re loud, obnoxious, and don’t like English. It’s frustrating.

Some of the other teachers and me on a beach on the west coast of Seoul.

Some of the other teachers and me on a beach on the west coast of Seoul.

The entire staff, not just my co-teachers, have made the transition rather easy. On Tuesday, I went with them on an annual staff outing to a grape farm then to a beach 1.5 to two hours west of Seoul. We all had a good time, and all the teachers who spoke any English were very welcoming. The ride home included the treat of noraebang (don’t say “karaoke” because it’s Japanese, and Koreans hate the Japanese) by my, um, rather inebriated principals and co-workers. I might or might not have sung Britney Spears’ “Toxic” on the bus, and I’ll leave it at that.

All in all, the school has been great, and I’m sure it’ll get better once I get into my after-school classes, which are smaller and have students who are smarter and a little more eager to learn. Goodness knows that I’ll be learning just as much right along with them.

2 Comments

Filed under school