Tag Archives: inefficiency

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.

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I’m not complaining

After coming back from Vietnam, I returned to my normal post as English teacher at my elementary school. “Normal,” though, isn’t the proper word to describe the last two weeks of the school year. The kids had been on winter vacation for six weeks before being forced to return to wrap up the school year. I had spent the same six weeks bouncing between Thailand, Winter Camp and Vietnam. None of us were ready to be in school.

The students, suffering from mental lag from the break, had no inclinations for paying attention — especially the sixth graders who had already checked out before break. I was out of significant lessons to teach, and all that was left were games. The two weeks (including two full days with not a single class for me and a full week of half-days) passed rather innocuously, and here I am on vacation again. This time it’s their “spring vacation,” despite what the 23-degree (I still work in Fahrenheit) weather says.

I’ll be spending this week organizing my stuff to move into a new apartment — one that I still have to find. I plan on doing some local sightseeing (i.e. playing with the camera) as well, but this weather might be a deterrent. Next week, if everything goes to plan, I’ll be touring around Korea, seeing what this country has to offer. It’ll be me (and someone else, in theory) and Lonely Planet Korea.

After this little spurt, it will have been 10 weeks or so since I’ve taught a serious class, but even the first week back won’t be a return to normalcy since it’s the first week of the new school year. I’ll be adjusting to new students, new co-teachers (teachers change positions every year and school every five years) and new class rules. I’m excited to see how these new classes turn out, but I’m slightly nervous about having to learn my co-teachers’ tendencies all over again. I was starting to get used to my last set of co-teachers.

I don’t see how all this commotion can be good for the educational system, but I’m sure the students and teachers are all conditioned to the change. I suppose I should be, too, since I’ve already experienced a few too many unexpected changes. They always turn out okay, though, and I expect nothing else from this school year.

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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.

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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.

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