Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Welcome to the Korean school system...

I know it's pretty rare (and demanding) to write two posts in one day but this is a special occasion. Lots of people write or rant about how inefficient Korea is, especially the bureacracy - and there's a lot of bureacracy - so I'm not going to bother going into details about that. I'm just going to launch straight into a rant of my own.

First things first: as you may have gathered from an earlier post, things got a bit stressed last year with my old vice-principal, and all in all I was rather glad this year to find that a) he went to a new school and b) I'm no longer in the same office as the new one. I was also all happy that I only have 17 regular teaching hours, and 6 after school classes (I was expecting 8). Lesson of the day: DUHHHHHHHHHH! I should have touched wood. I should have thrown salt over my shoulder. I should have spent the entire week looking for black cats and dyeing them any other colour (purple or green for preference) and hunting down four leaf clovers. They say pride comes before a fall and although it's more like relief comes before a big kick in the pants, it's still much the case here. Because the new VP isn't just demanding.


So yes, the old VP was a bit pushy, and wanted the school to do well (they all do), but we got on pretty well and he was pretty nice to me on the whole. My new co-teacher Paige said he was really awful to her, and last night one of my new co-workers who is also new to the school said that he'd heard the old VP was comparable to Gaddafi, so I imagine that there were a few others who also had problems with him, but really, that wasn't my problem and why he was like that to them wasn't either. I evaluate people on my own impressions and interactions with them, both for good and bad, and although there were some bad moments between me and him, things could have been a lot worse.

Well now they are. This new guy is completely and utterly committed to results, no matter how they're achieved. Not only is he likely to piss off the entire staff with this attitude, he's also likely to wipe out his entire student body because they're going to have to spend so much time studying that they aren't going to have any to do little things like eat, sleep and bathe. Last year, the Principal signed our school up for a Mentoring Program (and the attendant funding) without consulting ANY of the teachers first, which is pretty much meant to compete with the hagwon ('Academy' or tutoring) system that kids are usually stuffed into straight after school and pretty much in any spare time they might have. A Korean middle school student has it comparatively easy compared to high school students, but can still expect to have to spend a good 2 or 3 hours a day having English, Math, Science, piano, baseball, violin, taekwondo, drawing or anything else you'd care to think of lessons after school which is 8.30 - 4.30. I have seen my students walking home at night at 9.30 in the evening. Our mentoring program was designed to provide the same thing from 7 - 9 pm, but only for subjects taught at school that kids needed extra help with, and be more accessible by being cheaper than the usual hagwon fees. Good idea, right? Wrong. Because the thing about hagwons is that even though they are usually afternoon/evening classes, the teachers still usually only work a regular day (for Korea) workshift. So who teaches our mentoring program? Yep, the teachers. Which means that most of them have a work day of between 9 - 12 hours, which they obviously love.
Hooray for someone signing everyone but themselves up for extra work!

Luckily there are plenty of teachers not working insane schedules already or at least want the money more than I do who are keen for some tutoring so I don't have to do it. Which is lucky because there are three classes this year rather than one.

So we get to my gripe and why I think my VP is psychotic. He has just informed me that I'm expected to run a four hour class from 6 - 10pm (hopefully only once a week) for students to practice everything from conversation to presentations to whatever. This was not a request. What the fudge. First of all, never mind me, but what kind of ...person.... thinks that that kind of thing is going to be productive for the kids?? They're only 15 at oldest, and even though yes, they're used to studying for long hours and working hard, do you really think that making them go to a class after even a regular school day for four hours is going to do anything? It's not even going to be in their native tongue, so all they are going to end up doing is either not attending after the first couple of weeks or falling asleep. Oh and how about "what about the teacher who's going to have to teach at least 9 hours of her 14 hour working day"??????? Although I live in a pretty safe area, I also don't particularly like the idea of walking home by myself at 10pm at night.

I'm slightly pissed off. This is the whole parents winter conversation class over again. I suggested that we at least run it as two two-hour classes instead of one huge chunk, but that didn't seem to go down very well. I really don't care about the money - I'd rather have the free time - so I'm hoping that the VP will let me find someone else to do it because he doesn't really seem to understand what "refusing point blank" means, probably because it doesn't really happen in Korea. I told him that if he wants me to do it, I'm not doing it until at least the 25th of March so I can at least finish my TESOL coursework first and that was tricky enough.

Something weird is also happening with our exam preparation class intended to help students prepare for English language contests like the Ban Ki Moon essay/speech contest. But hey, it's not like the students have a choice about entering this so I guess it's only fair that I get forced to do it too. The weirdness is that apparently the head English teacher (who isn't great at classroom management and handling students to begin with, or at least in my classes anyway) really wants the students to do well, so only the absolute top students are going to be allowed in the class, but nevertheless she's putting FIRST graders in as well as seconds. Which to me just sounds stupid since there is only one test for everyone who enters with no distinction for different ages/grades but there you go. Unfortunately, Yong-Seo, one of the students who's been vetted from entering the class was one of my favourites last year as apparently he only did well in his English speaking test and bombed the rest, and one of the girls, Yeong-Ji was vetted out too because she doesn't have the right attitude or something.

Anyway, I've also just been told that I'm doing two more conversation classes, this time in 8th and 9th period on the two afternoons I had free, and since I usually get here at 8am, it looks like I'll have a few 10 hour days. I'm hoping that this means that I don't have to do the ridiculous 4 hour thing but who knows. Apparently this is also different from the 2 hour conversation class I'll have that's 1st 2nd AND 3rd year on Mondays and poor Paige has about as much idea as I do why that has to be different from the 1st year and 2nd year classes and can't just be changed so that there are three separate conversation classes, one for each grade so I can use some sort of teaching aide like a textbook and don't have to make the whole damn thing up myself. But no. So a fair prediction for the mixed Monday class is that we'll be watching a lot of movies. (I teach all of these classes by myself without a co-teacher by the way).

*sigh* Poor kids. Some of them are going to be mighty sick of seeing me every single day every week by the end of the semester.

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