Monday, August 30, 2010

Plans change.

Many foreign teachers in Korea complain that their schools make drastic schedule changes without warning them, telling them the schedule has changed, or that someone is considering changing the schedule.  Today, my first day of classes, I became another victim of this peculiar style of organization.

I teach two grades of students this semester; we'll call them grades 4 and 6.  I met with several (but not all) of my co-teachers last Thursday and was given to understand that I would begin teaching all of my regularly scheduled classes today.  Fair enough; after a spot of panic Thursday I rallied on Friday and set to work planning lessons.

Because one of my grade 6 co-teachers has been completely kickass and helpful thus far, I hammered out a nice lesson to teach with her.  I met several teachers last week but came away with a hunch that this one would turn out to be the best and I decided to make some effort to cultivate a friendship with her because she's exactly the sort of office friend I want:  professional, capable, helpful.  Also, her English is fluent and her accent is good enough to fool you. 

I'm probably going to refer to this woman more in the future, so let's give her a name now:  Stealth Korean.  I mean no disrespect by this, I just need to keep reminding myself she's Korean.  Her English is so good it's easy to forget such a crucial detail, making interacting with her dangerous.  The superb English is so disarming that the natural impulse is to relate to her as an American friend, forgetting about Korean cultural rules and office politics.  Peril!!!

Anyway, Stealth Korean made such a good first impression on me that I placed trust in her straight away.  So on Friday afternoon, when she told me I would not be teaching any grade 4 classes today, I believed her.  It helped that I witnessed her confirming this point with another school employee and had been told earlier that an official SMOE e-mail had been sent instructing schools not to put new foreign teachers into classrooms until Wednesday.

Perhaps you can already tell how this story ends.  A few minutes before 9 this morning, one of the grade 4 co-teachers stopped by my desk to inform me that students were waiting outside my classroom and I ought to go unlock it for them.  Funny, that.  So I went and taught my first class ever with very little preparation.  It was 45 minutes long and not so bad.  I wasn't even nervous.  No stuttering, no dry mouth, no flop sweat.  I even did it two more times and came away thinking this job is totally within my abilities and will not be so hard after all.

But there was another hiccup in the scheduling.  I finished my third class and the fourth began.  Students filed into the room and sat down.  I loaded up my half-useful PPT for the grade 4 lesson and waited for my co-teacher.  The bell rang... and still no co-teacher.  I stepped out into the hall and looked around:  no co-teacher.  "Alright," I thought, "let's nip this shit in the bud."  I went into the nearest office and asked the first person who looked at me if she knew where my co-teacher was.  We'll call the woman I was looking for "Rose," after the Golden Girl.

While I waited for Rose to get back on the ball, I launched into the lesson.  It went pretty well and within 4 minutes Rose was on the scene, just in time to tell me I was teaching the wrong lesson.  The schedule said I had a grade 4 class at this time, but the schedule had changed:  it was now a grade 6 class.  Okay.  Rose is tough to communicate with, so I don't know if even she had been informed of the schedule change.  Also, I'm not certain Rose was supposed to co-teach that class with me.  In any case, a major schedule change took place, at least one of the teachers affected was not notified, and someone neglected her duty to help me out. 

So that was my first day as a teacher.  Would you believe me if I wrote that I wasn't stressed at all?  That I just took it in stride and was never angry, not even for a moment?  That, surrounded by chaos, I was calm as a Hindu cow?  Well, believe it.  But I wonder how long my tranquility will last.

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