Back-to-one-School and Missing Another
The second semester of my contract with the university has started and as it’s fall of course I feel like buying new pens and pencils and notebooks, getting a new school outfit and all of the other back-to-school activities we did when we were younger to prepare for a new school year. Of course, this isn’t a new school year, but just a new semester. Last semester I had the future stewardesses of Korea. They were a great introduction to what university classrooms could be like. They are the only major that must wear a uniform on campus and their hair and make-up, even though they are freshman, must be pristine. They will go through a two year program and if they make it through these two years of constantly checking a mirror, slicking back their hair, and wobbling around on brand new heels, it will ultimately prepare them for the trials and tribulations of working for Asiana or Korean Air, their top two choices, while still maintaining poise and looking beautiful. This semester I have nursing and secretarial students. Both majors are made up of much quieter students it seems, perfect for their future jobs I guess, but not so great for a speaking class. They don’t wear uniforms and don’t sit up straight in their seats. I have all girls again though, maybe the only similarity with last semester.
This whole year has been a big departure from my last job, two years where I was placed through SMOE at a private all boys high school.
When SMOE ended their contracts for placements in high schools, it was pretty heart wrenching for me. I’d finally found a job that wasn’t just a job in Korea, I’d taught at two hagwons for a total of almost four years previously. The atmosphere and the people at the high school made it a life. I came to understand why going on teacher retreats and picnics and partaking in the afterschool or weekend clubs was fun and worthwhile rather than tedious. I had my own classroom where I made the rules and students in neatly pressed uniforms bowed politely at the beginning of class. Unlike public schools in Korea, in which the teachers and principals are shifted around every few years, at my private high school the teachers and the staff were lifers. They started there and they would retire there, which made the atmosphere feel very traditional and respectable, like opening an old book and smelling that old smell only a very old book can have. That was my school. I went with them through the growing pains when physical punishment in schools across Korea was banned, which didn’t happen much before the ban in my school anyway, but after it was banned it was like the students were children and testing the limits to see what they could get away with all over again. I watched as the teachers around me became more like parents to their homeroom students, sitting with depressed students after school to talk about life and choices and one teacher even had a parent call him and say her son had run away a couple days before and the homeroom teacher should find him, not her. It was definitely a learning experience. I joined the teachers hiking club and went hiking once a month and still do actually because I couldn’t really let go of the school. And then as fast as I’d found a perfect place for me, it was over. Unfortunately the school couldn’t hire me with their own funds, having tenured teachers mean they pay a lot more and so I had to find a new job.
I was lucky to snag a university job, but the atmosphere is just completely different. I had become so accustomed to bowing and saying hello to teachers as we passed in the hallway, something the fellow teachers at the high school said was proper etiquette and even if you see the same teacher five times you should bow every time. As I was the only foreign teacher at the high school, I had to acclimate and become one with the teachers around me and I like to think I did. Coming to this school I automatically bowed and said hello every time I saw a Korean professor at the beginning but I could tell from their reactions they’re not used to the foreign teachers saying hello and I feel less a part of the school and more like a visiting lecturer partly because they don’t respond easily or warmly. There are no teachers clubs that I’ve heard of or been invited to. There have been no beginning of the semester teacher meetings or end of the semester celebrations for a job well done, which I’d assumed were common and if they are, the foreign teachers aren’t invited to any of these activities. On that note, because there wasn’t any of these proper beginning and end dinners a couple teachers and I got together to form the entertainment committee for our ESL bunch and planned our own dinners last semester, but it’s just not the same.
I’m thankful for the position that I have now, the hours are shorter, the students are older so they don’t need as much coddling and the pay is good, but at certain points throughout the semester I think about Daeshin High School and what I’d be doing right now with them.