“Michael, do you think you can go to different school and record their listening tests?” Like most requests that come from my administrators and are filtered through the tremulous, worried tones of my overburdened main co-teacher, this was not actually a question. She phrased it like a question because she knows English, but what she was really saying was, “You have to go and jabber at another school for a day. It will be boring. See you later.”
Why, pray tell, would they need my golden vocal cords? Didn’t they have an indentured foreigner traipsing through their campus already? Why couldn’t he/she do it? Was this one of the schools where the other English teachers were quivering bags of goo when it came to speaking, and demanded multiple foreigners to fill out the various parts of the dialogue for the tests?
As it turns out, their language monkey flew the coop.
Have we talked about the midnight run? The midnight run is when a foreign teacher in Korea packs their bags and screws off back to their respective homeland without telling anyone. Occasionally it is because they are actually in a horrible situation, occasionally it is because they are a jerk (and very occasionally it is both). Either way, this worried me. Just recently, the only foreign person likely in most of their lives shirked all of his responsibilities and ditched back to England. I imagined resentment. I imagined my arrival heralded with suspicious, shifty eyes, and quick efforts to lock up all the silverware. I imagined muttered conversations and disappointed head-shakes. Pitch-forks. Torches. A metal detector and a pat-down. Aspersions cast on my ancestry and my character.
As it turns out, it meant they just had ludicrously low expectations*. When I got into the car, two teachers waited for me, brimming, and nervous. How long have I been here? What country am I from? Did I just sign another contract. …do I like Korea? Kimchi? Jeju and Busan? 4 seasons? They tentatively broached that their last dude had ditched, and were careful not to mention that this sucked.
We got right down to recording, and after each grade finished in a clean 15 minutes, I was responded to with a hearty, “Wow! That was amazing! What a great job!” Wait… are you guys being condescending? I mean… I did a job, certainly. I moved my mouth and sounds came out. Why the clapping like I’m a trained seal?
“Oh. Last teacher… he make some mistakes, sometimes. So maybe recording takes one or two hours.” What? I asked to repeat. I was confused. How did he make an hour’s worth of mistakes on “I like pizza. Do you like pizza? I’m from Vietnam!” This is not exactly reading Tolstoy in the original Russian, here.
Soon after, I asked for clarification of another teacher’s name, which I still misheard, and thus wrote on the paper in Hangul. “Wow, you can read Korean!” Well, yes? It soon became clear to me: I could play these people like a fiddle. I got to work.
As we walked through the hall, a grade 5 teacher passed by and greeted us. Bypassing the English teacher, she asked me directly, in Korean, if I could speak. I responded in kind, and gave my usual mealy-mouthed “Oh, my Korean is terrible!” stuff, to jaws that nearly landed on the floor with audible thuds. When we returned to the office to wait for the next recording, I pulled out my special education textbook, and on their investigation, explained my teaching license, and how I was studying online to improve my degree. They cooed. They were mine.
I don’t like casting aspersions on other foreigners, but it seems like their previous guy was kind of a goon. But in the end, he provided me a great service: I could easily impress another school. (They jokingly mentioned that maybe I should quit my school and come to theirs, ha ha ha with a set of shifty, “But could you?” eyes punctuating the sentence.) In turn, this would impress my own school. And winter vacation negotiations are coming up, which means I need to begin making deposits in the favour bank.
*A current coteacher of mine was last at this school, and it explains her constant waves of shock that I am not a mouth-breathing boob.