Nuggets of Pedagogy: The Other School


“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.

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19 thoughts on “Nuggets of Pedagogy: The Other School

  1. Sadly, I am not surprised there are English speaking people in the world who manage to screw it up in the simplest of circumstances. I am American, after all, I see it every day. Once again, I enjoyed the read! Thanks!

  2. It seems odd that a native speaker would find it hard to record simple sentences… could they have been having technical issues rather than language ones? Or perhaps they were in fact not a native speaker at all, but just a very sneaky person who wanted to make some money?

    My Korean student (I’m meant to be teaching him English but he can already out-grammar me) keeps telling me about his teacher in Korea, who he calls “Mr Kevin” and who is apparently Canadian. We were wondering why there seem to be a lot of Canadian and American people teaching in Korea, but not so many British ones. Can you shed any light on this?

    • I think he was British; apparently he was just a very nervous guy and thus bombed his recordings regularly.

      I can’t be terribly certain, although I have my theories. I know, in general, Korea is friendly with America, and generally seeks out people with the flat, newscastery accent you get in the Northern U.S./central Canada. I also know that a lot of the major agencies which Korean school boards and programs tend to use for headhunting are Canadian (one of the main ones for my city, Incheon, is located in Toronto), and it’s just a lot easier in terms of paperwork back and forth if you’re relatively close to the agency you’ll work with.

    • I only sort of know Rob tangentially, we haven’t actually met. Mutual blog appreciation, I guess.

      I browsed your site a little… does this one really fit what you’re still looking for in terms of submissions? I mean, I’d be interested, but it didn’t seem to gel with some of the topics you guys were still hoping to talk about.

  3. So Michael, if Gwen lets me get away, do you think they would accept me to teach English even though I do not have my teaching certificate? Just kidding of course as who would do the laundry and cooking and gardening……….

  4. This post really had me laughing. I taught English in China three years ago and can relate about the side conversations that happened in Chinese that I wasn’t supposed to understand. I still remember once when my students were asking – in Chinese, what page we were supposed to be on and I, in English said, 42. The jaws that hit the floor were hilarious, but I did blow my cover.

    Very much enjoyed it.

  5. First you ditch your old fridge, the one who was with you through thick and thin, for a trophy fridge; now you’re lusting after another school. Tsk, tsk, tsk…

      • Yeeaaahh–that’s what they all say. It begins as an act of emotional manipulation (“I’ll flirt with this new school to make my current school jealous, and then I’ll get what I want. Haha.”), but then something about that other school, with its big, shiny touchscreens, gives you pause. You start to think, “That other school gets me–it knows where I want to go in life (and on vacation). And those touchscreens–damn.” Soon enough, you’re sneaking away from functions with your current school to attend those at the other. Your current school senses your withdrawal from the relationship, and wonders what it did wrong. It tearfully confronts you one day, and in its heartbreak you suddenly realize the mistake you have made. But it’s too late–some damage is irreparable.

        So sad, so very sad…

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