A new school semester is upon us, which of course means a bunch of sweeping changes.
Typically these sorts of things happen when I’m not at school for a little while. Schedules change on whims and decisions are made instants before their ramifications must come into play on a usual basis, but particularly when I am not around, large decisions are made in the school. Often large decisions that will impact me in various ways. My opinion is never really solicited, but I’m used to that by now. My job is to weather the changes with my regular stalwart endurance.
Coming back from vacation to an empty school, I began snooping. Most of the changes would not be alerted to me for a while, so I would need to prod. I deciphered who was now in the department, and that I had essentially become the longest-running English staff member of the school. I snooped and stalked and figured out how many classes I would have, and noted their low number.
Foreign English teachers in Korean public schools are held to a mystical, sacred number: the holy 22. 22 is the maximum number of classes one may teach at a school before overtime starts getting paid. How this number is interpreted is basically varied and incredibly stupid, and different people will allow slack or become iron-fisted bureaucrats based on their interpretation of our contract. Some education bigwigs once threw a shitfit at one of my friends because he noted honestly that some weeks he did not teach 22 hours. 22, they cried, was both the minimum and the maximum, the alpha and the omega. He must teach them every week! No exceptions! Even a holiday week that only has three days, and nowhere in spacetime that one could theoretically fit 22 classes? It doesn’t matter! Find a way! Bluuurgh!
I was down to 18 by my count. Hovering at my previous number of 21 made it too onerous and risky to schedule me with anything else but my regular classes: with all the random things I do around the school, if I ever got really in a snit (not that I would) I could start making noise about overtime. But at 18, people start to get ideas. Last year the principal had similarly gotten all ideaful, and had essentially demanded that I begin designing entire afterschool English programs, running an English version of the school website, begin tutoring sessions and giving lectures to the staff on English. But at 21 hours, these ideas thankfully drifted off into the First Week of School Good Ideas pit, from whence they would never issue again. This year I could not really escape them.
One idea: teaching grade 1/2, specifically a group of apparently underprivileged kids. A coteacher presented this to me as though I would react with abject horror, shying away from my gaze lest I begin firin’ my lasers. Of course, I like teaching primary, and a year of solid training in misty-eyed idealism in teacher’s college makes me leap upon the chance to teach children who need extra help. Challenge accepted!
The other change was less welcome: weekly broadcasts. Essentially, I am tasked with just sort of filling up ten minutes of airtime with English nonsense on a weekly basis, because, in the eyes of our great and mighty principal, this will improve English education at the school. Through magic and science.
Otherwise, things are running smoothly for the beginning of the year. At least two grades worth of kids I have taught continuously for the last 18 months, and thus they know the system and how to react. They still remember our opening routine, and can recite the majority of my parts of the call-and-response in complete, harmonic unison. They come to class and open their books, pencils at the ready, and turn their eyes to me as soon as the bell has rung. I have trained them well, and their robotic devotion to the system pleases me. Getting the new teachers to fit into the well-oiled machine I have designed is a trickier conundrum.
And then there are the grade 4s. As grade 3s, I have taught some of them in special camps, and these kids already lord it over the others that they’re down with the foreigner. But the rest are coming into a new classroom, with two new teachers, and it’s all being conducted in a foreign language. From what they believe, they are in English Fun Zone, and Happy Michael English Clown will ministrate to their various childish desires for nonstop bingo games and candy. They’ve heard the rumours. Foreigners are basically just large, more highly-trained monkeys, and when a school hires them, it is for their visceral entertainment. They believe I’m not really a teacher. They believe English time is not serious time.
What they believe is wrong.
They are not aware that I am the sheriff, basically. I am harsher and can talk louder than any of the other teachers in the department, and as I have suddenly become the one there the longest, I am basically the most tenured at this point. The other teachers happily defer discipline to me, because they know of my wrath and find it useful. The students don’t know that they are staring into the face of their very doom. But they will learn.
And hopefully they won’t unlearn when I’m forced to stammer on camera every Wednesday morning about whatever.