“Michael,” my coworker quavers. She is clutching a notebook in her hands, and she only uses this tone when she is about to say something she knows will upset or infuriate me. She has steeled herself for this conversation, has thought of every permutation. She has maybe practiced it a few times before a mirror, to rehearse. “The teachers had a meeting yesterday with the Vice Principal. About English education. They have some ideas that they want you to do…”
Because of some lingering, weirdo aspects of Confucianism, directness is not well-valued in the Korean workplace. Generally, directness labels you as a rebel, a kind of leather-covered, slick-haired troublemaker drag racing and challenging the system. In Korea, the boss is held supreme, and his or her (but usually his) many and various capricious whims are to be carried out by virtue of the fact that they issued from the mouth of someone old. Trying to get your way when you are younger or subordinate puts you at odds against that system. But your way is really, really good, and how do you go about getting it?
An open class is what it sounds like. In Korean schools, it means that the doors of your class are thrown open to observers, so that they can come in and basically be all up in your grille, watch your every move, and judge to their heart’s content. Who can come? Well, it depends. There are staff open classes, filled with principals and vice-principals, teachers and department heads, janitors and janitresses, vice-lunchladies and tech staff and the copy boy. There are parental open classes, where dozens of moms with the day off wander in and see just how often you call on Junior. There are open classes for student teachers, and members of the public, and educational big wigs, and probably one for the Korean head of state, should he ever feel the need to sit down for forty minutes of grade 5 English.
More importantly, though: open classes are times when Korean teachers go completely insane.
One day I pulled the milk out of my fridge to make tea and was gravely concerned. Vaguely lumpy milk is never a good sign, and it’s the kind of mild biological oddity that makes you uncomfortable and question if its something airborne and going to spread to the rest of your food. Also I couldn’t drink my tea without milk because what am I, some kind of animal? With time, I came to realize the issue: my fridge was bonked. The regular fridge part itself was rapidly becoming warmer, and the arctic ice floe that lived in the freezer above was beginning to gather condensation. My heart sank. The fridge was terminal.