Dinner with the Co's: Justifying leaving.

Last night I went out with a couple of my oldest (work wise, not age wise) coworkers for 매운 갈국수 and coffee. It's no secret that the past year or so at my job has been less than paradise, and a lot of that is down to the other people in our department, who are various combinations of difficult to work with, along with all fairly self-serving. The one these two specific coworkers really can't stand is Old HT, the one infamous on this blog for her obsession with foreigners making bread. New HT, formerly known as Mousey Co-teacher, is such a mouse around them, the few times they've had interactions with her, that they were very curious to figure out why I had protested so much when it was announced that she would be the English department chief (and my main co-teacher) again this year, and why the VP decided to take her homeroom class away from her.

There are two other English teachers who are both head teachers over different areas, who they are both having a lot of trouble with recently, and that, all in total, rounds out our entire English teaching staff, save for two contract teachers.

So. It's not a great crew. And I've been taking the brunt of it for a while.

Essentially what happened last year was this: The three head teachers, including Old HT, realized that they could get New HT to do whatever they asked with zero protestation. They also, as head teachers, have a lot of business trips. So they miss a lot of classes. Ordinarily, they should have to arrange with other subject teachers to switch out their classes and make them up later. But they figured out that it was easier for them to call me in to sub for them instead. And then allow me to just teach my regular classes, in addition, and never have to make the missed classes up.

Add to this another subject head teacher who railroaded New HT into basically tricking me into teaching an extra class hour to other subject teachers for free, and I was being run over all year.

And then? A student started stealing money from New HT. And eventually, one day, stole from me as well. But I'm not New HT and I don't find that to be acceptable. So I told her, given that it was her homeroom students that are constantly in and out of the office, that she needed to figure it out. But she refused. She didn't want to "hurt the students' feelings" by accusing them. So I set up a camera, convinced that whoever it was had an office key. When I finally caught the little shit with a jacket over his head in the office during lunch time when the office was locked, I insisted that she should go downstairs immediately, contact the 학생부 and have them come out and search the students' pockets for the key, which whoever it was obviously had on them at the time.

But instead, she just phoned down to the main office to have our locks changed.

And then the other contract teacher who shared our office with us moved out. Now, her homeroom students were in the office during break time, during lunch time, and even during class time (she never wanted to make the students feel bad by telling them they needed to go to class) running around and screaming. Which, as you can imagine, made getting work done nigh on impossible. So I started scolding the students instead.

Upon recounting bits of this to my two other coworkers over dinner last night, one of them hit the nail on the head: "When the homeroom teacher is so generous, it makes all of the other teachers the enemy." And so it was with all of the other third grade teachers last year, whose complaints near the end of the year about her lack of discipline with her students grew to epic proportions. Her students wandered in and out of classes as they chose, and viewed any other teachers' attempts to control them as overreaction.

So. No homeroom for her this year.

This year, Old HT has decided she is New HT's "mentor". And happily announces this to anyone who will listen. Which is obviously embarrassing for New HT, and which made one of my coworkers almost fall over from the force of her eye roll at dinner last night when I shared it: "Who gave her that title?!" She's even gone so far as to tell New HT, quite directly, that her jeans are too tight and the other teachers are making comments about it being inappropriate in front of the students. Not only did she say this to New HT, but she also, for a few days after when New HT continued to wear the tight jeans, would make loud, sing-songy comments in front of other teachers about her jeans being pretty, but not right for school.

New HT now wears a long jacket over her clothes when she goes anywhere but to class.

But you know what? It's working great for me, so far. Old HT loves a power trip, and New HT loves to tattle on me. So when New HT tried to force me into several hours worth of unpaid overtime earlier this year, in an attempt to appease other teachers, and I flatly refused (after the sub teaching situation from last year, I do everything by the contract, and watch my hours like a hawk -- I didn't used to be that way, but when it becomes clear that miles are being made of inches given, you don't have much of a choice), New HT huffed and went downstairs to tattle on me for refusing to stay an hour after work finishes once a week without pay. But she returned to inform me that even the ten minutes I had agreed to was unfair, and we should rearrange.

Fucking turns out, Old HT is good for something.

My coworkers, to whom I told only a fraction of all of this (and there is still more -- essentially I would have been more fucked than fucked if I didn't have the Korean skills to keep up with school messages last year), sat staring at me over coffee with their mouths hanging open.

My coworker who was gone for the last half of last year said, after a bit of a silent pause, "Liz. I respect you. You survived. No wonder you want to leave."

This particular coworker, while she was gone, acted as a "guest" teacher in a Canadian public school. She said that after three months of it, she felt like she could understand me so much better, and that it was no easy task to do what we do, and that the people who manage to adapt and live well working in another culture deserve respect, because it's not easy.

And I told them, it's not just these circumstances that are pushing me out. It's a lot of things, but overall mostly just the realization (although I always knew it on some level) that these jobs are not meant to be permanent. Every year, I'm a brand new foreigner all over again, as a new crop of teachers moves into the school to fuss over having to sit beside me at lunch, to compliment me on chopsticks and spicy food and inform me of all kinds of useful facts, such as the fact that sauce is sauce (which was the one from today), or that writing names in red is bad luck in Korea, or whatever the fuck else it is that it doesn't occur to them to think I might already know after four years and some change in this country. And it's fine -- I'm not going to go on a rant about it being racist. It's not that. It's that I don't want to still be hearing it at 45. Not over my fucking lunch. Not again.

I don't want to be dependent on a teacher who is younger than me and has no idea what they're doing to be in charge of my work affairs. I don't want to still be being interrupted in my own classes by housewives making an extra buck for a few months who decide to tell me that the lesson I've been successfully teaching for three years is "too difficult" for the students. I don't want to dodge invitations from every new principal or vice principal to go see Wolmido, which, in case I didn't know, is beside the ocean.

But more than that, as I explained to my coworkers last night, it's that I'm not challenged anymore. And that's why all of the things that seemed so small before are so magnified now. Before, I was too busy figuring out what in the hell I was actually doing -- in the classroom, in this country, with this language and this culture. But it's not like that anymore, and instead it's just an endless parade of the same things as the year before.

And I want more. I want more challenges and "impossible" things to do and figure out.

I motioned across the table to them both: "You both saw me when I first got here. You saw me struggle to stay afloat." They smiled affectionately and nodded. "But it's not like that anymore, and I need deeper waters."

"Speaking of that," said my very first co-teacher ever, "I'm learning to swim."

"And I," said my second, "Am changing my subject to Korean."

I guess getting burnt out is not just a foreigner thing.


HL said...

"When the homeroom teacher is so generous, it makes all of the other teachers the enemy."

This. This twenty times over.

I know I've said this many times before, but I think it's awesome you have some (former) co-workers who got you. And I'm also glad Old HT is good for something :)

Young said...

A Korean version of "The Office"? Wouldn't be funny for Koreans. Self-deprecation means a demotion to a second-class citizen in Korea. American actors speaking English with a racially diverse cast in a fictional nation which admires the U.S? Thumbs up? Or down?