How Not To Teach English In South Korea

Yes, I actually exploded at my coworker (or so-called “co-teacher”) yesterday afternoon, and my god, it felt so amazing. For less than half of my life I’ve worked for good people and bad, and more or less done whatever was asked of me—though to their annoyance I would whip out a book and start reading whenever I had a spare moment—but conditions at my workplace have been so intolerable for these past few weeks that I finally fought back against the chief cause of them, a woman who, strangely, pretends to be my boss, though I am probably paid significantly more money to come to work (with bonuses, airfare, and free apartment thrown into the bargain) than she ever will be.

Emotion clouds memory, so while I don’t think I was yelling at her, I do know that my voice was raised, very serious, and completely carried away by passion, righteousness, and eloquence. The moment I decided to begin the assault—caused by her usual unprofessionalism in the form of snide comments and insulting requests—I forgot who I was and disappeared; the Greeks neglected to name the muse who comes inside us when we get really pissed off for a very legitimate reason, because honestly I was not there, I was somewhere else, and a different spirit inhabited my body completely.

And the strangest thing is that when I finished, she was speechless. I had so thoroughly wiped her out that she had nothing to say. Reality was, for once, the same as fantasy; I’ve been arguing with this person and fantasizing about arguing with her for weeks over the same stupid bullshit, and in these imagined conflicts it’s always the same: my complaints are somehow so universally correct that she can say nothing to oppose them. And so it was. After a few moments of silence I told her I was leaving, she asked me why, and I said I was finished; upon returning to my diminutive office, which I share with the Chinese teacher, I felt as if I were surrounded by a crowd of spirits who were all cheering me on and jumping up to give me high-fives. The muse left me but my hands were still trembling.

It was not just a victory against this woman’s ridiculous incompetence and presumption, but also a moment when I finally decided, after years of taking crap from so many assholes, to take a stand. For the first time in my life I became confident enough to wipe out the long line of fools whom I allowed, until then, to walk all over me. And I’m more excited than ever about leaving this workplace in a few months, because afterward I’ll be self-employed, hopefully forever, which means (also hopefully) no more stupid crap from stupid bosses.

What was the argument even about, you ask? This woman does not belong in the classroom. I have never met anyone with such a lack of charisma; the children can no more listen to her or pay attention to her than they could to a life-sized cardboard cutout of William Shatner (which I actually once possessed and, strangely, had in my bedroom, though I have honestly never cared for William Shatner and like Star Trek more or less in spite of him; it terrified this evil dog we had for a year or two if you got behind it and made it move like a real person). She does not discipline them, nor does she speak loudly enough to be heard, nor does she appear to possess any confidence at all, but stands nervously in front of them wringing her fingers for almost the entirety of her savagely boring classes (which stick entirely to the textbook). She told me last week we had to act like the parents of our students, and treat them nicely, as a result; but if any of these awful misbehaving kids were my own, I would throw them out the window.

Things came to a head yesterday because I attended yet another one of her poorly-organized and unprepared classes, during which time she gave me no instructions for assisting her. The children were completely out of control, as they always are with her. Punching, playing, running around, whatever, you name it, they were doing it. Usually they chill out if I yell at them for a little bit, but I was tired of picking up after this woman, as my role in her classes chiefly consists of disciplinarian, as the children are so bored with her that they never behave when she teaches. I decided then that I was finished. I was not flown by her government halfway across the planet to yell at Korean children. It’s certainly a part of my job, but I don’t think it’s what her superiors had in mind as my chief and sole responsibility.

At any rate, we’re supposed to work together to create a safe learning environment for the kids (as I do successfully with two other teachers at the school), but she doesn’t lift a finger, and after weeks of this I was finished with picking up the slack. Before I was embarrassed to be in the same classroom with her, and kept the kids in line out of a sense of duty or propriety, not because I thought they had anything to learn from this woman—besides how one ought not to teach, or even be—but all of that ended forever. Until she makes real attempts to actually teach these children, I will be just as ineffectual as she is, because I hate yelling at them, and I won’t do it any longer for her sake.

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