It’s been a long time since I’ve posted anything and this is why: (NOTE: there will be a LOT of ranting and complaining, you were warned)
I teach at Singa Elementary School in Song-pa-gu in the Gangdong Educational District. I have three (but four total) co-teachers, my 6th grade teacher, Choi Min-hui; my 5th grade co-teacher, Kim Yu-Yeong (KYY or K-double-Y); my first 3rd/4th grade co-teacher Song Oh-jin; and my current 3rd/4th grade co-teacher, Kwon Jihye.
All the English teachers for the 2009 year are new to the school, for three of my co-teachers, this is their first full-time teaching job. And this is the first time that they’ve worked with a Native Speaking English Teacher (NSET). I’m replacing a Western teacher from Australia, that the school was not happy with and wouldn’t let him resign for another year. When I arrived in Korea, I was greeted with an e-mail asking if my school needed to get me an apartment, because my school didn’t have one for me. A week later at the district office, I was a little scared about what my supervisor would think or feel about me and if I even had an apartment.
I was extremely surprised when they were so happy to have a kyopo teacher from the States. And I was happy to see that I had a studio apartment, that was in a nice area and pretty much brand new. The next Monday, I arrived at my school, had an on-TV interview on the school TV system and I was introduced to my co-teachers. Literally the first words out of KYY’s mouth is ‘I live in the same apartment, but it’s too expensive, I talked to the manager, and if you move into my apartment, I can find a new apartment, okay? It’s not like it’s your money…’ And for the next two months, everytime I talked to her, somehow my contract would come up, why does the school pay my monthly rent, why did the school pay my deposit, why did the school buy my furniture, why do I get the salary that I get, why don’t I have to work of Saturday, etc. She’s been teaching ten years and doesn’t have the same kind of contract, it’s not fair, etc. I even sat down with her and told her that I’m taking a paycut to teach in Korea and in the States and Europe, I got two days off, Saturday and Sunday, so unless the school pays me a whole lot more, I’m not giving up my two days of relaxation and destressing. During April and May, rants became that her apartment is so small, she doesn’t like the area, she doesn’t have friends, there’s no one that’s cultured enough to hang out with her (she’s fallen asleep at concert recitals, theater productions, and movies), etc.
But as this is going on, she’s becoming more and more hostile everyday and more verbal rude, it started with comments about my English being hard to understand, than my Korean is bad (but she talks to me is Korean alot), than I can’t call myself Korean, blah blah blah.
So my first 3rd/4th grade co-teacher, Song Oh-jin, didn’t like that I’m kind of popular with the 4th graders and with the Principal, who walked through my classes several times or stood outside and watched through the window, and watched how my classes went and how I interacted with the students. Song Oh-jin really didn’t do anything, except play on the Internet, chat, sleep, during class and when a student would ask her to translate, she would ignore them. On May Day/Sports Day(May 1st), the Vice Principal came into our office and said that even though we don’t have a homeroom, we (the subject teachers) should come outside and support the students. I was working on my computer and didn’t hear her, everyone else in the office forgot about me and left the office. Song Oh-jin comes in and starts yelling at me that I need to be outside with the rest of the office and it’s bad for the office harmony that I’m inside the office. Don’t yell at me, I will yell back. She leaves the office and begins to yell at my 6th grade co-teacher, Choi Min-hui, because she’s younger, to talk to me about my rudeness. So everyone in the office gets involved.
Sidenote: Song Oh-jin and KYY aren’t/weren’t really liked in the office. It’s pretty much a guarantee that in the afternoon, every afternoon, they’re sleeping for at least 90 minutes. They’re the first to grab food, but they would never bring anything to share with others. They don’t really interact with anyone, unless they need something.
Sidenote: The school hired Song Oh-jin thinking that she was going to be around, but she was engaged and her fiance is studying at Indiana University. So then she finally told the school that she wasn’t staying even the entire year, then it became only two months, basically everyday there was a new departure day. Eventually she decided when she was leaving but she scheduled her flight to be the Saturday after her last day and then realized how stressful it was to not oly move but move to another country, so she took the last week off. But because she took the last week off, the new teacher who was going to replace her couldn’t even legally come to the office during working hours or go to a teacher training course because Song Oh-jin was technically the teacher.
So KYY and Song Oh-jin tried to talk to the rest of the office about ostracizing me, but I do my work, I’m nice to the people in the office, and they’re not. So that didn’t work. KYY tried to talk to me after the confrontation with Song Oh-jin, I told her what happened and she called me a liar, that she’s talked to Oh-jin and that’s not what happened, that Oh-jin’s Korean and Korean people don’t act like that. So I told her that she can’t come up to people looking for gossip and the chance to tell them things like that. Her response was that she’s only telling the truth. I walk away because I’m upset and honestly I want to cry in private. Choi Min-hui goes to KYY and asked her what happened. She said that she tried to comfort me but her English is too bad, I started to get upset, and she didn’t know what to do.
After that incident everything started to detriorate fast. The verbal comments got to be worse. The seating arrangement is Kwon Jihye’s desk, KYY’s desk, and my desk. In June while I was talking to Kwon Jihye, Korean sitting in between Kwon Jihye and KYY’s desk, right in front of KYY’s desk drawers. Jihye and I are talking about the tests that we have to “redo,” Song Oh-jin said that we tested the students after every completed chapter and every student is native speaker levels, which isn’t true at all. The next thing that I know, I get hit in the arm by KYY’s top desk drawer, I turn to look at her, and she quickly looks away. So I try to think that no one would be that ridiculous and immature, we continue our conversation. Literally five minutes more, I get hit in the thigh with her middle drawer, I turn around and she looks at me and shrugs. A couple of weeks later, she’s coming down the stairs in our apartment complex, sees me, won’t return my hello, and gets into her car. I walk to school, I’m far over on the side of the road and a car come within six inches of me. It’s her car.
Whenever people will come into the office with a message for me, they would ask her to give it to me and her response was five times out of six, I don’t want to give it to her, go find Choi Min-hui. So it would take a couple of hours or days for them to find Choi Min-hui to tell me the message.
So we go out to dinner, the women from my office, I don’t eat pork, because I’m allergic. So I sat at the far end and she was put at the far end too, because people don’t like her. The only time she talked to people was to demand more food (one of the older teachers was paying for the meal). For the first hour and a half, no one talked to her, so I decided to bite the bullet and talk to her. I asked her about the movie that she watched, the rest of us went to see Mother and she went to see Night at the Museum 2, I had to repeat the same question to her four times, ‘Did you like the movie,’ and have everyone at our table stare at her before she answered it was boring.
And on June 30th, I get to the office, and she’s being really secretive about a package from the Seoul Arts Center (SAC), we both have membership which means that we get a package (a monthly magazine and a monthly brochure about upcoming events for the month) once a month. I felt so bad about thinking that she could take my mail. So I called the SAC and my mail was sent to my school, like all my mail. Then when I got to my apartment, her package was sitting in her mailbox.
I had it. That was the last straw. I called my supervisor and told her that I couldn’t stay and work with her. She’s 34 years old and acting like this. So there was a meeting set the next day with her, my supervisor and me in our office. Yeaah, that didn’t go so well. She denied everything, of course. Two of the older teachers in the office offered to mediate between us and she declined. They asked her point blank, ‘Do you want Karen to leave?’ She said no, I want to be friends with her. One of the teachers said that it could make a difference if she apologized, her response was to rudely answer back: ‘why would I ever apologize to her?’ So the two older teachers withdrew their offer, saying that there was no way to help her, only the principal could do something.
I talked to the NSET coordinator for SMOE and first he/they were like that this is a bad situation, if it can’t be worked out, we can transfer you. Then it came that I’m not fluent enough to truly understand and be a credible witness of what was said. And for me to transfer, I need to have approval from my principal for the transfer and she has to say that I’m transfering not because I’m a bad teacher and that the situation wasn’t my fault.
The next Monday, we met with the principal and vice principal. After hearing everything, the principal was pissed, she yelled at both of us about she has never seen such behavior in her career or in the history of the school. She’s disappointed in the both of us.
She was quiet and didn’t deny too much, only that she didn’t meant to hit me with her car. The entire converstation, for one situation, she would say that I’m Korean, so she didn’t have to be polite to me, and then she would say that I’m not Korean and there was a language problem. I’m Korean when it was convenient for her and a foreigner when it was convenient as well.
She then says that if I quit, KYY will have to quit because her behavior is just bad. After KYY and my supervisor leave, the principal and vice principal talked to me about how much they want me to stay, how much the kids like me, how I’m such a good teacher, how I’m so much better than the last NSET, etc.
Apparently she’s not a certified teacher in Korea, she’s only a long-term substitute, she hasn’t been able to pass the certification test. Which is another reason why she could be mad and angry.
A couple of days later, she gives is offhand, unapologetic apology, ‘I’m sorry, IF you think I did something, but I didn’t.’ For an hour, she repeated, ‘I don’t remember, this is a language problem, this is a culture problem, it’s not my fault, everyone likes me, you’re the only one who doesn’t like me, etc.’ We ended up in a yelling match. She still doesn’t answer my hellos. Choi Min-hui suggested that we move desks, which I think is a good idea, we live in the same building, work at the same school, share the same office, we’re supposed to work together next semester, and we sit by each other. That’s a whole lot of together time for me to be with when it’s someone that I like, and ridiculously painful if I haven’t been getting along with the person. The rest of the office wanted an office meeting, so we sit down, I explain my reasons for wanting a move, but no one wants my desk, because it’s not as nice as the other desks in the office, I have the oldest computer, and I sit directly in front of the door. Kwon Jihye offers to trade and KYY says no. Her reason is because she picked her desk because of the convenience of the closet that is directly behind her desk. She turn around in her chair and open up the closet to get her things without getting up. She started getting tearied eyed over the idea of having to get up out of her seat to get her coat/umbrella/purse. And she complained about how I usually wear headphones when I’m at my desk (so I can drown out the noise – her snoring, people chatting, people’s soap operas, people’s music – to be able to focus on my work), when everyone looked at her even more strangely, because everyone generally wears headphones and listens to something during the tedious office hours and everyone has to get out of their seats to get their things. The next day before I came into the office, something that was said before I came in and apparently KYY cried over moving again.
She’s now back to ignoring my existence. Although she tried to pressure me about my decision so that she could start interviewing for a new job and try to get something for the next semester.
And that’s pretty much why I’ve been bad at posting lately.