Tag Archives: education

Big Winners

As I’ve mentioned in an earlier post, my coteacher and I won 2nd place in the Korean national teaching competition at the end of last year. Last week we went to Seoul, with an entire fifth grade class in tow, to receive an award and demonstrate our concept class in front of hundreds of teachers and school administrators from around the country.

I didn’t realize just how big of a deal this competition was until we walked into the auditorium in which the ceremony and demonstrations were to take place. In fact, nobody even bothered to tell me that all of the hard work I did last year was for a competition. After the fifth time we demonstrated our concept class in front of a huge group of teachers, I asked why we were doing the same thing over and over. That’s when I learned we were heading to the semi-finals of the competition.

2013 Korean National Teaching Competition

My coteacher receiving the 2nd place award.

In the auditorium, there was a TV crew and a couple of news crews setting up on the stage an hour before the show. We set up a booth with information about our class and then sat down to watch the ceremony.

They called all of the teachers up to to the stage one-by-one. It didn’t take long to realize that I wasn’t going to be recognized for my hard work. I wish I could say that I didn’t mind, but the truth is that I was a little upset. As the only foreign teacher in the top ten, there was little doubt as to why I was snubbed. Despite being a little butt-hurt, I kept a smile on my face and did my best when it was our turn to perform.

After our demonstration, a man walked up to me and addressed me by name. In perfect English, he thanked me for my hard work and gave me a gift bag. I found out later that he some big shot from the Korean Ministry of Education.

Once we loaded all of the students onto the bus, I opened the gift bag. I was surprised to find a new camera – not the normal gift of snacks and hand cream.

Sony DSC-WX300 Digital Camera gift seoul Korea

It’s nice to know that somebody noticed and cared enough to let me know I was appreciated. This kind gesture made a huge difference in the way I felt about the whole event.

Until next time.

-Taft

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Koreans are Busy!

Within two weeks of arriving in Korea, I learned that Koreans are always busy. My students studied all day long – usually more than twelve hours on weekdays. My fellow teachers rush through the halls, frantically playing catch-up. My Korean friends – mostly grad students and young professionals – are perpetually too busy or tired to hang out.

For my first six months here, I operated under the impression that Koreans are the busiest and hardest working people on earth. At some point during my first semester, that illusion fell apart.

In the west, image is important. But we’re taught that being dependable and producing quality work are the way to cultivate a positive image at the office. In Korea, image is everything. Quality of work and efficiency are relatively unimportant here. Convincing others think that you are a hard worker is far more important than actually working hard.

A recent post on an expat teaching forum perfectly articulated what I’ve come to understand about working an studying in Korea.

[Korean kids] “study” a lot. But the way they define studying is very different… Sitting at a desk is “studying” in Korea, no matter what you’re doing. You could be sleeping, playing games, texting, talking, staring off into space – it matters not. If you are sitting at a desk and there are books in the vicinity then you are a master “studyer”. It’s the same with work here…Sleep at your desk all day and occasionally wake up and run around with your arms flailing screaming, “SO BUSY!”.  Koreans are very good at making things look much harder than they really are.  -Source

EPIK coteacher sleeping in school

My coteacher last year was always busy. Fortunately, he found time in his busy schedule for morning and afternoon naps.

As I prepare to leave Korea, my thoughts are filled with all of the things that I will miss when I return to the US. This isn’t one of them. I look forward to working in a place where I’m judged by the quality and consistency of my contribution and not my ability to look busy.

Until next time.

-Taft

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Keep Your Gift

I just finished one of the more strange and frustrating conversations that I’ve ever had with a coworker. Although not a typical conversation, it perfectly exemplifies my frustrations with working in Korea.

Mr. Choi and I recently came in second place in a nation in a teaching competition with over a thousand schools. We worked together to create an innovative lesson plan. Mr. Choi has received many special honors, but I’ve mostly excluded because I’m not a Korean or a career teacher. To make sure I don’t feel too left out, the National Office of Education wanted to do something special for me.

This was my conversation with Mr. Choi today:

Choi: Taft, I have good news! The representative from the NOE was impressed with your teaching. She was sad that you could not attend the meetings or celebration, so her office gave approval to give you a special gift.
Me: Wow, that’s really nice. What is it?
Choi: She said you can choose anything you want. The budget allows up to 400,000 won (about $375). She suggested a coffee maker.
Me: That’s generous, but I don’t drink coffee. Maybe something different? Since I’m moving soon, maybe we could request something nice for the teachers’ office that all of the teachers want.
Choi: Ok, let me call and ask…. No, I’m sorry that’s not acceptable. It must be something just for you.
Me: I am moving soon, and I’m short on room, so maybe not a thing. I’ve been dying to go skiing. How about an extra day of vacation and a ski pass? That’s much less than 400,000 won.
Choi: Ok, let me call and ask…. No that’s not acceptable either. They cannot give you an extra day off because of your contract.
Me: How about just a ski trip, then. Even if they include transportation, admissions, and rental it would only be 250,000 won.
Choi: Ok, let me ask…. No, they can’t do a ski trip. They said it’s not a good gift. They suggested a coffee maker again, but she said you can pick whatever you want.
Me: No, apparently I cannot pick whatever I want. How about a gift certificate to a restaurant? I would definitely use that.
Choi: Ok, let me call and ask…. No, they said that a gift certificate is not acceptable because it’s not really a gift. It must be a physical item. Maybe you want some electronics.
Me: I’m so over this. Pick something you want for your family and request it. Tell them it’s what I want.
Choi: No, that’s against the rules. They would not allow it.
Me: I have an idea. I want to buy a new suit before I leave. The one I want costs about 330,000 won. That is a physical thing. It is within the price range. And it’s something I actually want.
Choi: Ok, I’ll check… No, they said that’s not a typical gift. You should pick a normal gift.
Me: That’s it. I’m done. This is completely insane. Tell them I would pay them 400,000 won to never talk about this again.
Choi: But you must pick something.
Me: I already did. Their move.

I love the lifestyle in Korea, but I won’t miss working here. Everybody talks about “the rules” constantly, but I’m starting to suspect that there are no codified rules. The “rules” are whatever the person in charge happens to decide at the moment.

Until next time.

-Taft

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It’s Cold

In Korea, fall is wonderful. But it only lasts for about thirty minutes. For the past two weeks, it’s been depressingly cold. Since I don’t have a true winter coat, I spend all day trying to get warm. It’s not easy.

My office is connected to my classroom. There is no door separating the two. If I leave the office for more than a few minutes, I return to find that at least a few of the windows are wide open. For this reason, the classroom rarely warms up to 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

The same thing happens in most classrooms and every hallway in the school. During the early afternoon, it is actually warmer outside than inside the school. This makes me wonder if the school’s energy savings project is a bit of a joke.

The school was kind enough to supply me with a small space heater. Since Koreans have a paralyzing fear of fans, the heater is incapable of circulating air. So the area immediately surrounding the element is irresponsibly hot, and the rest of the office is chilly.

Broken heater in a Korean classroom. Cold winter Korea.

I forgot to mention…it’s broken.

Yesterday, while reading through some blogs about China, I came across an interesting and well written one called Ed in China. Apparently, Chinese schools are also completely void of basic logic:

The chilly situation is mitigated somewhat by electric space heaters – we’ve got them in all the offices and classrooms in our school.  They aren’t particularly effective in the coldest weather – kids and the rest of us have to keep dressed for outdoors indoors to be even close to comfortable.  Anyway, it’s quite commonplace to see these things blasting away, doing their best to reduce the chill, the effort defeated by keeping all the doors and windows open.   So local kids and local staff will be sitting around freezing – heaters firing away – windows and doors open, complaining about the cold, while dressed for winter – indoors.

If you try to step these folks through a logical progression that not only is the practice a colossal waste of energy, but also isn’t making anyone warmer, they just don’t follow it.  The reply is that they need “fresh air’ to keep them healthy.  This, amazingly, is in cities with air pollution that is often off the charts.  Explaining that most of the electric heaters use air filters is a hopeless exercise.   China is big, growing, powerful and all the rest, but the inability to think logically in this place is one of several “Achilles’s Heels” that are huge speed bumps – even with the progress being made.

On the bright side, at least I know what I’m getting myself into this time around. I think Korea may be good practice for China.

Until next time.

-Taft

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Obama English School

Everyone knows that our president has many talents, but who knew that he had this kind of reach?

Obama, English, hagwon, avademy, Korea

I wonder if the students get to meet Obama?

This actually makes sense to me. Obama is one of a handful of Americans who all Koreans seem to know. Every time we see a black person on TV (educational videos), at least one kid yells, “OBAMA!”

Until next time.

-Taft

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