Last time I wrote about the complete and total lack of training that awaited me when I arrived at my Hagwon (private English academy) in Korea. When I wrote that post I was frustrated, pissed off, and downright EMBARRASSED at how disorganized the school was.
But even so, I had no idea I’d be booking a flight OUT OF THERE a couple of days after that post went up. I’ve left South Korea. (Well, fled would be a more accurate term) In the mere ten working days I was there, I taught only seven, and it was on the night of the sixth teaching day that I booked my ticket back home.
(Just keep running and don’t look back at the destruction behind you.)
There are two main reasons I left the school, and it’s best if I use something that was said to me on the first day to create a little context. When I first walked in, one of the Korean teachers said, “Business is a bit slow now, which is why there aren’t any classes past 3pm” or some version of this. Either way, the Hagwon is a private school and depends on making their customers happy, and that desperation may have led to some of the behavior I saw.
Their business model:
Teachers make the classroom fun > The kids have a great time at school > The parents see that their kids like going to the Hagwon > PROFIT
(OMG you guys! Their business model is one step up from that of the underpants gnomes!)
So let’s crack into reason Number One:
It’s not an English teaching job; it’s a daycare worker job.
Last summer when I was applying through Maine-based recruiter CIEE to try and get a position teaching English in South Korea, mayor DeBlasio held this huge campaign throughout New York City for Universal Pre-K (UPK). There were ads in the subways and on the street advertising it, as well as the opportunity to BECOME a UPK teacher.
Now ordinarily you’d need an “Early Childhood Education” background to get this position, but the demand was so high for UPK that they actually WAIVED this requirement in lieu of a new, temporary rule, where you could get the position so long as you enrolled in an “Early Childhood Education” training program within the next year.
I’ll admit that even I was tempted by this, and looked up the information online. But…I wanted to go to Korea. I wanted the ADVENTURE and EXCITEMENT of experiencing a new culture. The kind of opportunity where I could not only make a bit of cash but also have memories for years to come. Besides, I knew a guy like wasn’t suited to dealing with four-year-olds; I just don’t have the skill set and experiencing for dealing with such tiny children.
(With their tiny hands. Fuh-REAKY!!!)
And then I got to Korea.
Well guess what, jackass; a daycare worker is EXACTLY what they were looking for. Oh? You want to just read the story about Pink Pig telling Umbrella Uncle she’s in love with Tie Tiger in an excited voice, making sure to annunciate all the words in a perfect North American accident?
Guess again. You’ve got to make funny voices for all those characters AND act out all their actions in front of the kids.
What’s that? When class is over you want to just say, “That’s all for today. Sit quietly until the bell rings.” Wow, you’re a total American fool. You’re fat and you use inferior electronics.
No, no. You have to have a signature closing. In fact, the more retarded it is, the better. (For this I would have the kids put their hands on the table, start drumming, and they end with “Class time over, goodbye!”) Hm. That’s pretty retarded. But it’s not enough! You need to jump at the very end, to make it more fun and bring in more Korean Won!
(“But! But! But!”)
What’s that? A kid is doing something wrong / misbehaving and you told him in English to behave? Too much cheeseburger meals! Didn’t you know that we’ve trained them like dog?
Here. When you want them to stop, say “bee-bong!” That’s how they know they’ve done bad. Same when you want them to pay attention. You say “Attitude!” and they fold arms on desk and straighten their Korean backs. Finally when you want them to clean-up you start a countdown. 5…4…3…(kids scramble to put their things away)…2…1! See, like trained dog!
And then there’s lunch! We saw you eating with the kindergartners quietly…and it’s all wrong! You have to interact / play with them. For example, pick up a piece of food, stick it in your mouth and go “Ooh is this yummy?” Then stick it in your mouth, spit it out, and say, “Blegh! No it’s yucky!”
(“All while wearing this uniform, Yankee.”)
“But wait a second, head teacher. Didn’t you yell at me last week for not eating all my food because I need to set the example for them to clear their plates? If I’m spitting out food and saying it’s ‘yucky’ isn’t that bad?”
SILENCE! Do not question authority! This Korea! If you want to talk back go to America and snuggle the First Amendment! Enough!
Which leads me to reason Number Two:
The Head Teacher Julie
I try very hard to keep all curse words out of this blog, and I don’t want to break this rule so I’m going to censor a label I have to apply to the Head Teacher at the Feinschule Hagwon. This is a woman so awful, condescending, and downright nasty, that I rank her in the top 3 of the worst women I’ve ever met in my life. The label I give to women of this stature is that of “Spectacular [See You Next Tuesday]”
In this ranking I include a co-worker from a few years back, a girl who set out to ruin my study abroad trip back in 2012, and now the Hagwon head teacher. All of these women in my head are Spectacular ****s. Now I know that there might be some hippy-dippy liberal art school students (or grads) who are feminists (but can’t quite tell you why) and might have a problem with me DARING to label a woman anything other than a flawless unicorn.
(Or laser-equipped swan. Take your pick.)
To those people I say “Read on.”
Julie’s foulness was subtle at first. One of the things she’d do to royally piss me off was to start off all of her sentences with either “I told you this already” or “like I told you” on my first day of teaching. She didn’t show me crap but would speak like we had this six hour meeting where she showed me everything and I left with a binder of notes the company had prepared.
This was especially problematic because all the lesson plans and materials (flashcards, worksheets, etc.) were on three websites, all of which were ENTIRELY IN KOREAN (which I don’t read or speak) and with a layout that made no sense. So if I wanted to print something out or find out where the class was up to I’d have to find it on these sites, and I’m sorry, but showing me a brief overview on how the site works once and only once is simply not enough to someone that doesn’t speak the language.
(“American computer running American programs and American browsers, but it’s all in Alien Hieroglyphics! Help me, Korean Jesus!”)
Here’s a quickie, since we’re talking about the computer. On a day where Julie wasn’t pissed off we went to the computer where she showed me one of the three sites (the less common one) and brought up a worksheet I could use for the lesson. But after looking at it, she said, “Actually the boxes on this sheet are too small, so just make your own.”
I wasn’t sure what she was talking about, so she elaborated saying I needed to make them in Word. Now, I don’t have a background in daycare and I DEFINITELY don’t have a background in graphic design, so I had to say, “I don’t know how to do that.”
(“I do know how to do the Psychedelic He-man video song. Not helpful? Okay.”)
Ladies and gentlemen, I don’t know if you’ve ever had a superior flat-out laugh in your face before, but Julie did at this point, and let me tell you, it was both humiliating and infuriating. “You don’t know how to do it?” she mocked. Then she just went into Word, clicked the Insert tab, and then clicked on the Shapes button, and selected a square.
“But Joe!” I’m sure you’re wondering. “Why didn’t she just say, ‘Oh, just go here and do it?’”
Easy. It is not in the nature of a Spectacular **** to kindly show you something that they do know. It goes against their very genetic code. In fact, every time a Spectacular **** commits an act of kindness, their ability to transform into a child-eating dog gets harder. Enough good deeds and they can kiss “the other white meat” goodbye.
(“Your soul smells…exquisite.”)
But that’s just some of the petty stuff. Examples where people who weren’t there can say, “So what? My boss chews me out from time to time too!”
Yeah, I’ve been there also, friend. We’ve all had jobs where the boss / supervisor / whatever could have been just a little bit nicer in directing us. And that it why Julie’s behavior upset me, but didn’t convince me to quit just yet. To use a Staten Island expression she was “Just bustin’ bawls!” right? RIGHT!?!?
Not really. Read on.
The incident that really pushed me into “Just get the Hell out of there” mode happened on Thursday the 22nd. This was my second week there and my sixth day of actual teaching. (Rather, my sixth day of teaching myself to teach). The day before I had prepared a preliminary lesson plan for all six of my classes and things were going well until I had Zebra class, aka the four year olds.
Remember, the websites with information are all in Korean, and while I was able to print out the 1 page monthly lesson plan, it didn’t give me much to work with. From what I’d seen the teacher just plays with the babies, practicing English. So that was my plan for the class. I mean…they’re FOUR! I could tell them I’m their new father and they’d probably believe it.
(Weekly timetable for Zebra class. Hey, only HALF of it’s in Korean!)
So Julie has class with me, and surprise surprise, there’s an oversized picture book I’m supposed to read to them. Okay, fine. So I read the book and ask questions while I’m doing it. This takes about 10 minutes, so with the book done I just figured I’d play with the toy vegetables I’d brought in, right?
Julie seethed with silent anger at my inability to teach myself how to make a lesson plan for babbling kids who can’t stand for sixty seconds without falling. Then she pulled the ultimate unprofessional move. She started aggressively interrogating me.
(“Reach…into your bag…of teaching tricks…Joseph-teacher. Stop…playing around.” *Explodes*)
Ladies and gentleman, there are many of you who may not know what I mean by “aggressively interrogating” so let’s take a brief trip back to high school in Staten Island and give an example of how boys would go all Lord of the Flies on your behind without actually laying a finger on you.
Scenario: There’s a hot girl in the class I’m interested in. There’s also a really fat kid who looks like a pushover. As an emotionally-stunted mouth-breather, I can work with this.
Plan: When class has ended and the other students are waiting for the bell, walk up to the fat kid (make sure hot girl is within earshot or else this is a waste of time). In front of the class start interrogating him aggressively with deeply personal questions like: “So do you think this girl is hot? No really, what do you think of her? You’d **** her right?” And mix in a little “So, when was the last time you hooked up with a girl? Was she hot? What was her name?”
His answers, if his throat hasn’t closed up with embarrassment, or if he hasn’t passed out from the social pressure, don’t matter at all. He’s fat and needs to know where he stands. The High School Hierarchy needs to be reinforced at his expense.
The above actually happened to the fat kid I sat next to in chemistry class when I was a sophomore. “But Joe!” you must be thinking, “You stood up for him, right?”
Actually I just stood there all…
(At least that’s what was going on in my head.)
That’s one example of aggressive interrogation that played out in high school. I too was on the receiving end of this method. Once when I was eating lunch as a freshman and another freshman started asking me about who my friends are and who I hang out with now, and another time (also at lunch) when I was a Junior a short blonde kid was grilling me on my sex life.
The point is, I’m familiar with the technique, and it’s always brutal and difficult to weasel out of. In the past I would just seize up and have no idea how to answer, because even if you answered the questions (truthfully or not) they would just follow-up with more. It wasn’t until college where I saw online that one way to get out is to say, “I feel like you’re interrogating me.” I never put it into use, because once I left high school, empathy suddenly bloomed in everyone’s adult hearts, so I never saw or was subjected to the method again.
She started laying into me, asking about what my plan was, and when I sheepishly told her the truth, that I planned on just going through the vegetables, she turned up the heat, saying how much time had passed and how much was left. She stared me down, trying to put so much pressure on me in the hopes that a lesson plan would spring fully formed from my head.
(Like Athena springing from the head of mighty Zeus.)
But I didn’t have anything. So I just raised my hands in defense and said, “I feel uncomfortable.” I didn’t know what else to say. Usually throughout the Spanish Inquisition that was working with Julie I would absorb her rude comments and agree, saying she’s right or thanking her for helping me, but when she was interrogating me, (nay, HARASSING me) I couldn’t think of any way to deflect it or come up with any counterpoints because she wasn’t talking TO me, she was talking AT me, and I just froze.
So she took the hint and let me be. Using her 5 years of teaching experience (as opposed to my 5 DAYS of trying to teach myself to teach) she hid the veggie toys and had the kids find them. She did some other crap with them but I was so deflated and humiliated that I just stood there like a vegetable myself.
(“Urf. Carrot. Urf. Potato. Urf. BROCCOLI.”)
But this brings me back to Reason One: it’s not a an English teaching job; it’s a day care worker job. Look. I’ve got a degree in English, specifically Writing and Literature. For my Greco-Roman Literature class I wrote a ten page essay on how Virgil’s The Aeneid was anti-military; not ten pages on Hide and Seek!
For my Word Literature in Contexts class I gave a presentation on Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, in front of the class, and goofy cartoon character voices were not part of the assignment!
I thought I was going to be using my expertise in the English language! Not babysitting! What the hell was I doing at the school? Because CIEE and the Feinschule Hagwon’s screening process for teachers is essentially broken and a complete joke, someone totally unsuited for the position wasted a lot of time and money to get there.
(“Let me at those Korean toddlers!”)
They knew it too. Friday of the first week (my second day of teaching myself to teach) when Julie pulled me aside to reprimand me for not finishing all of my Korean food in front of the kindergartners, she also said that one of them complained they didn’t want to go to my class because I was “boring.”
First of all: If I told another teacher or my parents that I found my kindergarten class “boring” when I was five, they probably would have slapped me.
Second of all: There’s no way someone said that.
Julie then followed up with a thinly-veiled threat to fire me. She started talking about someone named “Cindy” who either owns a bunch of schools (including the one I worked at) or was a high up executive manager. Or something like that. Anyway she said that Cindy comes to visit the schools and if she sees a teacher is not doing well, she’ll tell them “To go home.” Because, per Julie, “[Cindy is] like a man. She’s like a b****.”
(If you thought dealing with a Spectacular **** was bad, wait till the Succubus visits.”)
That was the first threat of firing me. There was another one I can’t remember (or maybe Julie’s prevalent hate just implied it) and the third one was on Friday the 23rd when we sat down at 4pm for my teaching evaluation. Her direct quote is “If you want to keep working here, you’re going to have to change.”
No thanks. I’m not changing into an extroverted, hyperactive clown for a bunch of Koreans who don’t give a damn about me and pay me the equivalent of $7.50 an hour.
(As a matter of fact…)
So that was why I decided to leave the Hagwon: it was a daycare job, the head teacher was a Spectacular **** who created a hostile, uncomfortable, and unprofessional work environment. They were going to fire me anyway (it was obvious) so I figured I’d quit after two weeks to minimize damage to both them and myself.
That’s all for today. Thanks for reading my longest post so far, and if you like what you’ve read please be sure to SUBSCRIBE BY EMAIL so you don’t miss a post. If you have a friend who can benefit from the information please SHARE the post. And of course if you agree / disagree with me, or are overall shocked by what happened, be sure to LEAVE A COMMENT below (I want to hear your thoughts as well!).
See you next time,
J. F. Seegitz
P.S. In case I haven’t proven enough that this was a bad time the Vice Principal actually decided to REWRITE the contract I had signed before I came over in front of me and force me to sign it on the spot in front of everyone. *Sigh* Just a bad situation, man.
I’ve returned to America, and surprise, surprise, CIEE Teach Abroad not only won’t help me claim the wages I earned while working at the Hagwon from Hell, but they also won’t refund the $1,000 I paid them for services they never delivered (orientation, pre-departure webinars / training, etc.).
Long story short: Do not give a DIME to the pirates working at CIEE. These reptiles will most certainly pull the old “I already got your money, dude” routine on you. BEWARE!