Tag Archives: Frank Sinatra

Teaching from the Bottom of the Totem Pole #3:Truths

2 Nov

With just over two months teaching English in Korea under my belt, I’ve come to realize certain truths about my place of employment. A couple are probably native only to my school, but I imagine a few are fairly general as well. Either way, I’m no stingy bastard. In an effort to preserve these truths forever. I’ve decided to share.

#1 TRUTH: “Maybe” means Absolutely.
This is someething I figured out right away. If your co-teacher says you should “maybe” do something. Your ass better get on it.  Maybe you have to wait for your paycheck? You can forget about getting your money that day. Maybe you’ll have extra lessons that week? Expect to work like a damn slave. Maybe one of your students is sick and brought an infectious disease with him to class? You get the idea.

#2 TRUTH: Any Korean I Speak Will Elicit Laughter from My Students
Rather it be a simple An-yeong-haseyo in the hallway or some classroom command, when it comes out of my mouth, my students crack up laughing–sometimes while rolling on the floor. Sometimes after lunch I’ll get students who come to my desk, slowly say a word in Korean, then wait patiently for me to repeat it. I haven’t the slightest clue what I’m saying but I do it nonetheless and sit there while they laugh hysterically at my shitty accent. My feelings suffer, but I do it for the kids.

#3 TRUTH: The School Janitor is My Pal
The man speaks almost no english, yet everyday he greets me at the door and and we have our daily thirty-second conversation. Because of he language barrier, it’s strictly delegated to one of three topics: How beautiful Korean weather is (regardless of the season), How beautiful my co-teacher and her twin sister are (yes, I said the “T” word), and how beautiful I am while wearing my sunglasses. Anything other than those three topics usually comes in the form of some classic song that I’m sure the poor fella rehearsed the night before. He only sings the chorus though. The latest was “I Did It My Way” by Frank Sinatra. After our morning routine we say “have a nice day” and go about our business.

#4 TRUTH: Come Lunch Time, I Either Have to put Up With the Slurping and Loud chewing, or Simply Starve
There’s no getting around it. It’s the Korean way. Soup and noodles will be slurped. Food will be chewed with an open mouth.Particles will be shot across the table. I just have to sit there and bare with it. I’ve written about this before. It kills me a little everyday.

#5 TRUTH: Get Caught Dropping a Deuce, and the Whole School Will Find Out
This is the latest an most important truth to date.

I’m sitting at my desk two hours or so before work is over when suddenly I need to go drop a deuce. Normally I maintain a strict no-pooping-at-school policy. Why?  I’m still scarred from my elementary years. Then, a child could be pushed to drop out of school in grade five if some heartless bully recognized his sneakers underneath the stall door and ran back to spread the news. Believe it or not fifth graders can be quite evil in this regard. It’s a fear that still plagues me as an adult.

At first, I think I can hold out until I get home, then I look at the clock and am faced with the reality that I’m not going to make it. My school only has one teacher’s bathroom but it’s on the first floor and something tells me it’s really only reserved for the principal and vice principal (plus I’m lazy and don’t really want to make the trip). Most teachers use the same bathroom as the students and my office is right across the hall from one. I look at the clock and notice I have 10 min before the next class lets out and all the students come pouring into the hallway. No problem right? Just hurry in, do my deed and get the fuck out of there. Only I didn’t expect it to take as long as it did.

Before I’m able to finish the bell rings and I can hear some of the boys filing into the bathroom. Suddenly I’m back in the fifth grade, only the stall door goes all the way to the floor so I think I’m in the clear to just wait it out. Then one of the kids knocks on the door and says something in Korean. Shit. What do I say? If I say anything They’ll know it’s me.

I mumble a “just a sec” and they immediatly know who I am. I hear him run out of the bathroom saying my name. Surely he’s going to find his friends and broadcast the fact that Dreadlock teacher was just going number two in the fifth floor bathroom. I return to my desk hoping I will hear nothing about it.

The next morning some of my students stop me in the hallway and one of them gestures like their sitting on a toilet trying to poop. They all burst into laughter. I tell them to go to their homerooms then I head to my office desk to cry a bit. Why didn’t I just go to the downstairs bathroom? You live and you learn.


Kimchi Dreadlocks

P.S. Feel free to share your TRUTHs as well. Comments feed my desire to feel important.


Teaching from the Bottom of the Totem Pole

6 Sep

I mentioned in my last post that when you’re a Native English Teacher in Korea, you are often (if not always) placed at the bottom of the totem pole when it comes to hierarchal positioning. After giving it some thought I realize I should elaborate a bit on this. Plus being that my first full week of teaching has come to an end, I should probably share some of my new found insights while they’re still fresh in my dreads.

First off, the view from the bottom of the totem pole isn’t all bad. Yes, I’m the last to find out about any and everything that goes on in my school (this includes random lesson planning sessions with my co-teachers, an introduction to the entire school given via live video broadcast and a retirement ceremony/dinner party that I was told not to miss), and yes, having to teach for almost four hours straight only to sit and warm a desk for the rest of the day is less than desirable at times, but when it comes down to it, I’m living in a beautiful coastal city with my rent paid for and a crap load of vacation time. I’m a stones throw away from several countries I’ve been trying to get to for some time now, and I’m skirting the mundanity of the broke debt ridden post graduation life that awaits me back home. I’m living a dream compared to some of you rubes in the states! Plus the spontaneity usually leads me into some interesting situations.

For example, at the end of my first day of teaching I’m told that the principal is retiring on the following Monday and that the vice-principal will be transferring to a new school shortly after. This is after I sweat it out in button-up and tie  and bow like a damn slave trying to impress him during our initial meeting. Only to find out that I’ll probably have to do it again. I couldn’t figure out why I should care that the man is retiring when I just arrived as the new Native  English Teacher. That is until Monday rolls around and  my co-teacher tells me during lunch that I’m expected to attend a ceremony for said retiring principal in an hour and a half. Mind you I have lesson planning to do as well as a status to update on Facebook (both equally important), but I smile and say I’ll meet here in the school auditorium 10 min before it starts.

“Ceremony” was an understatement. As it begins there is a 10-min video presentation on the man’s life, followed by a grand introduction. Next everyone stands to sing a song in Korean. I’m handed the lyrics and stare blankly at the characters pretending to follow along, even humming at times to make it seem like I’m completely involved. Before the ceremony is said and done, there are several speeches given complete with plenty of tears bowing, pictures taken and a clarinet performance of Frank Sinatra’s “I Did It My Way.” Later my students would ask If I understood anything being said during the ceremony. When my co- teacher translates to them that I understood only the tears and the clarinet  they all enjoyed a good laugh while I pictured the outgoing Principal laughing at me in his office at the same time. .

Still, the kids are the best part of the gig. Everyday I’m hit with a borage of greetings as soon as I walk in the door:
“Hello Mr.Woodson Teacher!”
“Mr. Woodson handsome guy!”
Sometimes the kids just rattle off all of the random english phrases they’ve been taught:
“Hello. How are you doing? I’m fine thank you. Are you Hungry? You have a nice shirt. Bye bye!”
Half the time they say it so fast it sounds like Korean. I just stand there hoping to soon make it to my air conditioned classroom.

The best, however, is noticing the differences between school kids in Korea and those back in the states. For starters, Korean kids bring razors to school. Why? I have no clue. At first I thought it was a low grade way for them to cut paper, but in every classroom there is a big ass basket of scissors that the kids can use whenever they please. I asked my co-teacher why they have them, and still haven’t gotten a concrete answer. The whole thing has me feeling uneasy. I try to ignore it but the kids often extend an retract the blades. It makes a distinct clicking sound that has me thinking I might get shanked at any moment. “Fuck up one english syllable Mr. Woodson and I’ll stick this in your abdomen.” It’s like teaching in midget prison.

In addition to the razor blades you always have to be weary of the famous
“Dong-Chim.” If you’ve ever taught in Korea chances are you just quivered at the sight of those words. Literally translated, “dong-chim” means poop needle. Apparently boy students like to sneak up on their unsuspecting teachers, place their hands together while like a gun with both pointer fingers sticking up and send a quick jab right up the poop shoot. No joke, I read about this on a blog before I left for Korea and It almost deterred me from coming altogether. What kind of shit is that? Not only do I have to worry about young Jun-ho slashing me with his razor, but now I have to watch my back for fear that his buddy might jab me in the rectum while giving a lesson? How the hell am I supposed to teach in this type of environment? A friend of mine teaching in Daegu told me he almost got caught slipping the other day. It was like he was describing a scene from American Me. I told him to pinch his cheeks and pray, and never turn his back on his class. That’s the only advice I had.

I ask one of my co-teachers about Dong-Chim, and she grins (as if it was a joke) and asks is if it has happened to me yet.
I tell her no and she then tells me it’s like a game  and asks if students in the United States do it. First of all dong-chim is NOT a game. Hangman is a game. Jeopardy is a game. Dong-Chim is likened to rape.  In fact, if one of my students tries that shit on me, I guarantee the next lesson they learn will be the proper use of profanity to express anger and distress.  Or even better, I’ll simply release a vile gas bubble right as the litle bugger is trying to penetrate. Ask any of my students back home. I’ve farted on kids for less! And no, kids in the U.S. don’t “play” dong-chim. If that happened in a American public school the kid would probably be sent to counseling for the rest of his natural life.

All joking aside though, my students are eager to learn and I’ve had t pretty easy compared to my other Busan comrades. Some people got stuck in classrooms where discipline is nill, and they get blamed for poor lesson implementation because of it.

I have little to complain about. The differences are apparent, but that hasn’t stopped stop me from giving the kids all the energy I have in teaching my native tongue (and a new handshake or two). I give four or five lessons, eat lunch amongst a bunch of Korean women, and sit on my ass for the rest of the updating my Facebook status and checking up on my hometown sport teams (in addition to planning a lesson or two). Indeed, view from the bottom of the totem pole ain’t half bad.


Kimchi Dreadlocks

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