“Grateful” is not one of the g-words I’m overly committed to. I’m more of a “gung-ho” kind of gal. Or “game.” I like gargle, gibbet grunge, garrote, and granched as well (though dictionaries say “granched” is made up).
Recently, I’ve been trying to kindle up some my feeling of being grateful for my job. Here in Korea there are three types of jobs for your average English teacher: public, hagwons (private academies), and university. From what I gather from my friends, public schools are a bit like factory work. Everyone wears uniforms, teaches with a co-teacher who will probably spend most of her time insulting, ignoring, or haranguing you. Hagwons vary based on their owners and the age catered to, but most can be summed up by expletives. Sometimes (meaning the first month) everything runs smoothly and the kids are cute, the owner sweet, and the hagwon filled with magical unicorns. Other times pay is withheld, hours are changed, and the kids are hellions born hiding their true demonic nature behind adorableness.
These jobs—public and private—are like coffins.
They serve their purpose—paying off loans—but you don’t want to be in one. Also, you can never get out of them. Seriously. Or you can, but you don’t get your free flight home which is where the metaphor kind of breaks down.
In Korea, university jobs are the buffet at this country-wide wake. Your hours are flexible, your students are fully-functioning adults, and your co-teachers speak English and usually understand words like “contract” and “overtime” and “the hell with this.” Plus you get vacation time which, for everyone else in Asia, is a joke.
So why am I not grateful for one of the best jobs Korea has to offer? For the past couple of months I would have griped about the salary (it’s lower than the coffins’), the administration (Lord, beer me strength), my location (I’m at sea, on a mountain, Isolationapolis), and bizarre standards( only 30% of my classes can get As, even if more have earned it).
But all of those are red herrings. The real reason is that the rigmarole isn’t worth it in the short run. The short run is blank stares and late students, miscommunications and blind lesson plans, chaos and apathy in turns. In other words, even if the buffet is great, it’s still the buffet commemorating a casket occasion.
It’s the end of the semester now and finally—finally!—I’m starting to remember why we teach: improvement. My students who come to class consistently have, as I’ve promised them, shown improvement. My global kids—some of the lowest English-speakers in the school—not only know how to say “I didn’t get a handout,” but they willingly speak for fifteen whole minutes in English. It took three months of vicious bullying, but victory, my friends: victory is sweet.
So I am grateful. I’m grateful to my global students for listening, learning, and letting me coerce them into speaking English. I’m grateful to my juniors who have overlooked my first-semester snafus teaching an upper-level conversation class and learned their grammar anyway. To my freshmen who made some excellent skits yesterday and who laugh at my jokes. To my literature students who argued Maya Angelou and “Phenomenal Woman” with me for over an hour: thanks.