“It depends on your school…”
There is a phrase you hear a lot when you first come to Korea: “It depends on your school.” Often this is said with a shrug and the word “just” – “Ahh, it just depends on your school.”
There are aspects of the situation you will find yourself in that are just random, uncontrollable. And you have to prepare yourself for that.
Why it “just depends on your school”
You apply through, say, EPIK (or any of the other programs); you have your interview with them, and they are responsible for you from the time you land at Incheon. So it is natural to think of yourself as employed by EPIK. But the reality is you are not, and by the time you are finished with orientation, you will probably not hear from them much again. You are actually employed by your Metropolitan or Provincial Office of Education. They generally (always?) have some bilingual co-ordinators who will help you out if you have contract issues, and who will occasionally make your life difficult for no obvious reason. For everything not specifically covered by your contract – which is actually quite a lot – “it depends on your school.” It depends on your co-teacher, your head teacher, your vice principal and principal (befriend them if you can).
In public schools, by the way, you should be able to rely on your contract, and if your school tries to do something outside of that, it is probably a miscommunication that can be sorted out, so long as you keep your shit and don’t start yelling and throwing things (a suprising number of people seem to start yelling and throwing things). The exception to this would be sick days, which if you have anything short of cholera you should probably forget about. Of course you can insist on the letter of your contract, but there may be retaliatory measures. (Although this, too, depends on your school. Are you noticing a pattern?)
So to help, and to give myself something to direct people to who send me emails with unanswerable questions, I’ve made a table of “things that depend on your school”. I was going to give examples of “best” and “worst”, but some things don’t align themselves neatly on that spectrum. Personally, I wouldn’t want to teach either two classes a week, or thirty-five classes – I’m quite happy with my current situation, where I teach one class short of what my contract demands. So instead I’ve arranged them on a spectrum ranging from “one extreme” to “the other extreme”, with what you might reasonably expect at the center.
The probability is that you will in some ways be better off than your friends, and in other ways, worse. It’s important to keep perspective. It’s very easy to get jealous and feel like someone else has it better – a better apartment, a lighter teaching schedule, longer vacations. Truthfully this jealousy is something I still struggle with, and I think it’s a surprisingly common issue for many teachers here.
Every situation in this list is one that I have at least heard of from somebody I believe. Things I have personally experienced are marked with an asterisk.
Things that depend on your school
|one extreme||standard||the other extreme|
|apartment||- Your fridge hits your bed when you open it.
- Your washing machine is in your kitchen.
- There is mold growing everywhere.
|A standard “one room” – a main bedroom/living room with a small kitchen, laundry and bathroom*||Large two bedroom apartment with keyless entry, huge LCD TV, and luxury fittings.|
|work hours||aThis teacher was African-American, and also a complete idiot. I suspect the combination of the two made his school decide to just warehouse him. I wouldn’t have stood for this, but he thought it was a dream job..Two classes a week – in which you show moviesa||What’s in your contract*.||15 hours of paid overtime a week.|
|vacation||If you don’t have classes, you don’t come to school.||What’s in your contract*.||What’s in your contract – but chopped up, a little here, a little there, with every minute of school absence accounted and deducted from the total.|
|distance to school||An hour and a half by bus.||Walking distance, unless you teach in the country (in which case you probably wouldn’t want it.)*||Literally on the school premises.|
|School lunch||Inedible||Edible. Some days better than others.*|| - Delicious.
- A student-run coffee shop in your school.
|class size||1 student. Maybe 0 students*ccRemedial after-school classes..||30 students||45 students|
|main co-teacher||- Malicious.
- Clueless and useless*
|Busy, but will help you*.||Your best friend.|
|classroom co-teachers||Absent*.||Some division of the workload*.||“Read these words, then stand at the back of the class.”*|
|Your teaching duties||You plan and teach everything solo as defacto head of the English department*.||You teach some things and your co-teacher teaches some things*.||Human tape-recorder.|
|School dinners||Don’t happen because your principal is a paranoiac who doesn’t like other teachers to talk to each other, because they might be talking about her*.||Maybe a couple of times a semester. Some teachers drink, others just wait until it is an appropriate time to leave*.||- Frequent binge drinking sessions.
- Male co-teachers and principal take you to a business bar. Principal gets a blowjob in the back room while you wait.
|Paperwork||No paperwork.||Outlines for your semester and camp plans*.||Detailed plans of every class you will teach.|
|English room / English language zone||- Non-existentddI think this depends a lot on whether you are teaching elementary, middle, or high school – they seem to be less common in high schools..
- A Spartan room filled with leftover furniture because the principal redirected the funds to the computer program, or possibly embezzled them*.
- a wondrous room that is so wonderful that you are not allowed to teach in it.
|A clean, bright, attractive and high-tech classroom*.||- Two connected classrooms*.
- Movie studio*.
This is only a list of extremes that I have heard of, and I am sure that there are readers who have experienced things outside of the extremes listed above. Have you experienced something even more extreme than what I’ve described here? Please let me know in the comments.