Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The importance of the co-teacher

The relationship you have with your co-teacher is so important. Especially in the beginning, when you're basically a baby dropped in a foreign country. This person can pretty much make or break your experience in Korea because so much of your school life and your outside-of-school life depends on them. They affect the atmosphere and expectations of the classroom, they help you do practical things like book train tickets and pay your bills, and they control your vacation. Needless to say, if you've got a dud, you're screwed.

I've been here one year and 8 months, I've had 8 co-teachers, and I've got my first dud. She's filling a maternity leave, one that will either last until December or the end of February when I go home. I'm praying for December. She's about 65 years old, has never taught elementary school before, and is doing the bare. minimum. Her first week of school she told the vice principal she only took the job because she knew there would be a foreigner who she (rightly) assumed would end up doing most of the work. If that's not a red flag I don't know what is.
(Side note: when one of your employees essentially tells you she doesn't plan on working, you should DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT! Today Yuri told me that everybody at school, including the principal and vice principal, knows that she's a huge slacker. I'm not sure if that makes me feel better or worse.)

Basically, she's not pulling her weight. Not even a little bit. In any work situation that's so frustrating, but especially when there's a foreign language involved. There are things I just cannot do as well as her because I don't speak Korean. The biggest, and most obvious one, is communicating with the students. Those little 3rd and 4th graders understand maybe 50% of the words that come out of my mouth. Same for some of the 5th and 6th graders, actually. And translating simple things like directions into Korean makes everybody's life better. The same goes for discipline. When kids are naughty I can send them to the back of the room and talk at them in my angry English-teacher voice, and most likely they will know I am upset and it's because of something they did. And that's where it will end. Or, the Korean teacher could go back there and have a conversation about why what they did is wrong and why they can't do it again and give them a punishment they will understand, and then maybe it won't keep happening.

People keep telling me "At least you didn't have her your first year."True. If she had been in charge of picking me up, taking me to the grocery store, and showing me how to use the bus, I'd probably be homeless and starving right now. And I'm definitely better at my job this year than I was last year - I have a better idea of how things work around here. But that doesn't make it any less irritating. I'm probably angrier because I know what this relationship should be like, and I know how good it can be when it's going well. And it's not making it better for the kids. Guarantee their English test scores are going to plummet this semester. I think I'm pretty good at my job and I care about them learning English, but realistically they need things translated. No matter how much I simplify what I say or how many charades I use they just won't understand everything I say.

So, I'm learning the hard way how important it is to have a good co-teacher. Let me tell you, it's SUPER important.

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