September 29, 2011 10 Comments
This blog post has been on my brain, waiting to be written for a while now. Today has been a bit bleak, so it seemed the time to write it.
You may remember a teacher I mentioned a few posts back–the one who is seemingly ill-equipped to be living alone in a foreign country. Well the plot surrounding her has thickened. In addition to not being very independent, Mona–her name for the purposes of this blog–is also a pretty piss poor English teacher. Apparently she has a masters in electrical engineering and was a TA in some prestigious schools (I’ve heard Oxford mentioned in the rumor mill), but this has not translated into teaching English or children well.
To begin with, Mona’s first language is not English. She speaks English relatively fluently but I believe, from the blank stare she sometimes gives me after I’ve explained something, that her English comprehension could use some work. She also has a pretty strong accent from her native language, so it is not in any way, possible for her to teach someone how to speak English like a native English speaker. There are plenty of people who come to Korea to teach English who don’t have any great love for kids and who will never teach children again. But for a year or two they fake it. They’ve got the native English speaker thing nailed down already. For Mona she’s got a two fold issue in that the kids find her hard to understand and her classes are apparently mind numbingly boring. The material we teach can be pretty soul destroying without massaging, so it is up to the teacher to make it halfway interesting for the kids. Mona doesn’t seem to be able to pull this off.
Here’s the kicker–Mona was never interviewed for this job. I had a phone interview like every other foreign teacher at my work place. But Mona’s recruiter got her a contract on his word that she was suitable. Because she was already in the country and the school had several positions they needed to fill in a hurry, they let it slide. To be fair, this isn’t entirely uncommon. I had to insist upon an interview. My recruiter was going to get me in on his word as well. The former director of the school–who quit at the end of August–seemed to play things a little fast and loose. She also only showed up at the office about twice a week. The new guy is much more hands on and he wants Mona out. The problem is that Mona’s got a one year contract with the school. So I think his plan is to drive her out.
At the moment, Mona’s just getting hammered with criticisms of her classes and admonishments to make them better. Her classes being boring is a valid criticism and something she can work on. The other major criticism though–her pronunciation–is asinine. That’s like asking one of our students to attain the pronunciation of a native English speaker within a week. There’s a reason I give my kids consistent feedback on pronunciation–because it has to be learned and it’s not learned all at once. Mona can no more improve her pronunciation in any meaningful way with any speed than any of our students can.
You might wonder how I know all this. Well that’s another part of this shit sandwich–everyone on staff knows that Mona’s under scrutiny–except Mona. Meetings of all the foreign teachers are held without her and information about her situation is divulged. Then we all get caught in the crossfire of trying to cover when she asks if there was a meeting held without her. When the school was involved in a fair to promote English academies, all of us foreign teachers attended except her. She’s required to perform a mock class in a meeting that the director will attend. So far no one else has had to do that. Oddly, Mona has more classes than any of the other foreign teachers. My impression is that the director is trying to set up a situation in which she is bound to fail so he can fire her without too much hooplah. But I also think he wants to cover his ass because they tried really hard once she arrived (and they figured out what they had on their hands) not to give her a copy of her contract and she would not let it lie. And frankly who would?
I don’t actually disagree that Mona needs to go. But the way the school is going about it is awful. The fair way to deal with this would be to sit her down, tell her that her English isn’t good enough to be teaching here and that they made an error in not interviewing her, pay her for the month and give her airfare home. The situation would be done and she probably wouldn’t try to sue (not common but it happens). Instead, because they want to save face and hold on to the mere $3000 it would take to get rid of this problem (I guess the $2200/month they’re paying her doesn’t matter), they’ve created this situation where she’s becoming more and more settled in Korea and the kids who are stuck with her as a teacher are not getting anything out of it.
So this is bad right? But it’s not all of it.
I can’t stand Mona and no one else likes her much either. I’ll cop to it, she’s one of those people I didn’t feel great about from the moment I first met her (five-hour shopping experience notwithstanding). When she first arrived, the guys in the office looked at her face first and surmised she was older (she is a year older than I am). When we girls first took a gander, we looked at her clothes and decided she must be in her early twenties. She enjoys sporting what I like to think of as stripper heels, lace-bottomed, way too sheer leggings with wee skirts that barely cover her ass, and bodice hugging shirts. One day she came to school in a get-up so work-unfriendly that even the guys commented–and that’s saying a lot because our Korean co-teachers can really bat it out of the park for inappropriate work wear (clear heels anyone).
I think Mona’s wardrobe alone, seemed to indicate such bad judgment that I was already put off. Then she started with the questions. I didn’t get hit with it right away. At first she directed all her questions at Mike and Sam but then Sam quit and Mike moved to a different department. He also gave her a bit of a talking to one day when he got frustrated with her. Now I’m her target. One day I actually realized that between her questions and those of other teachers, I’d been at work for 90 minutes and hadn’t touched any of my own work yet. I managed to get the other teachers to back off, but she doesn’t take the hint despite my telling her that she needs to figure things out on her own in case I get hit by a truck. For most people, that would sink in. Not Mona.
And it’s not just work related questions. It’s questions about every possible thing that she needs to know about living in Korea. From what she can do without her alien registration number (nothing) to if she can use her iPhone from Canada here (not without great difficulty and expense–as she realized when she left her phone with some shady dude in Seoul, was frightened that he was going to hawk it, and he still didn’t crack it for her). She almost never asks a question just once, but asks it over and over again. I assume she’s looking for a specific answer and she figures if she just keeps asking, she’ll get that answer. By the time we’ve arrived at the third or fourth permutation of the same question, I’m usually well into rude asshole mode and then I put in my earbuds and don’t talk to anyone until I have classes to teach. It’s like this almost every day. She’s actually tried to stop me within the 5-minute window that I have between classes when I literally have time to drop off one stack of books, pee and pick up another, to try to ask some involved totally not urgent thing. It’s just relentless.
In general she’s annoying enough to everyone that she’s been frozen out socially by all of us. I’m so done with her by the end of a work day that I have zero desire to be around her after work. It’s gotten so bad that, since we all leave work at the same time, we’ve devised these elaborate ways to ditch her in order to not have to include her in after work plans. There’s actually a rule about this sort of behaviour among kids at school because there’s an expression in Korean for completely ostracizing someone: wahng ddah. We got a major case of wahng ddah on our hands.
I know how awful this sounds and I’m not proud of it. Two of the other teachers (the ones who tend to make me do the dirty work of the ditching her frankly) have started saying they feel bad now. And we all should. Because Mona’s not a bad person–that would make this easy. She’s just unbelievably annoying. But I still have to admit, none of us would want to be in this position–maybe about to get fired from a job to which your visa is attached, in a foreign country, with no friends and family and no one at work willing to be honest with you or even friendly towards you. It’s an awful position. Having said that, those same compassionate souls made sure to leave me with her tonight on the walk home–because I guess a five minute walk is too much for them after answering exactly none of her questions all day. Admittedly I’m feeling like a bit of a martyr right now.
It’s an awful situation and there’s a part of me that feels like someone, if not me, needs to do the right thing: tell her frankly that her job is on the line and there’s even a chance there’s nothing she can do to save that job and let her know if she doesn’t tone down the questions at work she will have a very hard time making any friends. And then there’s part of me that kinda feels like her job situation is something no one should touch with a ten-foot pole despite the fact that we all know about it and that maybe this is one of those hard lessons she’s going to learn about being a workplace pariah.
What I do know is that I don’t like the person I am when it comes to her and I feel like I need to figure out how to change that for my own good. But as to her situation overall, I’m at a loss. What do you think? Watch this while you think about the answer to that question.