Monday, October 29, 2012

Mr Jo and Mrs Lee

Hi everyone!

I hope my friends in Korea are keeping warm...I swear my teachers think I'm crazy, wearing scarves and jackets already but damn, it's cold. This feels like South African Winter and it's only 'Autumn'. Needless to say I am actually beginning to really worry about Winter proper here. Blankets, tea, hot water bottles and anything warm and fluffy being sent my way would be much appreciated (this is not a hint, it's a cry for help).

I've been meaning to write this post for ages, so now that I have absolutely nothing to do at school, let's get to it! Coteachers in Korea are a huge part of your life here. Whether you like it or not, unless you come here speaking fluent Korean and know everything there is to know about your school etc etc, your coteacher is your life-line. Having said this, you never really know who you're going to get. There are young ones who will want to be friends and take you drinking on the weekends, calling you the next day to see if your hangover has killed you. There are older ones who will mother you and make sure you never want for anything. There are ones who speak fluent English and ones that speak none; ones who want to be your friend and ones who barely acknowledge you at school. There are certain things your coteachers HAVE to do for you - most of these are admin, school and apartment related tasks. There are other things, such as helping you find your way around, translating bus times or helping with things that are difficult to do without knowing Korean, that some coteachers will willingly do. You just don't know. I think it's important to be prepared for anything and accept the fact that you may possibly end up with a grumpy non-English speaking 50-something who resents having to 'baby' you. It happens. As we've learned time and time again here - be ready for anything.

I have two very different coteachers - Mrs Lee and Mr Jo. Mrs Lee is my 'real' coteacher in that she is at Hwadang, my main school, and she is in 'charge' of me. She does all the paperwork, clears all my leave, and is the person I go to if I need to know anything. She really is the one who people go through if they need to know anything about me. I teach my favourite and easiest class with her, my precious 4th graders, and she has a way of being stern and loving with them all in one. Her kids really respond to her. We've had a bit of an up-and-down year together: she can be incredibly kind and warm, and borders on 'coddling' me and underestimating me at times but she can be very uptight and controlling in other ways. At the moment, things are very good between us. She speaks very little English and the conversations we share are very limited - how was your weekend, what will you do this weekend, and anything school related (usually told to me 10 minutes after I need to know it). I find her to be a little insensitive to my position as a foreigner here and a bit reluctant to include me in things at school. My first encounter with her was when I was told to go and organise my ARC by myself. Having just arrived in a new country, with no idea how anything worked and knowing full well this was something coteachers were there to help with, it was a slap in the face. But she really pulled through for me when I complained about my internet. I just don't think she has any idea how hard it is to be here and not be able to communicate. She's never traveled and I find those teachers who have, can better understand how difficult it is to get around a place when you don't speak the language. I asked her once if she could help me at the post-office as I wanted to try and send a package home - she dropped me outside. When she's angry, she lets me know by ignoring me and dropping me further away from home than necessary.

There are times this year when I have been at my wits end and actually shed tears over the situation. However, I decided to get over myself and put myself in her position. She is really busy at school, it is intimidating to be put in charge of the English teacher when you speak very little English and bottom line - she didn't ask for this. One thing I hope other teachers in frustrating situations at least consider, is the fact that very often we do not know half of what our coteachers deal with and go through for us. It does not always justify everything but I've found that by being a little more understanding, we have a better relationship and I am a lot more independent for it (at least I'd like to think so). Now, we laugh together often, she is warm towards me and things are just happier. There really is nothing quite like a scorned or sulky coteacher (avoid avoid avoid). We had a good giggle in the car on Friday, as after telling her that Christmas in SA is hot and therefore we often swim on Christmas day, she suggested wearing a 'santa swimsuit'. Only a Korean woman could think of something like that :) I really do like Mrs Lee when she is on my side and hope things continue this way for the rest of the year.

Then there's Mr Jo. He isn't really even a coteacher. He's the guy who gives me a lift to and from school, so is the teacher at Baegun I spend the most time with. I don't actually know all that much about him...I would guess he's in his 40s and it doesn't sound like he's married or has kids - I've always been too embarrassed to ask. He's quite an intimidating teacher to the students although very warm and caring too (showing affection in the standard Korean way - patting the boys on the bum and playing with cheeks - sometimes still weird for me). He's also the manliest of all the male teachers I'm surrounded by. Mr Jo has just gotten a fancy new car (so happy, the seats now have heating - just in time for Winter!!) but before that, he'd pick me up and stick in a cassette for us to listen to. Often it was Dire Straits which I LOVED as it reminds me of my Dad. He makes a real effort to talk to me. He's asked countless questions about my family, my home, why I'm not black (true story kids) and about my experiences here. Although his English is basic, he isn't shy to pull out his phone and Google translate some words so he can get his point across (although lovely of him, this is often done while driving, which scares me a bit haha). We've spoken about music we like, and his taste is very similar to my Dad, enjoying Bryan Adams, Dire Straits, Eric Clapton and Metallica to name a few.

We get on really well and have never had any problems - he may or may not have traveled but I feel he is sensitive to my role as a foreigner here and has asked questions about what I find difficult here and as a foreign teacher etc. He is very quick to back me up at school - if my kids are giving me grief, I can tell him and he will "kill them"...his words, not mine. This is something I feel Mrs Lee lacks - I never really feel supported or included by her. Mr Jo seems to worry about me a lot; he never leaves school on time and I often have to sit around for up to 40 minutes for us to leave which stresses him out and he's taken to stopping on the way home to get us coffee. He always apologises if he's early/late/hasn't cleaned his desk when I come in to teach or if I have a desk warming or 'dull' day as he calls it. He refuses to take money for petrol and drops me off at my doorstep, even though it means negotiating very narrow and awkward roads. Speaking of his driving - this guy is a pro. He actually asked me the other day if his driving "gives me fear" but I really feel safe with him even when he's whipping around town and trying to take all the short cuts (it means we leave later in the mornings so I aint complaining). I just think Mr Jo is a cool kid.

Both of these teachers are very different but I have grown so fond of them. I really hope to be able to command a classroom like either of them someday. I feel it's important to blog about them not just for me to share but also to try and encourage an open mind when it comes to your coteachers. I of all people understand being frustrated and fed up and wishing for a 'young, fun' coteacher but we need to give them a break, accept that they were lumped with us as much as we were stuck with them and try to understand where they come from. It isn't always easy and sometimes there's no silver lining ..but if you've got to be interacting with this person (people) all year - you might as well make the most of it I say. Treat them well and generally they'll return the favour.


  1. This is a great post, Bron. I think a lot of people don't realise they'll have more than one co-teacher and how important (and fraught!) that relationship can be. Great writing!

  2. Hi lovely. Great post. It is important not only to share you experiences with co-teachers, but allow others to read about your experiences as well. It isn't always easy at first when learning the ropes about co-teachers, and many times these co-teachers make or break a GET.

    Anyway, it's nice to hear that you generally get along with your co-teachers and have a good relationship with them more or less. I think every GET has some ups and downs with any co-teacher, no matter how well they get along or teacher together etc. I had a friend who was best friends with her co-teacher, but that obviously caused some problems as well.

    Seems like you've found a nice balance in both your relationships with your co-teachers. Hopefully within your remaining time here, you can try to step in and include yourself in some activities. I think it's definitely great that you pointed out that some co-teachers have such a difficult time because they are afraid of losing face if they make any mistakes using English. This could part of why you don't feel included or Mrs. Lee has chosen to not invite you to things.

    Anyway, keep it up love :)

  3. Yet another great blog article! Love reading your posts. You've grown so much in a year. I think you are spot on in your approach to dealing with your coT's. So positive and compassionate. :D

  4. Thanks for the support and advice ladies! The feedback means a lot!