1.4 Spring 2020 (COVID Archives)

June 8

I need everyone to learn a language outside of their non-native language(s) so that I am not alone in my suffering.

Last night featured an incredibly demoralizing Korean class. Not for any reason from my teacher, but because she had me complete a small TOPIK (Test of Proficiency in Korean) essay prompt which I then scored… thirty percent on.

I’m still a perfectionist and still a tender-hearted quiet gifted kid in my gooey center so it felt like a physical blow.

Recall that the TOPIK is split into two tests:

TOPIK I: beginner; levels 1,2
TOPIK II: intermediate, advanced; levels 3, 4, 5, 6

I passed TOPIK I and achieved level 2 back in February. Unfortunately for reasons that I am not privy to but spitefully pin as laziness, there is no intermediate TOPIK test. As such, I have to prepare for TOPIK II by studying level 6 materials. Essentially if I score 120/300 points I earn a level 3 and if I score 230/300 on the same test I earn a level 6.

However, there is no “level 3” section on the test. Everything is written for level 6 which is described as:

Absolutely fluent in the Korean language for professional research or work, Capacity to understand and express oneself without problem, although without the full fluency of a native speaker.


So here I am, an intermediate babe in the woods trying to study for a test made for fluent foreigners.

I’m just a level 2 in a level 6 world.

After a dinner of oreos and some reviving online classes for my other kiddos, I turned on the AC and fell asleep.

Today C had former grade four. My little gremlins! For some reason it was not on my schedule so at lunch I asked her how it went. She laughed in shock.

“You know, I gave them a level test and they are really… low level. Some of them didn’t even try. They didn’t seem to accept me either and looked bored and angry. I think maybe it’s because they didn’t like writing. And you weren’t there.”

I did mentally pat myself on the back. They are low level gremlins, but they are my low level gremlins.

I asked her why she thought they are low level. Was it because they don’t attend cram school for English?

“No, I think it’s because the parents don’t care about school.”

C seemed really genuinely shocked at their lack of skill and work ethic and I almost pat her on the back. Does she regret signing on to five years at this school when she could have accepted an international school position on Jeju? The world may never know.

After we got back from lunch she showed me their writing samples. Lots of illogical misspellings and skipped answers. Yep, checks out.

“In other schools, the students try til the end but here they just turned in papers empty and went back to playing games.” I wonder if she’s only taught in affluent areas.

Student motivation is easy to maintain when it’s already instilled by parents. In this environment, though, we can’t rely on the parents to do our work.

She mentioned Clever Girl’s paper and I whipped out my student photo sheet and gave her a run down of who’s good, who’s not so good, and of course some gossip: he has a crush on her, he’s the class clown, I see her mom all the time, these three know I go to the gym… Then I realized I do know a lot about my kiddos!

They were certainly more excited to see me than the former third graders, many of whom forgot who I was.

C must not have known what kind of area this is and her shock is kind of funny; I at least have confirmation that the academic and social behavior of my students is definitely more on the fringes. S once shattered the glass covering on her desk after slamming the bell down so hard in an attempt to quiet everyone down. I didn’t tell C this as she already seemed traumatized.

She pondered why the students seemed so sinister today and I gently mentioned that they don’t do well with writing and maybe after so many months of studying at home, coming to school to do a worksheet takes more concentration than they are willing to give.

My opinion is, there’s really not much learning that’s going to get done when families in the area don’t or can’t monitor their children’s online attendance. So might as well make our only face-to-face English class fun.

My former grade four clowns all waved when they meandered by to wash their hands for lunch, led by a stern government lady who I think is only here for virus prevention. I love those little rascals so much! But I won’t get to see them in class for another week and a half. And if class is just a worksheet, I think we’ll really have a mutiny.

C said we are not allowed to do activities but on Friday, E and I had two students come up, roll dice, and make a conversation. There’s still a way to make class fun and engaging, even if there are literal fun police (health employees) roaming the halls.

The fun police hadn’t ended their duties for the day unfortunately: near quitting time C handed me a paper from the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education (SMOE).

“We will have to do English camp during the two weeks of summer vacation. We can do it in person or online but we won’t know which is best until August. The vice principal said to wait.”

I examined the paper. It specifically called out that the native teacher had to be at school for eight hours every day during camp even if online. Online classes could be either live with webcams or… phone calls.

It’s so clearly busy work to justify keeping the English teachers. The focus is not in English acquisition but rather in keeping a warm body in a chair.

Listen, I know it’s a part of my contract. But the less rathonal part of me who has been chained to this desk for the entire year without any winter vacation because winter camp was canceled then swapped and rearranged is annoyed.

I about took the bus to the airport right then but do want to qualify for my pension money and instead just went home.

I feel like SMOE and the school are making no concessions during this time at all. The general consensus is that English camp is a cheap daycare for working parents during the summer. Don’t pretend now that it’s actually about English language.

It really harkens back to my main concerns about this program to begin with but I also don’t want to bite the hand that feeds. My friend who works in China is usually apalled by the bureaucratic busy work required since China is often hurting for English teachers and doesn’t subject them to such things.

C said she was excited to read the announcement then disappointed when it said we still have camp. And since winter English camp never came about, we can at least reuse those plans.

I have no choice but to adopt the Korean way of coping: nothing to do but bear it till the end.

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