Monday, 31 January 2011

Tax breakthrough

Today was the deadline for the tax payment I have somehow incurred and I missed it due to a small communication problem with work. However, there has been a breakthrough on this as instead of paying it all in one go it will be broken down into two instalments which means I will not be left short of money for February. There will be no problem with missing the due date.

I'm very pleased with this and once more the company I work for has helped me out when I have needed it. I think I've been lucky with who I've worked for in Korea as I've heard many horror stories from teachers who haven't been so lucky. I will turn up at work tomorrow with a big envelope full of money and will repeat this in one months time. It's given me some breathing space and my mood has lifted.

Today was also the first day since my wife left her job. She met her old boss for lunch after he told her he had something to talk about. She will now work for her old company again, part-time, for a month starting next week. Her hours are good and she won't be teaching so the job is fairly easy for her. I'm surprised at this but pleased that she will be earning a bit of money whilst still having a lot of free time.

A few minutes ago we finalised out plans for Lunar New Year and booked a hotel for Busan where we will spend two days visiting family and relaxing. We are lucky to get a cheap hotel at such late notice. I can't wait for this break.

Running on empty

New week, new series at work, no difference to my schedule. Thankfully I only work two days and then it's Seolnal (Korean New Year). I have a five day weekend to look forward to and hopefully recharge my batteries.

I do need a few days off. Currently I only have breaks on a Wednesday. We received our schedule for the new series last week. I was eagerly anticipating it hoping for a change but no, still the same. A few teachers have breaks on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday or Friday. The schedule is unfair but I do not know how it is put together - though this is of course not the fault of those teachers getting breaks.

If some teachers are to have breaks then it has to be spread around to the others eventually for it to be fair in the long term. Next months schedule will be interesting as the disparity cannot continue for much longer. It's hard to live up to the owner's awesome expectations when there is no time for a breather.

I am thankful that the next two days are very easy. I have zero planning to do as they either require no preparation or are classes I prepared for last year. With a lot of teachers leaving the peninsula over Korean New Year it's safe to say nobody wants to be working! The weather warms up a bit over the next few days so the break will see a nice respite from the cold.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Taxman blues

Hitting the bottle and enjoying some Jack Daniels and coke. And with good cause. I have found that when I ask my students the question "Is a surprise a good thing or a bad thing?" they always say, "It's a bad thing." Yesterday they were right.

I received an email from work basically telling me that there is a shortfall in the amount of tax I've paid over the past twelve months - a period in which my wage has not increased at all. Fair enough, we all have to pay tax and I have no objection to this because Korean taxes have been very low during my time here compared to taxes back in Britain.

And then I read how much I have to pay. I won't post the exact amount but it's considerably higher than I would have imagined. My taekwondo partner Diana received a similar email but with a much lower amount to pay back - you double hers and then put a zero on it and you have mine. I was shocked and still am but, of course I have to pay this. And again, if that's what I have to do then I will but in the email I got from my employers it stated, "You must give the (figure I owe) to your branch manager before next monday (January 31th). If you don't mind, please give this ASAP"

The issue is not that I have to pay this but why has the amount not already been taken out of my salary in 2010? I am not an accountant. This is not my field of expertise. It is complicated even though it has been explained to me. But, why have I been given only five days to pay this? Why do I have to pay this in cash? Part of me wants to roll up to my branch with a wheelbarrow full of coins and say "There you go." But I won't. Right now I have very little in the bank due to sending money home recently. Luckily pay day is tomorrow. I have enough to cover this but I will be left short in February.

Since yesterdays email I have been in contact with one of my managers. She replied to my concerns and although she stressed I have to pay this, she is trying to get it either delayed or at least broken down into instalments. If this can happen I will be a much happier teacher than I am right now.

I am trying not to be in a bad mood at home and at work. It's not going to break me but the timing is appalling. Today I was not as I should be in the classroom. I was a little irritable and showed signs of it getting to me. This is unfair on the students. Hopefully I will feel better tomorrow. It's not the worst news I've ever had so I am very philosophical. It is only money. These things are sent to try us. Back to my whiskey and coke.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Do some people really have no opinion?

Yesterday in my last class of the day I asked the innocuous question, "What do you think about people who are not from Korea?" I wasn't asking a loaded question and would have accepted almost any answer like, "They are rich," "They are ugly," "They are big." All I wanted was the girl to say something because I wanted the class to have a decent pace.

After five minutes the girl still hadn't said anything even though she understood what I had asked. For some of my students asking them a question they didn't expect is the worst thing you can do because it means they actually have to give you an opinion and show imagination. Perhaps I should have moved onto the next question but I wanted this girl to answer because she really needs to practice her speaking and as the class only has four students it gives her a great chance to communicate with me.

After a while I asked another student to ask her the same question in Korean and she came out with "I don't think about." This was after I had wrote on the board the number of people who live in Korea, both North and South and also the fact that there are over six billion other people on the planet who are not Korean. I also mentioned that there are over two hundred countries that are not Korea, such as America, China and England. I didn't make fun of her or raise my voice and I tried to encourage her to come out with something.

I realise the question was a broad one but was hoping this would give her the scope to come out with an answer - or at least lie to me with a good sentence! It really frustrates me when my students show such a lack of imagination because Koreans are not like this. They really aren't. They have opinions and thoughts like everyone else and are creative, industrious and innovative people. I refuse to believe that she does not have an opinion on people outside of Korea. If I had said, "What do you think about people from Japan?" I would have at least got an answer even if it would have been the one her family have told her to think.

Monday, 24 January 2011

IELTS test, Uzbekistan food and Russian beer

My wife has been so busy this month. Every day she has to get up early to make the hour long bus trip to work to teach Winter camp. Despite this, she has been studying for an IELTS test - an internationally accepted test for English proficiency. Over the weekend she went to Busan to take the General test.

Unfortunately there was no test taking place that weekend in Daegu which meant that she had to get up at 4am to get ready for her 6am train to Busan on Saturday. She had to be there before 9am to take three parts of the test, listening, reading and writing. Worse though was the fact that she had to make the same trip again on Sunday for the speaking part which she tells me took only fifteen minutes. Understandably she was tired all weekend.

Because of her busy schedule my wife doesn't know how well she did. If she thinks she can get a better score she can always take the test again but will have the benefit of being able to have studied longer for it. The test costs around 200,000won or £110. She took the General test but there is also a harder one, the Academic test. Ihe difference between the two is the Academic one is to prove that you can study in higher education (where only English will be used) and the General is more to prove your ability and we're using this for proof of her level when we apply for her visa for England.

She had no idea what time she would be arriving back in Daegu but thought around 3pm or after. Luckily the test finished fairly quickly so she made it back before 2pm where she met my co-worker Ivan and myself. I would have gone with her to Busan but because there was no way of knowing beforehand what time the test would be over we decided there was no point me going with her just to be sitting around for a few hours.

I met Ivan downtown and took him to the Uzbekistan restaurant, Samarkand. I told him not to expect too much but at least have a beer. He said some of he food reminded him of food he tried on a trip in Europe but not as good. I tried mainly the same dishes as before but also tried a meat and spice filled pastry.

This time the service was better and the portions were back to normal but the meat in the pastry and the dumplings was still a little fatty. The kebab style meat I tried again was really, really good and by far the best dish I've tried there in my three trips. Alas there were no talent contests on the TV that I'd seen before. Instead we were treated to a series of Disney cartoons in Russian and Tom and Jerry.

Thinking that this may be my last chance to sample the beer here I had two. There were three choices, Baltika 3, 6 and 9. Ivan went for the lighter 3 but I tried the 6 for the first time. It was dark and reminded me of the Japanese stout by Asahai you can get here, but at 7% was much stronger. It went down well but I didn't go for a second. Instead I went back to the stronger Baltika 9 which is a hefty 8% lager. I may go back again before my time is up, just for the beer because at 5,000 for a 500ml bottle it is good value here.

Friday, 21 January 2011

In, On, At

Prepositions of place. Everybody understood the grammar but I threw in some examples before asking for some students to make their own sentences.

Me: "We are in the classroom," "He is at the door," "She is on the chair."
Student : "Gavin teacher is in the nightclub!"

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Some perspective on this cold weather

Right now as I check the weather it's 0°C. I went out a few minutes ago to buy lunch and it didn't feel cold. Tonight it may get to -8°C which is a big improvement on last weekend. I've never known it to be so cold in Winter here. Is my memory deceiving me or is this much colder than Winters past? I'm feeling lucky not to be living in Seoul though where it's been even colder than here in Daegu.

Summer again tricked me into relishing the prospect of Winter time. For three to four months in Korea I pine for the cooling of the temperature and when it hits me hard in December/January I curse my luck. I feel like I'm wearing more clothes than ever before. Scarves, hats, gloves, ear muffs and a sweater pretty much all the time. The wind really bites. What doesn't help is the constant tales of co-workers going off to sunnier climbs in two weeks. People are going to Hong Kong, Vietnam, the Philippines and Puerto Rico! I'm really hoping it warms up soon because I'm staying in Korea then.

Putting some perspective into this, I got a message today from one of my friends working in Nunavut, Canada (up North). He tells me on a good day it's -15°C but today is going to be around -60°C. Just thinking about that makes me feel not so bad after all.

Observation again

Another observation today, this time from my branch Manager. She is new to my school but not the company. I can't say if she's good or bad at her job, just that things have been less organised since she started. However, she started as we were moving buildings so she's had to deal with a lot of new situations.

At the same time as the building move and manager change we stated teaching some different classes. We've now moved back to teaching Middle school students reading classes. So far, so bad. It's got nothing to do with the students but the articles we're covering are either too hard, not relevant to the kids or both.

So of course, the manager is watching only reading classes this week - watching my worst/funniest student. The lessons are fairly easy to teach but you do need to plan a bit more in order to give the students as much guidance as possible. It will take a few months to get into a grove but I think the classes are OK. I am not concerned about how my class goes as I am doing what we've been told to do so far but I'm hoping for feedback this time.

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Decisions, decisions

This week one of managers emailed me asking if I was 100% leaving my job at the end of May. She needs to look for people to fill my job and was just making sure that I was definitely not re-signing. I emailed her back telling her that yes I will not be staying here any longer teaching.

I'm excited about going because it will be time. There's just one small thing that is on my mind now. A seed was planted a few weeks ago and grew this week in my head. What about taekwondo? The earliest possible date for the 2nd Dan black belt test is the end of June, that will be one year since the 1st Dan test. You cannot take the 2nd test until a year has passed. I had earlier written this off as something that I am just not going to be able to do but now I am not so sure.

After my contract finishes we plan on having a two-three week vacation in Asia before going to England (her visa permitting). If I came back from the holiday in decent shape I would have one week to train for the test but would I be able to pass? Discussing this with my wife, she seems to be OK about this right now but because she is sick we haven't had a proper discussion yet.

I am hoping to talk to my Master next week to ask a few more questions and gauge his opinion about how he thinks my training is going and if it will be worth my while doing the test. I have a decision to make because this is my final chance, realistically to get another black belt. They take years to do in England and realistically it's unlikely. This would be a chance to get a fourth black belt in Korea and I would really like the chance to at least try.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Wednesday makes a comeback

For most of the past twelve months, Wednesday classes have been a troublesome experience. From teaching lessons that were too high for the students level, having parts of the classes dedicated to repeating some sentences that the kids only saw for a few seconds and also the repetition of material that makes you feel like you only just taught that to the same bunch of students two months ago. Oh, and no breaks. And classes are just thirty five minutes.

Every Wednesday was a struggle to teach. It just didn't fit in with the rest of the things we taught in the week and I think nobody took it very seriously, including students. I used to joke that the week ended on Tuesday because Wednesday classes 'didn't count' and Thursday/Friday classes were very easy to teach.

Now the schedule has changed. Firstly I get two breaks which helps a lot. I can prepare stuff for the rest of the week or just take a breather. The curriculum has changed and I am using some new, perhaps better books and it finally seems like some of my students can really do the levels they are in - they're doing great. Also I have got some new classes and some great new kids. It really makes a difference to be teaching somebody that you haven't taught many, many times before - all my cynical kids have moved to Middle school classes. I can now enjoy Wednesday's and hopefully the kids can too. Wednesday's are back.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

20 weeks left

A quick check of the calendar this morning and I see that I've twenty weeks left working in Korea.I say a quick check but it feels like I've been checking it all the time for about eighteen months or so. That may read as if I desperately want to go or I hare it here. Well neither are true. I love a lot of how my life goes by here and I've liked Korea pretty much since day one back in 2005 but the job is sapping my energy a bit and twenty weeks from now will be a good time to say goodbye to 'this way of life'

I went to the coffee shop today for an hour after taekwondo and sat thinking about how things are going. I will miss a lot of the things I take for granted and come across every day. Thinking positively, these will change to a whole bunch of new things and I'll develop a new daily routine back home. The winter has been a cold one so far and not enjoyable. The move to the new workplace has helped brighten up my mood though. I think I will feel better once the holidays come round in February. My wife leaves her job in three weeks time. The countdown really is on.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Never trust your students

After a few cancellations I had my final observation from my manager two weeks ago. She arrived before classes and would be watching my first. I was happy with this as it was a lesson I had taught the previous day twice so I knew what I was doing. And because they are one of my youngest but brightest, enthusiastic, creative and are enjoyable to teach. Yes they were my favourite class.

I rolled into class expecting everything to go well. I did everything the manager wanted which was basically repeat, correct, give everyone their chance to speak and try and make the class fun. And then I was thrown under the bus by the students.

Betrayed by five boys who should know better and who I've always tried my best to help whist making every class as enjoyable as I can! Perhaps I exaggerate but they really let me down and embarrassed me with their bad timing. So what did they do? Mocking me, parroting me, making ridiculous sentences and shouting out answers when it was someone else's turn, making fun of my questions and the repeating we did. I am relieved that there was no contract riding on this.

Doesn't sound like much but it was obvious at the time that they were doing this deliberately for a joke. All of those things they had never done before and won't do again. There was also little I could do because the previous branch manager had watered down the teachers capacity to deal with things like this. I let them know several times that this was out of order as I tried to manage the situation. If the manager was not watching me, then I would have dealt with this easily but I didn't do it so well because quite frankly I was shocked at their behaviour.

With about fifteen minutes left the manager left and the atmosphere changed. They stopped being silly as they knew I was not happy with them. Oh students! After the class I let them know they had done something wrong. I didn't punish them or shout at them but I was really disappointed. Now the class has changed. Three of the five have moved to another group and someone else now has the 'pleasure' of their company and I am left with a great bunch of kids again.

Otherwise the class went OK. Despite one horrible grammar explanation of mine I did what was wanted from the particular class. I didn't expect a good write up but I could live with that as I'm going in a few months. got the evaluation last week and it was not as good as my previous one but was probably better than average. I got some decent comments and the evaluation was positive and fair. But never trust your students. Et tu brute?

Monday, 10 January 2011

Allergic to work?

Sick again. No surprise really as I've been sick on and off now for about three months. Nothing significant just a bunch of colds that come and go straight after each other. This is worst so far though. I have the usual runny nose, sore throat but now I have a headache. A headache that only occurs when I move, or exert myself physically, e.g. blowing my nose or coughing. The headache is quite violent but goes away seconds later

I'm a bit weak but nothing serious, it's just the headache which is slowing things down. I could really do with taking the day off work but can't afford to and I actually do like working. Today is going to be a sit down and just be there in the class kind of day. Fingers crossed my students take the hint and behave.

My wife took me to the doctors today. We tried a different one for a change. I've been going to an English speaking doctor for five years but my wife has no confidence in her. I've been a few times over the past few months with the same symptoms and just been given cold medicine.

This time the doctor said, yes I do have a cold but also probably an allergy to something. This backs up what a pharmacist said a few weeks ago. This would explain the ongoing runny nose and sneezing I've been going through. I'm going to have to try and delve deeper into and have some tests this but probably not till the weekend as my wife is very very busy at work right now. The doctor also told me I should try not to speak, which is impossible with today's classes!


Just hours after taking the medicine the headache was gone which seemed like a minor miracle. God bless Korean doctors and their prescriptions! However as I got home from work I found my wife in bed, very sick so perhaps I've either given my cold to her or I'm going to get hers any day soon.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Boys and girls

Recently one of my elementary grade 5 students revealed that she had a boyfriend. The others in the class made fun of her but not to the point of upsetting the girl. I suggested to them that maybe they were jealous of her. One actually admitted it. The girl has now broken up with her boyfriend and seems happier than ever but before that happened one boy wrote down what he thought about her relationship.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Motivational letter from the boss

"Although we have many great teachers that have done very well in their classes, I regret to inform you that some classes have fallen short of my expectations..."

Last night all teachers got a letter from the company owner. Due to the move, things not being ready, hassle on the first day of the session and a very cold building the mood wasn't great. Then we got the letter. I was going to type it all out and post it here but it doesn't read as bad as it first did, though it was not as 'good' as the one we got over two years ago.

I am guessing some classes not meeting expectations are from other branches and not necessarily ours because he hardly ever comes to our branch though perhaps this will change now. There are no threats, no warnings and no consequences for not doing what they want. The letter adds that the owner will push branch managers harder which basically means that we will be observed more and more often. Here is my favourite part of the letter.

"When you teach an awesome class, you can see the satisfaction in your students' eyes and know that you have done well. If you have seen beaming pleasure in your students' eyes, then you know what it means to have taught an awesome class."

I don't have any problem with the owner and he is entitled to do whatever he does because it's his business. He has been generous a few times with things like my Christmas bonus. Teachers at my academy are on a good wage for an ESL teacher in Korea and the job is secure. Also, the structure of classes and preparation for us foreign teachers means that we prepare little and the classes are relatively easy to teach once you know the format and have some experience. We got a lot out of the job considering what we have to put in.

It would be told we're doing a decent job for change but I won't hold my breath. The letter adds that prizes for teachers winning best teachers at the end of the year (December 2011) will go up. Perhaps it would have been better to say, OK, if standards go up, everyone gets a slice of that cake instead of a select few hogging all. In fact there are many ways to give teachers beaming eyes of pleasure.

As I am leaving in a matter of months it does not concern me. It's too late in the game to be changing things around for me. That sounds good, leaving soon if five months away is soon. In fact it sounds awesome.

Monday, 3 January 2011

New building, same job

Today was the first day teaching on the new premises. It's a new building, literally next door to the one we used to work in. New building, new classes, new students, new Manager and the first day of the new session. Things were a little difficult for both teachers and students but these things will get ironed out as they go on. Here are my first impressions.

I know it's Winter but the new building is damned cold. Cold classrooms, cold teachers room and freezing stairs. I think everyone will be bringing at least one extra layer of clothing tomorrow. I know one co-worker wore gloves and most of the Koreans wore coats up to and inside the classroom. This is probably one of those buildings that are cold in Winter but boiling hot in Summer. After work we were greeted by yet more snow. Four times I think this Winter and it's probably going to stick so it's not going to be warming up at work any time soon.

It's a new building and it shows. Parts haven't been finished and dust is prevalent on the stairs. Classrooms and most of the rooms on the two floors we occupy are finished and look good but others parts don't including the lift. These are minor details though and do not affect the job.

Yes there is dust in some places but the rooms that we prepare in, use the computer in and teach in are a lot superior to those we used before. For a start they are clean, with no graffiti on the walls. It feels good to teach in a fresh environment. How long will it last? I've lectured all my students on how they must not write on the walls. A small downer is that all the whiteboards, desks and chairs are from the other building so they have the dirt, markings and probably chewing gum that students 'love'. Also the clocks in my two classrooms don't work.

A lot of people were unprepared today which is mostly due to the move. Not everything was where it should be and some teachers were lacking a lot of the materials. I came in a little earlier than normal and was lucky that today's classes involved very little preparation. Also with two new teachers starting today the staffroom was more chaotic than usual. I got lost twice in the building and kids were walking around a lot looking for classrooms. A few of my students hadn't done the homework too which didn't help either.

The teachers room has been split into two. By that I mean that the higher level teachers have a room on the 5th floor and everyone else is on the 4th. Our room is smaller than before but with less people feels better and has more space. However, one teacher heard a rumour that this will change soon and everyone will again be in the same room. I cannot see how this will work, it is simply not big enough.

For me, classes went fairly normally just at a slower pace. I like the new building but it really is very cold and the Korean female teachers seem to really hate this aspect. Everyone was glad the day was coming to a close and then just before the last class we all got 'a letter' from the company owner...

Saturday, 1 January 2011

12 hopes for 2011

Back to five months left in South Korea after extending my contract by a month recently. I'm excited about this year which is the year I am set to return home. I've been back a few times since leaving over five years ago but this time I am returning permanently.

Even though I'm going home I am taking a bit of a step into the unknown. There are a lot of things that I'll be doing that I haven't before with responsibilities on my mind that have never troubled me before. I'm thankful to have an amazingly supportive wife and together I'm sure this year will be fantastic.

My 2011 targets
  1. Be a better husband for my wife at a time when she needs my attention, love and support. Moving to a different country won't be all plain sailing for her.
  2. Help my wife get the visa she needs for living in the UK. There are some things I need to do and they seem to be straightforward but are essential.
  3. Save a decent sum of money over the next five months. Again, this comes under being a better husband and being more financially responsible for the both of us. We're on target to meet the figure I think we will need to support ourselves for a while in uncertain times.
  4. Try and not let my teaching deteriorate. The end is nigh! I have seen so many teachers just not try as they come closer to leaving. I'd like to be fair to my students.
  5. Push myself at taekwondo and finish on a high. I think I only have two or three months left there so I'd like to improve my kicking and push myself more.
  6. Have a few holidays and spend some time on a beach relaxing, enjoying the sun and Summer because I haven't done that here in a long time. When my time is up there will be plenty of time (if not money) for holidays but we really need a few weeks relaxing.
  7. Leave Korea and the ESL teaching world for now to settle back to life in England. No more extensions now and no more living in a bubble. I'm looking forward to finally having a nice family Christmas back in England.
  8. Find a decent apartment in city centre Manchester. I've checked some prices and they're affordable so we'll see what comes up. A city centre pad is what we need because we'll have all the transport links and my wife can gently ease into life in a city I know.
  9. Lose a bit of weight and exercise more often. Perhaps a pipe dream but I would like to lose between 5-10 kilograms before I arrive back home.
  10. Leave Korea on a positive note with no regrets and no bitterness. Many of my former co-workers have left on a sour note and have negative images and thoughts in their mind. I would like to go feeling appreciative for what this place has given me and feel positive about the times I'll be returning with my wife in the future.
  11. Explore my country in more depth than I have previously and show my wife around the UK. Money may be tight at certain points and exploring my homeland may be a better alternative to expensive trips abroad.
  12. Get a new job if possible. I have no idea what job I want. It's a clean slate but I wouldn't rule out some kind of teaching.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...