Monday, March 4, 2013

My First (Stressful) Day At Work

"Grab your towel and don't panic!" - Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

I wasn't originally going to write anything today. But then... today happened. This was probably the most stressful day I've had in quite some time.

I woke up at 6 AM (well, that's a plus! The last couple days I've been waking up at 4), and my neighbor and I headed off to the subway by 8. Keep in mind during the rest of this that, when we left this morning, it was about 30 degrees outside (and I stayed about that cold for the remainder of the day). Anyway, I've never ridden a subway before (if you don't count the ones in airports). And getting to it was a good trek in and of itself. Go down the street a block or so, cross the highway, go down a long alley, make a turn, go up some stairs... etc. The train itself is packed to the breaking point. I was literally pressed up against the door. The good news is that it only took about 4-5 minutes to get to the next town over.

Normally, as was explained to me, we'd either take a bus (with bad weather) or a 10-minute walk to get to the school from the Uiwang station. But a teacher that my neighbor knew pulled up and gave us a ride.

The English level of our building was a few stories up (at least 3-4). And it's explained to me that in Korea, teachers change schools every 5 years. This year just happened to be that year, so almost everybody in the department was brand new and hadn't taught this before. Besides my neighbor and the aforementioned co-teacher that helps us foreigners, there were two other teachers that I met today, one of which was my second co-teacher. Her English was very limited, but she was quite friendly and nice.

So here's where things start getting interesting. Soon we all go down to the gym for a big student orientation thing, and I just see an ocean of the most adorable Korean children ever, a good chunk of whom kept looking over at me in awe. I suddenly find myself called on stage with a bunch of other teachers. I can only assume we were all new teachers? I couldn't tell you, because everything in this orientation was in Korean. But anytime I heard my name, I followed suit. I also apparently did a very nice bow on stage, which I was complimented for afterwards. And then I was introduced again later. I think maybe for the English department.

From there we go back to the English teachers' office and pretty much sit at our desks to work on stuff. Now, I was told at first that I wouldn't be teaching today or anything. I was then shown my teaching schedule. I guess there is a difference between the morning and afternoon classes (I'm still kind of confused about that). Every class is only 40 minutes long, but the morning classes were continually called the "regular" classes, and then there were the afternoon ones. And while I have scattered afternoon classes everyday, I only teach regular morning classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays (5th and 6th grade... I think respectively, but I'd have to check). But the co-teacher I have for Tuesdays told me, thankfully, we're going to switch my schedule to Thursday/Friday for this week only so to give me more prep time.

I was then assured that I wouldn't have to worry about my afternoon classes today because I had to go to the hospital for my medical check. But to start prepping for the next day's afternoon classes, my neighbor sent me what he does for his self-introduction PowerPoint and his Classroom Rules PowerPoint. And it's a good thing I started putting together my Introduction PowerPoint, because I soon found out that since I wasn't leaving for the med check until 2-something, I would have to be in with my first afternoon class.

And the panic started.

At that point I probably had about an hour or so before that class started. It's like every teacher's worst nightmare. Let me set the scene for you with this imaginary conversation:

-"Oh, you only have high school experience, right?"
-"And you can't speak or understand pretty much any Korean?"
-"And you've done almost no prep work for this so far, right?"
-"And isn't it true you just met your co-teacher for these classes a couple hours ago for the first time?"
-"That's true."
-"Alright. You have to go teach second graders who don't speak English in an hour. GO!"

So my co-teacher has been furiously prepping activities while I'm trying to wrap up my Intro PPT. And I'm going over what the rules and procedures mean with my neighbor. Fast forward to about 1:35 (five minutes before the class starts) and I'm trying to set up my PPTs in the room, but can't get my flash drive to show up, so that's freaking me out. All the while I'm having these little Korean girls come up to me talking to me and asking me questions in Korean... and I have no idea what they're saying. And my co-teacher is nowhere to be found, and I'm freaking out, and I'm about *this* close from having a full-out panic attack.

But we finally get my PPTs up, and my co-teacher shows up, and the students start getting settled. There are about 7 or so in the class altogether. We start with all the introductions and rules, and all of that goes well. And then... co-teacher realizes that the lessons she had planned were from a textbook the kids had already used. They'd done it all before. And then she leaves the room.

Yes. She leaves. And I'm standing there with about 7 little Korean children sitting in front of me. They don't speak English. I don't speak Korean. But it's still easy to pick out the types of students they are. There's a boy who is clearly the smartest, but he's also a bit popular and a bully. He sits at a table with two others, and there's another girl nearby. They're all buddies and they start to get a little rough with each other, so I have to do some separating and settling down to the best of my abilities with hand gestures and body language. There's a girl in the far back of the classroom who sits by herself. She's pretty clearly outcast and bullied. She starts to warm up a bit through the class. But then it was all for naught when she tries to join in with the popular kids up front. She brings up this pencil container she wanted to show off, but the bully boy pushes her, snatches it, and messes with it until the girl starts crying and yelling. So I'm trying to give her stuff back to her and get her back to her seat and calm the class down, and my co-teacher is nowhere to be found. The crying and yelling continues as the bully kinda laughs, and anything I do is only kind of working. And another little girl is trying to explain something to me in Korean, and I'm like "Seriously, look how white I am. I don't know what you're saying." (OK, I don't really say that.)

But finally the co-teacher comes back and calms them down as she tries to figure out what to do about the lesson now. She hands me this worksheet and kinda explains what I have to do, but not really, so I do the best I can, and she's apologizing to me saying it's her fault and stuff. I also tell her about what happened while she was away. She has a little talk with the boy and gives the crying girl a lollipop of some sort, which makes her smile.

Fortunately, my other co-teacher shows up to rescue me and whisk me away to the hospital at this point. We take a taxi to the hospital and make our way to where I need to go. And boy was this process awkward. First I get to pee in a cup and then pour it into a test tube myself. We then take my blood pressure, take my weight and height, do some ear and eye tests, take my torso measurements, have a chest x-ray, and then... the dreaded blood sample. I've never given blood before, and I have this thing about needles in certain places of my body--one of which would be that part of your arm where they draw blood. So I'm hoping I don't faint or anything. She puts the needle in and... it's fine. I felt the pinch as it broke skin and that was about it. About 10-15 seconds later, she's done and I'm OK.

Before going on to the next step, they tell my co-teacher that my blood pressure is high and we'll need to test again after while. So we go to another floor in the meantime to have a dentist look at my teeth. He was nice and spoke English. It was really fast, and he pretty much told me I needed to brush certain areas a little better (I know... for shame). We go back to the first area, and my co-teacher and I relax for a bit to let my blood pressure go down before the re-test. So we chat for a while and test again... and it's still high. But they say I can still be hired to teach--I just need to lose weight (and with healthy Korean food and all the walking to and from school everyday, I don't think that will be much of a problem). And I was later told this is a pretty common occurrence with foreign teachers (high blood pressure/lose weight).

So from there we try to find our way around this shopping center to find me some school shoes (in Korea, you always take off your shoes before going in to residences. The same is true for teachers in schools. We take our shoes off and switch into what are basically slippers). My co-teacher was about as lost here as I was, and we tried to figure things out together. We eventually find a place with the right shoes, but (as expected) I can't find any big enough for my giant Bigfoot feet. So we'll have to special order some.

We make it to the subway to take it back to Gunpo rather than the school, though there's a line switch to be made. So we go from the current station to another, and then switch lines to take to Gunpo. However, my co-teacher couldn't go on the second train with me as she needed to be back in a meeting at 4:30 (and it was about 4:20 or so already). She asked if I could find the way back to my apartment from the Gunpo station (after telling me which stop to get off at for Gunpo station), and I was like "Uh... sure. I think I can remember." But, really, I was like "OK, I'm the most directionally challenged person ever, and I'm going to end up getting lost and taken and needing my personal Liam Neeson to save me." So I get off the train at the right station and get lost within the actual station itself trying to find my way out. But I eventually find the way. And from there, I started recognizing things. I was easily able to make it back to my apartment, and that was that.

It's now after 6 PM. I haven't eaten yet today (I couldn't eat lunch or anything because of the medical test). I'm tired and stressed. I'm gonna go find some food and relax. I surely hope tomorrow is not nearly as crazy as today.


  1. oh my goodness nick...what a nightmare! It can only improve from here! my bloodpressure would have been up too after a day like that!
    hang in there! have a great second day!

  2. Sounds like it was a rough day:( hope you don't get discouraged, you will start getting into a rhythm of your own. We had the same troubles with the subway station. By the end of the week you will be a pro at it! And then you think, why did I think this was so hard again? ;) so glad your neighbor was there to help you out! And just think by April you will be the pro helping out someone new!! And just smile and nod, gets you very far!!!! ;) hahahaha love ya!!!

  3. yikes, what a first day! things will definitely start calming down once a more normal routine is established for sure. after all, you found your way back to your apartment! after a day like that i'm not sure i could've found my way out of a paper bag. XD

  4. I agree with everyone--in a few weeks, this will all be routine! And, congrats on your good bow!


  5. Wow, what a day!! On the bright side, it should all get easier from here. :)

  6. So much for any kind of orientation, eh? Hang in there. Your teacher-fu will kick in soon enough and you'll do just fine.