Saturday, December 01, 2007

Work Drama

One week of teaching left here. It'll be a review for my students. Then exam week, input marks into the computer and fly away to the Philippines and San Miguel it all away.

Recently we've had a bit of drama. The management requested that we make a common final that all 8 teachers would use as their final exam. It's a Korean educational obsession to teach everything identically. They still haven't figured out that teachers and students are all different so this is a stupid strategy. (The individuality idea again). But in an attempt to do what management wanted we divided up into teams of two and together submitted some questions from one chapter each. There are four chapters in the book we used.

It was given to us as a suggestion long before the teaching started and a few of the teachers, including me, had questions prepared to share with the other teachers at a meeting we had at the beginning of the session. I was late for the meeting but when I got there it was aparent that one teacher had taken control of it. Dean Dawson is his name. I assumed that before I arrived he was elected or appointed to chair the meeting. He gave everyone a couple of pages from which to compose questions for our chapters. No clear guidelines were given as to how many marks we were responsible for or what kind of questions we could make. We found out later that multiple choice questions weren't allowed. All we had was a shakey plan of attack after the meeting. I thought we were going to leave there with at least a rough copy of the exam to work with while we taught. We probably had enough questions between us to do so. But that was not the plan of the man. So we all walked out of there kind of shaking our heads.

A while later I sent everyone an email pointing out that some of the questions, (the difference between "can" and "can't" and telephone skills), were better for oral examinations and it had been established that this would be a written exam. Plus the pages from which Dean had chosen to make his questions were actually not even part of his chapter. And he had already taught the book a few months previous to this. He was to make questions about garbage and human waste and he chose a cloze exercise on endangered animals. How these two topics could be confused I don't know.

To his credit he said my points were valid and we changed a few things. Nobody really got their questions in until very late in the session. Last week in fact. Mostly because we were all so confused as to what we could and couldn't do. So there were many exchanges of emails and finally everyone had submitted their questions except Dean. On Wednesday of last week he submitted an exam in which he had changed everyone's submissions and added his own. I mean changed like omitted questions, added some of his own. My partner and I had tried to make questions that encorporated all of our chapter. Dean edited ours so that they represented only one exercise from it. And he included a blurb with his exam basically saying that this would be the one we use and we would have to live with it.

So I sent a diplomatic email correcting a lot of the grammar, spelling and typing mistakes and suggesting a few other changes. It was mostly praise for 3 of the 4 chapters. But I asked him to "please" explain his thinking on how he had narrowed down my chapter. He fixed some of the typos and grammar mistakes but ignored my question and changed nothing in my chapter.

The next day we had to work. Every one of the other teachers, (except Dean), expressed to me in the short breaks we have between classes how they didn't like what Dean had done. Every single one of them. But nobody had bothered to confront Dean either through email or in person. I guess because they expected to be ignored like me.

So on the weekend I wrote an email to everyone but Dean stating that he is an equal member of our team and despite the fact that he had presented himself as something different there is no reason why one of us couldn't write an exam that better reflected the efforts of the other teachers. Dean's not the boss of us!

One of the other teachers, Rose, made an exam. It WAS better. She forwarded it along with my message to all the other teachers. Except Dean. I think this was just an oversight. I had asked her to forward it to all the teachers including Dean as a second option. It was not forwarded as an exam we all must use. It was just a suggestion. An option for anyone who didn't like Dean's exam. That was everyone but Dean.

Then the emails started coming in. One of the teachers, a guy I often spend my two-hour lunches talking and drinking coffee with, had engaged me in a long email exchanging session in which he did everything but give me a reasonable answer as to why he didn't want to use another exam. He contradicted a dozen things he had told me in the past month or so of Starbucks lunches and even contradicted himself a couple of times within the string of emails. I was stunned! He was the last guy I expected to support Dean in his power play.

So I gave him the reasons why assholes can weasel their ways into positions of power in the workplace. They can basically be summed up as, "Because the other workers allow them to." More specifically they are: 1. I'm comfortable with my job. I don't want to rock the boat. (apathy) 2. I'm scared of losing my job. I don't want to rock the boat. (fear) 3. I don't want to do anything to upset the asshole. (intimidation) 4. I can't do anything to stop the asshole, can I? (ignorance) 5. ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZzzzzzzzzzz. (laziness)

My friend had sent me many comments in his various emails that were perfect examples of these 5 things. But he just kept skirting the real issues and talking in circles trying to make me think he wasn't an apathetic, spineless sheep and accomplishing the opposite.

Then there is Claire. She was the person who complained more than any other the day after Dean's test. Yet when my suggestion to create an option that was closer to what we had contributed and then decide between the two democratically was sent, and the test was created, she started saying things like how underhanded, sneaky and unprofessional it was. And how we were going "behind Dean's back." I suspect she had a little talk with Dean and he swayed her to his side. But I then sent an email explaining that by alienating every other teacher Dean had turned his back on us. That's why it may appear like we're going behind his back. She also complained that she had already submitted Dean's test for copying even though we have till Monday to do so. I expected Dean to give that as his excuse and really didn't expect the new test to be accepted. But I had to try.

Then I submitted an email to everyone including Dean about how his actions were a strong statement of his wish to abandon team democracy and demand we do things his way. I also explained that I was just acting as though Dean was an equal member of our process and represented only one vote. I said that we would probably have to use Dean's exam due to copying issues, time limit and apathy. Three of the teachers gave the ZZZZZZzzzzzzzzz response including one of them who had told me Thursday that he wasn't going to use Dean's test.

Now, a couple of my past emails are perfect defences for the impotence of my fellow employees, (other than Rose). I think a lot of them are in grown up amounts of debt and they don't want to teach this schoolyard bully a lesson because it could jeopardize their steady income that they send to Visa or their bank every month. Also there are some legitimate concerns about new immigration laws here in Korea that would make it very inconvenient to change jobs. So they are desperately hanging on to their jobs despite wanting to slam dunk this dickhead. And it is very possible that regardless of what happens with the exam, this guy will be head teacher next year and they don't want him giving them the shitty schedules or taking away overtime they wanted or whatever powers he might get.

I don't give a shit about any of these things. I have that luxury. So I don't mind doing the dirty work for other people like this. I've done it before. Even at the cost of my job. No biggie to me.

However, I'm starting to wonder who I hate more in this scenario, the asshole who is stepping on his fellow employees for his own gain, or the spineless, ineffectual automatons who bend over and take it up the ass to save their jobs. I think maybe the latter.

Anyway, I only have one week left with these folks. This has made my decision to leave HUFS a very easy one. Enrollment was down this year and when that happens the school normally just offers TOEFL or TOEIC courses. That's about as boring as it gets. I would rather teach in rural China than teach TOEIC or TOEFL. And this school is going in the wrong direction in dealings with the foreign teachers with the management flexing its muscles more every day. So will Dean and I don't particularly want to see that. With these as my fellow employees I don't think I'd be able to protest if they tried to make us all teach in thong underwear. In winter. Outside. Using the snow as our whiteboard and pee as our marker. Teaching rote memorization of the dictionary.

My apologies to Rose who has more balls than the rest of them put together. I'm not grouping her in with the others.

I have some other options and I have recently heard news that immigration is thinking twice about the new regulations so I'm not too nervous about moving. I have a very good shot at working for a place that I was happy at before. Or I could always find work in Jan. or Feb. I suspect there will be a low enough demand for jobs here that I'll look good to any school and I'll have my pick of some sweet jobs. MUCH better than HUFS.

HUFS is one of the top English schools in Korea. It has the hardest level test to get into the English program in Korea. The students are great. I will miss them. But, as usual, the management in the place feels like because of the reputation of HUFS they are bullet proof. So they treat the employees badly and end up with the dregs of the ESL teacher crop. Hmmmm. Do crops have dregs? Holy mixed metaphors Batman.

I hope some of the dregs will get lost in the immigration law confusion.

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