Monday, September 27, 2010

Funny Thing that (is Happening) to Me at Work: Private v. Public

I've been at work for a month now, and I am obviously noticing TONS of little differences between my old private school job (at a hagwon (학원) in Uijeongbu, the nitty gritty details of which I discussed here last year) and my new public school job here in Seoul. I'm enjoying being in a new environment, though I can't say my public school job doesn't present its own set of unique issues...

Let me break it down, 학원 v. public school style

학원: 1-8:35 (pm)
Public school: 8-4
I loathed the working hours at the hagwon: I am the earliest of early birds and am up by 6 whether I set an alarm or not. (Thanks for the insomnia I'm convinced is genetically linked, Mom!) Though I used to be annoyed by my inability to wake up after the sun rises, I have grown to love mornings and everything they involve (coffee, breakfast, maybe an early morning run, newspapers, crossword puzzles) and typically feel really alert by the time 8 rolls around: the morning, for me, is when my brain works best. Though I did enjoy being able to stay up until 3 am on a weeknight last year (if I so chose to), I'm thinking this year is going to be better for my health all around 'cause of my more normal working hours.
WINNER: Public school

학원: Average of 25 classes a week, 40 minutes each
Public school: 18 classes a week, 50 minutes each
This one is a no-brainer: my public school job is sooooooooooo much easier. At the hagwon, I would be on my feet teaching the entire day (often times literally chasing children around my classroom), with 5 minute breaks in between classes where I would run down to the office, shove a snack in my face/make a quick cup of instant coffee to go before diving right back into teaching. Here, I have HOURS of planning/free time to do whatever I think I need to do to plan lessons...although I did my fair bit of desk warming at Swaton, there was never was a day where I came into work, had all of my classes unexpectedly be cancelled, and was expected to "plan" for EIGHT HOURS....which has happened twice since I've been at Gwangyang :_:
Of course, easier ≠ better. I like working hard. But comparing the sheer psychic drain of both jobs:
WINNER: Public school

학원: Whiteboard, lame textbooks, and toys/crayons which I paid for out of my own pocket
Public school: In-class computer hooked up to a touch screen in the front of the class, document camera, speakers, a fairly decent textbook that comes with a pretty good listening CD/built in videos...
NO CONTEST, obviously
WINNER: Public school

학원: A tiny room that I shared with 12 other people
Public school: My own enormous desk, office chair, and laptop computer
One of the most annoying things about Swaton was that it was impossible to not be all up in someone else's personal space in the office. Just the noise of everyone talking during planning time drove me CRAZY--add to this the noise of kids coming in and out for "extra" tutoring time+ the nails-on-chalkboard screech of Mrs. Lee, the principal of our school, and you might be able to imagine why I felt like I was constantly staving off a migraine. Whenever I would get mail sent to the office, I'd be urged to open it in front of everyone else--something I found a tad annoying. Although the closeness definitely made it easy to talk to people, I really appreciate how quiet my new office is/how much space I have to myself.
WINNER: Public school

학원: Adorable elementary kids aged 6-12. Most are able to have a conversation of some kind with me in English, even the 1st graders.
Public school: Pervy/Nerdy high school boys, Bossy/Painfully shy high school girls. A range of abilities, but only a handful can have actual conversations with me
This one is a tough call. I now realize I taught some straight up geniuses at Swaton: kids who will likely be fluent English speakers someday. However, I think I make a bigger overall impression at my new school, where I am the only foreigner in the building, and it is really rewarding to teach kids who span the entire spectrum in terms of ability. Both sets are hilarious in their own unique ways and are a lot of fun to interact with...though I really miss running around and playing dodgeball with the little kiddies more than I thought I would, it is cool to be able to talk about things like art in high school and actually have students comprehend me.

학원: Average was about 7. Biggest class = 13 students, smallest class = 1 student
Public school: Average is about 25. Biggest class = 40 students, smallest class = 10 students
The 학원 wins this one, but not by as much of a landslide as you might think. It is nice to have a ton of kids in a class to do group work and group games, and when big classes get really into an activity, it is fun to have everyone riled up. Still, with so many students now, I can't remember names/form one-on-one relationships with the kids as easily as I did at Swaton, which I am really missing.

학원: One Korean co-teacher whom I worked with directly + five foreign teachers and five other Korean teachers I shared an office with + my manager, Michael + the owner/principal of our hagwon, Mrs. Lee
Public school: Five Korean co-teachers who I work with directly + ten-ish other English teachers I share office space with/never speak to+ a principal whom I never see or hear anything from
Last year, I connected immediately with most of my co-workers at Swaton, who really worked to make me feel welcome--they showed me around my new neighborhood, introduced me to their local buddies, and took me out to eat at night. My co-workers last year were all unmarried and close in age to me, making it easier for us to bond. At my new school, everyone is soooooo professional/conservative/shy, and many of the teachers are married with children/families, making it difficult for me to relate to them/see them as friends. Working with five different co-teachers makes it harder to build relationships like the one I had with Jenny (Yeojoo), my co-teacher I worked/drank/literally climbed mountains with at Swaton. A little shamefully on my part, I miss having the foreign co-workers around who understood exactly what I was going through whenever I had any issues last year. Being the only native speaker at my new school = one way ticket to Lonely Town somedays (even though I realize that yes, I am in Korea/shouldn't expect people to speak in perfect English to me all day long). Public school lacks the sense of community Swaton has--probably because most of the teachers working at Gwangyang have only been there for a few years (Korean public school teachers are required to move to a new school every three or four years).
BUT. I've only been around for a month now, and expect to make more friends at work soon. And. I appreciate the professional attitude/lack of bullshit from my new manager/principal at public school. Still, at this point:

학원: Off-campus lunches at Gimbap Nara/Toast restaurants with my foreign co-workers
Public school: School lunch eaten in the cafeteria with scores of other teachers from all departments
Lunch time at Swaton was nice--at an off-campus location, us foreign teachers could air our work grievances/beef(s) while eating cheap Korean comfort food (typically not involving ACTUAL beef, hardy har har). 김치 김밥 (kimchi gimbap), 순두부 찌개 (sundubu jjigae), 물냉면 (mul nangmeyeon), and 쫄면 (jol myeon) were my favorites, which I ate four or sometimes even five days a week. School lunch at public school is still Korean food: every day I get rice, usually a saucy meat-based dish to go with it, kimchi of some kind (radish or cabbage), and a brothy soup, served buffet style which I doll out for myself on a tray. The food is generally good (despite the occasional funky day involving spaghetti + runny tomato sauce) and there's a big variety, plus I pay less than a dollar a day for the food. I'm not allowed to leave campus at work now--not even to go buy a Coke at the corner store, never mind go out to eat a meal--which makes me feel like I'm twelve years old. But. It is nice not to spend so much money on food, and I think the school lunches are a tad healthier than what I typically ate at Swaton.

학원 = 2 wins
Public school = 4 wins

So...overall, I feel like public school is a much better deal. We'll see how things evolve over the course of the year. Most importantly, I feel like both jobs are giving me the same amount of hilarious fodder for this blog, so look forward to more gems to come^^

1 comment: