I work with idiots.
No, not my fellow teachers. They’re great. And no, not my students, either. I work for a city council in Korea, providing free English classes to the public, both to adults (usually housewives), and elementary school kids. As a result, the powers that be are bureaucrats. You can kinda see where this is headed, right?
Well, twice a year, the council likes to put on an English contest for the adult students. Sounds fine in theory, but this time ’round, not many of the students were interested despite being encouraged multiple times to participate. I can understand that. They’re busy and it usually takes over a month to prepare for their skit or song. Add that up. Students can end up spending three months of the year preparing for a five to ten minute performance.
Anyway, with a lack of interest abounding, another teacher at the meeting this morning suggested we hold a picnic somewhere, perhaps at some kind of significant landmark. The advantages were thus. Students would be able to use their English in a real world, natural if you will, environment. Think tourists. It wouldn’t be rehearsed or out of a textbook. It would be a more relaxed occasion. It can be quite nerve-racking for some getting up on stage in front of a bunch of strangers whilst also having to speak a second language. It would be free advertising for the program. Everybody likes picnics. Housewives in Korea are quite busy. There’d be less preparation time involved, and it’d be more fun.
I ran this by my morning class. Whereas none had really been interested in yet another contest, all were interested and excited at the prospect of a picnic. The weather is beautiful this time of year, we’d be outdoors, students could meet students and teachers from other offices… overall it would be a nice outing. They could each bring along a plate of food. A great day for the wider community.
Our supervisor, our English speaking liaison with the non-English speaking, non-trained in the field of education bureaucrats who “run” the English program, namely a Mr S, wouldn’t have a bar of it. Well, to be fair, our supervisor was open to the idea at first, but when she ran it by the big cheese, nup. And she was quite, er, abrupt with her explanation. It would be too expensive hiring the buses and organising insurance. One teacher knows someone and can get two buses for free. No. Students would be prepared to pay a nominal fee, about five to ten dollars, to help (if not completely) cover costs.
And attendance, once voluntary, is now compulsory, even though this program is run for free. Apparently now, if students don’t attend, that means we are bad teachers. We didn’t do enough.
Trying to reason with my liaison proved fruitless, as is always the case. Our current liaison, and her predecessor, are/were young women at their first job. As a result, there’s no way they can really “fight” for us in this patriarchal society. Still, even the first liaison was a man, yet younger, and/so he hit nothing but brick walls with the higher ups, too.
The “logic” is such. The contest must be held in order to assess students’ progress (the irony being there’d still be a contest held around Christmas time, anyhow). But how this will be achieved is beyond me. Our new supervisor has been at the job barely two weeks. How can she assess any progress? Mr S doesn’t speak a word of English.
In further efforts to reason, negotiate, and be flexible, I suggested, as a measure of improvement, it could be noted that students previously on textbook X part one, page one, are now nearly finished textbook X part three. No. Then how about visiting the classes and asking the students how they felt? No. A questionnaire? Two questions; Has your English improved and; By how much has your English improved? (Remember, these students are housewives doing this in their limited free time. It’s a free program, a community program. Why do the students need tests?!)
(Most of the Korean education system has students studying for the test, not the real world. And they wonder why they can’t quite learn English. And besides, we’re talking about housewives here! But, I digress.)
No picnic. No to what the teachers wanted. No to what the students wanted.
So anyway, now I’m in a position where I am having to force students to do something that has always been voluntary. And for the stupidest of reasons. The only “reason” I can fathom is that Mr S is saving face. The contest is his idea. The picnic was the idea of someone ranked under him in the hierarchy, younger than him, and a foreigner. What an embarrassment to be outdone by such!
But this isn’t the first time something like this has happened. It’s always been his way or the highway. Any new idea, any new initiative, any new improvement, if it doesn’t come from his bureaucratic brain, doesn’t stand a chance. Countless times we are asked for ideas, we brainstorm… but to no avail.
To add insult to injury, even as I tried to reason, offer solutions, and be flexible, I was talked down to by someone with two weeks experience in the education field.
My contract is up soon. Not that I was going to re-sign anyway, but any slight feeling of regret I might have had certainly disappeared today.
Ten weeks. Then I’m free.
Do you have a boss similar to this? A co-worker, perhaps? Share your stories.
Vent volcanic vast right wing conspirators!