My Life is Makjang Pt IV

I wanted to stroll into my old campus confidently–trailing a blaze of glory as I returned to my domain.

But the closer I got to the doors, the less confident I became. Coming from Gangnam that morning, I had the taxi driver drop me off in front of the Lotte Mart where I got breakfast every morning. And walking up the stairs I was hit with so many feelings–anger, hate, sadness, guilt, frustration, but also happiness, love, adoration, pride, and epicness. I didn’t know it was possible to feel that many emotions in 30 seconds, but apparently it is. They weren’t hard to resurrect because they never really went away. They belonged to a life I used to live, a life that I had left behind but would never leave me, and now I was returning.

I didn’t have a cape or speakers and I had accidentally left my mascara in Nowon. So walking past the photo studio I had my arc picture taken in, the restaurant that flooded and has now remodeled, and through the front doors wasn’t quite as epic as I had hoped.

But going into the teacher’s lounge and seeing familiar faces was everything I had hoped for.

By familiar faces I mean some familiar faces. HT left the same time I did (but for different reasons). The other two foreign teachers’ contracts ended last term and they had gone home, replaced by two new girls. The girls who replaced HT was the new HT, and the girl who had replaced me had decided to stay. I was subbing for Jessica, and there were two new Korean teachers–one to replace Eunhwa Teacher who went on maternity leave, and one to replace the one I had worked so hard to get. Apparently she hated the job.  Sohee, the asian fairy who started the same day as me, and Sujin who had started only a term earlier, were the senior teachers there. And in Korea–that’s kind of a big deal.

It was wonderful to see them all again, despite how we’ve all changed. And there has been change just in these short months. One of the new Korean teachers, Effie, reminds me so much of Sohee during our first few weeks together–confused, overwhelmed, and on the verge of tears all the time. Whereas Sohee has hardened in just this past term and reminds me of Jessica–stressed but calm, serious, and confident.

A few minutes later, Director walked in and everyone watched as she went to shake my hand and ask about my health. I told her I was doing wonderful thank you. And she asked to see me in her office in 5 minutes.

I wasn’t really sure what to expect. I thought I was ready since I’ve known about this for a few weeks now. And I’ve had enough time away to forgive the woman.

But it’s really easy to forgive someone when you forget how horrible they can be.

Shortly after sitting down in her glass office, she delivered the triple punch I received just about every day my second term at this campus.

First she handed me a schedule–a schedule that needs its own Rosetta Stone and took me weeks to learn how to read. She told me to find Jessica’s classes and mark them with this red pen.

Thankfully I a) Knew Jessica’s Korean name 현희, and b) that I could read Hangul. She watched over my shoulder as I marked all of Jessica’s classes. It was easy but you know how it is when someone is watching you–you get nervous.

I finished and she pulled out another schedule from behind her that she had already marked–an answer sheet. She checked them against each other and whoops! I had forgotten one. On Mondays and Wednesdays I do Clinic, but on Fridays I do Speak Up with Sohee and Sujin. She marked it with her own red pen–even though we have Friday off (praise New Year’s Day).

Even though I had only missed 1, anything less than 100% is a fail, so I immediately felt demeaned and deflated.

Punch #2–she went through every single class, step by step, with the materials she had prepared so it would be impossible for me to mess up. 20 minutes later she said she’d come into each of my classes to “make sure I didn’t need help.” I had failed reading that schedule, so obviously I was incapable of teaching the alphabet.

Punch #3–Hiring the new Korean teacher meant that each Korean teacher got a break. However, I wasn’t to have a break. No, during that time I was to “observate (she says instead of observe and it drives me crazy) Ashley Teacher’s class”.

Now–I don’t mind observing classes I really don’t. I did it for an entire week in Nowon and I learned a lot. But this was different. This teacher was a) younger than me and in Korean culture that’s a really big deal. As an American 1-2 years doesn’t mean anything but in Korea, 1 year completely changes the verb forms used to speak with each other, and b) she was a new teacher. A brand new one. Who had been teaching for approximately 3 weeks because “she’s a good teacher who I can learn from.” No–she was not an education major, and she has never taught anything before, (I asked her out of curiosity), but apparently she is amazing. So being told that I was to observe someone junior to me in every way to do better at my own job is the ultimate diss in Korea. And she knew it.

Walking back into the Teacher’s Room, I had lost the happiness I had gained from seeing Sohee and Sujin and now just felt the guilt and anger from that glass office.

While many people had changed, including myself, she knew exactly how to put me back in my place–the feeling of being the weakness, stupidest, most worthless teacher in the world. Even though I knew I wasn’t. At my last campus, my co teachers came up to me on the last day and handed me Ferrero chocolates and a beer (lol) thanking me for the hard work I did and complimenting me on the way I talked with the kids. At another campus the director told the head teacher, who told me, that she was impressed by my performance. I thought these confidence boosters would be enough to withstand the daily Morning Meeting. In front of all the coworkers she asked told Effie that I was going to teach her Speak Up class and that she should observe a new teacher because “Mallory has time management problems” and ask the HT to check all of my materials.

But my life is not a tragedy–it’s makjang. And for every down there is an equal up.

Minutes later, little Dorothy 2 came in. Dorothy 1 left Langcon, so now she’s just Dorothy. This is Cindy Lou Who–the girl in her clear fashion glasses who ran into me crying on the Day I Was Pretty Much Fired and told all of her class to come see me in the office. We chatted as I helped her make up some work and when the bell rang for class to start, Director came and asked Dorothy how she was as I packed up my stuff to move on. You’re not going to believe this conversation.

Director: “How are you Dorothy?”

Dorothy: “I am so so so so SO happy!”

Director: /smiles/ “why?”

Dorothy: “Because Mallory Teacher is back!”

Now–this doesn’t happen in real life. This situation is too perfect to have occurred in this chaotic existence we live. And if it does, the main character isn’t there to hear it happen.

But I was. And Director just smiled and walked past me and my eyes glassed over.

The rest of the day was similar–seeing kids I hadn’t seen in months that I’d missed so much. I was surprised at how many names I remembered seeing as I’ve had to memorize at least 200 since I left. Yegee in my oldest class screamed with joy when I walked in, and Eileen just looked completely amazed.

Funny enough, the class I was to observe was to be this same class second block. So I watched a new teacher go through a Language Arts lesson with Yegee and Eileen (and Sonny and Jessica) 5 minutes after I had done Social Studies with them. I sat next to Sonny and helped him do his work because he’s a little slower than the other kids.

That was all yesterday. Today was similar in that  during Morning Meeting, she asked that I double check my materials before teaching, in front of everyone, and then she mentioned my name in Korean to the Korean teachers. I’ve seen enough music shows/awards shows/haggled with enough Twitter girls to understand what she was telling them–to make sure I was circling the pages correctly.

But the day got better, seeing dozens of kids I’ve missed.

I’m not sure how I survived this emotional rollercoaster for 6 months. Makjang life isn’t a fun life–I’m so glad I’m only here for 4 days.




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