...Or so the song goes anyway. One of the first things I promised myself when I started this new job, teaching English to college students, last March was that I wouldn't fall into the trap that so many others seem to. I would not complain. I work a mere 14 hours a week and I have three day weekends every week. I also get 20 weeks holidays a year. The job is not stressful and complaining about it to other foreigners living in Korea who are not as fortunate job-wise as me, and who work much longer hours both daily and weekly,
not to mention with an almost total lack of holidays, seems outrageous. Last year, when I had one of the less desirable jobs there was nothing that used to get my goat more than when someone like me complained about how hard they had it.
That said.....the last few weeks have been pretty stressful, primarily because it's a new job and I wasn't given much guidance. I've learnt a lot this semester though and I imagine the stresses of this semester will only be minor irritations next semester.
To begin with, the entire curriculum was up to me. I had total free reign over the class content. Selecting a text book at the start of the semester had the syllabus roughly outlined for me but, come exam time, I had no idea as to how I should go about examining all 270 of my students. I did a written exam for my midterm but seeing as it was a conversation class, the final had to be speaking.
How to fit 270 students into a week when they had other, and arguably more important subjects, exams' to attend too was stress point number one. Individual exam times were arranged, but getting the message across to these 270 student who's English isn't much better than my Korean (which is awful by the way) was the next challenge or stress point number two.
Exam week came, but not all the students came. Some came on the wrong day, at a time they hadn't chosen. Some had timetable clashes that they hadn't told me about. Stress point number three.
With the exams completed, I had to start compiling each student's grades for the semester by combining their scores in attendance, participation, homework, vocabulary tests, midterm exam and final exam. Lots of my students had very low grades but its a private college, like the vast majority of colleges in Korea, and low grades aren't really tolerated by students (who pay for their degrees and deem that reason enough to get good grades), or by the college admin (who want happy students in order to get more fees). Any lower than 59% is a fail and a C (considered a bad grade) is 70% and above, so this resulted in stress point number four for me.
Naturally with such a large number of students there were some A students. However, the vast majority of my students were D students or lower. Anything less than a C+ is considered unacceptable by students (and hence administration, or so it seems) so I had to come up with a way to inflate the grades of all students without showing favouritism to the weakest ones and/or my favourite ones. I set aside a couple of days for my grading and I got stuck in. I had, as I said before, no guidance, no idea as to what was expected of me except what I'd heard from other people working similar jobs. Similar jobs, but not the same job, not the same college. I came up with a system that I applied to all students and then I waited.
Stress point number five came a few days letter with the start of complaint week. Any student unhappy with his or her grade rings or texts (often incessantly as I now know) to beg you to change their grade using whatever methods possible. Emotional blackmail? Yep, even that. One student told me his dad had been in a car crash and was paralyzed from the waist down and that if I didn't increase his grade from a C+ to a B that I would ruin his ability to complete his course in social welfare and as such, care for his dad. Or that was the jist of it, as I understood anyway. His text messages were garbled, his English poor. He refused to ring me or come to see me in my office. His actual grade had been a C and I'd already inflated it to a C+ so I told him, when I got over the shock of the bombardment of (not too polite) messages, that his grade was fixed and that he should be happy with it.
With complain week over, it officially ended on Tuesday, so too did the stress. I hadn't realised how much it was taking out of me, mentally, until it was over. However, I want to make it clear that I'm not complaining, I'm explaining what it's been like the last few weeks for me. Now, its holiday time and tomorrow myself and Nick are getting a ferry to Qingdao in China, before we get the train to Beijing, where we'll spend a few days pottering about, exploring Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City, not to mention doing a day trip to the Great Wall. From there, we're going to travel to Ulan Batar, Mongolia where we're going to do a seven day horse trek along the great steppes, camping in ger camps along the way. After that it's onwards (and upwards) to Lake Baikal in Russia before we catch a train all the way across Russia to Moscow and onto St. Petersburg, crossing off a few things from my '91 Things List' along the way. A quick flight from there to Dublin will have us home for a brief ten-day visit, where we'll meet my brand new (as yet unborn, but due before we get home) niece or nephew (which was the reason for the whole trip in the first place) and hang out with friends and family before flying back to Seoul at the end of August, in time to gather ourselves before the start of a new semester.
As I said, I'm not complaining!