Class monitors kept looking at ceiling, so they were firedThe owner of the first language institute I worked at in Korea was a control freak. He wanted to know as much as possible about what was going on in every class. When I started working for him his inquisitiveness seemed benign enough. He would occasionally stroll by and glance in the window of each classroom. This seemed perfectly normal to me. No big deal.
A few months into my contract, the Asian financial crisis hit, and “IMF” was on every Korean’s lips. Times were hard. Some of our students’ parents were laid off, and eventually they stopped sending their children to our institute. It was sad, but it seemed that there was little any of us teachers could do to prevent the withdrawals.
That is not how the owner of the institute saw it. One night after work he called a staff meeting. After sitting through his 20 or 30 minute speech (entirely in Korean), he said, “I was just telling the Korean staff that I am making an investment that will mean losing no more students.”
Great, I thought, expecting to hear about some kind of teacher training seminar or a new marketing campaign.
“We will install cameras in every classroom so that I can observe your classes and offer you advice on how to manage your students better,” he said. “What do you think?”
Of course I hated the idea of being watched all the time, but I also wanted to keep my job. So I said nothing.
Apparently, he took my silence at the meeting as tacit agreement. The next day I arrived at work to find a camera installed in the corner of the ceiling of my classroom. Well, maybe I can get used to it, I thought. Then I heard the crackling of a speaker being turned on and the owner’s voice boomed down from the direction of the camera: “Er, Dylan, come to my office please.”
I walked into the office to find a bank of monitors, one for every classroom, set up behind the owner’s desk. “How are you?”
“Just fine, Big Brother,” I said.
I guess he had never read George Orwell’s “1984,” because he just laughed, thinking I was trying to Anglicize the Korean honorific hyeongnim, elder brother.
After about a week of the owner interrupting classes by telling students over the intercom to sit down or to come to his office after class, I had had enough. One morning when I walked into class I reached up and tilted the camera lens toward the ceiling. Instead of a video of my classes, he got a video of the class ceiling. During each of my classroom breaks he would send the office manager in to readjust the camera. And as soon as my next class started I would readjust it toward the ceiling. Eventually, the cameras came down, but only after students complained about the “eye in the sky” watching their every move.
by Dylan Alford
Mr. Alford teaches high school in Seoul.