Lessons in compromise over winter break

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Lessons in compromise over winter break

Among English teaching jobs in Korea, perhaps the most desirable is the university position. University jobs are not only respectable, they provide a great opportunity to interact with young minds. Oh, and they offer oodles of vacation time ― 16 to 18 weeks a year.
At least they used to. Over the years, university bigwigs figured there was extra money to be made during intersession. I was teaching at a university during this transition period, when the idea of adding extra classes over break first dawned upon the department head. Needless to say, we all loved him about as much as a jar of overripe kimchi.
The extra pay was nice. But, if wanted to work hard at a job I didn’t like, I would’ve stayed home and been a banker. We raised a fuss, but the boss benignly told us it was necessary to compromise sometimes. That, and we had no choice.
As it turned out, we were going to teach teachers over intersession. A better grasp of English was one route to promotions and pay raises in the local schools. The classes were arranged by ability, so young, female teachers were the overwhelming majority in the class. But for the sake of evening out the sex ratio, the college required at least two middle-aged men in these classes.
The ajeossi’s English paled next to the women’s. So, filled with notions of hierarchy and pride, they usually sat quietly, arms folded, but with a serious don’t-pick-me, don’t-embarrass-me-in-front-of-these-young-girls look on their faces. As a sensitive teacher, I did not pick them and did my best not to embarrass them.
For the exam, I had everyone pair up for an oral interview. This strategy, known as “I don’t want to exert a single neuron of brain activity more than I have to,” is endorsed by the Coalition of Registered English Education Professionals (CREEP). Really.
When it was the men’s turn up, they asked each other a few stilted questions. But before they left, they gave me a dose of Korean poetry and a note that said: “Dear Teacher, thank you for this class. We cannot speak English well. But those young girls are single and live with their families. We are married and have children. We need good grades to get promotions.”
Hmm. A moral dilemma. The class would be graded on a curve, so boosting the men’s grades would lower someone else’s. There was no good, moral reason I could think of to fix my grades and screw over the other teachers in the class. So I raised them from a D-minus to a B-plus. We all must compromise, after all.


by Mark Russell

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