Every workplace that I’ve ever been employed in has been somewhat nuts.
I used to think that it was me, I explained to Steve and Clare after classes, as we topped up on water (the Koreans are all wearing three layers and complaining about the cold. We are wearing shorts and sweating a lot), but now I’m starting to think that there’s no such thing as a “normal” workplace.
They nodded emphatically. Every workplace has its own special brand of insane, said Steve. Do you ever feel like you’re the only sane person there? That’s a pretty sure sign that you’re just the same as everybody else. We all feel that way about ourselves.
I’ve only been at this school for three days, and already I feel like I’m in a surreal sitcom. I don’t know why, but I thought it would be different, being a teacher. Teachers have to be sensible and mature. Teachers don’t bicker and fight. Teachers are almost boring in their maturity and dependability. Teachers don’t get the giggles. Teachers don’t do silly things.
This is all nonsense, of course.
So far, I have experienced quirky characters, personality clashes, arguments, amusing incidents, and long-running feuds to rival any of my previous workplaces. And now that I come to think of it, I realise that people would go stir crazy if they had to go to work every day in a place where everything ran like clockwork and nothing weird ever happened. It seems that human beings simply need the nuttiness.
I have landed in this school just as they’re beginning preparations for the English Show. This is basically a performance for the parents, who show up to see their little darlings singing English songs, putting on skits in English, and showing off their English skills in various other endearing and entertaining ways. And because Korean parents are deadly serious about getting their children educated to the highest possible standard, the pressure is really on the school management to put on a flawless production. Which basically means that the management must mercilessly put the pressure on the teachers to coach the children till they’re word-perfect.
And so, despite the fact that the English Show isn’t until the third week in November, preparation has begun in earnest. The teachers are all writing skits and arguing with each other about whether their own particular class is capable of such-and-such a dialogue. And from Monday, English lessons will take the form of rehearsals rather than textbook learning. I think it’s going to be a very long six weeks. I don’t get a respite from it in gym class, either, as my responsibility as gym teacher (snigger) is to also coach all the classes (not just my own two) in the exercise routine complete with English song that they’re going to have to perform on the big day.
Steve-teacher, excuse me, said one of the Korean homeroom teachers, putting her head around the classroom door and interrupting our discussion, How many onions do you have? Steve looked bewildered, being onionless. Or, continued the teacher, How much onions do you have?
Oh! said Steve, understanding dawning, it’s “how many”. At this point I was called down to the office by an announcement over the school speaker system (Hayley-teacher please to come to office please – love it), and headed down, passing a teacher muttering “how many onions” in the corridor. When I got to the office, the director marched me into the gym, where she put on a CD of the song the kids are going to learn. And then, without a word of explanation, she started doing the actions to show me what the lyrics meant, in case I didn’t know. She did starjumps, windmills, stretches. I watched in utter bemusement, trying to think of an incident in any previous workplace that even came close to my sedate, prim, and refined boss leaping around an empty gym doing jumping jacks to a kids’ song, and just collapsed in mirth when I got back to my classroom.
I think I’m going to like this place.