Bloody work

I’ll be back in a minute… could someone clean the blood off the floor please?

Just your typical day in school. I leave my 7-year-olds wiping blood off my classroom floor with toilet paper, and propel Suzy along the corridor, holding a towel to her nose and clutching a toilet roll and a pile of textbooks I’ve somehow forgotten to put down. We leave a trail of blood behind us – for once, I’m not actually exaggerating. These Korean kids have serious nosebleeds. I was genuinely frightened by the first few I saw, but now when it happens I can accept that they’re not dying. I presume it’s to do with the crap air quality and the need for excessive use of contraptions that blow out hot or cold air for large chunks of the year, drying out their sinuses. Whatever the reason, it’s like their noses just suddenly decide to open up and drain their bodies of blood.

It has not been a good day. Or week. Or few weeks, for that matter. I’m exhausted. I’ve started living for the weekends, which is never a good sign, especially considering how much I loved my job when I first got here. I’d still love it, were it not for the fact that the money-hungry principal changed everything several months ago, overloading us with more classes and responsibilities than we can possibly cope with without being devoid of energy, enthusiasm, or teaching ability. Three foreign teachers are doing the work of at least four. Two Korean teachers quit last week, and the place is now even more chaotic as a result – the only two or three hours free we have each week for lesson planning are now spent substitute teaching.

I think I need to look for a new job, much as it would pain me to uproot myself, move house, change area, and most of all leave behind my students and my colleagues. But I can’t get too attached, after all. I was able to move to the other side of the world. I can move to another part of the city, or even to another city. I can say goodbye to these children. All things are temporary. And this is just too much. I think I’m a good teacher when I’m in the right environment, but I know I’m a terrible teacher when I’m being expected to churn out class after class after class with no breaks and no time to plan my lessons. When I suffer, the kids suffer more. I’ve literally had to turn and walk out of classes a few times in the past few weeks in order to calm down, and I’m only slightly comforted to learn that my two (more rational, more level-headed) foreign teacher colleagues have done the same. We are cracking under the pressure. Today, I walked out of my classroom full of shouting infants straight into the arms of Kay, a Korean colleague, and I was so tired and so stressed that I couldn’t stop the tears spilling over when she asked me if I was OK.

So yeah, not a great day. By the time I’m about to start afternoon classes, I’m on my fourth can of energy drink, and Alex has just informed me that there is no toilet paper in any of the bathrooms. What do you suppose the kids are doing when they go to the bathroom? he asks wearily, and leaves me grimacing in horror. No sooner have I been informed of the toilet paper shortage than one of my elementary students’ noses opens and an ocean of red gushes out. It’s running down her arms, it’s on her clothes, it’s on the desks and floor, it’s smeared over her face, and she’s standing there tissueless in the centre of the floor as the others stop whatever noisy game they’re playing and yell “Teacher!! Suzy is nose is blood!!”. I’m too knackered for this, and I float helplessly up and down the corridor in a vague search for tissues. I eventually come to my senses and realise that my classroom is becoming a bloodbath and a small child is draining of blood while I do nothing, so I grab a towel from the bathroom and use it to stem the flow, just as young Adam comes running back upstairs proudly waving a toilet roll he’s pinched from somewhere. One of the neighbouring houses, knowing Adam.

As I stand there in the bathroom, with little Suzy quietly and patiently holding a towel to her nose as I wash her blood-smeared face, neck, hands and arms, I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror. I have dark circles under my eyes, and my hair is, as usual, clinging to my face and neck from the humidity. I have bloodstains across my cheeks, and on my t-shirt. My hands are covered in blood. And all I can think to myself is… wow. Not “Holy crap, you are a mess, woman” (which would be fairly accurate), but “wow”. I care about this child enough to be setting aside all personal squeamishness and dislike/fear of generally gross and icky child-related things, and cleaning her up as cheerfully as I can, when less than a year ago I wouldn’t even have touched her – I would have run for a Korean teacher and let them deal with the mess. This school has changed who I am.

And I really don’t want to leave.

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12 thoughts on “Bloody work

    • Sanity days – love it! Yeah, when I really can’t cope any more I just get them to colour… I’ve also hit upon the idea of putting on a CD of singalong songs while they do this, which has almost solved the problem of “But they’re still yelling and I have to say “shhhhh!” every 30 seconds, arghhhhh!”!

    • The weekend helped. I feel rested and in control today. It will, of course, be a different matter by the time Friday rolls around again!

  1. K8 says:

    So that’s pretty much everyone’s basic human rights being abused then? How do they get away with that? Jeez Hails that’s disgraceful… I can’t imagine the strength you need to muster every day, it’s that stamina that sadly keeps the world together though. More power to you.

  2. Hails

    First time I’ve visited in ages but I couldn’t possibly leave again without commenting having witnessed your distress.

    Dare I say it, I enjoyed that read! Not because of all the ‘shit ‘ you’re expected to put up with but because it’s so movingly written and because you made me proud to be Irish. It’s really nice to think that there you are, holding together a school in Korea and all those children are so lucky to benefit from your teaching skills and your compassion.

    Stick your chest out, girl and be proud of yourself!

    btw My adult daughter has suffered from severe nose bleeds since being a young child. She’s had her nose cauterised several times and it works for a while but she still has spectacular nose bleeds when in an air-conditioned atmosphere for any length of time. I agree, it can be very frightening to witness.

    • Aw Steph, what a lovely message, thank you! I’m not very proud of myself thanks to the spectacular falling apart I’m doing, but I know it could be worse! Glad you enjoyed the read… I like to think that it makes crap times worthwhile when I get to write something vaguely entertaining as a result. :) Thanks for stopping by!

    • Thanks, Camille. Well, it’s Monday, which means I’m a lot more awake and alert and rested than I was when I wrote this! Let’s see what the week brings… :)

  3. Well I think I’ve stumbled onto your blog at one of ‘those’ times that we all endure at some point or another, repeatedly. But for what its worth, I love the insight you give, and it is really well written.

    I cant believe the air quality is so crap in Korea that nose bleeds are common. Oh wait, yes I can.

    • Thank you! And sorry you had to stumble in at a time of griping and annoyance. It’s not always like that, promise!

      As for the air quality, yep, seriously crap. I had a humidifier running constantly in the winter, and an industrial strength mask during the yellow dust storms, and I still suffered from allergies the whole way through! Summer may be making me sweat a lot, but at least I can breathe. :)

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