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Oh, the Frustration!

March 31st, 2010
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This is an email that I just received from one of our teachers and my reply to her. I thought it would be helpful to share here as I’m sure many people have had similar situations at their schools and have felt similar frustrations.

Dave is a quiet thoughtful child who has attended one of my classes since I began at the hagwon. He did not attend over the Christmas holiday period, but has returned as of the new school year in a different class. Always keen and interested, Dave regularly participates willingly in all activities and is a joy to have in the classroom. However, since his return I have noticed a gradual increase in nervousness and the beginnings of a tic. This has become more pronounced over the past fortnight when the tics have escalated into head movements and grunting sounds. A cruel comment made by another boy at the end of my class on Tuesday resulted in a fight between him and Dave which I managed to stop. I immediately removed Dave who was by this time so distressed he was almost hyperventilating and his head movements and grunting sounds had become chronic. I sat with and comforted him for sometime after until he was calm.
This class is a handful. 10 boys, 2 or 3 are particularly rowdy. However I’m very fond of them, but not convinced this is the best environment for Dave at this time. His previous class was smaller and had more girls than boys which suited better in my opinion.
The new woman’s response to my concerns were that Dave has a problem so, if he distracts the other students, he may not be allowed to attend in the future.
The next morning en route to Kindergarten school, I delicately broached the subject and learned from my director that Dave’s parents have recently separated. He is desperately missing his mother. My director agreed that Dave needs us more than ever, I have offered to teach Dave individually if necessary. Access to my director is limited and it seems his wife (the Vice Principal) has overall authority of the running of the school, clearly now influenced by this awful woman.
Immediately after graduating from my teaching degree I spent 2 years working with children with special needs, learning difficulties and behavioural disorders. I’ve been very interested in the area of child psychology for many years and research the subject constantly. I recognise the signs of severe distress and trauma when I see them. I cannot and will not ignore the signs of a child in distress no matter which country or continent I find myself in.
My dilemma is this….. my director is the good guy if my fridge breaks down or my internet doesn’t work etc. His scary (non English speaking) wife deals with my hours, wages and runs the school, now assisted by Hitler’s sister. Personal inconveniences I can take a ridiculous amount of but when bad things start happening to good people, my patience runs out.
I’m really frustrated and angry and I apologise for this rant but I have no other direction in which to turn and at this time feel very alone and uncertain of my situation. I suppose I’m just seeking a kind, reassuring word from someone who knows the score here better than me. Thanks for listening.
I’ve lost count of the beers I owe you.
And my reply to this teacher (who is one of the nicest ladies we’ve placed here in Korea)
So, as for the situation with Dave, you have come across what perhaps 9 out of 10 English teachers in Korea have been frustrated by. That is: school is a business more than a school.  If there are 2 top complaints that we hear over the years, it is that the communication between staff and management is horrible (last-minute changes, don’t listen to advice etc..) and that the school is run like a business and not a school.
So, the situation with Dave falls under the second item.  It is really frustrating, but I can tell you what is going on is that the school doesn’t want to rock the boat for a multitude of Korean reasons:
-They don’t want to lose the student (and income that comes along with the student)
-They don’t want to put the parents in an embarrassing situation (”your child has a problem”)
-They don’t want other parents to hear that they got involved in something personal
-Any type of psychological issues are still very much a source of being ostracized in this culture
-If someone were passed out in the middle of the sidewalk, the majority of people would just walk by. There have even been reports of people being hit by cars and being on the street and some people just driving around while others run over the person like roadkill. This is an extreme example, but the moral of the story is Koreans are usually “head down, mind your own business.”
There are probably several other factors at play here, but the above are likely very accurate.  Your example is a strong one because it sounds like the student really could use some attention and special care, but it won’t come from the school. The only real way of doing anything would be for you to go out of your way to make him feel cared about whenever you can.  But, expecting the school to step in is probably not really realistic, regardless of how right it would be.
You are certainly not alone in feeling these frustrations. Hundreds of teachers everyday here in Korea are feeling some version of the same thing. Even on a smaller scale, I feel it every time I see a baby in a car with no car seat or seatbelt dancing around the back seat or sticking their head out the window.  There are a lot of great things about Korea, but there are some things that still seem to lag.
I’m not sure if that is helpful or not, but I hope it is to some extent.
Boy, I’m going to be really drunk by the time we are done hanging out!
Jason
Well, I hope that helps some of you see that you are perhaps not alone in your frustration over some things that go on in Korea. All we can do is do our best to influence the students that you are in contact with on a daily basis.  It may not change the whole system, but it does change things for that student.

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