Mar 09

Why I Stayed at the School That Makes Me Cry, But I’m Glad

I may have bit off a little more than I can chew.

Teaching at a tough school in Korea

Last week the kids in Korea started their new school year and it was a hectic week, indeed. Along with a new term I also started a side job, had meetings and events for the two nonprofit organizations I’m a part of in Daegu, worked out every day as part of a 21 day fitness challenge, worked on writing projects, attended a birthday party, and attempted to be social a few times. TOO MUCH, I tell you.

By Thursday night I was so tired I walked into the bathroom to take a shower but instead wound up flushing the (empty) toilet and then staring at it for a while wondering what I was doing. At least I didn’t wake up at 3am and take a sleep-shower, as I sometimes do when I’m stressed.  But even through the mental fog and cross-eyed daze I felt by every evening, I realized I’m actually much happier now than I have been in months.Teaching at a tough school in Korea

This is partly because I thrive on being busy. I enjoy being involved in a variety of activities and feeling like each day has a unique purpose. I’m one of those annoying people who just want to do everythingMoreover, though, is the surprising realization that I made the right decision to renew my contract at my school. It’s no secret that my job made me miserable last year. Some people tell fairy tale stories of a magical year with students who bring them chocolates and write them kind letters, coworkers who treat them like family, and only two lessons to plan per week; meanwhile, my students were throwing shoes at my head. I was drowning in an ungodly sum of lesson planning and to most of my coworkers I was invisible.

I wanted desperately to switch schools, but the education office told me transfers for people only in their second year are very unlikely, and some kind of investigation would be involved. I would have no say in where I was transferred, and I would have to move houses and completely start over at a new school. Did you know that would mean buying the whole staff rice cakes again? That shiz is expensive! It would also mean planning all new lessons, and returning to the very bottom of the seniority ranks and doing everyone’s bidding. At least I’m established at my current school and I can throw out a little I-do-what-I-want attitude. In short, my school was the “devil I know”. That didn’t make the decision any easier, though, and I nearly had a breakdown on the day we signed our new contracts (I survived, but with the help of much beer and ice cream).Teaching at a tough school in Korea

But at the end of the first week of school it’s as if the clouds have parted and I’m finally seeing my first rays of sunshine.  For one thing, I completely revamped my rules and discipline policy and covered every base I can think of (these kids are going to be doing a lot of pushups this year). The students have responded well to it and (I hope) there will be fewer in-class wrestling matches and spit ball wars.Teaching at a tough school in Korea

Now that I know my students, I have recreated my lessons to better suit their abilities and interests. I also have a new coworker who is my age and speaks fluent English, and we get along really well. Best of all, the classes have been divided into levels and my class sizes have been significantly reduced—all based on a comment I made in passing last year. It meant a lot to know that my coworkers actually do listen to me and made the effort to implement a change that I felt would be more beneficial for the students. And I also have to admit that these rowdy, rude, and rambunctious kids have somehow found their way into my cold, steely heart. Teaching at a tough school in Korea

At the start of this new school year I’m able to acknowledge the perks of my school. I have my own classroom; I have full reign over my lessons and laid back coteachers; I am told my vacation dates far in advance; I have (more than enough) funding to buy supplies and make creative lessons; I live 2 blocks from school; I’ve built a relationship with a few amazing students who help make up for the other rascals.

To make a long story short, I’m feeling much better about this year. Sometimes you have to know when it’s best to leave a situation, but there are other times when you need to trust your instinct that powering through is the best option. This was one of those times when my perseverance was rewarded.  I still work at a rough and tumble school and my days will still be challenging, but I know better now how to manage it all.  I’m going to be exhausted this year, but all of the hard work will make the freedom of my travels next year that much sweeter.

Teaching at a tough school in Korea


  • So happy that things are looking sunnier for you, Kaleena. Way to stick with it!! 😀

    • KaleenasKaleidoscope

      Yay thank you!

  • Allie

    I’m glad you decided to power through! It seems like we all have a better understanding of how to deal with our classes and students… however you must crawl out of your tunnel vision every once and a while to come be social 🙂

    • KaleenasKaleidoscope

      Yes, you’re going to have to kidnap me sometimes and I apologize in advance for being a zombie…

  • Lauren Cowan

    Yey knew it would work out so happy for you xxx

    • KaleenasKaleidoscope

      Yep, gonna make year 2 worth it! Missing you, hope you’re having fun in Australia!!! xo

  • I’m about to finish my first year and have decided to renew – against my better judgement. Two of my coteachers have put in for a transfer leaving me with 2 new strangers and one who’s staying (but I hate and clash with constantly). I do hope that the 2nd year will be an improvement though. I’m hoping things can only get better (because I’ve had my crying days too).

    • KaleenasKaleidoscope

      You never know, the new teachers might turn out to be fabulous! The second year is so much better because you’ve mostly figured everything out and you can get into a routine and solidify some friendships. Best of luck!