Friday, June 29, 2007

The Popcorn Machine: a rant

I am a popcorn machine.

Okay, stay with me. For about two years, I worked at a medium-sized movie theater. I served in every position from an usher tearing tickets, to managing entire shifts of employees. Apart from a projector breaking down, the second biggest nightmare of a movie theater is running out of popcorn.

As a manager, I'd often have to bark at my employees to keep the popper running while we were busy. It make take a few minutes to get the next batch of popcorn going, but it'd take a whole lot more time appeasing customers if we ran out of popcorn.

However, when we weren't busy, we'd only use one popcorn popper. Sometimes, we'd make a bunch of popcorn in the morning, and wouldn't need to pop any more until the late afternoon or evening. We didn't keep the popcorn machines running just because we could--just because we owned them.

Back to me and my nature as a popcorn popper. I am officially contracted my my province's office of education, who in turn assigned me to Geoje. The Geoje office has assigned me to three main schools, which I travel to on alternating days of the week. During the vacation times, I'm still contracted to work even though the Korean teachers are free and clear. Last winter I had some frustrations with the system, but all in all it worked out okay. I did some traveling around Korea on my week of vacation, and taught half-day English camps around Geoje.

For the summer, my Monday-Wednesday-Friday school starts vacation a week earlier than my other two schools. So I was happy, I thought, wow three day off there. Then, I found out that Tuesday that week is a national holiday--no Tuesday school. So, I had one school left. I worked things out with that school, and they said it would be okay for me to miss that day. Its the last day of classes before vacation, and there wasn't going to be any serious lessons anyway. Last semester on that last day of class, an hour after someone was supposed to pick me up, they said I didn't have to come to school.

So, I had chipped away a week of unofficial vacation where two of my schools were still in session, but I didn't need to go. My mom and brother were dying for a trip to Asia. So we planned the Japan leg of our trip for that week.

Then, last evening, I went to a meeting at the Geoje Office of Education. I met the other American English teacher on the island and we were ushered into different rooms from our co-teachers. While we discussed plans for this English camp in a few weeks, my handlers discussed (without me present) what I will do for the rest of the summer vacation time. Then, I found out second hand (later confirmed) that they had taken away my unofficial vacation. They found about my free time, so assigned me to other schools for those days.

I am a popcorn maker. Since they have me, they will make me make popcorn whether they need the popcorn or not. The plan is that I will go to these schools for extra days that week. So, during that last week of school before summer vacation--where very little learning happens anyway, I am supposed to show up and do what?

In my case, as with most labor contracts in Korea (and the rest of the world I assume) all of the flexibility lies with the employer and none with the employee. I have no choice whatsoever about anything. My handlers see in the contract that I am only promised "seven working days of vacation in the summer", so they feel obliged to make sure that I only have seven working days of vacation.

As I have pointed out many times, without the standards, objectives, and assessment that are cornerstones to an educational process, the idea of having a native speaker come to a class is just entertainment--a novelty. This is especially so, if these are unplanned, non-routine days I'm expected to teach.

If a teacher in American has a day off because their particular school is closed, are they required to travel to a different school to teach there? No they aren't. Neither are Korean teachers.

The question must be asked, "Just because they can contractually force me to work, does that mean that they should, or need me to?"


  1. i can totally identify with your frustration over this since we are working on the same contract... have you tried reasoning with them? they can be very accommodating if you're nice. tell them that you had already been told that you'd have time off and have planned a trip for that week with your family (that's the important part, since family is so important to koreans). tell them that it seems silly to go to a new school in the last week of the semester when the kids won't really have an opportunity to get to know you... since korean kids need time to be comfortable speaking with a foreigner... reason with them... if that doesn't work, threaten them that it is a reason to not renew (if you're renewing) your contract... there IS a way around it... best of luck!

  2. Thanks for the advice. I know you've had your fair share of frustrations. I stood my ground, and they backed down. So, I have my week in Japan. I still have to teach that English camp though, but I can deal with that.

    That point about kids needing time to get familiar with speaking to foreigners is a good point. Every camp I do, I have to take at least an hour just to get the kids to understand any words I say--they are so used to Konglish, and Korean pronunciation of English.


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