Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Being sick and actually having a sympathetic and understanding co-teacher . . . somebody pinch me!!!

I decided to stay home yesterday and today cause my cough was still pretty bad, and my voice was at maybe 40% of its natural power--when you lose your voice teaching English in Korea pretty much becomes mission impossible . . .

My co-teacher was amazingly understanding and sympathetic when I called her to say I was taking a sick day--and then again when I called to take another, wow! I think part of this was due to my coming to do the school promotional video on Saturday for no overtime pay and doing a good job when I was coughing and hacking and obviously not feeling well . . . the Brownie points, or should I say Scout points?, that I earned from this probably helped to a degree but I think it boils down to she's just an awesome co-teacher in general--and I'm freaking lucky to be paired up with her because not all the co-teachers I teach with would be as understanding. When I consider all the co-teachers I've taught with during the 3+ years of experience I've had, and am doing now, in the public system I am in awe of how lucky I am . . . seriously, it's like winning a lotto ticket.

On Saturday while my co-teacher and I were waiting for the camera crew to set up we chatted a bit about the cultural differences in work culture and staying home when you're sick; she sees the 'common sense' (according to western cultural logic and norms) in staying home, resting, and recovering faster when you're sick with the added bonus of not infecting co-workers and thereby reducing productivity even more . . . but she also understands and practices the Korean cultural norm of going to work when you're sick because that's 'common sense' from the Korean point of view.

Going to work when you're sick does make sense if you unpack some of the reasons behind it for school work culture in Korea. If you don't go to work in a school someone has to cover your classes. In a culure that doesn't seem to have a pool of substitute teachers to cover the sick teacher's classes the absence of the teacher is a major problem for the school and staff.

Add to the mix that test preparation and test points are more important than anything else (for the most part) and not coming in to teach and prep students for tests and to cover material is seen as shirking your duties--abandoning your post so to speak. And in a culture where the vast majority of men do military service I'm sure that this has to be embedded within the school work culture too.

Another thing is that the lesson plans foreign English teachers use generally require an understanding of communicative style language teaching that unfortunately the majority of Korean English teachers do not possess (though this is slowly changing). They might have a copy of the lesson plan, and may even have seen you teach it a few times already during the week's classes . . . but this doesn't mean they feel confident in knowing all of the classroom English commands/instructions/questions/expressions needed to teach the lesson IN ENGLISH, and when you add to this that many Korean Engish teachers lack the native teacher's innate awareness of how to run the lesson and each stage of it you can begin to see why they get upset. I think this is a big part of why Korean co-teachers generally get upset when the native teacher takes a sick day--native teachers think, "What's the problem? We've taught this lesson together 3 times already this week, and you have a copy of the lesson plan and materials...."--while the Korean teacher might be thinking, "Oh god! My English is poor and the students will be comparing my English speaking and teaching style to the native English teachers . . . and I don't understand why the native teacher does this and says that . .. " etc etc etc. There's a lot more going on with this particular situation and the multiple points of view but that's all I'm going to write about it for now.

I'm sure I could go on to unpack even more reasons but I'm going to let it rest with those. I'm still not feeling well and would like to take a 3rd sick day but I'm going to go in and see how it goes. If my voice disappears after teaching 2 or 3 classes then I'll reassess that decision, and because I showed up I think if I decide to go home due to losing my voice and still feeling crappy my co-teachers will 'understand my situation' (wow, how fun is it to use that expression and not be hearing it said to me, lol) and not be upset with me.

Being sick in Korea with no cable TV or Internet in my apartment (immigration is still processing my new alien registration card) has really sucked. I've been watching season 4 of "The Unit" to pass the time but miss being able to surf the Net, and blog if I have the energy. I'm hoping that I'll get my new alien card this week and soon after that Internet . . .

Anyways, as fun as being in a PC Bang (Internet Cafe) is it's time to head back to my apartment and rest . . . oh, and watch more episodes of The Unit--hoo-ah!



Diana E. said...

Hope you feel better soon!

And remember to bring your co-teachers a small present when you return, like a coffee drink or yogurt. It's a nice little custom here that lets them know you feel bad for making them cover you. :-)

Sounds like you lucked out on your new school!

Joe in Korea said...

It is good to see a little understanding of the Korean perspective. There really is no system of substitutes here and when one takes a day off for a sick day, havoc ensues.

I do get tired of reading comments from people who complain about the way things go down here when more often than not, the complainer shows little understanding of the other's point of view. Happens more with newbies, of course, but others that have been here for years and years and years still fall into the habit.

Having never taught in the public schools in Korea, my perspective his heavily skewed by all of the wonderful teachers I've taught in the TESOL program at my university; some of whom are there by choice, others not. I also have worked a lot more with the elementary school teachers, so they tend to be a bit more likely to try new approaches and are less weighed down by suneung prep.

You won't really see changes in the Korean high school English classes until the culture of systematic cramming ceases to exist,and I don't see that happening any time soon.

You seem lucky to have an understanding co-teacher.

Oh, one question. How many co-teachers does one typically have in one year? Do you change with the semester, the quarter, or at the whim of the school principal? If you have a good match, is there the option of staying with that person or are you to be spread around and shared like a good (or bad) pet?

I guess that's more than one question.

Anonymous said...

I hope you're feeling better by now, and that you will stay that way.

FDA approved vaccines against influenza A (H1N1) (1) which gives support for government plans to provide mass vaccination programs for H1N1 later this year.

Such plans are irrational and based on fear mongering and not on a "common sense and self control" policy (as proposed by Spanish physicians and other health professionals (2).

We strongly disagree with mass vaccination, which is based on several false assumptions.

The first assumption is that the H1N1 pandemic will mimic the Spanish flu of 1919. This is highly unlikely as the Spanish flu was a pandemic flu in a very poor world, with no public health systems, no tap-water and no antibiotics for complications.

In support of this the Spanish flu killed mainly poor people; for example, in India it killed soldiers (in warehouses, bad food, bad hygiene conditions) but not officers (good food, British style houses etc.).

The second assumption is that H1N1 flu is severe and deadly. There is substantial evidence that that is not the case and in fact the mortality rate from H1N1 flu is much less than seasonal flu (3).

The third assumption is that the vaccine will work. The immunologic response is not a guarantee that the vaccine will reduce severe infections and mortality. Demonstration of that benefit requires large RCTs (randomized controlled trials), which are lacking for both H1N1 vaccines as well as for seasonal flu vaccines.

The fourth assumption is that the H1N1 vaccine will provide similar immunity to the natural infection. Immunity to viral flu has a very interesting peculiarity that is known as the "original antigenic sin" (4). This concept means that the first flu virus we are exposed to generates the strongest immune response and that immunity lasts for over 50 years.

It explains the fact that people over 50 years of age appear to have some immunity to the H1N1 virus because a similar influenza A virus, circulated globally from 1918 to 1957. Thus it appears that natural infection creates immunity for 50 years at no cost as compared to influenza vaccines, which require one (or two) shots annually to achieve a lesser degree of immunity.

We therefore recommend that most if not all H1N1 vaccine be used as part of placebo controlled RCTs to establish whether the benefits outweigh the harms. Without such an approach, in September 2010 we will again be in a position of not knowing who to vaccinate. Similar RCTs are also badly needed for seasonal flu vaccine as the long-term effects of annual flu vaccination are unknown, and there is a good chance that the harms of annual flu vaccination as compared to no vaccination outweigh the benefits.

Juan Gérvas

Rural general practitioner, Canencia de la Sierra, Garganta de los Montes y El Cuadrón (Madrid), Spain

Visiting professor Primary Care, Dept. International Health, National School of Public Health, Madrid, Spain

Honorary professor Public Health, Dept. Public Health, Autonomous University, Madrid, Spain

Equipo CESCA, Travesía de la Playa 3, 28730 Buitrago del Lozoya, Madrid, Spain

James (Jim) M Wright
Dept. of Anesthesiology, Pharmacology & Therapeutics
2176 Health Sciences Mall
Vancouver, B.C. V6T 1Z3, Canada