Never have I received so much teacher swag as I do here in South Korea. Candy, Starbucks, Elizabeth Arden, pancake tacos full of sweet cream, some stinkbutt fancy perfume. My boss buys me dinner at least once a week. (Not alone, he treats everyone who’s there working late. Nothing inappropriate.) My apartment, plane tickets and furniture are part of my employment contract. I’ve worked at American schools, private and public. At most, we got dinner once a year at the Christmas party. Teaching in Taiwan came with the occasional teacher gift, but nothing to this level. Certainly no school children bowing to me in the streets. My situation may be particular to hakwon teaching. A woman I met who teaches at a public middle school says she gets is the occasional offer of a sweaty handful of chips, (“Teacher, for you?”) which she politely declines. It could be that my school is brand new, just opened. The parents are eager to kiss up. The director is rumored to be wealthy. But even my most stubborn, least excited to be at English class little stinker brings me tiny boxes of coffee nearly every class. (He also likes to yell, “Teacher, I have a present for you!” and toss his socks at me. Adorable!)
I get the tiny handwritten love notes too, cutely folded and shyly presented. I used to get those in the States as well. Somewhere in storage, I’ve got a box full of them. But in America, that’s all I ever got. That’s what American teachers are expected to live on, the occasional happy feels. Certainly not daily coffee, Duty Free cosmetics, candy, chocolate, fruit smoothies, cake, furniture, dinner, plane tickets or adequate salaries. Actually, looking for perks as a teacher in America sort of earns you the reputation as an unrealistic greedy money grubber. You’re supposed to do it just for love. (Money? I guess you hate children.)
Do I sound bitter? Duh! I am!
No wonder I couldn’t cut it as a public school teacher in my home country. I wanted to get paid and appreciated. Instead I found out about psycho parents and jerk-off administrators and lockdowns. The kids were good but there were too damn many of them. I’ll take the Asian model of education any day. Families spend piles of money on their kids’ education. Teachers are well-compensated and well-respected for our hard work. Students are expected to work hard, not just in English class, but every other subject. I’m sure there are drawbacks to this system, but they get sort of pale when compared to school shootings. I worked long hours back home too, but no principal ever took me out to dinner when I stayed at school working till nine.