Saturday, August 27, 2011

Back To School

When I left Korea, one of the hardest things for me to do was say goodbye to my students. Some of them were naughty so of course, I was relieved to never have to put up with those kids again. But the majority of them were really sweet children. I was so proud to have worked with them because I could see a large improvement in their English skills after just 6 months. But because Lane and I had to move to Qingdao, I had to leave my old job. Since I was over 4 months pregnant when we moved, there was little point in getting a job. I also wasn't sure if I wanted to stay home full-time or go back to work.

Recently, I was left with no choice. I'd have been a fool to turn down that kind of money. I was offered over 3 times what most Chinese people make in one month. How could I say no? Part of me wanted to because I really hate being apart from Raelynn. But the other part of me knew that if my husband went to work full-time, he'd never get paid this kind of money or get my kind of hours. We'd basically never see him for only a few thousand yuan a month. I did the math and realized if I do this now, we can send Raelynn to any school we want, we could move to a bigger home, we could travel back to America and do about 1,000 other things. So, I said yes to the job, even though I felt sick at the thought of letting MIL watch the baby.

To reduce my stress, my husband has been mostly sticking around the house to keep an eye on his mother. He's been applying for part-time tutoring jobs because for a little amount of time, he can make us some nice side cash and still get to be around Raelynn a lot. He's also been making improvements to the house, even more extensive than in my previous postings so stay tuned for an entire new post devoted to all my husband's fantastic home upgrades. It helps knowing he doesn't leave her alone with the baby for long while I am at work. Long enough for her to stupidly put the ugliest pants ever on Raelynn when it's too warm inside the house for her to be cold (these would be the horrible Chinese-style open crotch pants that she bought for her which, even if I didn't mind them, are too large at this time but she keeps pulling them off the shelf with the other large items that I have asked her not to use yet) on top of a cute onesie, pulled way up on her chest like Steve Urkel. This has happened twice. Twice too many times if you ask me. Lane has been warned that if it happens again, a certain pair of hideous pants will be going into the garbage bin.

So, aside from MIL using this as an opportunity to teach Raelynn how to dress as poorly as she does, how was my first week? Glad you asked! To be honest, at first I was a bit upset. The school, which is a Korean school in China, made some changes to things, none of which they mentioned to me during my interview or contract signing. They certainly neglected to mention this information to my friend Genesis who was the one who told me about the job in the first place. I found it more than annoying. I felt cheated. It made the stress of starting a new semester even more amplified. One of those things was the schedule. We are to be at work at 8:30am. We start teaching at 9am. Then, when the children have lunch at 11:50am, we have office hours the rest of the day. They wanted to make us teach another class in the afternoon, but not for OUR kids. Genesis has the six year-olds and I have the seven year-olds. They wanted us to each teach 45 minutes to Pre-K kids each day! Now, the salary might be great but if I was expected to take time from planning for my own kids to deal with children that are four years old, I just couldn't imagine that. None of this was mentioned when I interviewed or signed so I was a bit pissed. Fortunately, they listened to reason when Genesis and I sat down and had a meeting with them.

That meeting was actually hard to do. It was my second day there which was an orientation day. After a small meeting, Genesis showed me some more things around the kindergarten area and then, it was time for a lunch "mixer" as they called it. I have to say that I do like being at a Korean school here since I understand Korean culture. One part of their culture is they are all for one, meaning they like everyone to join in. At times, this is definitely annoying. But when you're getting to know people, it can be really nice. Another part of this is that they enjoy getting together to eat and drink. So this meant they hauled in 2 kegs of beer for this event. Drinking at the school already! Ha! I loved it! This is why the meeting was so hard. They held it AFTER Genesis and I had done our part to drain one of the kegs.

The meeting went well though and I was no longer completely upset about going to work there. But about going to work, there were still some issues about how I would get there each day. Getting to the orientation had proven challenging as in the mornings, it can be quite difficult, if not impossible, to hail a cab. On the first day of orientation, Lane came running down the street to help me after I'd been at it for 30 minutes without an available taxi in sight. The next day, Lane went out and brought a taxi back for me while I snuggled Raelynn some more. But for my first day, I couldn't be late. My husband planned a bus route for me and came along to help me learn the way. In some areas, it is even more challenging to get a taxi, and ours is one of them. His rationale was that if we took the bus closer to my job, we'd have a better time of getting a taxi. Or at very least, be able to get on another bus and keep going that way.

But Lane's plan was a massive fail even he couldn't have expected. The bus was so crowded and there were no taxis anywhere. By the time we got to the stop by school, I was late and I still had to run up the massive hilly street that lead to it. My first day wasn't too horrible, but I wasn't happy about it. I was trying to get to know my students while getting to know my Korean teacher and Chinese teacher for the class, not to mention learning how everything worked there. By the end of the day, I was so happy to go home. The good news was that catching a taxi by the school was very easy. I had nabbed one within a few minutes and was fast on my way home. Once there, I cried my eyes out while I held and fed my baby. And Lane held me and was my rock. He reminded me that I didn't have to do this forever and that if I hated it that much, that he would help me find another school in winter when the semester changes and schools look for teachers. He also had some good news that dared to make my experience much better.

After the ordeal trying to get to work, my husband could not bear for me to endure such a horrible commute to my new job. So, he spent all day making calls until he found a friend of the family who they occasionally hired to move furniture since he has a pickup truck. The friend agreed to drive me to work 5 days a week for 40 yuan a day, which is pretty good. We'd looked into hiring a private car but it was very expensive, even for such a short trip. Xiao Shi came at 7:30am the next day in his rickety farmer's market-style truck. I was just grateful for a steady ride to work. Not knowing when the bus will come or when you can get into a taxi is even more stressful because you could be waiting for a long time. Even though a taxi to work would cost about 26 yuan, to pay Xiao Shi 40 yuan is worth it because he's reliable transportation. He was good too. He bypassed all the congested roads which a taxi would never do, and the bus could never do since it has a route to stick to. On that second day of work, it was my first day riding with Xiao Shi. My husband insisted to come along to make sure he knew how to find the school. That meant that MIL came before I left for work, which was irksome but necessary. Since it is a pickup truck, there is only one passenger seat. Which meant Lane was riding in the back of the truck like the poor migrant working village folk though much cleaner and better dressed. The ride went so well that it was officially decided that Xiao Shi would be my daily lift. It was also decided that leaving at 7:30am got me there a little too early. 7:40am was much better.

And so was my second day. The children began to warm up to me some more and I felt more like I knew what to do with them. Every day, when I get to work at 8:30am, I have until 9am to get ready for class. The kids start coming in around 9am. Sometimes, the bus is late so I might only have 3 children out of my 15 and I ask them to take a book of their choosing and sit down until the others come. I talk to them about how they feel for a few minutes and then give them something to color. At 9:20am, it is snack time. The Chinese teacher comes and brings a snack for them (and for me). While she sets it up, I take them all to the bathroom and to wash their hands. They sing a cute snack time song and then eat. After snack time, I get them started working in our books. Before lunch time, I read them a story and they can write about it or act it out. I can give them playtime too, but since they were a little wild the first few days, I revoked it. By the end of the week, the children were good so I am looking forward to taking them in the big play room or even outside if the weather permits.

When lunch time hits at 11:50am, I take off for my office. I am supposed to eat with the children but as a breastfeeding mom, I must go pump my milk first. When I return to the room, the Chinese and Korean teachers have a tray of food waiting for me. This is one of the perks of my job. Genesis would disagree, but I am a huge fan of Korean food. It's not the best Korean food, mind you, but it's not the worst. There is usually rice and kimchi which I can get by on. Assuming it's horrible, there is a little store in the school where I could buy chips or cookies to hold me over until I went home. All I have to do is eat my food with the children. That doesn't take long and I usually get a chance to get to know Christine, my Korean teacher, and Jiao Laoshi, my Chinese teacher a little better.

By 12:30, I'm back in my office and so is Genesis. Since I'm new, she's been helping me learn where things are and what I'm supposed to do. We chat a bit too as we work on our own tasks. It's my favorite part of the day. We have the room to ourselves except for the occasional visit from one of the Korean or Chinese teachers that might need us or some supplies from our room. There's also the part-time guy who comes to teach the Pre-K class they were going to make us teach who stops in our office to get organized but he's never there more than 10 minutes. At 3pm, we have to return to our rooms to say goodbye to the children. I have to ask them about their day and we go over some things we learned. Then, I call my 3 best kids up to the front and give them hugs. They get to line up first by the door. The rest of the class comes up next to hug Teacher. This is definitely my favorite part of my time with my students. Even if they misbehaved in class and I punished them, they can't wait to get a hug. And I can't wait to give them one. I take them outside with the Korean and Chinese teachers and we put them on their school buses. And then, I am free to go home.

Going back to school is taking some getting used to but it's not all bad. I get to help make a difference in these children's lives while making a difference in my own. It was an exhausting week though I am hopeful that I will adjust to this schedule and be less pooped at the end of each day. Raelynn is also getting used to a new schedule which means that my sleep has been compromised severely. It's only natural that when I'm gone all day, she'll want all of my attention when I'm around. And even though I'm tired, I'm happy to give it to her because my job as her teacher will never be done and is my most important role of all.


  1. I know you'll be a great teacher — again. I know it's not easy but it can become fun. You have a good age group. How far do you live from the school? 40Y (about $6, right) sounds like a good deal - maybe you could ride in the back and wave at the people (like the queen). When you have time, please take pictures of your "taxi", your school, your fellow teachers, and the kids. Do they wear uniforms? (see my FB photo album page on China). It sounds like fun. I hope it is for you.

  2. Hi Ken! I live about 25-30 minutes from the school. 40 yuan sounds cheap when you convert it but remember, I am living over here now so I have to think in terms of yuan and not what it converts to. Maybe I will ride in the back like the queen though. That just sounds like something I'd do. Bow, peasants! Bwahahahaha!