Writing this on my very last day working for this company, from the back of my darkened, windowless classroom, wondering if I’m being watched on CCTV even during my so-called ‘prep’ time. On Fridays I come to work at 2pm and don’t start working until 7pm. I then teach my three-hour class and bounce. I would like to say that over the last twelve weeks I have achieved a lot during my five-hour periods of desk-warming AKA wasting my godforsaken time but mostly I have tried to sneak out of the building without being caught, extended how much time I spend in the bathroom, eaten full meals anywhere I won’t get told off for eating and edited a LOT of photos on Lightroom. Oh, and planned every last detail of my post-work domestic holiday. Actually, my biggest achievement to date during these 5 hour slots has been me interviewing for the University of Arts London in an empty classroom maybe 30 minutes before my 7pm class and SMASHING IT!!! The Wifi was poor so my interviewer was frozen on the screen for the vast majority of the Zoom call. I just pretended like I could see him because I didn’t want to jeopardise my chances of being accepted in any way. Then he offered me a place on the Master’s course at the very end of the interview. I teared up as I thanked him and after I closed my laptop, I jumped for joy, wondered if I was being watched on the CCTV and then ate a big slice of celebratory chocolate cake I’d previously bought for myself JUST IN CASE the interview was successful. For the next week I wondered if someone would come and speak to me about it but they never did.
Monday to Friday, and sometimes on Sunday too, I live in a constant state of anxiety and fear. Since being threatened with termination in December, it has been made clear to me that I, and I in particular, have been watched very closely by my branch manager. And my head instructor. And the headteacher.
I’ve had problems with my branch manager about a lot of things. One of them was wanting to take a 30 minute break from work, as laid out in the contract. I was first accused by a Korean teacher of leaving my classroom during prep time for a very specific amount of time (because they were watching me on CCTV) even though I had literally entered my classroom and had not left except to go and fill up my water bottle for approximately 2 minutes. I argued my case, told the person accusing me to check the CCTV again because I had done nothing wrong, then was told to take it up with the BM and when I did I should watch the way I speak to her. As if I’d been rude or out of line for defending myself against false accusations. I cited the contract and everything, showing where it clearly stated that if we work for more than 4 hours, we are entitled to a 30-minute break which is not part of working hours. The BM told me I could take a 20-minute break but no more and that my understanding of the contract was wrong. She also told me that us teachers were actually supposed to start work at 1pm but she graciously allowed us to come in at 2pm so technically our official one-hour break in our nine-hour working day started BEFORE I ever came in to work. This was news to me! This was also illegal, I’m sure. Nowhere on paper, in an email, ANYWHERE, did it state that my official working hours were 1-10pm. The contract even said I am contracted to work eight hours a day. Can you imagine. The gaslighting, the pushing for us to accept our lowly positions and pay and shitty treatment has sucked the life out of me.
Initially I was threatened with being fired because I wasn’t putting enough effort into Zoom lessons, which I’ll never deny. I was an empty shell between November and January. Those three-hour Zoom lessons…I’ve blocked most of it from my memory, honestly. Kids just fucking around, watching movies and playing games the whole time, the WORST curriculum I have ever taught (13 weeks discussing Richard Branson’s and Bill Gates’ entire lives via their boring autobiographies to kids who have never even heard of Virgin, pushing the capitalist agenda onto these children of Samsung employee parents by lauding the achievements of white male billionaires UGH) and me having to pretend to be enthusiastic about all of this. Oh, plus a rapidly decreasing quality of eyesight from staring so intensely at the laptop for six hours a day for work and maybe five hours a day for pleasure. A shitshow. I won’t go into detail about how I messed up but let’s just say it involved eating and not watching students make projects in their Zoom Breakout Rooms. My BM flung my classroom door open two days before Christmas and shouted at me for not watching the kids more closely during their project time. I didn’t even know we had to watch them the whole time – maybe I’d been told but had forgotten. Either way I didn’t care. But I tried to tell her that I didn’t know that I was doing something wrong and she turned around and walked out on me mid-sentence. Two days later was Christmas. Got my one day off. Spent the whole Christmas period simmering with anxiety and rage. The next week I received an official warning and was told to step up and prove myself to the company (lol). I was also told I could eat during class but only small snacks. So I did. And a few days later I was warned by my head instructor that the BM was ready to fire me.
The reasons were: eating in class (as I was clearly informed by my headteacher that I could do), using my phone in class (all the teachers did this but apparently the BM didn’t like the way I was sitting while I did it) and not uploading Zoom recordings on time (fair). I asked my headteacher to back me up about the eating thing and he refused to acknowledge what he’d told me, instead telling me that the 5 minute breaks I get every hour provided plenty of time for me to eat, even though he had told me just a few days earlier that he knew the 5 minute breaks weren’t a lot of time to eat in so snacking in class would be fine. LOL. From that point on I couldn’t use my phone or eat in class while all the other teachers could. I made mistakes and was punished like I’d done horrible things on purpose. I was told that the BM would watch me very closely from that point on and she has lived up to that warning!
I tiptoe around this place with my head swarming with paranoia. It’s gross. I don’t enjoy this working environment in the slightest. Since that awful winter term, I’ve been told off by my BM for eating in the kitchen during my BREAKTIME because she immediately assumed I’d left in the middle of a physical class to go and eat. She didn’t apologise for her mistake. I’ve been told by another Korean staff member, a DICKHEAD through and through, to “start class” while I’m still on my motherfucking break, which I told her but it came across as a whimper. She did not apologise either. I’ve also had a myriad of problems with a depraved, torturous test prep class that I was assigned to because it would “lighten my load”. It is definitely easy but only because the entire class structure is
7:05 - 7:20: students take a vocab quiz (they have to study over 60 difficult English words and only 20 come up)
7:20 - 7:30: go through answers and check homework (they have homework on top of their vocab quiz revision)
7:30 - 8:00: do listening/reading practice (the listening passages are usually 7 minutes long and it’s just some professor talking his head off about the Victorian Great Chain of Being or something equally boring and confusing for a 12 year old Korean student that they then answer 6 questions on then it’s on to the next one, without pausing)
8:00 - 8:05: a blessed break
8:05 - 9:00: more listening/reading practice. No breaks. Just circle answers, check answers
9:00 - 9:05: thank god, another break
9:05 - 10:00: speaking/writing practice
Obviously I tried to spice up this soul-crushing structure in the first couple of weeks of the term, ploughing through work, skipping unnecessary excessive questions then playing games for 20 minutes at the end. A parent complained that too many games were being played and their child needed to work more and that was that. One complaint led to eleven weeks of misery for me and every single student in that class. I was told that I would be observed by three different senior teachers in every class over a period of two weeks. The first time I was observed, I did it the way the school wanted it, lifelessly, and was then told at the end that I’d done it perfectly. I was shocked. The students had been disengaged, I’d been trying too hard to get them to answer me and plenty of them were just guessing. That is how it has been ever since.
I also received a bollocking from my BM about the games complaint – one that I was not prepared for at all. I sat in her office with her and my headteacher and she just started shouting accusations at me. Every time I spoke she cut me off so I just stayed quiet. My headteacher was more reasonable and tried to talk to me as opposed to shouting but it was too late. I was shaking all over, jaw wobbling like a baby and my eyes were wet and hot. I really tried to resist but the tears inevitably started spilling. My BM barely blinked but she did soften her voice a little. I’m tearing up just typing this, god! It was truly traumatic. Worse than the tears just spilling, I started to audibly sob. The last time I’d cried like that was after I’d been cruelly dumped and disrespected and I could feel my mind just darkening in that office. The kind of tears that are brought on by humiliation and rage hit different! My headteacher, a man, was visibly panicking as I became more distressed. He was pleading with me to stop crying and eventually even my BM told me, gently, to stop. They said no games in any of your classes ever again, not even a riddle to break up the monotony of listening practices, as I’d been specifically advised to do by another teacher, and did I have anything else I wanted to say and I gulped up the word ‘no’, then escaped to the bathroom where I spent fifteen minutes gasping and trying to make myself look and feel normal again. Jesu!!! What a time that was. I had already resigned before that disaster but all I’ve done since is nod my head every time I’m given unwanted advice about how to improve my teaching in the worst class on planet earth and swear under my breath. I feel scared every time I have to ask for permission from any of the senior staff and I mostly just text my BM, only if I HAVE to speak to her, because I simply cannot look her in the eye any more.
I hope one day I’ll read all of this back and laugh but it will be a long time before/if that day ever comes. I’ve really been through it mentally over these past few months. Being abandoned by someone who untruthfully told me they would love me until they died, being treated heartlessly in the workplace, losing my strong and peaceful grandma to a disease that made her so weak, reading the news just to find out how undeserving people are dying from viruses or war or police brutality, being so far from family and beloved friends during a time like this…it has been unbearable at times. Life is so rough and unrelenting at times. So I’m alleviating my suffering by choosing new problems. I will worry about money and spending again if it means I don’t have to feel my nerves shredding from a constantly pulsating feeling of anxiety throughout my body. 23 is too young to be sad like this. I can be sad but not like THIS! Join my one-man revolution, friends, choose joy and deflect stress with me. You deserve nothing less.
P.S. I didn't even mention the fact that I had 7 days off work in 9 months but had to make up 3 of those days on Saturdays and even tested my students on the national holiday, 'Children's Day' or that on my final day at work I was told I would need to evacuate my apartment on the very next day even though the contract says I have two days to vacate. My headteacher even looked me in the eye in front of the branch manager and asked me several times "did nobody tell you you had to leave on Saturday?" knowing full well HE had forgotten to tell me to leave on Saturday. Which, even if he'd given me notice about, I would've declined seeing as the contract said TWO days. My very last day, I got shouted at by my boss because of someone else's mistake. I received an apology from the headteacher later but what a way for him/them to spoil my already rotten ending at that place.