Wednesday afternoon the principal arrived in our staffroom, unannounced. Everyone jumped to their feet (as we all do whenever the principal enters the room) and there was a mad scramble to switch from online shopping and Facebook to more weighty matters before he could catch a glimpse of our computer screens.
He smiled and told us all to sit down but nobody dared while he was still standing. Three teachers rushed over to make him tea while the rest of us hovered above our chairs awkwardly and looked at each other surreptitiously. What did he want?
Finally he sat down, was served tea (in the fanciest china cup our modest collection had to offer), and we all seated ourselves facing him.
On Friday, he told us in between sips of tea, we would be conducting interviews. He had decided the current after-school English lesson provider was not living up to his expectations and had hired a new company. This company was sending over a number of teachers to be interviewed.
Why the first company had been disappointing was not clear, nor was the reason for the interviews. Surely the company had interviewed these teachers already? I also hadn’t thought that we had anything to do with the after-school programs. Our school has a lot of after-school programs – students can learn anything from English and Chinese to trumpet playing, Lego building and cake decorating. I had assumed that the companies merely rented space from the school. Apparently not.
The principal then lectured us for about half an hour on the need to hire “good” teachers. I’m not entirely sure what he said as the co-teacher who was translating for me simply repeated “He says… we hire good teachers. Very important… good teachers.”
Suddenly all eyes were on me.
“The principal,” my translator said, bowing respectfully towards the principal. “He says you… interview… big role! You star of the interviews!”
“Oh!” I replied, startled. “What exactly does that mean?”
But everyone simply smiled at me. One teacher gave me the thumbs up. I smiled weakly.
Friday rolled around without anyone mentioning the interviews again. I typed up a list of potential interview questions just in case. Who knew what I would be doing? Best be prepared for anything.
I walked into the room where the interviews were to be held to discover that there would be a panel of ten people conducting the interview. All of the school English teachers, a Grade 2 teacher, one of the secretaries, the vice-principal and the principal. I felt a bit nervous for the candidates.
The candidates had been given half an hour to prepare a lesson on the topic of “I can play baseball.” (It’s a lesson from the Grade 3 textbook that teaches I can and I can’t.) They were then to come in, one by one and teach about 10 minutes of their lesson. We had a copy of each of their lesson plans and they were to be marked on the lesson plan, their teaching and then finally the interview.
“Carrie-teacher, you sit there,” my principal instructed, pointing to a chair at the front of the classroom.
“He wants them to be surprised by you!” one of my co-teachers whispered.
One by one, they came and taught. Each and every one of them was visibly startled to see me.
Each and everyone of them also started off with a strange two-handed wave and “Hello everyone! How are you? How’s the weather today?” uttered in a fake cheerful voice. Why do Koreans think that English people wave all the time? Everyone always waves at me, and I find myself waving at the students at the beginning and end of class because that’s what they expect me to do. Why is that? It’s weird and unnatural, and yet I don’t want to insult anyone by not waving back. It’s a vicious circle.
And then they all began speaking Korean. Most of them reverted to English for the target sentences thankfully. But the majority of the 10 minute lessons were entirely in Korean.
I had been given a complicated chart which I was supposed to use to score each candidate but if I didn’t know what they were saying, how was I meant to mark them?
After the teaching segment, the candidates were invited back to the main room. We had rearranged the desks so that our panel sat facing all of the candidates, like we were about to have a debate.
My list of questions had been cut up and placed in an envelope. One by one, the candidates drew a question and answered it. I had assumed that all the candidates would be asked the same question but each person only answered one question.
I thought that my questions were fairly straightforward. They were pretty standard interview questions. Apparently not in Korea. Questions like “What strengths do you have that make you a good teacher?” flummoxed them. I guess being a member of a group society makes it difficult to point out your individuality.
Another cultural question was “What will you do to maximize student participation in your class?” I expected answers involving reward systems, praise and games.
“They will participate or they will fail.”
“Oh. I see. Thank you.”
Once we were done, all of our papers were collected and we returned to the staffroom. I have absolutely no idea who will be hired. I guess I’ll find out when I see them in the hallway next semester! 😀