A Mean Teacher

Korean P.O.V. – Bad Teacher

A version of this short, non-fiction narrative is included in the book, “Eating Kimchi and Nodding Politely.”


I’d sometimes hear, “I didn’t plan to be a teacher.”

I’d say something like “Neither did I.” If I were drinking I’d give a low grunt in response instead. Either way the meaning was clear. My default response to a statement I had heard often in South Korea was that I understood.

In New York I tutored university students in English and speech, and liked it, but I never saw myself in front of a classroom, teaching anything. After having finished two weeks of training, however, I was there, in front of a classroom, teaching English. It was a disaster.

The main issue was that the training didn’t train me in the classes I was supposed to teach. I stumbled over curriculum, as well as cultural differences, and age differences. What embarrassed me most was that the kids could tell I didn’t know what I was doing – they can always tell. A few of them actually asked to leave my class. The growing number of empty chairs filled my room during my first two weeks.

Like all problems in life, though, it was resolved.

After a month or two I had gotten accustomed to almost everything. Kimchi was delicious, and the lessons plans I was being told to follow made sense – I had unknotted the mess of cartoons and essay questions through trial and error. Many of my students spoke near fluent English, and the staff of my private academy where all pretty-to-beautiful Korean women who were very helpful.

Although I didn’t plan to be a teacher, I’ve worked out a nice little grove. The walk to my job is fifteen minutes. On the way I wave at the kids who yell out “Hi Alex Teacher,” as well as random Korea kids who just smile at someone different. Getting to my classroom I sit next to a stack of previously made photocopies, ready to teach and babysit.

A few weeks ago I had finished half of that process when I saw a print out of my name near the front entrance of the academy’s office. “Alex” was surrounded by some Korean words that told me nothing, other than how ignorant I was of the country I lived in. I was a little puzzled.


Hey there… So, this story’s not all here anymore. The full version of this short non-fiction narrative is included in my book, “Eating Kimchi and Nodding Politely.”

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