Jeffrey Miller

A Writer's Life

Some days are just dreadful

It’s 8:35 and I am on my way to my first class.

I’ve got my iPod on and Johnny Thunders rocking my walk.

It’s only a 15-minute trek to school, but I have to zigzag up, across, up again and then over before I am on one of the main streets leading into university. It’s not what I would call a main street; it’s more like an alley that has become the main thoroughfare for students and taxis. Lots and lots of taxis.

Walking down one of these narrow streets with my book bag on my shoulder and carrying my CD/cassette player like a lunchbox in my right hand, I have to watch out for these taxis and other vehicles speeding down the street. Even though there is just enough room for them to negotiate past the cars parked on either side, speed seems of the essence.

I always walk on the side, but most of the students I pass seem to enjoy walking two, three, and sometimes four abreast down the middle of the road. They only move when a car comes up behind them and honks the horn, and then they don’t always move right away. In Daejeon, like everywhere else in Korea everyone has the right of way I guess when walking or driving down a narrow street.

This morning it’s a 90-minute freshmen English conversation class. Of the six classes I am teaching this semester, this class by far is my favorite and the most motivated.

Too bad the room I have to teach in sucks. The room is a long-rectangular shape with the 27 students I have in this class all crowded in the front. There are bars on the windows. That’s right, bars on the windows. Definitely adds to the ambiance of the classroom. The desks the students sit at look as though they are from the 60s or 70s. When the students try to slide them (students never want to get up and move a desk; takes too much work) across the floor to allow a student to pass the metal legs make a grating metallic sound.

Near the front of the classroom the floor is cluttered with cigarette butts, pieces of wire, and a layer of dust, dirt, and years of chalk dust. Obviously some workers were rewiring something underneath the blackboard (which is about to fall off the wall) and forgot to clean up. No, most workers never clean up a site. That is someone else’s job which means that person hasn’t gotten around to cleaning this room. So, as I stand at the front of the classroom and write on the blackboard (not too hard because it’s about ready to fall off the wall) I am standing in all this dirt and debris.

Most of the classrooms I teach in are cluttered with garbage, empty cans, bottles, rolled up tissue on the floor, dirt, empty bags of potato chips, cookies, and crackers. I always ask my students to police the area before they leave, but I guess some teachers are not that considerate of the next class. What’s even worse is the “smoking areas” for students in some of the buildings. A group of students will stand around a butt can and smoke and then spit into it.

It’s really bad in my afternoon class in the College of Design, which is next to “The Tower” where my worst class of the week awaits me at 3:00. These are culinary arts students, which I think is a real cool major because they spend their days cooking all kinds of food. However, when it comes to studying English, they are the worst students I have this semester. It’s probably not so much them as it is the dreadful book I have to use which is for ESL students in America. It is just not appropriate for students studying English in Korea, especially here in Daejeon. I wouldn’t even have used this book at Yonsei where the students are better at speaking English.

When I first found out that I was going to be teaching this class, one of the instructors who teaches these students exclusively told me that these students are the crème of the crop with speaking English (at least of all the students at the technical college). Maybe he’s been sampling the cookie dough too much because I haven’t found that to be the case. Of the 31 students I have in class I would say only a fourth of them can put a couple of sentences together. Most of the students utter one or two words. Some just sit there and stare off into space.

And to make matters worse and my job all that much harder more than half of the class has used the same book before. Someone sure screwed the pooch with textbook selection.

I get to this class a few minutes early and sure enough, the classroom is a mess. There is garbage everywhere—on the desks and scattered all over the floor. The students who were already there pay no attention to all this garbage; some though have pushed it aside so they could sit down.

You walk into a classroom like this with garbage, a shitty textbook, and a lot of unmotivated students and you are already drained before you even begin class.

My day is not over yet. There’s still my class for students who have failed their last English class and have to retake it. Again, the book sucks, (the book is heavy on communicative activities when a book teaching the basics would be more appropriate for students with low language skills) the classroom is a total disaster area (the worse one of the lot today) and the students are very weak. It’s a small class, which would be ideal for teaching English conversation, but the book is just not appropriate for their level (many cannot even read English). By 9:00 I am wiped out and ready to scream.

There are many differences between teaching in Seoul and here in Daejeon, including, but not limited to a lower salary and less vacation time, which are starting to bum me out. No matter how hectic and sometimes tiresome life was when I was teaching in Seoul, at least I was making enough money to enjoy a halfway decent quality of life and when I needed to get away, I could always check out of here every ten weeks. That is what used to make living here so sweet.

I just don’t have that here and don’t expect to have it for as long as I do end up staying here. I suppose if this was your first “real” teaching gig in Korea and not some shitty hogwan (language institute) you might think that you have reached the big time. Well, I have been in the big time and this is definitely not the big time. It’s no wonder then, not long after I arrived here and some instructors found out that I had taught at Yonsei, they asked me why I ended up here.

Now I know.

I knew it was not going to be the same, but when I was looking to get back to Korea and start my life all over again here, I had to take what I could get.

Yeah, some days are just dreadful and all my energy is being drained out of me.


  1. Ray and I were talking the other day about how we missed FLI. Does not matter where you land, the FLI will haunt you. That was a great place. Good students. Great teachers. Lot o fun. Now I just sit in my office most of the time, drinking Beam, looking at porn, growing my belly. well, not really except growing my belly.

  2. Jeffrey Miller

    May 9, 2007 at 10:31 am

    You’re definitely right about that JWG. And perhaps, if you were there for a longer period of time, it is going to haunt you more no matter where you go. Aside from the excellent teachers and students, many of us had packed in a lot of life in the time that we were there. Some of us got married; some of us lost loved ones. Others found that little peace of Korea and established roots and settled down. Through it all, at least for me from 1993-2006 it was the best time of my life because of the people I was fortunate enough to work along side of. What I really miss is coming into work in the morning and catching up on news, sports, and the latest gossip and rumors. Then there were all the times we shared ideas to help us be better teachers in the classroom. It was a win-win situation for all us teachers and the students we taught.

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