Transitions commence new adventures. Make 'em last…
Sunchips, juice, and studying all day at work – this means that it’s winter vacation and no students are in sight. Well, why am I at school then? Don’t I have vacation too? Yes, I do, but only a limited amount of 1o consecutive days (re-contract bonus) + 20 work days. For my winter vacation I used my 10 consecutive-recontract-bonus-days and 8 work days, which gave me three weeks off when I was able to combine it with a national holiday. Thus, this leaves me 12 vacation work days this summer.
The Korean school schedule is a quite different than in the US and most other western countries I presume. First, the school year actually starts the first week of March and goes until the beginning of summer vacation, which usually begins during the last week of July. Summer vacation officially lasts a little less than one month, but for 2-3 weeks, students are usually involved in school sponsored science camps, English camps, art camps, etc. Each summer I must teach a 2-week English camp, so my summer vacation is normally limited to just over two weeks. This is much less than what normal US teachers would have, but combined with winter vacation, I know it’s much more than the average US & Korean salary worker. Second, the 2nd semester picks up during the 3rd or 4th week of August and goes until the end of December, when students are then given about a 5-week winter vacation; however, most students attend various school-sponsored academic camps for 2-3 weeks, one of which is a my 2-week English camp that I must also prepare and facilitate. The part that is most bizarre is that after this 5-week break, school resumes at the beginning of February for only just two weeks and then students are given another two weeks off before the start of the new school year at the beginning of March. These two weeks before the start of the school year I facetiously call “Deskwarming Days.”
Deskwarming Days, you say? Yes, ‘deskwarming’ is a term I learned from my other native-english-teaching colleagues as to describe exactly what it is: warming a desk. Given that we native English teachers are given a limited number of vacation days (20 for new teachers, 30 for teachers who re-contract with same school) and the fact that most are contracted to teach up to 2 weeks of winter camp and 2 weeks of summer camp, this leaves a window of at least 2 weeks of ‘deskwarming’. Urban Dictionary defines it as “a principal delight of ESL teachers in Korean public schools, where they spend vast amounts of time at their desks, with no particular assignments or tasks to complete.” I wouldn’t necessarily call it a ‘delight’ as I still have to come to school and merely deskwarm, and I wouldn’t necessarily say that I don’t have any tasks to complete, but I would agree that vast amounts of time is spent at my desk with nothing pressing to do. Deskwarming has been apart of Korean public native English teacher’s life since the inception of the ‘English Boom’ in South Korea in mid 1990’s when thousands of schools around the country began recruiting English teachers from select English-speaking countries. One would think that South Korea would pick up on this fact that many teachers spend 2-4 weeks a year simply deskwarming, and could allow them more vacation time like what is given to regular Korean teachers. Instead, what has happened is that public native English teachers have had their vacation times cut year to year. For instance, when I first started back in 2010, I was given 25 vacation days (2o + 5 bonus days for teaching at a rural school). When I re-contracted in 2011, I was given a total of 39 vacation days (25 work days + 14 consecutive re-contract bonus days). However, what soon happened was that summer and winter vacations were shortened by at least a week to allow for more school days, and cutting vacation time in subsequent contracts soon transpired. However, with at least two weeks of deskwarming I now have each year, I’ve found that cutting vacation times in contracts is unnecessary. In spite of this, I don’t have much of a complaint. Like I explained before, I have much more time off than the average salary worker in Korea, which I’ve observed to be only 1 or 2 weeks, and those that live here would know that many Koreans hardly use any or all their vacation for fear of being a burden to their company and/or losing out on vital face-time with their bosses. Some Korean friends of mine even feel guilty for taking a vacation – a much different attitude than my colleagues in the West.
Deskwarming does have its benefits. I’m not one to surf the internet for very long or be unproductive, but rather I choose to keep myself busy writing, blogging, preparing curriculum, doing taxes, reading, researching, studying, artwork, hiking, and chatting with other teachers. Sure, preparing curriculum for the entire year would seem like it would take the entire two weeks, but in reality, the teachers that re-contract pretty much already have the material they need for the year, and spending time on curriculum development and research is not very necessary. However, I continually try to challenge myself by trying and preparing some new material in hopes that I can ascertain a different and/or better way of presenting and teaching English concepts.
This year’s deskwarming time has been a blessing. I recently started my online masters degree in Applied Linguistics & English Language Teaching with the University of Nottingham, and so I’ve been quite busy trying to keep up with all the reading and studying necessary to do well in my first hardcore class. Deskwarming time has surely been put to good use and I have no complaints. However, like all my english-teaching colleagues, I am sure to be shocked back into teaching when the new school year starts again next week. Good luck, everyone!