I was pretty excited as soon as I arrived in the land of Pho-Vietnam. I remember when I travelled to Saigon four years ago and wondered if Hanoi would be the same. Would it have the French style cafes shaded with clipped trees? Would locals laze outside and watch the world go by while they sip their intense coffee with condensed milk? Would people dine with French bread, a side salad of basil, mint, lime and a dash of chilli coupled with a nice steaming soup of rice pho? Would the streets be flooded with mad motorcycles running down every local to the ground?
Hanoi was that and more.
Hanoi was bad ass. It was the capital and cultural hub of Vietnam. It was the communist side during the Vietnam War, the land of the Viet Cong till they took over and reunited the whole country. There were more French style architecture, Chinese style pagodas and lots of museums to visit to your heart’s content. Being closer to China meant more of a Chinese influence and it was less Southeast Asiany than its Southern counterpart – Saigon.
I got hired as a high school Business teacher in a school here. I was excited at the prospect of teaching something new, a field I learned so much in a short period, a field I was pumped to continue studying in. I was given the assumption that I would have 2-3 subjects in Business. I hadn’t taught high school before but was assured by the school staff that everything would be fine. Peachy keen.
It was not.
My first week they dropped the bomb I would teach five subjects at four different levels – 2 of which were in middle school. Middle school! I could’ve cried out loud. The last time I taught middle school was in China and I volunteered to teach children of migrant parents. I nearly got ripped apart by those brats. Kids are all cute outside, sure. But once that illusion is over, they turn into the most cunning monsters. They lie. They cheat. They try to deceive you and are often pushing their boundaries.
I protested that as a new teacher I couldn’t handle that many subjects. I was again assured that this was fine. I pointed out that I was promised I would be teaching mostly high school since that was what I was used to experience in China. Again, more assurances.
Later, the staff returned with sweet smiles and said they’ve considered my request and
have deducted one subject from my work load. I sighed in relief. When I looked at my subjects list, my heart dropped.
“Where are my business subjects? I thought I was hired as a business teacher. There’s only one.”
More sweet smiles. Surprise! You’re now teaching ESL.
Perhaps I didn’t do enough research on how schools were like in Vietnam. The myriads of taxi scams should have been a dead giveaway. They lure you with false promises into that country. I realized later it was customary to draw teachers in with honeyed hopes only to trap them in a vicious tight spider web. That they should learn to gulp, resign and take what they can get is a necessity to survive in this country.
I couldn’t stand it.
This is the way we do thing. Bullshit. I hold people to what they promised at the beginning. How can institutions be trusted when they lie upfront and then say, “Oh, it’s how things work?”
So if I buy a product from a seller and was assured it would work, it should work. Not when I return a dysfunctional product only to have the seller give it back to me all smiles and say, “So I lied. It’s broken, actually. This is how things work.”
Welcome to China.
Thankfully my experience with schools in China weren’t like that.
I later learned the school I was in was one of the worst in Vietnam. That they are nothing but a 100% for profit school that even accepts students from the mafia. Their enrolment was down currently because a student drowned in their pool since no one was watching the kids. This for profit school is so stingy with their facilities that teachers get a limited stack of A4 paper to print and they have to bring their own markers and whiteboard erasers because classrooms don’t have them while charging students a big tuition. Classes were also wrongly re-assessed and given the wrong textbooks. Teachers and staff were overburdened with too much work. Also, they fire teachers at the parents’ whim – again a for profit strategy. There’s a malfunction in the product? Destroy the product. Customer satisfaction guaranteed. They recently fired a good teacher because only one parent complained. The school did not even defend her.
I couldn’t stomach working for such a school.
They also pile heaps and heaps of bullshit on teachers till it’s beginning to reek worse than a dumping site. Not only do teachers have to juggle five to six preps, they have to prepare all lessons plans (in immaculate detail) and create weekly report for all their classes – including comments. All updated into the system every week. They are also required to attend every Monday assembly and listen with blank confused glassy stares while the principal drones on and drones on in Vietnamese and not one of us can understand it. Oh, there are also clubs, detention duty, extracurricular activities, two-three weekly coordinator meetings, one weekly staff meeting, parent teacher meetings, homeroom classes. Did I mention breathing is optional?
On top of it, I was added two more subjects (six subjects now!), warned that I might have one less Teaching Assistant as well as struggling seriously hard with teaching the kids. Not only did I have low level classes with behavioural problems, I was also teaching the worst class in all of the school. I was ill equipped – training wise. I could’ve tried my darnedest best but my heart wasn’t in it.
To put it simply, I don’t like kids.
Because of them, I did not just have one but several breakdowns during my first month in the most horrible school I’ve ever taught in my career. Shouting fruitlessly at 8th graders while they run around the classroom, all I could do was look at the ceiling and thought how much I hated my life at that very second. Each day was another day in the PolPot Regime School. It was worse than not getting a job in Japan or Australia. Worse than being broke. Worse than my months long depression in Chile. I was at the lowest point of my life and I don’t know if I could truly recover from it.
I realized that I did not want another day of this. That I did not want my career path to be teaching kids. That I am learning nothing. I am working towards nothing. My happiness will amount to nothing the more I slave at the Gulag mines. My relationships would become nothing the longer I neglect them. My time meant nothing when I spend most of it prepping and doing bullshit after bullshit work. That this sizeable amount of money was sucking away the very marrow of my soul till I am nothing but a shadow of a self.
The turning point came when we had a rehearsal assembly scheduled in the afternoon. All teachers must attend. We got an email saying it was cancelled. Hours later, my coordinator informed me in class that it was back on again but neglected to say if teachers still had to attend. I wanted to catch up on my ton of work so I didn’t go – not my fault I wasn’t duly informed.
The staff was mad. Mad that I did not stand in the shade on my ass for an hour doing absolutely nothing while students march around. Excuse me while doing some work of value than be present for presentation’s sake.
Now admin was on my case.
I knew then it was time to leave not knowing that the staff had other plans in mind, that they never intend for me to leave.
To be continued. Coming up next is the confrontation
A Year of Change Series