Friday, December 31, 1999

orientation... done!

[Originally published August 29, 2014.]

Whew. Long day. A buddy of mine asked me how my orientation went, and I told him about 60 to 70 percent of it could have been handled via email. But I did get to meet a bunch of good people; I certainly have nothing against the faculty. I also told my buddy our faculty is so huge (48 people, not 41 as I'd stated previously) that I had, at best, only a fleeting first impression of most of the people I met. No assholes stood out in the crowd. My overall impression of the group is that my fellow faculty members have their heads screwed on right, and there are no hagwon freaks among them. My two fellow newbies told me some horror stories about the universities they'd come from—the petty infighting, the pissed-off teachers exacting revenge by refusing to grade students properly, etc. I'm glad I never experienced such nastiness in my previous job, and Dongguk seems, at least on the surface, more or less dysfunction-free. I'll know more once I get to know my coworkers better, of course; the jury's still out.

The morning session of today's orientation was for us three newbies only; it ran from 11AM to 2PM, including an hour for lunch. We sat for an informative lecture about campus and departmental policies and procedures, then took a walking tour of the buildings in which we would be teaching. I was already familiar with every spot we visited because I've been coming to campus almost daily ever since I moved into the neighborhood; the walking tour held few surprises. I was intrigued, though, by some of the little navigational tricks our guide showed us re: how to go uphill by using certain elevators instead of constantly trudging up flight after flight of stairs. I was also intrigued by all the rooftop gardens; I'll be reconnoitering those for myself soon.

Lunch was in a faculty cafeteria; we sat down for a vegetarian buffet, but I availed myself of only a single plateful of food. Had I been dining alone, I'm sure I'd have managed to shovel three platefuls into my gullet, but since I was with polite company, I practiced a bit of Buddhist-style moderation. As I mentioned in previous posts, I'm not much for conversation when I'm in a group, so I didn't say much during lunch. One of my fellow newbies, chatty and extroverted, more than made up for my silence.

I had slept only about three hours last night, so I was fading away when the second part of the day began around 2PM. This was a faculty-wide orientation that involved plenty of PowerPoint (way too text-heavy—a PowerPoint faux pas). The faculty members were obviously very much at ease with one another; they often chatted even while the presenter was talking, but the presenter seemed a laid-back sort who tolerated the rudeness. I just went with the flow. The department has apparently chosen a Cambridge University Press series of textbooks to work from for some of the classes we teach, so a Cambridge rep gave a spiel about how to use our textbook and the accompanying online resources. I was left a bit confused and somewhat chary of this LMS (learning-management system), having dealt with a crappy LMS (also from Cambridge) at my previous job. Given how little freedom I have to plan my own curriculum, I've decided not to use the Cambridge online resources: using them would mean having almost no room at all for creative maneuvering.

The final segment of the orientation involved brainstorming project formats for our reading/writing classes. We were supposed to divide up into preassigned teams, but that idea was nixed on the fly and I simply got into a group with four other guys sitting near me. I can't say that I pulled my weight in our brainstorming sessions, but I doubt it mattered: the other four guys came up with plenty of ideas, all of which seemed sound to me. (My own idea, that the students should team up and teach other, was vaguely echoed by one person from a different group. I didn't voice this idea to my teammates, but I might go with it, anyway, when the semester begins.) It turned out that students are mandated to do two projects per semester, which I found unusual. Projects and presentations take time away from the main curriculum, but I suppose they can also be seen as a welcome break in routine.

Everyone agreed that the first week of classes would be absurdly easy: just meet the students for 20-30 minutes, do self-intros and icebreakers, then let the kids go. Knowing my own tendency to abuse my students, I'll probably keep them for a whole hour at least. The following week is Chuseok, which is going to be awkward: students ought to have their textbooks by then, but I'll be teaching only on Thursday and Friday, so the students in those classes will be slightly ahead of the students in all my other classes.

We broke for dinner, and I headed back to my place, not wanting to prolong the agony any further. As I was leaving, one gent approached me and told me he's been a blog reader since my Sookmyung days (shout-out to Craig!), which means he's been visiting the Hairy Chasms for nearly a decade. Now that's dedication, and I'm both honored and humbled. But I also guess I'd better watch what the fuck I say online, eh? I discovered, in my previous job, that several fellow faculty members were blog readers—a disturbingly large number of people, actually: about one-fifth of our Practical English Department's foreign faculty. I'd name them all, but I think they'd be ashamed to be outed as readers of the Hairy Chasms. Reading my blog sometimes is a bit like being caught with porn, and with your pants around your ankles.

As I said earlier, today was informative. I had a list of questions, and I think most of them were answered. If you don't mind my boring you, I'm going to list the questions below, along with the answers that I received (or think I received).

Q: How much time is there between classes if we have back-to-back classes in different buildings?
A: Although classes are scheduled for 90 minutes, they normally run only 75. That will give you enough time to move from one class to another.

Q: Is roll taken electronically or manually? Some universities use an electronic system.
A: Roll is taken manually, on attendance sheets that the teacher can print out. The manner in which roll is taken depends on the teacher; there is no standard way to mark one's attendance sheet.

Q: What is the standard class length?
A: See above.

Q: Where are the English Clinic and English Zone located?
A: Both are in the Hyehwa-gwan, on the second and first floors, respectively.

Q: Is there a dress-down Friday?
A: The clothes you're wearing today, Kevin, are acceptable (untucked but tasteful button-down shirt, slacks, decent shoes). Dongguk normally goes for business casual. No shorts, sandals, or hats.

Q: Is there a dress code?
A: See above.

Q: How do I arrange to get direct deposits of my salary to my Shinhan Bank account?
A: Coordinate this with the office assistant. Payday is the 17th of every month.

Q: Do we all have offices? If so, where is mine, and when do I get to move in?
A: You have a cubicle in a communal office. Other teachers have their own shared offices (2-3 teachers per room). Your office is on the 5th floor of the Hyehwa-gwan, Room 502.

Q: When do I get my ID card, login ID, and login password to access Dongguk's online systems?
A: Around the second week of classes.

Q: Where does one make photocopies?
A: Every teacher is allocated a budget that allows for a certain number of copies to be made each semester. Copies are made in the copy center in the lobby of the Hyehwa-gwan, or you can use the photocopier in the department's main office.

Q: Are there rules or restrictions on photocopying?
A: See above re: budget.

Q: Are there laser-printing facilities in our offices?
A: Yes. Shared printers. Faculty must pay for paper and toner.

Q: Any rules or restrictions on laser printing?

Q: Are the midterm and final exams standardized throughout the department?
A: NOT ANSWERED. (This one is pretty crucial. I'll shoot the higher-ups an email.)

Q: If attendance is checked manually, attendance sheets come from where?
A: Teachers print them out.

Q: Will my classes follow the grading curve?
A: Your classes will follow two different types of curves. See manual.

Q: When do we get the textbooks for the listening/discussion courses?
A: NOT ANSWERED. (Still no textbooks; I'll keep bugging the office assistant.)

Q: Do we sign in to use the campus gym?
A: No. The gym is not for faculty use; it is only for students.

Q: Where can one meditate? In the Seon Center?
A: No. One can meditate at scheduled times in the campus temple.

Q: I was told we wouldn't need to worry about syllabi, but according to our manual, we have to turn syllabi in by a certain due date. What's the story? How much freedom do we have to design our own courses?
A: For most courses, teachers will simply copy a syllabus designed by a head teacher and upload that syllabus to the student-accessible website. Only in cases where the teacher is teaching a course designed by the teacher himself/herself will there be a need to upload an original syllabus. "Freedom" comes to play more in how the teacher chooses to teach the material (although, during the orientation, it was noted that many students crave greater standardization throughout the department).

Q: When do we sign official contracts?
A: NOT ANSWERED. (I'll tap the higher-ups.)

Q: How do we determine grade distribution for our classes? Is this standardized?
A: NOT ANSWERED. (I'll tap the higher-ups.)

So I have a few lingering questions that can be answered by email. But right now, for the moment, I'm feeling old and tired, and am seriously wondering whether I have the energy to hike up Namsan this evening. I've already done almost 7,400 steps today, just from walking to campus, taking the campus tour, going through orientation, and walking back to my yeogwan. Plus, it's the weekend, so it'd be useless to email anybody now. I'll send my emails next week.


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