How I Quit My Job as an English Teacher in Korea

Author’s Note: This post has been sitting in my draft box for a few months now. At first, I didn’t post it because finding all the images and videos I wanted to include was WORK, and every time I sat down to do it, I got distracted. Then, I didn’t post it because it didn’t quite feel true anymore. It’s a funny thing about adapting to another culture, sometimes you can take it, and sometimes you can’t, but it goes back and forth. You’re fine for a while and then you hate everything. I’m back around to being mostly fine, so I think it’s time this post saw the light of my browser.

"I quit this job!"

“I quit this job!”

 

I’m a geek. I’m the brand of geek that is a HUGE fan of the beloved television series, Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I’m also the brand of geek that connects everything in my life to everything else in my life, so when I quit, immediately thought about this show.
 
If you haven’t seen it, you should—it’s amazing. The basic premise is this: Buffy is a high school girl chosen to slay vampires and protect the world from evil. A few seasons in, she must also protect her sister from a bit of big bad evil that’s out to get her, and it’s—well, it’s all a little much. The stress takes its toll on Buffy, eventually putting her in a temporary catatonic state, during which the audience gets to actually see the loop that her unconscious mind keeps running her through.
Buffy-this is when I quit
 
In-brain Buffy keeps going back to a particular scene that doesn’t seem to fit with the rest—Buffy is standing in the magic shop where they do their demon research, and she puts a book back on a shelf. End scene. Eventually, she explains to her friend Willow (who has magically entered Buffy’s consciousness to snap her out of it),
 
“This was when I quit, Wil.”
“You did?”
“Just for a second…”
 
Still with me? Buffy’s character tortures herself over this moment of quitting. She blames herself and that moment for the all-kinds-of-bad they are in the middle of at that particular point in the story. But here’s the thing…she did the right thing. Quitting was the healthiest choice Buffy could have made at that moment.
 
Obviously she can’t, and won’t, really quit and let the world spiral into darkness. She has slayer responsibilities to keep up with (not to mention a narrative to sustain), but at that moment, she acknowledged that there was an alternative. She could choose not to succumb to the soul-crushing power of the fight she was in the middle of.
 
 
“I wanted it over,” she explains.
 
“This is—all of this—it’s too much for me. I just wanted it over. If Glory [the bad guy] wins, then Dawn [the sister] dies. And I would grieve. People would feel sorry for me. But it would be over. I imagined what a relief it would be.”
 
 
I think we can all agree that quitting something awful is a relief—we don’t need a TV show to tell us that.

(We have movies for that.)

But when Buffy quit, she did it just for a second, and it was “a relief,” and then she just kept on doing her job.
 
 
This is what happened to me in my second grade class last month. This class was literally listed on my To Do list as:
 
E2-After School
**Occasionally referred to as a slow descent into hell.
 
The students neither respected nor understood me. In fact, they closely resembled a pack of 3 foot tall demons themselves (they do scream, hit, and communicate in a language I don’t understand), and I felt increasingly like I was losing my battle against them.
 
This all culminated in me standing in the middle of a room where approximately 50% of the students were out of their seats, many were running, yelling, throwing things, and the few who were in their desks would at best offer a cursory glance my way when I tried to get their attention.
 
I was watching one particularly troubling cluster of boys who feed off each other’s chaos, trying to decide what I should do about them, and realizing there wasn’t a large enough classroom in the world to separate them enough to make them behave well. I was on the verge of tears.
 
And then I quit.
 
I pictured myself walking down the hallway, grabbing my bag out of my office, descending the stairs, walking out the doors to the school, and never coming back. The class would surely continue to run amok in my absence, but I would not be standing in the middle of it. All that disaster would be happening behind me, and I would be moving forward, rising above it…
 
It was glorious.
 
And then I just kept teaching—or more accurately, physically placing children in their seats only to have them pop back up moments later like a more frustrating game of whack-a-mole in which the moles scream and taunt you in a foreign language. This continued until the period ended and they went screaming down the hall to a land I call “Somebody Else’s Problem.”
 
If you’re following the actual events of my story, they look like this:
  • Jessica tries desperately to gain control of class
  • Jessica stands in the middle of the class breathing slowly and eyeballing the door
  • Jessica returns to physically separating kids, getting them off the floor, and returning them to their seats
  • Class ends
So what changed? Class was not actually better. I was still surrounded by demons. I was still having the worst time in a class that I’ve EVER had, and between studying and teaching, I’ve spent a lot of times in classes.
 
Why did I stay? And more importantly, how did I stay in a class that moments earlier had me ready to cry in front of a bunch of 9 year olds before fleeing my job and subsequently the country?
 
Answer: I quit.
 
I quit just for a second, and in that moment I knew I had a choice. I knew if I left there were other things out there for me. It wasn’t really, as one might expect, a weighing of pros and cons. I didn’t stand in the class comparing the shame and embarrassment I would feel when I tried to explain to the people back home why I didn’t finish my contract with the pain and frustration of continuing to try to make this class work and decide which was more bearable.
 
I just quit. I let it all go. Once I did, I could see a way out, and once I knew there was a way out, I suddenly wasn’t so desperate to go there.
 
It was like getting lost exploring a cave. Overall, the cave is pretty cool—interesting geology, totally mind blowing to be somewhere so dark, etc. But, then you start thinking, it’s kind of cold in here, and I only have so much water and food, and it’s got to be getting late and cold outside, and my flashlight battery could die at any moment, and the longer I’m down here, the better chance of a hungry vampire stumbling upon me. All you can think about is finding a way out before one of innumerable awful fates befalls you. And then you find the path and think, well, if the exit’s right there… I can hang around a bit more. I have enough water for a while and an extra flashlight in my bag, and vampires aren’t even real!
 
Like Buffy, much as I may want to sometimes, I’m not ready to give up my fight yet. I’m not quite done exploring this cave, and that exit isn’t going anywhere.
 
My determination to conquer the class was also renewed. I made some big changes—getting permission to move it to an earlier time in the day so we can get right into the lesson, getting help from the students’ homeroom teacher to explain the rules and reward systems—and the next time I saw my students, it was like a different class. They listened, they participated, they stayed in their seats. Suddenly, they were the picture of good behavior, and they’ve mostly kept it up since then.
 
This change didn’t happen because I refused to quit. It was possible because I did quit, but only for a second.
 
I’ve been in a place so dark that I couldn’t see the way out before; I’ve been in a bad situation that I refused to quit, and I can tell you, it’s no way to live.
 
So if you’re feeling stuck, I implore you—quit. Just try it out. See how it feels. Maybe to quit is what you’ve needed all along. It might stick, and if it does, that’s great! You’ll be free. It might not stick. You might find you have it in you to start again. Either way, you’ll have taught yourself that you are in control of your fate. You get to choose what you will endure. You get to walk away.
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