Everything had been going pretty well at the dorm and with Gloria English. I’ve taught a few more classes and am slowly getting my head around how it works and what they want you to do. I’ve found it doesn’t matter how much observing you do, it’s only when you get up there at the front that you really start to learn.
I’ve been getting along with the other teachers too, then one of them shared something with me that change that.
secrets can be fun, or scary
Chilled out dorm
It’s been going well at the dorm, I’ve gradually been buying a few more comforts for my room, like another sheet for sleeping, so I don’t wake up with the fan blasting me.
I’m starting to see the personalities of the people I talk to, and for a dorm of about 10 people on my floor, I don’t see many of them. We’re all adults and we can essentially do whatever we want, so some people decide to chill in their room, including me.
However there was one teacher who’d only been here about a month longer than me who would talk and talk and talk. She wouldn’t gossip, instead she would talk at you, not with you. Once I counted how many words I said to her during our ‘conversation’ and it maxed out at about 20. This is in the space of 10 minutes. I didn’t really count but it felt like a 99-1 split in her favour.
Talk with people, don’t talk at them
I’ve learned to become a good conversationalist, do you know how? By being a good listener. A good listener is someone who actually listens to what the other person is saying, considers it, and forms a response.
A bad listener, and a bad conversationalist, is someone who is merely waiting for you to finish what you’re saying so they can say what they want to say. You might be telling a story about how you broke your leg, and instead of letting you finish your story, or even ask you a single question about it, they’ll just continue the conversation by telling you about something they broke.
when someone is talking to you, listen to them without planning what you’re going to say next
Bad listeners will sometimes finish your sentences for you. I think this is fine if it’s someone you know well (and even then it depends on the circumstance), but finishing someones sentences means you’re not listening to them. Instead you’re thinking you know what they’re thinking, and you’re butting in. If you want to hear what they have to say then let them finish and actually hear it.
Getting my head talked off
So I was “talking” to this teacher and not butting in, which unfortunately for me meant I was bombarded with a story that started with ‘I don’t want to teach here anymore’ and got to ‘my ex husband did bla bla bla’ before I broke my ‘listen’ rule and butted in.
“Yeah I understand, it’s really hard starting a new job, but hey they’re not chaining you here, you can leave whenever you want” I said to her. I was being honest, and trying to be sensitive to her feelings, and trying not to tell her what to do. This teacher has been struggling with teaching, and I wanted to help her.
This lead to another story of her teaching in Vietnam and Thailand, and as she started on her next epic monologue I turned my head slightly away from her and continued to look out at the city from the balcony we were on, adding the odd ‘yeah, uh huh, yeah I know’ every now and then. I think if I’d said nothing it wouldn’t have mattered.
Dropping the secret
During a pause in her story I thought I should be a bit more blunt so I said ‘well maybe you should think about leaving’. Everything she’d been saying was about how she couldn’t cope, and missing busses, and having no free time, and not being able to enjoy herself, and feeling stressed: all the things that every teacher experiences when starting a new job, including myself.
She then stood up, peeked into the window into the common room, and came closer to me and said to me in a quieter voice “hey Dan can I tell you a secret?”.
“Sure” I said.
“Don’t tell anyone ok?” she followed up in an even more hushed tone.
“Ok I promise I won’t tell anyone”. And I wouldn’t, I like to think I’m a man of my word so if someone promises me not to tell anyone something, I won’t.
She then said “Dan I’m leaving tonight, I’ve been packing my bags all weekend and tonight I’m going to sneak out, get a taxi to the airport and fly to Vietnam in the morning”.
I didn’t quite know how to react, so I reacted the best way I knew how, by just saying whatever came to me. “Oh wow… ok” came out in a hushed tone, and I continued with “you’re just going to leave? Not even tell anyone? Not even Anita?” Anita is the Taiwanese manager in charge of doing everyone’s rosters.
“Nope” she said, “I’m just going to leave so I don’t have to pay the money back”. The money she was talking about was the signing bonus we get when we sign a new contract. We get $400 over two payments, the first when we sign, the second when we get our work permit about a month later. She’d already gotten the first payment.
“Yeah I’ve had it with this place, I can’t live like this.”
All I could manage was another “oh ok”.
Now I know this secret isn’t exactly life changing, or mind bending, or even that big, but it did put me in an uncomfortable situation.
After she’d told and I’d had time to gather my thoughts about it, I thought to myself ‘I don’t think that’s the nicest thing to do and she doesn’t give a crap about the school, but she can do whatever she likes’. The thing that I disliked the most was that she told me not to tell anyone.
After a bit of thinking, and the rarest length of silence I’ve ever experienced with her, I said “If you just leave with no notice you’re going to make all of us pick up your slack, tomorrow we might get told to cover your classes with no notice”. She then let me know that she only had observations, which meant she wasn’t actually teaching, so no slack to be picked up.
I realised I was now getting a bit angry, and usually I would just ignore it, but I wanted to let her know how she’d made me feel. I said to her “you’ve put me in a bit of an awkward situation, because tomorrow if anyone asks ‘did anyone know she was leaving?’ I’m going to have to lie and say ‘no'”.
Again it’s a small lie, but I hate lying, and I try never to do it, and I hate it when people lie to me. I would rather tell the truth and face any uncomfortableness that might come from it, than lie just to keep the peace.
People are comfortable lying and stealing
After I told her this she said “yeah Dan I guess I did, I’m sorry, but I’m so excited to be leaving tomorrow and bla bla bla”. And so the next monologue began. Luckily for me it was late so I butted in with a “I’m going to go to bed, maybe I’ll see you before you go”.
Obviously I had no intention of seeing her, and I realise I was lying to her, and I should’ve said what I was really thinking. But it was late and I was tired and I’ll never see her again, and I’m still learning all this stuff and certainly not perfect.
Usually I wouldn’t give a crap she was stealing and asking me to lie, she was going to leave regardless so I also decided against pointing out the fact she was stealing from them, even if it is a small amount of money. I lost respect for her, and felt sorry for her in a way, that the only way she knew how to deal with it was to leave in the middle of the night without telling anyone, even the other teachers. Essentially to run away from her issues and take zero responsibility for how her experience here was panning out.
I’m not perfect by any means
I used to steal from the supermarket, nothing big: a Mars Bar here, a bag of grapes there. I used to hate, I mean really hate the self serve checkouts (I still do to be honest, so I basically avoid them when I can). How dare the supermarket sell me crap at stupidly high prices, then expect me to check out and bag all my own stuff! Do they want me to put a name tag on and start stocking the fucking shelves too?
My little way of compensating myself for going through the labour of the self serve checkout was to just steal stuff, to put things in my bag without scanning them. I know this is against the law and a horrible thing to do, but I’d justify it to myself with the reasoning of ‘this is paying for my labour’.
Perhaps this teacher was justifying it to herself too.
In the end no one gave a crap
The next day the word was out that she left, and as it was now common knowledge I had no problems with saying ‘yeah she told me last night’. Everyone had a bit of a gossip about her (I dislike gossip, I feel if I engage in it then ultimately I will be the subject of gossip when I’m not around), and there were a few ‘yeah I didn’t think she’d last long here’ comments. And then everyone just got on with their business.
I felt uncomfortable that she’d ask that of me, but I stood by my word. I was also proud of myself that I’d told her how she’d made me feel, because it might’ve bought up conflict or caused her pain, and in the past I would have wanted to avoid that.
Perhaps the moral of the story is ‘really think about what you’re asking of someone, how will it make them feel? And really listen to them’. Or perhaps the moral of the story is don’t get into conversations with crazy monologging egomaniacs.