I would like to write about the experience of teaching in the four schools that I am in the employ of. I don’t think that that is something that I have quite done here in this forum yet.
There are four. One is my primary place, the other three are secondary. That is to say, that at the one, they take care of my paperwork etc. as well as having me in their halls two days of the week as opposed to the others which only get one. Their names are Eumo, Nongnam, Gaeryoung, and Gammun. They are all middle schools, so I teach the three grades of what the American system would call seventh, eighth and ninth grades, but are called first, second, and third here. In each school, may it be elementary level, middle or high, each level gets a new numbering. It’s just how it’s done.
I am writing this recollection during the winter break. As such, we are about to begin, not just a new term, but a new year. The calendar year from the lunar cycle is what the school’s calender is created from. So, come March second, the new year will begin. I tell you this, so that you not only understand the cycle, but also, because I will be making reference to numbers of students in certain grades, and my schedule from one day to the next, and I would have it understood they refer to the year that has just passed, not the one that will begin in about a week’s time.
With that, I would like to begin sketching for you what my days are like at these schools. Every Monday, I go to Eumo. As with the other schools, I am given a ride by my co-teacher. It is a courtesy they extend to me, that I understand to be so, as other teachers in the district have not reported similarly. So I meet my co-teacher at an agreed location nearby, and we set off to the school. The ride takes about 20 minutes, and is really a beautiful one. I live in a fairly rural area. The town is surrounded by farmland. Grapes, mushrooms and pears are the strongest crops beyond the ever-present rice paddies that stretch into the distances. But there is also industry. Right now, there is a large, sprawling complex that is being expanded upon that will give rise to an extension of the chemical company that claims credit for the construction on the walls that border the project. It is truly a giant campus, and must employ thousands of people. But the ride, the ride to school only sees this tumor of man for an instant as we speed past it into the hills where the school is located.
Eumo is a fairly small school compared to my experience, but it is the largest of the four at which I teach. It has only 62 students and close to 15 staff including all the teachers, admin. And the man who takes care of things otherwise. He’s more the handyman than a janitor. In fact, in Korea, it is the students who clean the schools. Every day they will pull out the brooms, pull out the mops, and go to it for about half an hour. Every day. Every student.
So Eumo begins at 9:00. We arrive at about 8:00 so that we can get our things together, and start into thinking about our days. I will often not need all the time for preparation, so I often have a book or something else to keep busy with. More on “desk-warming” soon. And as 9:00 rolls around, well, I keep sitting there, because I don’t have a class until fourth period. Yea, between the hours of 9:00 and 11:45, there is absolutely nothing required of me other than my kind patience. So here is where desk-warming comes in. Desk warming is the term that is given to this situation where I as a foreign teacher am asked to simply sit still, and watch the clock turn until the class that they have set for me arrives, and the right tone is struck in the chimes.
So I am able to do many things with this time. For example, this is the time that I can study the language of Korean, or work on my graphics design studies, or read a book that has been waiting on a shelf for too long. The time spent at my desk is also often spent researching class methodology as well. From one end of the internet to the other, I have gazed into styles and systems that other ESL teachers have been using, and am able to grow from that time to some measure. But it is a lot of time spent in front of a screen, and it does seem quite comic sometimes. Though I must say, it does suit me for now. I have been able to stride forward with my studies in graphic design, the Korean language and becoming a better teacher due to these hours spent there. I have been able to use this desk warming time to quite some efficiency. And I’m quite pleased with it
So that is my first three and three quarter hours – then I teach. For one 45 minute session I will share what the sound of the English language really sounds like to these children who have been set in front of me. Sometimes I teach out of the book, sometimes I’ll have an activity. It depends on how far they have come, or what they need. So 45 minutes, and then lunch.
Lunch is served in the cafeteria. Teachers are given line cutting privileges, and so I’ll grab a tray and go on in. The first scoop is always rice, one big pile on the left, and then the side dishes. I never know what I’m going to get before hand, and sometimes after I get it, I still don’t know what I got. Usually I can grok it. Maybe it’s hash browns, or fish, maybe it’s deep fried squid or spam. Bus sometimes, I just don’t know that plant, or maybe the meat is just too peculiarly prepared to pick out. These things happen. There are always vegetables, sometimes steamed, sometimes steeped in a traditional sauce similar to soy sauce or even kimchi. Then there is a soup or a topping for the rice. The soups vary from one day to the next, and can be quite good at times. And of course, there is always kimchi to be had. I have become quite accustomed to it, and rather like it for the most part. Though as with anything, sometimes it ain’t so good, but those days I blame the chef not the recipe.
With lunch over, I find yet more free time. I will not teach another class of students until 7th period which begins about 3:15. I might however teach other teachers at this time.
One of the things I get to do here is teach other adults. Teachers and admin alike are able to study with me at this time. I will usually gather my lessons from texts or from the internet. There are so many resources available, it’s amazing. I often teach about sayings. Because they’ve had so much training in the language that has been formal and distinctly literal, I bring euphemisms so that they understand things like “quit pulling my leg.” Seriously, think about it.
So that’s good use of my time as well. Sometimes they are too busy to study with me, so I’ll get back into whatever studies or reading I was doing, and whittle my time away with it. Then comes 7th period, I will again step up in front of a classroom of children, demonstrate my stunning ability to speak a language not French, have them mimic as many times as can be done while still keeping their attention, and call it good 45 minutes later. At that point, I’ll go back down to my desk in the office, burn the last moments of the day doing more of the same desk-warming things that I was doing, and wait until 4:30 or 5:00, whenever the co-teacher is ready, to go.
That has been my Monday.
I can only hope that my bosses see fit to retain me for such service, while at the same time, recognizing that it is not actually that easy to do on another level completely. What I doubt they understand is the mental stretch it takes to be so far from the people that I love and miss. Being here must be a mission for me, or it would not work. If I didn’t have the time to grow personally, such that my return will be that much smoother, I could not stay doing what I’m doing. I would not want to teach at a hagwon (a private school which schedules full days of teaching) again. Without a time structure that allows me to do the things that I’m doing, I would leave this country as fast as I came. I’m glad they enjoy me. I’m glad to be here. They are nice people, and my service does help their children, so it is a good trade off. Taxing on both ends, rewarding on both as well.
Getting into the other schools, I should say that my expectations are largely similar, as are the lunches with the exception of Gaeryoung, they always get fruit with their lunches. Hmm.
Tuesday is though, another thing completely, while it is much more of the same to be sure. Tuesdays are spent at Gammun. I teach three 45 minute classes in the day here. Gammun is an interesting school, very old looking buildings. It has about 43 students, I think, and the largest English library of them all. It actually has two whole rooms in the building set aside for teaching English, one a classroom, one a library. They both have large, touchscreen, interactive boards that can be used for presentations, and the library is made more interactive by the seating. There are four couches with tables between pairs, and three large tables, each with six seats around them. Additionally, there is a series of short colorful soft stools that line the walls. That being said, we could seat every single student of the school in that library, and teach them all at once. But we never did during regular classes. I was able to use it during the week-long winter course, and the kids really enjoyed it. I’m glad to’ve had that time there.
This school was staffed by one of the most uninteresting teachers I’ve ever met. He was an older man and really had no interest in teaching these kids English. His language ability was so poor that when talking with me, I often didn’t understand what he was trying to say. Oh sure, it was better than most of the students, but not actually good. Teaching with him was such that he asked me to teach directly from the book, and nothing else, then he would go sit in the back of the room and look out the window, so distracted, that if I were to ask him a question, he would normally be unaware that I was speaking to him. And the library wasn’t to be used at all. He just kept it locked and let it get dusty. I shared as much with the principal of my lead school, and now he’s gone. Later dude. Some of us really enjoy teaching. And I do, I just don’t see students all that much because of the scheduling. Well that’s all right. As is stands, a new teacher will be there, with something of a mandate to become more involved with the teaching process. Should be interesting.
Wendesday- Gaeryoung. Fun school, again, about 43 students there. The teachers are primarily women, mostly young, and among them are three very capable English speakers, so their company is quite enjoyed. I have very few friends around here, so it’s nice to be able to chat about random things with people. This is also the only school that uses a different text, so the teacher has given me a pass on preparation and just asks that I interact with the students. That works fine for me. My co-teacher uses the time to instigate small talk – which is actually a great use of a foreigner in the classroom. Other times, we will read from the text, and do some speaking from it, and the kids will reply, and we’ll mix it up. They’re good kids, and a lot of them really enjoy learning. So it makes it worth the time.
On Thursdays, I go to Nongnam. My co-teacher was at first rather distant, but I’ll chalk that up to not really knowing what to do with this foreigner she’d been handed. The students at this school are a bit surlier, but decent in class. This school has a bit of a problem with boys smoking in the bathroom, and lack of attention in class, but the kids are still okay. They do not show malice, and they are willing to participate, even the ones that clearly have no love for it.
This school has a rather odd collection of wall-art. I am forced to look at seriously bad translations on a wall every day. Maybe next year, with the new teacher, I’ll be able to fix them. We just got a big printer, so it might just happen. It looks like what happened was that someone took something from the internet, descriptions of famous places that pictures affixed represent, and then scanned those descriptions into a computer program that saw letters as images, and occasionally mixed them up with similar letters. The letter ‘c’ could become an ‘o’, and letter ‘h’ could become a ‘b’, things like that. But these are descriptions of places like Harvard University, Oxford, The Statue of Liberty, and other big things that really smart people have made, it’s supposed to be inspirational, you know? So then we have about 35 serious editing mistakes. I almost want to make it a contest with the students, to see who can find the most errors. On the other hand, I wouldn’t want to sully the reputation of the school to the students for having had such errors for so much time. You can give them a pass, as they are clearly making great strides when viewed from a distance. So when does it get fixed? Do they get fixed? I’ll try again next year. Heh, good times.
Fridays, I’m back at Eumo, and actually have a busy time. This day I’ll teach five sessions, and they will consist of three student classes and two teacher sessions. One for a group of interested adults, the other, a private class for my co-teacher. Her English is quite good, so I’ve been using some prepared lessons from Breaking News English for her lessons. They use current events as material, and discuss them with well built lesson plans, from which I pick and choose parts to use. Still though, five out of eight classes, leaves me three to use in my own ways, may it be professional development for my current job, or my future one, or just reading a good book.
Teaching with the public school system is an interesting time. I’m glad to have it. But I’ll be more glad when I return home.