I was 6 years old the last time I played the role of “teacher” among my fellow peers as we innocently played “school.” You know that time in your life where you pretended to be like the older adults around you? I would pretend like I was the perfect teacher waving my ruler around commanding my poor peers to do as I say. Fast forward to now, I am in my 4th week of teaching English as a foreign language to South Korean middle school and high school students. In many ways, nothing has changed from that 6 year old girl that was playing “teacher” with her friends in that 1st grade classroom over two decades ago. I still get a slight thrill standing in front of a classroom. I still like to write on the white board just so I can see how pretty (or ugly) my handwriting has gotten and most notably, I still have don’t know wtf I am doing.
Before coming to South Korea, the only teaching experience I had was the whopping 4 hours of teaching adults English for my TEFL Certification in Chicago. Other than that, I haven’t so much as even tutored a child or done anything of the like. I have spent all of my working life among adults in businesses both small and large. This whole teaching gig has taken me completely out of my element. So let me give you a glimpse of what the job entails.
Teaching Recruiting Program: English Program in Korea (EPIK)
Provincial Office of Education (POE): Gangwon-do
Length of contract: 1 year
Number of Schools employed: 2
Main School: Shincheorwon Middle School
2nd school: Shincheorwon High School
Grade levels taught: 1st, 2nd, 3rd year middle school (ALL GRADES)
1st year high school
# of students per class: 24- 35
# of classes per day: 4-5
# of afterschool classes: 1
# of classes total per week: 20
# of students total: about ~577
Duration of middle school class: 45 minutes
Duration of high school class: 50 minutes
# of co-teachers total: 4 (3 middle school, 1 high school)
Work day hours: 8:30am-4:30pm (Wed 5:00pm)
Lunch: 40 min-1 hour
When I found out I was teaching middle school and high school students, I was extremely relieved because I honestly could not picture myself teaching young elementary school children. Little kids make me slightly nervous, mainly because I have not spent very much time around them and wouldn’t know how to handle their energy. The students can be rowdy at times, but they are always respectful towards me. My Korean co-teachers are all relatively young. Most of them are only 1-2 years younger than me, so they are approachable and welcoming. Unlike most, I did not meet the Principal when I first arrived which was rather odd because it seems customary that most new English teachers get introduced to the Principal in the very beginning. I didn’t meet mine until 3 weeks later and it was a random informal encounter in the hallway on my way to class. He seems like a pleasant man, but if I had to be honest…it seems like the Vice Principal works harder and is more intimidating than the actual head chief at my school.
I am lucky that my 2 schools are conveniently connected to each other and share most common school areas like the cafeteria and the school field. I know other English teachers who have to travel to get to the different schools they are assigned to, some of which are assigned up to 4 schools. I also love that I do not have to clock in and out of work, since I am not paid hourly. The best thing of all about the job is not having someone constantly over my shoulder critiquing or micro-managing me. I am left to do my work in peace during the time that I am not teaching in front of a class, and I do not have to formally report to anyone. That is probably the sweetest part of my job, the freedom! Not to mention this sweet view from my main school…
The school does not have any set curriculum in terms of the English lessons that they want me to teach. They have only stated that they think it is best to focus on English speaking with the students.There are English textbooks for each grade level, but they are pretty much useless to me because much of the content is irrelevant for practical language use. The hardest thing has been trying to plan lessons that would be interesting, yet effective for the majority in each class. The levels of the students are so varied that it makes it extremely difficult to cater to every student. Some students can barely understand more than “hello” and others are fully capable of holding a full-blown English conversations about the latest music and movies. I have to prepare 4 lesson plans a week for my regular classes, and also 2 hours worth of activities for my after school kids on Wednesdays. Lesson planning before and after work feels like homework for me, which sucks! A few of my lessons so far have been on the following:
- Household chores
- Common expressions among different types of friends
- Small talk conversations
- Teaching them moves to the Cha-Cha Slide song
- Lyrics to Taylor Swift’s Blank Space
- The Easter Bunny as holiday symbol
- Sickness & Health
These lessons are spread out among different grade levels, but if you can’t already tell, I am all over the place! There’s no method in my madness. I have been dishing out whatever I think is useful or interesting but I am already running out of ideas! I haven’t exercised the creativity part of my brain in so long, that it’s hard for me to come up with fun lesson plans. I fear that I will be a boring English teacher and that’s the last thing I want to have happen!
I mistakenly thought that I would only have 1 co-teacher before coming to Korea, but I have been blessed with 4. I have 1 main co-teacher, who is assigned to take care of all things work related and also help me with any troubles with my apartment. I always teach along side one of them during a class, and most of them translate what I say into Korean for the students who have a hard time understanding. For the most part, my co-teachers are awesome. However, there have been times when communication is lacking. Although, I have no problem understanding their English…. it seems that a few of the teachers will avoid speaking English unless they absolutely have to. My main co-teacher is extremely standoffish, and awkward at times because she is shy or insecure about her English speaking abilities. I hope that she will open up more as time progresses, but we shall see.
The barrier of work relationships is hard to crack. It seems unlikely that I will be hanging out with my Korean co-workers outside of work simply because most of them travel back to their home cities on the weekends and they have not expressed the slightest interest in “hanging out.” Who knows though…. anything is possible! It’s only been a month; I am determined to hang out with at least one of them outside of work before this year is over.
EPIK Orientation for Late Starts
I knew that there would be no official orientation or job briefing of any kind until a month after working. The time for EPIK Orientation is finally here! It will be a 6-day event held at the National Institute for International Education (NIIED) in Seoul.
I am excited to re-unite with the handful of other teachers that I very briefly got acquainted with during the first night and day of arriving in Korea. I’ve been anxiously waiting to meet more people going through the similar pleasures and pains of adjusting to living and working abroad. It sucked being accepted late and not being able to network with others right away. I will finally get that opportunity come tomorrow. God knows I am longing for connections, now more than ever.
Overall, I like my job. There is much to learn and always room for improvement. I moved to South Korea because I wanted a change, and I definitely got it. I did not come here without a purpose. I came here to teach and to be taught. God forbid, if I ever lost sight of that purpose…it will be time to move onto another place. But it’s only been a month; I think I’ll stay for a while.
I have so much more to share. Stay tuned and thanks for reading.