April 12th marked two months in Korea for me.
Teaching is unpredictable by its very nature and so even after 9 weeks of it, I still don’t feel like I know what to expect from any given day.
What I have learned, however, are which classes to be excited about and which classes to brace myself for as I walk in the door.
The boys are all over the place but the general trend is that the younger ones are lovely and they get progressively less so as the grades go up. Which is the case at my school but from what I hear, not the trend in most Korean middle schools. There’s actually a saying in South Korea that North Korea will never invade the the south because of grade 2 middle schools. They’re that terrifying. Luckily for me though my 2nd graders are great.
And then there are the girls, who can be difficult in their own way. They don’t always like English but they like me enough to at least humor me. But I never get nervous before any of my girls classes. So I think that speaks for itself.
My after school class continues to be an issue for me, and the part of my job that causes me the most personal anxiety. I feel like I’m failing them in some way. The class is boring, despite my efforts to the contrary. And having been given absolutely no direction or suggestions as to what the class should consist of, it’s difficult to know what I should actually be doing with them.
Three of my highest level speakers in the school are in that class, including one boy who is actually from the US, and it’s them I feel the worst for.
The class is apathetic, unenthused, and seems to have unanimously decided that they don’t understand a word of English which makes my job incredibly difficult given that I am alone, without a Korean teacher.
But in the end I can’t complain too much because it’s my responsibility. I keep choosing activities that sound good in my head without REALLY thinking through how it will play out with this crowd, which is often not very well.
It’s hard because while there are a million factors that go on behind the scenes as to whether or not a class goes well, the students can only see whether or not the class goes well. They can’t understand that it’s my first time doing this, that I’m in a new country, that my co-teachers all have different styles, and that I am desperately trying to be the teacher they deserve. And they shouldn’t have to. They’re in middle school. It’s my responsibility to either be that teacher or not.
I’ll keep trying of course. I brought candy to class on Monday and that’s the brightest I’ve seen their eyes the entire semester. Keep on keeping on I suppose.
I’ve spoken to several friends about this, but it’s funny how despite 21 of my classes going exceptionally well, it’s those 3 bad ones that I remember at night and that sit in the back of my mind over the weekend.
I’m quick to forget the good feeling of a class that was fun, where the students engaged with me and with the content, and quick to remember the ones that made me feel like a bad teacher.
And of course, for me, feeling like a bad teacher can make me feel like a bad person. That work life separation thing is hard for me. And I imagine for most teachers.
Because teaching is one of the most personal and potentially fulfilling jobs that exists it also lends itself to being the job that can make you feel the worst about yourself. So like I said in my previous post (Newtons Third Law of Teaching) you take the good with the bad.
My coworkers are still great and I am still very thankful for them. But I’m just now starting to see how each of them, and their personality within my classroom affects how the students 1. perceive me, and 2. perceive the class.
We have student teacher interns at our school right now and the English department has 2 interns. They are paired with two of my five co-teachers so they have been observing all of the classes that I teach with those co-teachers.
The other day I got to talk to them, the two interns, for a while after school and it was so interesting to hear their perspectives on my class. As bizarre as it is to have someone taking notes in the back of my class when I’ve only been teaching for less than a semester, it’s also really interesting to have a third set of eyes on the whole thing.
While we were talking, one of them mentioned how she had noticed that I had about 50-50 teaching time with one of my co-teachers, and 20-80 with the other. I hadn’t ever thought about my classes in terms like that. And then the other intern seemed surprised at that because the classes he observes are with a different co-teacher where it is almost exclusively me teaching and she just interjects to clear up any confusion.
I haven’t actually thought to much the different co-teaching styles, because I’m always so caught up in trying to manage what the kids are doing that I don’t even pay too much attention to what my co-teacher is or isn’t doing.
As far as individual students I am slowly building up my stash of names and faces. I know pretty much all 700 of their faces now. (I say that and yet yesterday someone walked up to my desk and in VERY CLEAR ENGLISH explained to me that she’s in the English cooking club and they want me to come try some of their food, so which Korean food do I prefer? I was shocked for several reasons. 1. I didn’t recognize the student AT ALL which doesn’t often happen to me any more. 2. She was speaking English SUPER well which further confuses me as to why I don’t recognize her, and 3. How did I not know that there is an English cooking club!?
Anyway, apart from outliers like that I do mostly know everyone’s face. Names are still hard but I’m slowly acquiring them either from intentionality on my part, or being constant berated with “teacher, my name?” Several of my grade one girls have taken it upon themselves to tell me their name every 5 seconds if were doing any kind of project activity, and I hate to say it, but it works.
And then there are some names that I have no idea why I know. Like the other day I was asking one of my grade one girl classes for a volunteer for something and there was only one girl raising her hand, the same girl who always volunteers. And then suddenly I said, “Well if no one else wants to, Jimin can go again.” I have no idea when I learned Jimin’s name but all the sudden there it was and I could see that she was just as surprised as I was.
I have heard from many an EPIK teacher that, “the name has power” and I’m starting to understand why. I don’t know if I’ll be anywhere close to 700 names by the end of the year but I’m trying.
So that’s school. As jumbled and scattered as that summary was, that’s about how jumbled and scattered my thoughts are about school. It’s great. It’s difficult. It’s fun. It makes me feel horrible about myself. It makes me feel amazing about myself. But in the end I always come back to loving it. So as long as that’s the case, I think I’m doing alright.
Then there’s the rest of my life, which is arguably not a very large percentage as most of my hours are spent either at school or thinking about school.
But these are the hours that keep me sane.
After work is usually either a nap because I both physical and mentally cannot get myself to leave the house, or a trip to the downtown area by my house. There are two downtown’s in Daejeon, Dunsandong and Eunhaengdong. Luckily for me Dunsan is an easy bus ride from where I live, and is also where all of my friends and I have our Korean classes. So it makes it very easy for me to grab dinner with people after class or get coffee and work on lessons throughout the week.
I end up eating out two or three times a week which is more than I’d like but as my kitchen is, shall we say limited, it tend to justify it in my mind. When I do eat at home it’s usually something very simple like rice and curry, or rice and dumplings, or toast with peanut butter and whatever I can find in my refrigerator. Which is usually not much. Apart from the roughly 1,000 rice cakes I’ve accumulated from people at work and church.
Between Korean class twice a week and meeting up with people at night I seem to keep my week nights pretty busy.
Then there are the weekends. Two weekends ago I finally made it up to Seoul and had and absolutely amazing time. I got to see a cherry blossom festival, go to my favorite temple, visit a dog café, eat delicious food, and most importantly see some of my favorite people who never fail to make me feel at home in this very foreign country. I posted a video about that weekend which you can see here!
But most weekends I stay in Daejeon. Some people, my students included, would say that Daejeon is boring. In a lesson practicing “you should” I asked my grade 3 boys “what should I do for fun in Daejeon on the weekend?” And one particularly high level, and rather snarky, student said, “you should stay in bed with your eyes closed and not leave the house.” Everyone else pretty much said 없어요 which basically means there isn’t anything fun to do here. Then another kid suggested I come to his house and I decided we were finished with that question.
Anyway, all that to say Daejeon gets a bad reputation for being boring when the reality, for me at least, is that it has plenty of cool and fun things to do without the oppressive crowds that you have to fight in Seoul. My weekend in Seoul was amazing, but I came back being INCREDIBLY thankful that I don’t live there. Daejeon is much more my pace.
It’s crazy that two months have already passed. The weather is changing from winter to spring in front of my eyes and for someone who comes from an eternal summer; it has been really beautiful to watch. Last weekend, seemingly overnight, tiny little bright green leaves started to appear on all the trees. Parks that I visited in the dead of winter now have a completely new life to them.
I don’t have to wear a winter jacket every day now, last Saturday it got up to 80 degrees and I wore shorts for the first time in 2 months! There are still some days that are cold and grey and wintery, like yesterday. It rained all day and I swear it had some kind of weird full moon effect on the students. Everyone was absolutely wild. I walked by a grade three boys class who had somehow managed to get their hands on what looked like an electric drill and were all crowded around drilling something into the wall. And then when I got to the grade 1 class I was headed to, there was a pair of scissors and a chunk of human hair sitting on the podium. I’ll just leave you with that. Needless to say I took a three hour nap after work.
On a spectrum between surviving and thriving I’d say I’ve definitely passed the just surviving mark. I know where to go for good food, good drinks, and good coffee. I have a church, I have friends, and I know how to get around the city very easily.
But I still learn something new every day. There are still things that take me by surprise and still many things that I don’t yet understand.
This next month I’m going to get serious about studying Korean again. The year and a half or so of studying that I did before I came to Korea has served me well, but I’m stagnating. I’m going to start looking into finding either a tutor or someone who actually would want to exchange languages, not just have fun English conversation all the time.
So all in all things are good over here. I hope where ever you are reading this from, things are good for you too! Thanks for reading! 🙂
(This is the outside of my school. Kiddo’s faces blurred because they’re all babies whose image I don’t want to use on the internet. Many many people have told me that there are much more relaxed rules when it comes to students and pictures here. But I’m not comfortable with it so don’t expect to see much by way of my students on this blog. Even this picture I went back and forth about posting but I really wanted to show a little bit of my school and this picture has kind of a funny story.
So apparently some of the kids have this little band which is entirely student led and they sometimes preform during the lunch hour. I could have died from how cute it was. My co-teacher came up to me and was like, “oh hey there’s going to be a little performance during lunch.” I was not at all expecting a whole band and for the entire school to come out into the courtyard to watch. And I also thought this was a good picture to show a little bit of what Korean schools look like, incase you’re curious.)