A Day in the Life of an English Middle School Teacher in South Korea
Compared to recent posts from my trip to Tokyo, this is probably going to be incredibly boring. But this is reality, much more so than jetting off to Japan for the weekend.
And while it’s certainly not as exciting as traveling, I love my little life here. And it’s all the little “boring” trivial things put together that make it such a happy life. So I thought I’d give you just a little glimpse into what a pretty regular day in my life is like.
I took all these pictures on my phone because I didn’t want to be lugging my camera around school, so please forgive the less than spectacular quality.
Here is a day in the life of an EPIK middle school English teacher!
So my alarm goes off at about 6:20 and depending on how I’m feeling that day I either actually wake up or groan for a while about how I don’t want to wake up and then get out of bed at around 7:00. Often though, I have plans to call people back home as my morning is their evening. When that is the case, it usually is, I wake up at 6:20 so that I’ll have enough time to get ready and then talk to them before having to leave for work at 8:00.
This morning was Mother’s Day back home so I quickly got dressed and ready, made myself my usual breakfast of toast with Nutella, and then called my mom.
I might have mentioned this toaster oven before, but it is my absolute pride and joy. It was the first thing I bought online in Korea and I have never been happier with any purchase.
Then once I’d finished talking to my parents, I put all my things back into my work bag. I do this thing where I double-check that I have everything like 7,000 times. I check that I have my USB (aka my entire teaching life) in my bag, I check for my water bottle, my pens, my schedule binder, my class notes, and probably open to look in my bag about 10 times while on the way out the door. Then I check that the gas is turned off (despite not having used it at all) and check that the ondol/water heater is turned off (despite not having used it.)
They always are turned off.
Then at 8:00 I’m out the door and headed to school. My building has an elevator in it, which I am incredibly thankful for. But even though I literally never see anyone else in my apartment (honestly I have only ever seen one other older man around) somehow the elevator always has something gross on the floor. The smell changes, but without fail there’s something nasty on the ground.
But still, I’m very thankful to not have to walk up a ton of stairs everyday. Especially considering the next part of my walk to school, which includes a giant hill and then a million stairs up to the school entrance.
That’s the hill. And gosh darn it, it really doesn’t look steep at all but I promise it is. Also that house on the right just went down a few days ago and I’m looking forward to a long summer of construction sounds.
Actually though, I might not have to endure it for very long. A little market closed down a few days ago next to my house. The place was completely gutted and, I’m serious, within like 3 days a brand new shiny convenience store opened in it’s place. I didn’t walk in that direction for a few days and I missed the construction entirely.
I also pass this little sign everyday, which used to be a lot more readable. But the first time I saw it I was so proud of my self for understanding what it says. It’s basically, “Stop putting trash. People live here.” I appreciate the sass.
Eventually I make it up to the top of the hill and today, like almost everyday, two of my little student buddies meet me at the top.
I wouldn’t use the word “friend” because that word has completely different connotations in Korea and students and teachers can never be on a “friendship” level despite being very close. And they’re 14. But to be honest, I talk to them and see them more than some of my real friends in Korea so you know. It is what it is.
Their English is really good so they feel comfortable enough to come talk to me, while a lot of other students are too shy. But due to the fact that they come into my office every single day, I really know what’s going on in their lives. They tell me about home and school and friends and gossip about other teachers. And through them I get to know what’s really going on at school.
Anyway, all that to say at least one of those two usually meets me at the top of the hill.
So then I climb some more stairs and head inside.
Once inside, I change out of my shoes into my slippers. I’ve gone through my first pair of slippers and recently bought these ones because I thought they were a little “nicer” looking. Trying to feel out what’s cool for teachers to wear as slippers, and what even constitutes a slipper, is a completely mystery. I continue to endeavor to understand. For now these will do.
I don’t know what it is about the hallway where my office is, but there are always the prettiest shadows in the morning.
From my door at home, to the door of our office it only takes me a total of maybe 6/7 minutes. S0 anywhere from 8:00-8:20 I’m walking in the door. One of my co-teachers is always early and working when I get there. But often she and I are the only ones in the office for about 15 minutes or so while the other 9 people show up.
I’m definitely not that early everyday. But those 10 minutes or so of chatting with her, or asking her questions about my lessons, always really help me to feel much calmer about the day ahead of me so I make an effort to get there early.
Usually while we chat I make myself a coffee.
That’s the little coffee/snack table in our office. I can’t say that instant coffee is my favorite thing in the world. But I can say that I definitely drink it every single day. It’s not pretty, but it gets the job done.
The bell rings for first period at 8:40 and so depending on my schedule sometimes I have class and sometimes I don’t.
Today was a little bit different.
Today all of the grade 3 students were gone on a field trip and so that eliminated all of my morning classes except one grade 1 class that ended up getting switched from 1st period to 4th period because of a school assembly.
So when 8:40 rolled around I went with everyone else to the gym for an assembly in honor of Teachers Day.
Of course, I couldn’t understand anything that was being said. But it was a nice little ceremony.
Then it was back to the office to work on lesson plans until 4th period. But seeing as my lessons are pretty much already planned for this week, I was mostly trying to research ideas for the summer English game and the never ending search of a game or activity that will interest my older boys. Still nothing.
At 11:25 the bell rang for 4th period so I grabbed all my stuff and my co-teacher and I walked over to where their classroom is and did our lesson for the week. This was also the first class that we announced the up coming speaking test that they’re going to have to do one-on-one with me. They seemed simultaneously terrified and a bit excited.
After 4th period we went to eat lunch. It was yummy as always and then after lunch the students were allowed to leave and many teachers decided to take the afternoon off. I guess part of Teachers Day is that students go to visit their old teachers at different schools to give them gifts and say hello. I got a few little gifts as well from a few of my loyal little buddies. Every teacher in the school got one of those flower pins from one student and I felt very proud walking out of school in the afternoon holding it, knowing that it was my mark of being a teacher in Korea.
And of course I had to try not to cry every time someone brought me a little letter or gift.
Just about anything can become a treasure to me. I hold these letters from students as if they’re the declaration of independence or something. Like if handle it too much they’ll disappear and it won’t be real that there are students who really like me enough to spend the time to write them.
I save every single one and hang them on the window next to my desk. And I re-read them. Very often.
My two little high level buddies, who I mentioned earlier, came into my office after lunch and we ended up talking for probably about an hour and a half. Eventually they left and I just had to “work” in the office until 4:30.
Sometimes when I’m desk warming I get up to go to the bathroom just so that I wont fall asleep at my desk.
I was able to get some planning done for the following week, and for the grade 1 speaking tests, so it wasn’t a waste of an afternoon.
But eventually 4:30 did arrive and all of us (just the three teachers who didn’t take the afternoon off) were out of the office, putting our real shoes back on in no time
It was a beautiful blue sky afternoon and the weather was absolutely perfect. A really nice break for the grey sky and horrible pollution we’ve been having the past week or so.
After the very short walk home I usually just throw myself on to my bed and do nothing for a while. Most days because I’m mentally, emotionally, and physically exhausted from teaching all day.
But today, just because it was Monday was reason enough.
I didn’t let myself stay there for long though because I wanted to get downtown for a bit to buy some stationary so that I could write letters back to the students who had given me something today. And to write this blog post.
So I left my house and hit up ArtBox aka the best/cutest store in Korea and got some little letters and envelopes.
Then I headed over to Starbucks, but very specifically the Starbucks that it seems like less people know about despite the fact that it’s bigger, nicer, and cleaner that the one right in the middle of downtown.
(The one you can see in the picture below is the one that I don’t like. How two of them can exist within a 3 minute walk of each other is completely beyond me, but I think says something about the cafe culture in Korea.)
I got a sandwich and an iced latte and settled down to write those letters and start this post. I stayed there for a long time and when I finally left it was dark.
After that I walked around for a bit looking for some new, more summer-y work clothes, but didn’t find much. Then I headed home.
Not too crazy exciting, I know. But this is just a little glimpse into what my usual days are like. Basically at any given moment I’m either at work or at a cafe.
Thanks so much for reading, I hope you enjoyed this!