For better or for worse, this is something that gets a lot of attention when it comes to teaching with EPIK. Most people hate it, and to be fair I do too on the grounds that it is completely arbitrary and inefficient. Why do I have to be at school when English Camp is finished, there are no students, and only a few teachers around on their mandatory office days throughout the summer?
Apparently back in the day (aka a few years ago) many schools would let the foreign teachers just go home because there was literally nothing for us to do. But I guess there was some push back against that because not every school was operating exactly the same way so the people who weren’t getting their extra time were upset.
And so now, no matter what, you are contractually obligated to be at your desk for your prescribed number of hours per week in rain, snow, blistering summer heat, and in the total absence of students.
Is eight hours straight sitting at a desk a little boring? Yes.
But is the complaint that there’s “nothing to do” valid? Ehhhh, I’m going to go with no. Not in my case at least.
I have a lot more desk warming days than most other EPIK teachers this summer because my school is extending their break in order to renovate the cafeteria. So I’ve got about two weeks of no classes to do whatever I can fill my time with for eight hours a day.
And it turns out that I’m rather good at filling those eight hours. I’m four days into my two weeks of desk warming and here’s what I’ve done so far.
-Planned half of my lessons for the coming semester. (And I’m on track to finish all them by the start of the new semester. This was my main goal for these two weeks. Words can not describe how happy this makes me!!)
-Studied Korean, a lot.
-Made more cups of coffee than I care to admit when I need to stretch my legs or get a little caffeine boost.
-Worked on my Singapore blog posts from my trip last week.
-Finally, FINALLY, been able to chat with my co-workers in Korean because all the other English teachers are gone so they’re forced to speak to me, rather through one of my co-teachers.
-Sorted out the dates of my next holiday. (Hong Kong in October! Eee!)
But honestly, the two most important things to me were getting my lessons done and being able to finally speak Korean with the non-English teachers a bit.
Last semester was great, but I spent WAY too much time lesson planning. Maybe I’m still doing something wrong but I honestly don’t understand how so many EPIK teachers get away with so little planning. And I don’t mean that in a demeaning way, I wish I could be like that.
I just literally cannot help myself from analyzing every possible way a lesson could bomb. And that takes time. Usually when I’m trying to fall asleep at night. 10:30/11:00pm would often find me still deliberating about what to do with difficult classes the next day who I worried wouldn’t take to the lesson well.
Plus my kids aren’t cute little elementary schoolers. My kids are 12-16 year olds and I get away with nothing.
Because of this I was constantly tired and therefore not teaching to the best of my ability. And it also meant that I spent too much time planning my regular classes and left me no time to plan my free curriculum after school class. And the students in that class suffered because of it.
Being able to lesson plan with the perspective of the entire semester in mind, has been amazing. It’s so nice to work on these ideas with out the pressure, stress, or worries of what happened today or is coming tomorrow. I can just see the lessons for what they are.
So if I can get mostly done with the rest of my lessons then I’ll be in an amazing place to start the semester with enough mental space to focus on the important stuff. I’m really excited about that.
And then there’s the Korean.
If getting lessons done is the practical reason why I don’t mind desk warming, than this is the fluffy, sentimental one.
(If you’ve followed this blog for any amount of time you should know that, with me, there’s always something fluffy and sentimental.)
I finally have a few people who will willingly start conversations with me in Korean. Not just hesitantly respond if I initiate, I’m talking full-fledged meaningless small talk. And that has been my dream since I got here.
The Korean teachers all have to come in for 4 office days at some point during the summer vacation, so the faces around the office have been changing a lot. But myself, the head teacher, and one administrative teacher are here everyday. And they’ve super helpful for me when the new teachers come around and aren’t sure exactly what to do with me.
(That sounds a bit harsh, but other Guest Teachers you know what I mean.)
For example, the other day one of the teachers was asking about how we were all going to do lunch. And at one point he said to the head teacher something like, “What about native speaker teacher (my title), what’s she going to do?”
And my head teacher, in a moment that secured her as one of my new favorite people in the world, replied to him, “Just ask her, she speaks Korean.”
They all greatly over-estimate my abilities, I still really only understand about 20% of anything that’s being said. But I can follow the topics and pick out simple sentences enough that it seems like I’m tracking with the conversation. But hey, fake it till you make it. Right?
Anyway, is desk warming the most efficient use of a Guest English Teacher’s time? Maybe not. But I honestly haven’t felt like I’ve been “warming” anything, I’ve been working.
And more importantly I’ve finally been able to connect with some of the other teachers whose business usually makes that impossible. I feel like I’m becoming a person to them, and less of the foreigner in the grade 3 office.
(Again harsh, but you know what I mean.)
And let’s be honest here. Teaching middle school is stressful. Being here without herds of teenagers screaming and being crazy is not the worst thing in the world.
To all the other EPIK teachers out there, I hope your desk warming days are treating you well. Let me know what you’ve been doing to fill the time! Thanks for reading!