Tips for Surviving Your First Day as an EPIK Teacher
If walking up to my school on the first day amid a literal sea of students staring and gawking at me wasn’t enough to make me nervous, then standing in front of my first class of 30 something 15-year-old boys was.
Your first few days as an EPIK teacher vary greatly from school to school but, unless you’ve taught in a public Korean school before, it will probably be a little scary. But that’s okay, nothing worth doing was every easy anyway. And soon you’ll look back on those first few days and wonder what you were so nervous about anyway.
We all go through it, and we all survive, but I thought I could take just a little bit of your time to give you a few tips that might help make those first few days a little easier. These are just a few things that, looking back, would have been nice to know.
#1. Write stuff down.
Write everything down. I have very few solid memories of those first few days but I desperately wish I did. The version of my school in my memory from those days is so far removed from how I feel about it now, that it almost seems like it was a different life. I have these vague memories of doing my introduction class, how each class had a different vibe, and that certain kids were cheeky right off the bat. Now I know each class’s personality really well, and I know exactly who my cheeky ones are, but I wish I could remember enough from the beginning to be able to compare my first impression with what I know now.
It’s also incredibly beneficial just practically. So much of your mental, physical, and emotional energy is being poured into just staying afloat those first few days, that it’s nice to take some of that load off by writing things down. You probably won’t be able to remember the different personalities and responses of each different class in the beginning. And you especially won’t remember “I told 2-4 that we’d finish the game next week, an I owe a team in 3-7 candy from last class.”
Or at least I definitely can’t remember each of those little things. So even if you can just manage to write down, “they struggled during the explanation but got the listening pretty well. We played this game and it was fun. Minju told me she’s going to a concert this weekend. *Ask her about it next week” that’s more than enough.
It also helps with the names. Start learning names early because it never ends. (But it’s very worth it.)
#2. Bring your own slippers.
This is, of course, not entirely necessary. But I remember in the beginning wanting desperately to just fit in with the other teachers. Plus, before the novelty of you wears off, there will be a lot of staring. During the first few days I just used the visitor slippers that the school has a ton of by the entrance. But they were way too big for me and kept falling off my feet. I even tripped over them a few times.
It was when I heard some students walking behind me one day whisper something about the word shoe in Korean, as I struggled to shuffled along, that I decided it was time to buy some of my own. Essentially this is just giving you one more little piece of control in a situation that, especially in the beginning, you have little control over.
#3. Be worthy of your intro lesson, and make sure your intro lesson is worthy of you.
Your first time seeing the students in their classroom is going to set a lot of precedents. The novelty of you will curb the bad behavior for a while, but in the first class you need to be firm about what you will and will not let them get away with. Or the level of noise you will tolerate, because hopefully there won’t be any issues bigger than that on the first day of class.
This is also the first time all of your co-teachers will see you in the classroom. And, if at all possible, you need to make sure that you give them a good impression. Because eventually the way that they perceive your class, whether they think you’re a “real teacher” or your class is a “real class,” the kids will end up thinking the same thing. Pretty much no matter what you do.
I got lucky in that my co-teachers all take my class seriously and in turn take me seriously. Mostly because they’re all kind people and talented teachers, but I think it also has a least a little to do with the fact that I started well off the bat. Or tried at least. My intro lesson was structured but fun and when I walked into the classroom with one of my co’s (I have 5 total) for the first time she said to me, “I’ve heard a lot about your lesson! I’m excited to see it.”
So what I’m trying to say it let your introduction be as good of a lesson as you are a teacher. And use it as a way to make a good impression with your students and co-teachers alike.
This is, of course, exponentially harder than it sounds. But when I look back at my first few months I was terrified of everything. I was nervous that my co-teacher would be upset when the computer took longer than usual to open the PowerPoint and things were idle for a moment, I was nervous at lunch that I would put my food on the tray in the wrong spots, I was nervous that my slippers looked stupid, I was nervous that my principal would appear out of nowhere to yell at me if I wore jeans to school.
But all of those things turned out to be pretty much nonsense. Your co-teacher understands the computer is slow, you can look at the other teachers lunch trays if you have to (it’s rice on the left, soup on the right), all slippers look stupid, and no one really cares what you wear as long as it’s on par with all the other teachers.
I would have been able to enjoy school a lot more and start building relationships with my kids a lot earlier if I hadn’t been so distracted by all my own little worries.
This is something that takes time, I realize that. It took me a really long time before I was able to let go of a lot of those things. But if you can make a conscious effort to remind yourself every day, especially in the beginning, not to worry too much it could make your life a lot easier than mine was.
If a certain kind of lesson really isn’t working, let it go. Do what you can to improve lessons and tweak them but don’t ever force something that clearly isn’t going to happen. The kids will like what they like, and they won’t like what they won’t like. That doesn’t have anything to do with you.
But what is up to you, is to learn from each class. Remember, and write down, what works and what doesn’t and build upon that every week.
If any other EPIK teachers are reading this and want to add anything in the comments please feel free! I know I can’t think of everything.
These are just some of the things that I could have used a gentle reminder of when I first started teaching. And some of which I still need to remember even now.
I hope this post finds you well! Thanks for reading!