When The Shine Wears Off
This is year two for me living and working in Daejeon, Korea.
So that means that, for two-thirds of my students this is their second year with me.
It means that the novelty of me has worn off for most of my kids. That manifests itself in good and bad ways but is true nonetheless.
No longer being the interesting new foreign teacher means more behavior problems, more silliness, more English, and way more comfortable.
My older kids are at a point now where they know the structure of my class, what to expect, and what they can and can’t get away with.
Now that I’ve been here for a while I’m a part of this shared experience that is middle school to them.
We can make jokes together about things that happened last year, about kids who said funny things in class, and I’m no longer asking questions like, “what do you do on sports day?” instead it’s, “did your class win for best costume??” or “I saw you block 3 goals during the soccer championship!”
But they also no longer feel like they have to impress me. The good ones still want to, but the punks know exactly how little they can get away with doing before I’m going to walk over and force them to either do the work or listen to some more English while I repeat the directions for the millionth time.
Doing all of this for a second time also means that I get to reuse some of my lessons from last year. So instead of frantically scrambling to come up with ideas from scratch, I get to look at what I did last year and then improve from there.
With the other teachers it means that people are a lot less afraid of me. Most of the teachers, while it’s still pretty much a secret to the kids, know that I can hold a basic enough conversation in Korean so there’s a lot more small talk that goes on now which makes me really happy.
But now that they’re more comfortable with me I am also much more privy to the not so pleasant things that go on between the offices and teachers and students here. They will talk about things in front of me that they wouldn’t have in the beginning. When there’s a big problem with a particular student I usually find out pretty quickly or I understand enough Korean to catch what’s going on when the teachers talk about it in the office.
As opposed to last year when, after asking the question about 4 months into the year, “What ever happened to (student’s name)?” I got the answer, “Oh yea, he went to jail.”
This year I already, yes already, know who’s having trouble with the police.
But the most drastic shift with school for me, has been it’s removal from the pedestal where it lived last year.
Last year I was so completely enraptured by the students that I could look past, or not even notice, a lot of the difficult things about my school. But like any relationship where the beginning is fun and exciting, what that “puppy love” fades into isn’t anything less but it’s definitely different.
This year I still love my kids of course, but this job is just a job. A job where everyday there are things I look forward to and things I dread. It’s much easier this time around, but also less exciting. My kids are super comfortable with me so we get a lot more accomplished in class now, but the frustration that comes with the limits of my position are also more real.
On Monday we started announcing speaking tests. I remember doing this for the first time last year and the kids audibly gasping when my co-teacher told them it was a one-on-one interview style exam with me.
This year when we announced the topics, my second and third graders, who now have two of these exams under their belts, didn’t bat an eye. I bumped into a few of my seconds graders in the convenience store by my house yesterday and we started talking about the test. I asked them as a joke if they were excited but one of my favorites replied with, “Yes! Last year was so fun!”
So for any of you EPIK teachers out there thinking of staying for another year: 1. I would absolutely encourage you to, and 2. know that it will probably be very different from your first year experience. But that can be a really awesome thing as well! 🙂
Thanks for reading!