Teaching is sort of like being a student again. I'm back to the world of assignments, readings, schedules, bells ringing, school assemblies, and tests. It's been over two years since I have taught Spanish or taken ESL education classes. I'm digging up old experiences and memories of teaching, and suddenly thinking about words like teachable moments, modeling, and teacher talk for the first time in awhile. It's really good to be here though, and the adjustment to a new job has been quick. Here is a typical day...
I leave for school around 9am, and walk less than 15 minutes to get there. On my way I pass my bank, the post office, a grocery store, restaurants, cafes, and other miscellaneous shops. Some days there are street vendors selling household items, food, or clothes. When I get to school, we have to take our shoes off and change to slippers. I was actually concerned about bringing nice "work" shoes with me to Korea, not knowing my shoes would be in my locker all day! Hah! I still think it's funny to see staff and students well-dressed but walking around in casual slip-on shoes. Anyway, I work with 4 other American teachers and 5 Korean teachers, and they are all really nice. Here is the faculty office.
In fact, they are so nice that some one often brings in goodies to share. Homemade banana bread, cupcakes, Korean rice cakes, or other traditional treats. Here is fish bread, shaped for its namesake and filled with a sweet bean paste. First period starts at 9:30. The way the school works is that we have a new crop of students every week. They are all 6th graders from various elementary schools in the city who come for 5 days as an extension from their regular school. The whole experience is supposed to simulate visiting an English-speaking country and being immersed in the language. So every Monday morning is Orientation, in which the students get checked in and get a "passport". They then have to go through Immigration and answer questions, which is how we assess their comprehension and speaking ability. The headmaster gives a speech and all the instructors have to give short speeches as well. It is usually a quick and generic "Welcome, work hard, have fun" schpeal, but my coworker James takes it to the next level. He is from Memphis and I think he's hilarious. He always does a more profound speech during Orientation, often quoting a U.S. president, Gandhi, or Voltaire. He said his goal is to make the headmaster's translation into Korean longer than his original speech in English. Also, James teaches the music class. I walked by the other day, and I don't know what song they were learning, but I caught a glimpse of the whiteboard. All it said was "Mullet. Business in the front, party in the back". Ahh, I love the poetic license we have as teachers.
Then begins content classes, of which I'm teaching two right now. In the mornings I have Clinic, where students learn common illnesses and roleplay going to the doctor. Then I do the cooking class. Right now the lesson is crepes, and the kids really like it. It sort of feels like cheating. I mean, they get to make food and cover it in chocolate, so of course they are going to like the class. After third period we have lunch at noon. So far, I usually eat the school food with the Korean staff. Sometimes I go out, and there are plenty of lunch places nearby, but it takes time and the school food is generally good. Once in a while some one brings in something homemade, especially different kimchis, or meat to cook there and share with every one. Here is a duck stir-fry from last week, to be wrapped in lettuce leaves, called ori chumulak.
I don't teach 4th or 5th period, so after lunch is my planning time. I am still wading through all the materials that were left to us from past teachers. I work on making new materials, but sometimes it's a little hard because the computer is in Korean. I mean, seriously, have you ever tried to make a power point when you can't even find where to click "new slide" ? It's difficult. Luckily, Cut, Copy, and Paste show the keyboard shortcut letter in English, so I end up using those all the time.
The regular school day ends at 2:40. All the 6th graders go home, and most of the teachers have planning time after that. However, I do an afternoon Reading and Speaking course for 8th graders from 4:00-5:30. Whereas our 6th graders are only here for a week, I have the 8th grade class for 14 weeks, and all my lesson planning is for them. I'm glad I was assigned this group, because it gives me a chance to get to know them over the semester.
On Friday afternoons we have Festival, where we say goodbye to the students since it is the last day of the program. It ends up being Paparazzi time- all the students want pictures of the teachers, so seriously you have a mass of 13 year olds in your face with their camera phone taking your picture. Sometimes they want your autograph too in their passport. They all write their feelings about the week on a big piece of butcher paper, then we give more speeches, then there are a few student speeches, then we watch a slideshow of pictures from class the past week. Finally, we all sing whatever song they learned in music class, this week "Achy Breaky Heart" by Billy Ray Cyrus (oh, that might explain the mullet vocabulary!)which ended with James and I doing a spontaneous demonstration of the Electric Slide for the school.
So that's the week in a nutshell. Sixty-four new kids every Monday through Friday. Repeat. A little variety got thrown in last week with our first all-staff dinner, a welcome for us new teachers and a goodbye for another. It was samgyeopsal at a restaurant owned by the parents of one of the support staff. We ate Korean-style, sitting on the heated floor with shoes off. It was yuummyy. We all ended up having to do speeches (more speeches, are you surprised?) which I think is actually a really sweet tradition. I'm instituting it in my household when I get back to the U.S. It is my Canadian coworker Kerry who we were saying goodbye to and I am so sad. She and her husband are moving back to Canada in a few days. She is like a coworker dream, the kind of woman you hope to work with when you start a new job in a new country. In terms of work, she was extremely helpful, gave me all her old files and answered about a million questions. In terms of getting settled in my new apartment, she was key. I wish she weren't moving, but it ended up being good timing for me getting here since she had to get rid of some household items. She gave me an iron, a hairdryer, an electric teapot, a hand-blender, food, dishes, platters, and pots. She is nothing short of my Korea angel.
The linguistic nerd in me loves this work because I get to be amused by language all day long (okay, maybe not all day. A few choice moments in the day.) Recently, I was doing a speaking assessment with one of my 8th graders. She had to describe a picture sequence, basically of a man drinking coffee and washing the dishes. She struggled to describe each picture, and finally got to the last one where the coffee cup is shiny and clean. "Man washing dishes and then..." She squeezed her eyes shut, searching for the words. "Then the cup is bling bling!" I looked at her in surprise and we both started cracking up.
The 8th graders also had to write an essay, "Why is learning English important to me?" It was partly to assess their writing level, partly as a morale booster, and partly to learn more about them. I loved reading the essays. They were very honest and to-the-point. Here are quotes from a few of the students' papers.
"It is very hard to express oneself in a language that is not a foreign language own. I persevere in learn efforts for my future."
"When I finish the college, I will travel in Europe. And I will learn their culture, make many friend, and visit their relics."
"Learning English is important to me because everything is English like sign. Signboard and English is connected to my dream."
"I study English because I want to live good life. These days, English is global language. If I don't study English I can’t get a job. Then I will be jobless person.…Although English is hard and difficult, I have to study English hard. When I grow up and become an adult I will get a great job and live good life. So if I marry I will live happy life with my wife and my children."
"In the future, I want to be a diplomat, so I’m learning English for my vision."
"I think English hard but I am patient because I dream come true in order I trip England because I heard that these place is very beautiful."
"I like learning English that I can speak English each other, and in this generation I should learning English for my beautiful future…"
"Because I want to go to Australia. In Australia I can see kangaroo and Australia is very peaceful. Australia is use English. So go to Australia I learning English and speak it very much. But I’m not well at English."
"I think hard about learning English words and I like about learning English. I feel proud."
"So I watch the animation “The Simpson” and “Sponge Bob” in weekend. My uncle said, Watching the animation in English is a good way to studying English."
There you have it. Not grammatically perfect, but brillance from the mouths of babes. Sometimes I feel a little funny being an English teacher, and profiting from spreading this form of linguistic neo-imperialism to far reaches of the globe. In general, I am a supporter of multi-linguism, and of groups not having to sacrifice their native language to learn whatever the more dominant, economic, and often colonial language is. I like to think I am helping the kids by teaching English, that they will have more education and job opportunities, and that they can be proud to speak Korean while also having the language skills necessary to be more global citizens. There is no doubt that Korea has undertaken a serious endeavor to learn English, and so far it is fun to teach such willing students. It also means it is time for me to work on my Korean...
I'm a writer and editor in Seattle. I started this blog in 2008 to chronicle my travels in Latin America, and continued writing through jaunts in Europe and Asia.
Now I'm back where I grew up in the Pacific Northwest, and can't stop hiking to fire lookouts in the Cascade Mountains.