For nearly twenty years, semester after semester, classroom after classroom, I sat amongst peers staring up at various teachers who came and went out of my life, like a crush or a passing trend. I definitely respected all of these people, and even admired many of them as well. I perceived them as being vastly knowledgeable, well-read, and bore the answers to every thinkable question I might have. There was always a mystique that surrounded “the teacher” – who is this person really? Is she married? Is he this mean to his own children? What do her pajamas look like? Did he smoke pot in college? What does she really think of me? And where on earth does he shop?! These types of questions lingered in our minds as students, from elementary school through college, sometimes talked about during lunchtime gossip, but usually just remained in the depths of our youthful wonderings. Seeing teachers in public, if I may quote the 2004 film “Mean Girls” “is like seeing a dog walk on its hind legs.” Just bizarre.
Never in my 16 years of academia as a student did I think I would venture to the other side. Sure, I may have conjured up some revengeful fantasies of grading papers with red pens, passing out pop quizzes with a giant grin on my face, and assigning 5 hours of homework. But I did not seriously think I would have the opportunity to try it out. And here I am! Teaching English in Korea – quite a unique educational experience. Koreans value English education as a high priority – it is mandatory for all students, from elementary through high school. They feel it’s important to have a native speaker in the school so the students can hear what it actually sounds like (since most of their Korean English teachers speak with a thick accent) and have exposure to a different culture. (As I mentioned before, Korea is a very homogenous country.)
And when I say educational experience, I’m not only giving lessons…each day I learn dozens of new things myself. About this country, culture, school system, educational philosophy, history, food. (One of these days I’m gonna muster up the courage to bring my camera with me into the lunch room and take a picture of my lunch tray.)
So I guess I should share with all of you non-teachers (there are a few teachers following this blog I know….shout out to my aunt Holly and cousin Bobby!) what it’s like on the other side, especially in a culture so different. The students respect me, more so when I raise my voice or have candy to hand out for correct answers. Preparing lesson plans has gotten much easier with practice. I’m not required to follow the textbook, so it’s totally up to me what I decide to teach – my main goal is to get them speaking in English. I see the 1st graders (American high school 10th grade) once or twice a week, and the 2nd and 3rd graders every other week. I also teach Morning Class to 1st graders each day. So far my lesson plans have been:
1) About Me
2) American High School
4) Zodiac Signs
6) Phobias (for Halloween!)
7) Past Tense
8) Keeping in Shape
Basically I make a Powerpoint and a worksheet, and change-up the way I teach depending on the grade level. In the morning, we usually play games or I pass out a word search. Thank you Camp Pembroke, Central Synagogue, and YMCA acting for teaching me thousands of ice-breakers that I now use with my Korean students! OH! I almost forgot. I’m teaching them the names of all 50 states, and suing the “Fifty Nifty United States” song to help them understand. Its hilarious getting them to pronounce things like “Louisiana” and “Illinois.”
For the most part, teaching these girls is really fun. I try to make the lessons light-hearted, entertaining, but also educational. They are so stressed out all day long, sitting in 1-hour lectures with zero activity or movement, I feel like I have a responsibility to brighten their day. But being a teacher in Korea is more than just teaching. To be a teacher here is a highly respected profession, and teachers are regarded as being very successful individuals. Most of the men wear suits to work each day, and the women dress professionally as well. Definitely a step-up from business casual.
But to be honest, I am not really regarded as a “true teacher” – just the foreign English teacher. Probably because most of the other teachers here are old enough to be my parents… In addition, teachers are expected to help out in other ways. For example, this week there is some construction and office-changing going on in the school. So all the teachers helped move furniture from the nurses office to her new office. We also spent an hour putting coverings on the windows of the teachers’ office so students can’t peek into our office anymore. It’s kind of strange, but definitely a bonding experience.
I could obviously continue to ramble…I think you’ve figured out what a pro I am at that by now! (Thanks to all my English teachers over the years.)