Three months in

One quarter of a year. That’s how long I’ve been teaching English here now.

I wrote a post back in April about the changes I experienced after spending just one month here. I still stand behind that post 100%. Perhaps the honeymoon phase is starting to wear off a bit now, but it’s okay because Korea and I are settling down into a nice stable, committed relationship. (I feel that the deterioration of the honeymoon phase can be almost totally attributed to the weather. Heat and my life satisfaction levels have an inverse correlation.)

Behold the very scientific graph that displays my reaction to hot weather

At any rate, here is a collection of more things I’ve learned / more of the things that have been making me happy lately.

  • Teaching the textbook is sometimes a handicap, not a help. When I started, I felt relieved that I was required to teach from the textbook and leaned on it heavily as a crutch for designing my lesson plans. Now I’m realizing that, while a sense of structure and guidance from the textbook is nice, it is terribly restricting when I must teach Pages X, Y, and Z by ABC date in order for the kids to be ready for this or that test. I think they would learn a lot more about English fluency (and have more fun) if we had more freedom to explore the cultural aspects of the English language and could be flexible about when we used the book.
  • Some classes have stopped giving me joyous hellos when I walk into their room. It’s okay; it’s to be expected. However, what really touches me is the greeting I still receive from just a handful of classes. One class in particular still treats me like royalty – and I do mean royalty. A few boys from the class literally run down the hallway to meet me, arms outstretched, crying, “Maddy Teacher!” and fighting over who will carry my material. This past Friday was the first time I’d seen them in 3 weeks (due to cancelled classes during Sports Day and Club Day), so they told me, “We missed you!” When I was in the classroom, they turned on the ceiling fans and said, “For you.” It’s the type of class that can make all my problems and stresses melt away for 45 minutes.
  • I presented the problem “I’m hungry” to a class, expecting them to offer help using the expression “Do you want me to…?” (because that was what we were studying), but instead one boy said “Me too.”
  • Similarly, I showed them a picture of a very messy room and spoke the problem, “My room is messy” (trying to elicit, “Do you want me to help you clean it?”), but then I heard one of the kids ask in Korean, “That’s Saem’s room?” “No, no, not my room!” I hastened to clarify. The whole class laughed at that one.
  • There are 2nd graders at my main school who always wish me “Nice-uh lunch-ee!” (have a nice lunch) when they see me walking towards the teachers’ cafeteria. They’re not even my students because I only teach the 3rd graders at that school, so it’s really cute.
  • I don’t think I’ll ever stop feeling honored and touched when my kids bow to me. Obviously some of them just wave and say hi, but there are quite a few who either head-bow or full bow to me, whether they’re passing me in the hallways or on the streets. So cute.
  • Every day at my main school, after last period, a little army of 2nd graders come into my office (the 2nd grade homeroom teachers’ office) to clean the office / get cleaning supplies for their classrooms. (If I haven’t mentioned it before, Korean students clean their own classrooms, as well as the teachers’ offices, each day.) After this, I’m alone in the office for about 10-20 minutes. The other day, two 2nd grade boys came into the office during this time when I was alone, and after a little hesitation, one came up and asked me, “심심해요?” (Shimshimhaeyo? / Aren’t you bored?) “No, I’m not bored,” I assured him. After another moment of hesitation, he blurted, “You’re pretty!” and he and his friend ran out. So. Cute.

(Well yes, I did end the last three paragraphs with the word “cute.” So?)

My life here seems to follow a wave-like pattern of being extremely intensely overwhelmingly busy and then, quite suddenly, I’m not. My workload is never evenly spaced over a number of days or weeks; it’s always planning seven lessons and writing test questions and proofreading students’ work and teachers’ writing all in the space of a couple days, and then just as I’m about to suffocate with everything I have to do, it’s over. I find myself sitting bewilderedly at my desk, staring at my empty to-do list in disbelief – Do I REALLY not have anything to do? I must be forgetting something…

Just now was one of those moments. Having completed my three open classes and finally finished writing ALL the speaking test questions for both of my schools and finished all my lesson planning for the rest of the week, all that remains for me to do is actually test all the kids, starting next week…

…which requires more mental and emotional preparation than anything else. My two schools are each using different criteria and point systems for the scoring, and I will have no more than 2 minutes with each kid – in which I must ask them two questions, receive two answers (or not, as the case may be), and decide on a fair grade before the next kid comes in. Depending on which school I’m at, their score includes accuracy, pronunciation, vocabulary, confidence, fluency, and number of sentences spoken.

I also have to think about how discouraging it is for an already low-level student to receive a really bad grade… but at the same time they can’t receive the same grade as high-level students who will give far better answers… and of course, I must carefully document each and every kid’s score in each area and be prepared to explain in case parents come around complaining about their kid’s score. Gulp.

It’s gonna be a crazy few weeks.


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