Teaching in Seoul: My 1st month!
THEY CALL ME GENY TEACHER.
Yes I answer to a new name now. I got a few laughs whenever I told teachers and students that my name was Genesis like the Hyundai Genesis car. After thinking about it the school staff said yea your name is awesome,but you should probably shorten it. So Geny (Jenny) Teacher it is!
My first day of school was August 28th - I was anxious to meet everyone and scope out the scene as there was a VERY last minute change in my situation. (but more on that later) Would I like my school? Would they like me? Can I even teach? these thoughts briefly swirled in my mind. Thoughts that quickly melted away when I was greeted with warm smiles from the principal and vice-principal. After the principal introduced herself she said, "Oh, I think the students are going to like you." PHEW! *Insert major sigh of relief here*
I hit the (school) ground running. Not only was it my very first day officially teaching, but I was put to the test by teaching 6 classes that day. Thankfully the adrenaline (and coffee) got me through.
It has been a fantastic whirlwind ever since! Now, here I am standing with one month of experience under my belt already.
The security man stands at the gates of my elementary school, and always wears a BIG smile on his face. He greets me in the morning and says goodbye in the afternoons. Each day he'll say, "an-yeonghaseyo" (hello) and I say the same. Then he says "banga-woyo" (nice to meet you) and I say the same. Then he'll start saying other things to which I just awkwardly smile and slowly walk away because that's about all the Korean I understand from him. Still, it is an automatic mood booster for me each day.
Feeling like a mini celebrity
The halls literally echo with "HELLLLOOOO GENY TEACHEEER!!" every time I walk the halls. Though I feel bad that my co-teachers don't get nearly as much love, hearing this never gets old.
Students bow to me. Nah, I don't mean that pretentiously. Every time students greet me and other teachers, they bow as a sign of respect. Bowing can signal a hello, goodbye or thank you and so the lower the bow, the bigger the sign of respect. Respect is so important here, however one time a student failed to bow to me as I walked past. I thought nothing of this until I heard a slew of Korean and the word "seonsaengnim", meaning teacher, in the sharpest tone. That student then came up to me and bowed. Respect your elders folks. Funnily enough, for the first couple of weeks I would return the gesture and bow back to each student. Eventually I realized that most teachers don't need to do this.
Let's talk numbers
I am the token English teacher at my school.
Since I am the only native teacher at my school I teach all sections of English class alongside my co-teachers. I teach 3rd - 6th graders; each grade has numerous sections 3-1; 3-2; 3-3 etc. This means I teach 11 sections of English class in total. Over the course of one week I teach all sections of each grade twice. So given the scheduling, that amounts to a total 22 classes per week.
My elementary school is on the smaller side so I have about 18 students in each class which is amazing. I am able to give students more personalized attention and really get a feel for their skill levels.
The students are what makes this gig really fun. Though it hasn't been long, I get a strong feel for their personalities and have really been enjoying getting to know them. There are so many names to keep track of; many names are similar or are the same so I'm still looking for strategies to remember them all!
3rd graders are adorable and live to make teachers happy, they love showing off what they know and happily participate in all activities. 6th graders are more rambunctious and just want to have fun and socialize with their friends and understandably so, they are just coming into their own and will be heading to middle school soon! I enjoy being able to have deeper conversations with them.
All my classes are mixed levels and there are a few students in my classes with severe learning challenges as well. It is heartwarming to see all the students come together in class to help the more challenged students.
Students are under a lot of pressure here to excel and sometimes you can feel that stress in the classroom. I once saw a student erase a drawing numerous times because it had to be just right - this was just a simple fun drawing activity! I'm constantly trying to gage what their personal interests are so I can incorporate them into the lessons. My aim is to allow the students to relax and have fun in English class since they already have so much to deal with.
I am at school from 8:40am - 4:40pm each day, though classes only run from 9:00am - 2:30pm. Some days I'll have 6 classes while other days im blessed with only 3. Each class is only 40 minutes long. After classes end I usually lesson plan with my co teacher. We split the planning 50-50 and topics will range from colors, making plans, asking how often a friend does something, asking about vacations, and dining etiquette. I have a curriculum to follow so all the topics have been laid out for us.
When not lesson planning I get materials squared away, clean the classrooms, or start the infamous "desk warming" aka blog, study Korean, or research places to explore. Unless we get special permission to leave, we are expected to remain on school grounds all day. I do not remain after school for clubs, however I will run English camps in winter and summer for the students. These camps run during the student's breaks. It is a wonder how these students work so hard and manage to keep up!
Getting along with my co-teachers
I have 2 co-teachers this semester and they are both fantastic. They have been my life lines during my 1st few weeks here and have really helped me settle into life in Korea. When they aren't teaching alongside me, they are giving me directions so I can meet my friends, they are taking me to the bank to get an account, or helping me translate the washer machine instructions in my home.
I cannot thank them enough for easing my transition here so I am constantly buying them snacks. Every day the three of us eat lunch together in the cafeteria. The teachers have a special lunch room and often times do not eat with the students.
Speaking of lunch...
Our lunches vary each day and will typically include rice, kimchi or fermented vegetables, soup of some sort, meat, and every once in a while fruit or dessert. We rarely get served drinks with our meals which made me so curious. My guess is that maybe the soup serves as a sufficient form of hydration? Apparently the woman in charge of nutrition at my school won multiple awards for the quality of the school lunches. I have to say it is quite good and more than surpasses the lunch food back home in the U.S.
Fitting in with everyone else
We also have monthly staff outings with all the other teachers at the school to boost camaraderie. Though there is a big language barrier, everyone is so welcoming and we all try our best to piece the little English or Korean that we know to communicate. Often times I find myself just observing everyone and listening for words that I understand. I'll nod my head when they nod and laugh when they laugh. It's so exciting when I hear words that I know!
I'm really enjoying teaching so far, and every day is a new adventure.
I hope this gives my family and friends more insight into my life here as a teacher. I'm growing every day and really enjoying it so far.
As always please feel free to reach out with questions! :)