Two months in Korea FAQs
Part I: Teaching
What’s your schedule like?
I wake up around 6am to catch the 7am bus to school every morning. The bus ride then takes about 1 hour 20 minutes. I usually set an alarm, start listening to a podcast, and then fall asleep after about 20 minutes. Luckily, I haven’t missed my stop yet (knock on wood)!
I work at two different elementary schools that are both on the east side of the island. I teach at Seongeup Elementary on Mondays and Thursdays, and at Dongnam Elementary on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.
Classes are each 40 minutes long, and I teach anywhere from two to six classes each day. Lunch is eaten in the cafeteria with all of the students and other teachers. Free periods are spent lesson planning, emailing, facebooking, writing this, etc.
I leave school at 4:30 everyday to catch the bus home, and hopefully make it back by 6:00.
What are your students like?
I teach 3rd-6th graders. Most of them are great. Better than I expected. But, kids will still be kids and some of them are a pain in the butt. Some are tired and bored, others are way too energetic. Probably a fairly standard classroom. Their English levels vary quite a lot too. Some already know everything in the textbook while others can’t understand a word I’m saying.
Seongeup is a much smaller school, and I have about 8-12 students in a class. It’s great. I can present things in a less teacher-y way and have more one-on-one conversations with each student. And actually learn their names!
Dongnam is a lot bigger. There are about 18-25 kids in each class. It’s a bit harder. Everything you hear about large class sizes is true. I could spend all 40 minutes helping one kid who’s struggling with a worksheet. But I can’t. Because there are 24 other kids in the class. I have to move along, because we have to get through the textbook, and if they can’t keep up, they get left behind. There are kids in my 6th grade class who don’t know anything besides “hello”.
Do you like teaching?
I’m actually liking it more than I thought I would. While there are challenges (and plenty more to come, I’m sure), it’s not nearly as difficult or as stressful as I thought it would be. I do have to follow the textbooks pretty closely, as that’s what the students are eventually tested on. So, it can be a struggle to make the lessons fun for the kids. I’ve heard (and I’m hoping) that it gets easier as you go on. Probably just takes some time to establish a routine, and figure out what works and what doesn’t.
Do you work with a Korean co-teacher?
I have a co-teacher at Seongeup Elementary. She is great, which makes the job that much easier. We’re similar in age and she speaks practically fluent English, so we get along really well and work together quite easily. Also, with low-level students, it can be really helpful to have her give explanations in Korean to the students. Especially for things like new vocabulary and instructions for activities. The students will understand her directions for a game in a minute, whereas it takes me at least 5 minutes of repeating myself, gesturing, and pointing before they kind of know what they’re doing.
I do not have a co-teacher at Dongnam. I was a bit nervous when I first found this out. But, so far it’s worked out alright. I have to plan all the lessons myself, but I also don’t need to find the time to communicate ideas with a co-teacher. I can just know what I’m doing, walk into the classroom, and do what I’ve planned. (Which is all very conducive for my strategy of planning lessons 30 minutes before they start.) So, while having a (good) co-teacher can certainly help lighten the workload, it does add the extra step of finding time to discuss lesson plans with each other.
Most of the regular homeroom teachers at Dongnam are good about helping me out. Some of them stay in the room and help make sure the students are behaving and staying on task. Some help to explain directions in Korean as well. Every now and then (although I think it will slowly become more frequent), they don’t come to English class at all. This can sometimes create discipline issues, but nothing too bad yet.
I’ll keep checking in, and we’ll see how much of this still applies a few months down the road. =)