I have now been teaching in South Korea for over four weeks! As the weeks slowly pass by I gain more and more experience and I think that I am slowly getting into the flow of things here. Last I left off with you all I had just finished telling the interesting tale of my first week here. It is safe to say that things have certainly calmed down considerably from that opening salvo that was served to me by Korea. After a bit of time I am pretty well settled into both my apartment and my job, and accomplishing that was far easier than I had originally expected. Thanks to the previous teacher who lived in my apartment all I needed was to stock up on food and I was pretty well all set! I can not express enough gratitude to her and all the previous teachers that have lived in my apartment for leaving me a pretty sweet set up. Settling in on the job front was actually just about as easy as the home life side of things once I got through that first week. Now it has all become relatively routine and no big surprises have jumped out at me thus far. So here is a very brief synopsis of the last couple of weeks:
First, probably one of the most common questions I get from friends and family is “How’s the job going?” so I figure that this is a good place to start. Probably the single biggest reason that the first week of teaching here was so difficult was because I wasn’t really teaching. While I am certainly grateful to have been able to meet all of my students before I started teaching them, filling an entire week of lessons with free talking and game time was actually far more tiring than can be expected. For the middle age groups it was easy enough, just do a lengthy question and answer intro sessions with the students and then fill in the rest of the time by playing a combination of hangman and pictionary. Unfortunately this strategy does not work nearly as well for the younger kids who can barely spell or speak English, nor for the older kids who simply get too bored of playing word games for an hour. Luckily for me after the first week that was all done away with and I was finally able to dive into teaching.
At the start of my second week in Korea I was told that I was to begin teaching out of the standard textbooks provided by the chain of language school to which we belong. Having already looked through many of the books during my off hours in the first week, I was relatively well prepared for this. To be entirely honest, it is a pretty straight forward task. The books are all pretty well structured, with each chapter containing one concise lesson on a subject in English. Now this ranges throughout the age groups of course. My youngest students have chapters based around a single letter of the alphabet or a lesson about how letters come together to make sounds. As they get older the lessons develop into sections about animals, jobs, towns, and such slowly building in difficulty and always building off of whatever came earlier in each book. By the time you get to my oldest students, I start teaching what are called inter subject lessons. Basically simplified lessons mostly on things you would find in the average middle school health or science class. There are seven levels in all, with multiple books in each level. So all in all the curriculum is really well structured, and very easy for me to jump right into teaching out of.
Basically my task is to figure out what each lesson about for a day and simply plan the individual lessons based off of the information in the book. Depending on the subject sometimes I can get away without really having to plan too much out for myself, for example the lesson on making picture frames and talking about the pictures that the students put in their frames really didn’t require any outside thinking by me, whereas some lessons require me to think of slightly more fun activities or games to get the point across to the students. All in all it is fairly simple, and has made my job quite easy. Thus far I must admit that I really do enjoy it. There are of course snags here and there, but for the most part it is all pretty simple.
On the whole my classes are pretty well behaved. They all talk a little too much in Korean, which I need to work a little harder to stamp out. I already have a couple ideas of how to go about this, so I think I should have it under control. I do have a couple of troubled classes, but luckily it is more from a teaching standpoint and not so much from a behavioral one. I have one class that is absolutely dead silent. Now in case I haven’t made it clear yet, my only job here is to be the speaking instructor. While I do inadvertently help them with grammar, spelling, syntax, and the like, I am here to teach them how to speak properly in English. This is a fairly impossible task to accomplish if the entire class refuses to talk. Now to be fair, for the first two weeks of my actually teaching them our lesson was on the water cycle. What am I supposed to get teenage students to say about the water cycle?!? “I like water vapor!” “Precipitation is my favorite part of the water cycle!” Seriously?!? There is literally no fun way to teach this as a speaking lesson short of buying a bunch of Super-soakers and having a massive water fight, which I am pretty sure is against the rules. So I tried not to hold that against them because honestly if I was their age and in the same situation I would probably sit there silently too. Where they did actually bewilder me was when it came time to play a game at the end of the class. On my first day of actually teaching out of the books, my director instructed me that I was to only teach the lesson for thirty-five minutes and then to fill the last fifteen minutes with a game or free talking in English. This is the absolute favorite time of the class for literally every other single class that I teach, including the oldest students in the entire academy. But not for this class. Even during game time they sit there silently. My favorite was when they were dead silent during a game called “Hot Seat.” The way this particular game is set up it should absolutely force students to talk to each other. The point of the game is that I have one student come and sit at the front of the classroom with their back to the whiteboard. I then write a word in English on the whiteboard for the rest of the class to see. The class then gives them clues in English to try and get them to guess the word. It was an especially awkward ten minutes when I wrote a simple word like “monkey” on the board and the poor kid had to sit there in silence as her classmates refused to say a single clue other than “It’s animal.”
So after a couple failed attempts at different games I have decided to take a new approach at trying to get them to open up. My next attempt is going to be music. When I was in college I had this one particular Italian professor that was excellent at using music to get us not only to listen better in Italian, but also to get the cadence down of speaking the language. I know that a lot of language teachers use music as part of their classes, but this one Italian professor really had a flair for choosing the right song to get you into the lesson. I am hoping to be even slightly as successful as he was with these silent students.
Other then that particularly quiet class the rest of my classes have gone fairly well. I was told by my director that I was going too fast in one of my classes, which is understandable and ridiculous at the same time. This is the only class that I see more than once a week, on top of being the oldest students at the academy. For the first few weeks I was teaching them a lesson on the climate zones on Earth. I was instructed to make this lesson last for three class periods, so I did, which was a stretch as it was, but I managed it. Here I must reiterate again that I am supposed to be the speaking teacher. It is hard to get middle school aged students to talk about climate zones for over three hours! This was fine though, I found ways to prolong out the lesson, like having them watch a little bit of an episode from Planet Earth. So that was no big worry, and on the plus side, other then that my director thinks that I am a great teacher! Apparently she likes it when I yell at my students because it gets them to be silent and pay attention immediately. I don’t yell much, usually just one word; “QUIET!” This can usually be heard from just about anywhere in our small academy though. One of the perks of being a goalkeeper in soccer is that I am used to having to yell across an entire soccer pitch, so my voice can carry when it needs to!
Overall teaching is going really well. I like my job, and the academy where I work. Outside of my professional life, my social life is going quite well too. I am developing a good group of friends in the expat English teacher community. The foreigner community here in Suncheon is fairly small, so it is a rather tight knit group in places. I have not even come close to scratching the surface of meeting all of the expats here of course, but thus far I’ve liked everyone that I’ve met. They are a good group of people, and we have already had several excellent nights together. Thus far everything here in Korea is going splendidly!
Well I think that is enough for one post. My apologies again for how long it took to get this one up! I must get better at this! Maybe a schedule or something…
Anyhoo, enough of my rambling!