Even though I have been to one of my schools and lived here in Gwangju for almost two weeks, I hadn’t taught any classes until this week. We had great training up in Jeonju, but before we’ve actually started teaching there were so many unknowns. And suddenly I am alone and the only native english teacher, surrounded by a language and culture that I am trying so hard to understand. The Korean culture is thousands of years old, while American culture is only a few hundred. So there are many customs and cultural rules to follow. That on top of teaching for the first week can be quite unnerving.
For example, as a past teacher I need to know what kind of class management style will take place, who is teaching what, what are we teaching, or do we have any special needs students? These are all questions that I had the first second and third day of classes this week. And basically I have 30 minutes to try to ask my questions in the morning before classes. Knowing that my co-teacher probably doesn’t have that kind of time because they have other classes and meetings to attend to, it ends up being around ten minutes of planning before the class. I am happy to say that I work with some great co-teachers. Usually they have everything planned in advance, I just didn’t know about it. I teach four to five classes a day. So first period ends up being the guinea pig class. After that, things start to run much more smoothly. And really, the last several days have gone very well considering all of my fears and unknowns.
“Hello!” “Hi!” “How are you?!” “Teacher!” These are common phrases that I hear as I walk down the halls of my school. Notice I put exclamation points after them all because no matter how close or how far away I am, they are usually shouted. No doubt, the white guy with curly hair is the English teacher.
I’m about to wrap up my fourth day of teaching. The actual classes have gone really well. Mainly I have been introducing myself, but I have also co-taught several lessons including “Whose boat is this?” and “How was your vacation?” At the beginning of my second lesson I also told the class my rules. I know from five years of past experience, that if no rules are in place, it’s going to be a long year. So I made sure to tell them my rules and enforce the consequences the first day. For instance, “Oh WOW! Everyone in group two has their book out and are listening! Great job group two! Group two gets a point!” Or “Excuse me, no talking.” After I warned a student of this, he continued to talk. I promptly walked to his desk and told him to move to another desk in the front row. He was much quieter but started to tear off tiny pieces of his book cover. So I took his book. And after class when he wanted his book back my co-teacher and I had a nice little chat with him.
After most of the classes my co-teacher will look at me and say, “Usually that class does not listen, but they did today.” I also realize after being a teacher for five years that there is such a thing as a honeymoon period too. But I am human, so I do get my hopes up. Anyway, tomorrow is a new day. Fourth graders. Let’s see whatchu got!