Saturday, September 14, 2013

Week 2: Teaching elementary school English classes

[If you haven't read it yet, I recommend glancing at the differences between my school in Korea and elementary schools back home before reading this post.]

I didn't write about my first week of school day-by-day as it happened, which was a big mistake because now (Monday, September 9) I can't find the energy to summarize.  So I'll start writing a little bit each day about school during week two, and post it on Friday.

Here's my schedule, by the way, which I poorly described in an email to some:

Period Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday
1 (9:00-9:40)
5-1              3-4                   4-1                   6-2            
2 (9:50-10:30) 6-4                   5-2              3-1                   4-2                   6-3            
3 (10:40-11:20) 6-3                   5-3              3-3                   4-3                   6-1            
4 (11:30-12:10) 6-2                   5- 4             3-2                   4-4                   6-4            
------------------ --------------  -- Lunch -- ------------------ --------------
5 (1:00-1:40) 6-1                  

6 (1:50-2:30)
Daycare 1

Daycare 1
7 (2:40-3:20) Special Class Daycare 2Special Class
Daycare 2
8 (3:30-4:10) Special Class
Special Class English Club

I must arrive at school by 8:30, and I leave at 4:30.

So basically that's nine different classes to prepare a week, two of which are these really long "Special Classes" which I explain in more detail below.  I think those will be the hardest to plan.  I'm also working with two different teachers.  One (classes in red) wants a formal lesson plan written up for each class I teach, but the other (in blue) mostly teaches with the teacher's book / CD on the spot and hasn't said anything about written lesson plans.  So we'll see.   Daycare I teach on my own.

The English classroom

That's the English classroom at my elementary school.  On the other side of those bookcases (on the right) are the desks of my co-teacher and myself:


I was supposed to plan a 20 min. introduction to the sixth graders' new unit, as during the first 20 minutes of class they took a test on the previous unit.  There were usually only 15 minutes or less left once everyone finished the test, but that's okay with me.

Teacher YK normally teaches the Special Class (5th and 6th grade "advanced" students), and told me to plan a lesson for today.  They don't have any set curriculum, which is tough, but they do have a textbook (which I've been told I don't need to follow...).  The class goes from 2:40 - 4:20, so it's long!  That's a ton of time to fill.  Today turns out YK wanted to teach by herself for the first part of the class, (7th period) then I taught the last half alone (8th period).  It was a good thing, too, because we got through almost everything I'd planned during those 40 minutes!  I don't know what I would have done if I'd had them the whole hour and a half.  There are only 15 in this class, but they were definitely not engaged today.  They would talk, talk, talk with each other in Korean when I was talking, or when a classmate had been called on to talk.  Really disrespectful.  I think since they don't hear any discipline in Korean, they don't hear any discipline.  The ironic part is that the topic today was "School Rules"!  So we had even talked about good behavior vs. bad behavior.  I'll have to figure out more activities to keep them engaged, and be stricter with discipline next time -- but after day one I'm not really looking forward to this class.


I had fifth graders during the morning with YK.  We followed the lesson plan in the teacher's book and used the book's CD.  (The textbooks have these great e-Books that we use on the computer, which gets projected on the classroom's TV.  The textbook comes to life with songs, and short movies for listening activities.  I'm a fan.)

This was my first day teaching the daycare classes.  I teach them entirely on my own, and it's an extra 4 hours a week that I'll get paid for at 20,000 KRW / hr  (I don't have to teach them, but the extra money won't hurt, .  And after the first day I'm already dreading Friday.  The first class was either kindergarten or first grade, I'm not sure their exact age, but they were terrible!  There were maybe around 15 students total, and they were talking, shouting, hitting each other, bla, bla, bla.  Their preschool teacher did sit in the back of the classroom during the whole class (phone in hand), but she didn't do much to help with their behavior.  I also felt like time went soooo slowly.  I kept staring at the clock thinking oh my gosh, how am I going to fill this time?  I had gone through nearly everything I'd planned.  One of the things we learned were some classroom commands (five: clap, stand up, sit down, listen, raise your hand), but you can only continue to shout out commands and have them do the action for so long...

The second class was a year older (so either 1st or 2nd grade), and they were much better in comparison.  However, since they were better behaved and smarter (they were able to play Simon Says and I could hardly trick anyone!), we got through my lesson plan even faster than the first class!  So I'm trying to think of games/activities they can do that will peek their interest, help them learn English, yet keep them in control.  It's hard being thrown right into it without being able to watch someone else's example and learn from an experienced teacher what works well for this age group.  Oh well, Friday will come.


I had third grade all morning with YK.  It was a Story Time day (there's one every two chapters in the book), which means they watched a short "story" on the TV (using the book's CD) a few times.  Then we repeated phrase after phrase so they could learn the lines.  Finally, in groups of four, they had to practice acting out the story.  YK ended up helping out more than I'd thought, but that would mostly be saying things in Korean, which I couldn't have done.  I don't have a good read yet on YK.  She seems more relaxed, and she had given me less direction than EU... but I'm not sure what she expects!  Her office is down the hall, so we don't communicate as much as I do with EU.

I had been told that Wednesday afternoon was some sort of "open house" for parents, but I wasn't sure what exactly it would entail.  There were art projects and science projects on display downstairs the day before.  I was invited to come watch the musical performances at 3:00.  Our school doesn't have a gymnasium or auditorium, so it was set up in a hallway.  The parents and teachers stood by the wall and the different groups (recorder band, choir) performed in the open space.  They were really good!  I guess our school's recorder band placed first at the last regional competition, which the school is really proud of.  After the performances were done, EU caught my eye and told me not to leave because the principal wanted to introduce me to the parents.  Oh jeez.  I was not prepared for this.

EU helped prep me in the hall just outside of the room that all the parents were seated in (after the music performance).  She asked me if I remembered the words I'd had to say on my first day when I was introduced on live TV (broadcasted to all of the classrooms in school) and later to the teachers: "Hello, my name is Rebecca".  I had those down!  Then she said I should say something more, like "Nice to meet you".  (Which I really should have learned on my own by now but hadn't yet...)  She told me the Korean, which was about 6 syllables long.  I kept repeating it over and over again in my head, trying not to forget.  I'm a visual learner, so it's really hard for me to learn something (and memorize it) without being able to see it.  If my mind jumped to something else, then I'd completely forget what I had been chanting before inside my head.  I asked her to repeat it again, then I thought I had it.  We're waiting outside the door where the vice principal is talking to the parents.  EU says she can whisper it to me when I'm talking, if I forget it, that she would be right there by the door.  I think I'll remember it, but then I'm told it's my turn to go in.

There's a podium on the left side, which is by the door that I entered.  Another woman entered before me, and she had gone behind the podium and out to the middle of the classroom as the VP was talking.  Since I have no idea what the VP was talking about, I wasn't sure if I should follow the lady in to the spotlight or just wait by the door, so I kind of stayed by the door but then EU told me to go out where the lady was in the middle.  So we're standing side by side, all of the parents are staring at us, and again I'm not sure what's being said into the microphone.  Then all of a sudden the parents are clapping and the lady on my right bows.  I wasn't sure if I was supposed to bow as well or not -- er, so I did!  And probably made a fool of myself, but whatever, I would do worse in the next minute.  So after the lady bowed she left the room, then it was all eyes on me.  I heard the VP say my name and the Korean word for  "Spain," so I knew she was talking about me.  Out of the corner of my eye I could see EU standing in the doorway to the left of the podium.  She was mouthing the phrase "nice to meet you" to me.  Oh shoot, how did it go?  Shooooot.  All eyes on me.  And here comes the microphone, time for Reca to talk.

I can't remember if I bowed again when I got the microphone but maybe I did.  I'm so scared of coming across as rude for not bowing, I think I've subconsciously decided I'd rather do it too much than not enough.  I said my opener: Hello, I'm Rebecca.  And then I could not remember how the next phrase started.  It's amazing what a little adrenaline will do to the mind.  Totally frozen.  So there was an awkward pause as I tried to remember the phrase.  Then I thought I remembered the first three syllables, so I said them, then wow - I don't even remember what I said - something that resembled the last three syllables, perhaps?  The VP gave me a look like, that's it?  So I bowed and gave back the microphone and I was out of there.  I don't like impromptu speeches in Korean!!

After school was badminton again, which was good.  As I've said, I think this could actually be good cross training for ultimate.  My right arm was so sore just after the first game, so I'm definitely building muscle.  My right arm is going to be so disproportionately stronger than my left if I keep playing badminton all year.  There's also lots of wrist motion, so that will be good for my frisbee throws.  It doesn't help so much with the sprinting, but I can do stuff on my own for that.  (Sidenote: Still not sure when I'll get to play ultimate.  There was pickup on Sundays, but they stopped that last week since fall league is now at the same time.  I was unable to do fall league because you had to have signed up and paid with a bank transfer back in August, before I was in the country.)  Anyway, it will be neat to start from zero and see how much I can progress with badminton over the next couple of months.  It's also good for me to be around the same group of teachers, even if I can't speak with them.  Note to self: Shave legs before next badminton practice!  Haha whoops!  We went out to dinner again after practice.  Just four of us this time.  It was nice, but I hope it's not a weekly thing -- I didn't get back home until past 9, closer to 10, and I still had to shower and prepare some stuff for school.  I will be tired tomorrow!


Today I taught the fourth graders, which was the first time planning and teaching a lesson on my own for EU.  I led the first two periods, then EU asked to lead the third period so I could observe and notice some techniques she used (which was really helpful for me.  She's so good!), and then I made adjustments for the fourth period.  English Club (with teachers) is at 3:30 on Thursdays.  Last week there were five of us there.  This week there were five again, but right when we were about to start a voice started talking on the intercom.  Then all of a sudden I guess the teachers had to go do what the voice said (clean up after the open house is my guess, but nobody explained it to me), so the meeting was cancelled until next time.


On Friday I led the lesson I'd planned for the sixth graders, and my co-teacher EU assisted.  Between the first two classes she told me that before third and fourth periods today, the fifth graders upstairs were selling little snacks and items to donate money to a senior citizen residence next week.  (Side note -- Next Wednesday through Friday there is no school because it's the biggest holiday in Korea: Chuseok.  Chuseok is considered the Korean Thanksgiving.)  So after our second class, I grabbed my wallet and my co-teacher and I headed upstairs to walk down the hall.  It was pretty neat, some of the students had made food themselves, while others were selling store-bought packaged snacks.  It was hard to only pick one, since every kid got really excited when they saw me and they all wanted me to buy their product.  Near the end of the hall, a girl held out a cup filled with three balls of some type of food (I really have no idea what it was made of), and I said I would take it.  I gave her 1,000 W (which is less than $1), and she wouldn't take it.  But she kept trying to give me the cup.  If this money was being donated to the elderly, I didn't want to be given free food -- I wanted to pay for it!  Then I heard someone say "two" in English, so I grabbed another 1,000 W bill.  She shook her head no, no, no and was going to leave (even though I had the food in my hand).  But I wanted to pay for it!  Why wouldn't she take my money?  Finally another student helped us figure out that she only wanted 200 W for the food (less than $0.20), so they helped me go through my coins to find 200 W.  It was quite a long ordeal, but I finally paid the "right" amount for my little snack.  I had no way to communicate to the girl that it was okay for me to pay the extra money since it was being donated, but she obviously wasn't thinking that way.

Daycare went a lot better than on Tuesday today!  I'm not dreading the next class on Tuesday -- I'm kind of excited for these all year!  The first class behaved better than last time, and I had some songs for them from youtube that we could sing and dance with.

This weather song has been stuck in my head since then:

They really liked the songs, they were singing in English, and having fun with the actions.  During the second daycare class, we didn't even get to the worksheet I had copied for them!  That really put an end to my worries of not having enough to fill the 40 minute classes.

After daycare, my co-teacher told me that she had a huge headache all afternoon since the younger kids are so loud.  She said it's not my fault -- they have lots of energy and need to use it, but the fault lies in the fact that our desks are in the English classroom.  She also said that in the winter the English room is very, very cold since it's so big and open (with windows on both sides).  So, she had been looking at an office down the hall, and asked what I thought about moving our desks there.  I'm game!  She's going to talk to some other teachers and then ask the Vice Principal and perhaps the Principal if we can move our offices to this other space down the hall.  I'll keep you posted!

Week two kept me really busy this week; I took stuff home every night to work on.  I'm ready for a two-day week this week!  (Well, not quite ready yet -- still have some lesson planning to do today!)
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