My first semester as a full-time teacher has officially come to an end. Unlike America, the Korean school year begins in March, with a six week vacation in the summer and an eight week vacation in the winter. As a foreign teacher, I don’t have off the next six weeks off as the Korean teachers do. Oh no, I get the pleasure of teaching a 10 day English summer camp to kids that just want to enjoy their summer vacation, followed by five days of deskwarming (the act of having to be at school even though there is no point). Being a few days into it already, I’ve noticed that the kids have been pretty good sports about it. I’ve tried to plan lots of games and activities so that the camp isn’t a total drag. But I digress…
This semester was a complete test of my patience. It brought me a lot of work, aggravation, and stress that some days made me want to hurl a textbook across the room. There are a lot of aspects of the Korean public school system that has me scratching my head thinking, “what the hell?” I think a way to sum up the experience as a whole is to say that Koreans are the ULTIMATE procrastinators. I thought I was a huge procrastinator in college, at times finishing papers an hour before they were due. Oh no, Korea’s got me beat.
Several times this semester I’ve come into school and was told that classes were canceled that day, after working really hard on the perfect lesson plan the day before. One day I came in and was told to come help with Sport’s Day (a day dedicated to sports competitions) practice when I was wearing work attire while all the other teachers KNEW ALREADY and were wearing sports clothes. But above all else, my favorite days were when I’d have class prepared and ready to go and the bell rings and students are no where to be found. Only five minutes after class was supposed to start would it come to my knowledge that the class schedule changed and we are doing that class another period. When I first started the school year, these last minute changes made me absolutely crazy. Now I’ve become so accustomed to it that I don’t let it even bother me anymore.
There’s another thing you all should know. That “well-behaved, studious” stereotype of Asian students that we have in America is just that – a stereotype. A stereotype and a BIG, FAT LIE. Korean students can be just as naughty, talkative, disrespectful, and aggressive as American students. If you don’t have effective classroom management techniques or discipline, these kids won’t think twice about taking advantage of you. Add in a language barrier and you’ve got yourself a recipe for potential disaster. Luckily, most of my coteachers take care of the discipline, but some are better than others. I’ve had to raise my voice quite a few times and reprimand students (in very slow English – kind of takes away the effect) after class for cursing or bad behavior. Essentially, I’ve learned that sometimes I just need to take matters into my own hands.
I know I’ve kind of painting things in a negative light, but despite all of these hard hitting challenges along the way, I’ve found that I absolutely love teaching. I love having a lesson and activity that the students respond to really well and thoroughly enjoy. I love when they get so excited to see me and try to tell me something in English. I love when I’m teaching and I can see the lightbulbs turn on in their heads. Even my misbehaved students haven’t put me off of teaching – even though I get angry with them a lot they still seem happy to talk to me. Sure, effective classroom management and discipline is tough, but I know that that will become better with time.
I think that the second semester will be even better (*knock on wood*). Now I know the students, the routine, the atmosphere, and the curriculum. I just feel more prepared. I’m ready for my vacation to let my brain recharge and then I can walk into class second semester and say, “Let’s get sh*t done.”