Tag Archives: teaching

It’s camp time again

As the semester heads into its last third, we’re nearing English camp season again. I’ve been through one camp already, and this one looks like it’s going to be as troublesome as the last one. The only good thing about this camp is that I know about it much earlier before vacation season than I did in the winter. The positives seem to end there.

In the winter, I worked at my school for two weeks from 9 am to noon, had lunch and lesson planned with the other teachers, and was out of the building at no later than 2 pm. SMOE had the great idea to lengthen camps to a minimum of three weeks for the summer, which is the shorter of the two breaks in Korea. This time around, my school has decided to lend me to another school in the district, which isn’t a big deal in itself. The gripes come in the camp setup.

The camp hours are from 9 am to 4 pm — essentially what I work now — except they’re chock full of classes. The camp contract, which I haven’t signed and makes me angrier each time I read it, states I will teach seven (7) 50-minute classes with 10-minute breaks after each lesson. I’ve been counting this over and over in my head to make sure I have it right: on top of almost doubling my normal teaching time, I have no lunch period. I’m not a fan of that.

In addition to the ridiculous working hours, the contract says I would have to work the two Saturdays during the camp. My co-teacher explained the first Saturday is for the kids to go ice skating (in the middle of the summer?) and the second Saturday is for closing ceremonies. About three weeks ago, I was essentially forced to go on a hike with some students from my school on a Saturday. This wasn’t a friendly hiking Saturday, either: a cold rain drizzled from the gray skies all day. I chatted with the kids throughout the day, but I’m sure the educational (not to mention the diminished entertainment) value was minimal. It was basically babysitting for a couple hours on a mountain, and I’m envisioning the same thing for this ice skating trip — another waste of a Saturday.

If that weren’t enough, I still have to work another week at my own school to fulfill SMOE’s three-week requirement, even though I work more than three weeks’ worth of hours (including those dreaded Saturdays) during the first session

Now I’m poring over the camp contract and my SMOE contract to check the legality of this harebrained scheme, and I’ve finally noticed how disingenuous the contracts are. In Article 8 of the SMOE contract, which talks about working hours, the first point says, “Employee shall work eight (8) hours per day for five (5) calendar days per week from Monday to Friday and shall not work on Saturdays, Sundays and any national Holidays of the Republic of Korea.” Not more than two inches down the page in the fourth point of the same article, it states, “The head of work place may require Employee to work overtime in addition to normal workdays and work hours. In this case, overtime pay will be provided.” Basically, they can have free reign over our hours as long as we’re paid our 20,000 won per overtime hour.

While it doesn’t surprise me at all, these business practices are some of the major issues that are driving me away from Korea. The living is easy here — once you take dealing with Koreans on a “professional” level out of the way. It’s very possible that if absolutely nothing pans out while I’m in the States in the next six months, I could be back here, but the time away from the mess that is Korean bureaucracy should help the transition back to Korea if it comes to that.

In the meantime, let’s hope it doesn’t come to that. I have to worry about surviving tomorrow’s camp contract discussion without making anyone cry.

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I suck at blogging

winter-camp-3787

One of my third-grade students who is clearly hard at work.

I’m now in the second week of a new school year here in Seoul. (The school year starts in March and ends in February.) Usually moving to the next grade was just another chapter in the same book of our childhood education. As a teacher in Korea, each year is like a different book written by a new author. Very little is the same from year to year.

I was the only teacher in my school who ended the last school year and knew his position for the next school year. Most of the teachers are teaching different grades now than they did last year. Teachers apply for certain positions, and then the higher-ups (the principals and vice-principals) place the teachers in their position without much rhyme or reason, it seems.

The results are drastic changes from the previous year. For example, of the six sixth-grade homeroom teachers, two taught second grade, one taught first grade and one was the P.E. teacher. I previously had three co-teachers (one for third and sixth grade, one for fourth grade, and one for fifth grade), but now I have four co-teachers — three of whom were homeroom teachers last year. Two of those three had never taught English before.

I don’t understand why the teachers get shifted around so much; in fact, teachers can only teach at a school for five years before they’re transferred to another school. (Again, they apply for a district in Seoul and hope for the best.) I’m no pedagogy expert, but it would seem that the teaching styles in first and sixth grades would be quite different and that keeping someone who has continual experience in the same grade would be more beneficial.

It’s been quite a transition period to say the least. I’m adjusting to the three new co-teaching styles — which right now means I run the classes to show the Korean teachers how we’ve done things and have them become more or less involved as they see necessary. It’s hard for them because the kids already know who I am from last year.

For the most part, things are going pretty well. It’s a similar dynamic to when I started six months ago, but now the roles are reversed. There are bumpy moments here and there, but the new teachers and I are smoothing those out pretty well. There’s always one exception, though, and it happens to be the most important of the new teachers — my official co-teacher who is responsible for me.

She might be one of the most awkward people I’ve ever met, and she’s extremely disorganized on top of that. My other three co-teachers have been prepared for their respective classes with me, so the lesson planning between us have been quick and to the point. With this other co-teacher, though, things are always a mess.

I don’t know what else she does (fifth-grade English is the only class she teaches), but she doesn’t prep during the three hours we have after school. Yesterday, I had to stay 20 minutes after I was supposed to be leaving so that we could sort things out — only to have her try and change them this morning. She over-thinks everything and consequently becomes a nervous wreck about it.

Her presence in the classroom is rather ambiguous as well. I’m not sure where she wants to be in the teaching balance between us, and I’m indifferent to whether she wants to do less or be more in control. She just needs to decide on what kind of role she wants to have so we can teach more effectively and not bore/confuse the kids.

The school year and half of the faculty might be new, but the struggles are still the same. I’m sure they’ll pan out, just as they did last year. As the saying goes, the more things change, the more things stay the same.

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The Difference of a Year

I’ve been in Korea for a little more than two months now, and things are still chugging along quite nicely. Tomorrow I start another week of classes, and I’m still excited to do it. Even though each week’s routine is more or less the same, each day is different. That’s the great thing about working with other people, whether it’s my co-teachers or the students; they’ll always come up with something new.

Aside from geography, my life has changed drastically — internally and externally — from one year ago. I dreaded waking up in the mornings and driving to work day after day after day. I wrote this in a separate journal almost a year ago to the day:

In general, though, this past week or so has been completely “blah.” I feel like I’ve really been going through the motions. I know I’ve said it before, but I feel it more this week than I can really remember. Wake up. Change. Get coffee. Go.

Work has been pretty drab. I understand this is a great opportunity for someone who has no prior experience, but it’s nothing like anything I imagined myself doing. I’m having a bit of an identity crisis only 12 weeks (that long?) into this situation. I’m already worried about where I’m going next. I don’t know where or what that could be. So far (I know it’s still early) I haven’t done much that I have felt like is portfolio-worthy, something that shows off my strengths, something that’s more than replacing text and photos.

It only took three months into my first full-time job for me to become jaded and disenchanted, although I’m sure this feeling had manifested itself long before that. Some days, going to work felt more like punishment than privilege. If I felt tired at all, I just had to roll out of bed, inject myself with coffee, and hope a pencil didn’t somehow find its way into my temple.

Here in Korea, I still don’t have the best sleep habits, so there are definitely days I drag myself out of bed and onto the subway for the 45-minute commute, but the difference is that I don’t find myself asking, “Why?” My co-teachers motivate me and the students energize me. It’s a pretty good system we’ve got going here.

I don’t know where this teaching gig fits into the grand scheme of my life, and I definitely don’t see myself teaching in the long run. I might be concerned only with the here and now, but it’s not turning out too badly. After all, that’s what made me quit my job and gallivant to Korea in the first place.

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All that glimmers

It’s Friday, and I just got paid (two days ago), which officially makes me a millionaire. Absolutely no joke, I’ve never seen that many digits on a bank statement — granted it’s in Korean won, which unfortunately seems to be the only thing falling faster than the American dollar. This would’ve been sweet if I had any U.S. cash left to exchange, but now I’m looking to send money home to cover some bills.

I still have some money at home that I can use for the time being until the won decides to sort itself out. Other than that, things are good. Like I said, it’s Friday, and I’m staring out the window at sunny skies after watching three episodes of Entourage while anticipating the weekend. It’s so much nicer to be working in a place with windows. Even on the gloomiest of days, it’s nice to be able to see something other than colorless walls. I’ve been meaning to take a picture of the view, while not too bad isn’t definitely postcard material.

Regarding classes, I can feel the teachers loosening the reins a little bit. The co-teachers are asking more for my input about the lesson plans instead of pointing at different sections of the book to present. It’s nice that in two weeks, they’ve started to trust me a little more. I’m definitely no teaching expert, but I know teaching straight from the book doesn’t help these kids think in English, which is the goal if we want them to speak it.

Those worries are for another day. Now it’s Friday afternoon, and almost time to leave for the weekend. I’m probably checking out a rock climbing gym tonight then having a night on the town. The good times in Seoul continue.

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Teaching troubles

I’m in my third week of teaching now, and it has been every bit of an adventure as I had imagined it. The kids are doing the things kids do (especially the swooning fifth-grade girls), but they’re nowhere near unmanageable. All in all, it’s still, not unexpectedly, a learning experience.

The biggest challenge in this job is the fact that I’m co-teaching. The rapport between each of my three co-teachers and me still isn’t quite there. We’ll accidentally cut each other off thinking it’s time to transition, and other times, we won’t even have a transition. This lack of chemistry affects how I present my part of class, and I’m sure the Korean co-teachers are adjusting, too.

The hardest part of finding this balance is the lack of hierarchy. I’m obviously the better English speaker, but they’re the more experienced teachers. These kids have been with these teachers since March (because their school year starts in the spring), and I’m still a fresh face to them. Because of my lack of authority and experience, it’s hard to tell co-teachers certain things (i.e. the curriculum) don’t really work. Sometimes I get bored teaching in my own classes because we work from the CD so much, but I’m not confident in my own alternatives — if I have any.

With each week, though, I hope to be able to invoke more activities (especially with my fifth-grade class where I hold the reins) separate from the curriculum and turn it into a more conversation-centered class. Singing “I like apples” over and over can only go so far.

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Who is she? Who is he?

My elementary school. Its only four years old.

My elementary school. It's only four years old.

I just finished the first day of my second week of teaching (yes, on a Wednesday thanks to Chusok ), so that means there was a first week of teaching that happened, well, last week. Convoluted syntax aside, it was definitely an eventful week — especially since I have 23 different classes a week. Twenty-three classes each with roughly 30 students — most of whom have only Korean names — means that I will never know their names. It’s kind of sad really.

I have five third-grade classes, six fourth-grade classes, five fifth grade classes and six sixth grade classes. While it sounds like a handful (and in some aspects it is), I only have to make one lesson plan for each grade per week, and on three of the five days of the week, I have three hours after classes to lesson plan. It’s not easy being me, though.

I’m kind of a rock star around this place. The first day I was here, the principal introduced me over the announcements — the same announcements they do on closed-circuit television. From what I’ve heard this is a very common occurrence, and that means all the kids know who I am before I’ve ever met them. They’re always excited to see the new teacher to whom they can say “Hello!” and practice their English. Well, most of them do. The girls often just say “Hi!” and giggle incessantly.

The first set of third- and fourth-grade classes went pretty smoothly. Those classes are really easy because the students don’t understand most of what I’m saying (think back to your first couple of years of foreign language class), so the Korean co-teacher directs most of the class and works mostly from the book and accompanying CD, which results in annoying songs being stuck in my head. Then Wednesday arrived along with my first fifth-grade class. My fifth-grade co-teacher and I don’t share an office, so we didn’t quite plan a lesson before the class started. I figured she would ease me into it with the CD and book like the other teachers.

After I finished my Powerpoint presentation about myself, I looked at her…only to see her looking back at me. Fuck. After an awkward second, she finally whispered to me that she was expecting me to lead the class and she would translate instructions or ideas the students didn’t understand. I had to improvise the activities for the rest of class. It’s not something I would recommend to any teacher, but I was much better with the rest of my classes since I already knew what to do from the first class.

Sixth graders, however, are the bane of my existence. The Korean school year starts in the spring and ends in the winter, so this is their last semester of elementary school. They simply no longer care. They’re loud, obnoxious, and don’t like English. It’s frustrating.

Some of the other teachers and me on a beach on the west coast of Seoul.

Some of the other teachers and me on a beach on the west coast of Seoul.

The entire staff, not just my co-teachers, have made the transition rather easy. On Tuesday, I went with them on an annual staff outing to a grape farm then to a beach 1.5 to two hours west of Seoul. We all had a good time, and all the teachers who spoke any English were very welcoming. The ride home included the treat of noraebang (don’t say “karaoke” because it’s Japanese, and Koreans hate the Japanese) by my, um, rather inebriated principals and co-workers. I might or might not have sung Britney Spears’ “Toxic” on the bus, and I’ll leave it at that.

All in all, the school has been great, and I’m sure it’ll get better once I get into my after-school classes, which are smaller and have students who are smarter and a little more eager to learn. Goodness knows that I’ll be learning just as much right along with them.

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