Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Thoughts On a Month of Teaching

A new job can be scary for anyone. A new teaching job can be terrifying. A new job teaching in a foreign country where only a handful of people speak your language is downright enough to stop your heart. But here I am, over a month into this new gig, and my heart is still pumping hard. What I've realized now after starting a small handful of new jobs in my life is that there are always people there to help you, and they always understand just how scared you might be. If you get the right group, they will even find ways of harnessing your anxiety into positive energy. At Dongbu Elementary, that's exactly what the students and teachers have done for me.

You might say I got lucky here. I'm at a school with only 150 students, so I have ample opportunity to get to know each and every one of them. I may not know their names, but I recognize them all, and I feel like I've built some lasting bonds with some of the kids already. It's easy to fall in love with a school when the students seem so eager to learn and the staff are so excited by everything I do. If I bring in a chocolate bar from America or show the kids some pictures of my university, everyone is ecstatic. Literally everything I do is a learning experience because I'm so foreign to these kids. And the teachers are so excited to have me that I sometimes think I can do no wrong. Of course, that just motivates me to continue giving them a high caliber of results. I want to impress people every day, and am driven to show my students (and the staff for that matter) that I am excited on a daily basis because of that.

(Unfortunately, lately that has been hard to do. Because of my lingering bronchitis from being sick a few weeks back, the teachers all think I'm very sick and weak. I'm not, but that's hard to explain in a culture where your health is valued above almost everything else. Because I have a raspy voice and nagging cough, the teachers want to give me time to rest. They will sometimes take over more of the class or cut class short. Anyway this is a tangent, let me get back to teaching...)

Yes, I am stuck to the same boring and occasionally downright pitiful curriculum that is provided for all English education here. And yes, sometimes its hard to motivate students when the material is dull or doesn't make as much sense as it should. But finding ways to make that material fun or interesting is the best part of this job. For example, last week after the 5th graders had learned the prepositions on, under, above, inside, between, and next to (after 3 classes), I took the opportunity to teach them parts of speech. What good will random phrases do these kids if they don't understand how English works? So, with a lot of help from my brilliant co-teacher Mr. Choi, we talked about nouns, verbs, and prepositions. Now this week I am devising games to help them understand why they need to know parts of speech.

But none of it would be any fun, or productive in any way, if the students weren't so excited about learning so much of the time. I click most with the 5th and 6th graders, only because they can communicate the most with me. But I still love the 3rd and 4th grade students and their enthusiasm for learning even a new word or two to say to me in the hallways. In particular, there are a few 6th grade students who will come to my classroom between breaks or after class is done for the day just to point at things in the room and ask me what they are. Or arrange letters on my Velcro board to show me words they can spell. They also take the time to teach me a little Korean, though I make it clear that my classroom is an English only zone. These are the kids that send me home with a smile every day.

And so there you have it--any job is wonderful if you are surrounded by the right people. And at my job, I am surrounded by the perfect group of mentors, co-workers, dedicated students, and friends. I couldn't ask for a better situation.

Youngnam, on the other hand, is a completely different story--a story that I will tell you in the coming days.


  1. Very cool. There is a lot to be desired with a smaller school in this country.

    I hope I can get into parts of speech. It seems like maybe kids might see the bigger picture if they are shown the pieces. That's the flaw with situational phrases. Outside of the prompts they learn to respond to, I think a lot of them are very confused by the basics.

  2. :) THat is so cool! :) I'm happy you're loving it, truly I am. That is always a huge huge worry. But you also have Sara there battling with you and she's a crazy cool and innovative warrior <3