We're now nearly three months into my first year as a teacher, and for those who are wondering, I think I've gotten the hang of it. It's obvious to me that every single teaching job, even in the same school and grade, is so vastly different that they never match up perfectly. One teacher can never be compared to another and every situation is unique in both positive and negative ways. My next two posts will deal with this issue in my two schools. Here are the negatives and positives of working in a small school like Dongbu.
Because Dongbu is so very tiny (about 140 studnents), I am only able to use each lesson plan I make once. This means that lesson planning can be harder for me because I have to make sure it's perfect the very first time. I don't have the luxury or experimentation or guinnea pig classes, since I only see each class once or twice a week. Even if I do see them twice a week, the lesson has to be new each time. This is a challenge that I accept, since I think that teaching the same lesson over and over can be boring. But it is also very difficult since I need my lesson to go flawlessly on the first run without any sort of rehearsel. I can say that it does not always go that way.
The other major drawback is that I am the only full-time English teacher. Most other schools in Andong have several Korean English teachers and one native English teacher. This allows the other foreigners to spend more time planning and preparing with their co-teachers, since none of them have homerooms to manage. At Dongbu, all of my co-teachers are also homeroom teahers. HB teaching 5th and 6th grade with me, but he is also the 6th grade homeroom teacher. Mrs. Lee teaches 4th grade, and Mr. Kwan teaches 3rd grade. This leaves precious few moments in which to talk with them about lessons, and pretty much leaves me on my own when I have to plan one. This also means that when they prepare a lesson, I usually find out about it at the start of that class. It can be very hectic, and also very lonely, since they are teaching their classes most of the day while I am alone in my office.
Though the size of my school can be taxing because of lesson planning, it also allows me to bond more with the students. I know the faces of every student in my school, and I have started learning many names (a feat which most of my foreign counterparts will never accomplish). I have a core group of students (mostly 6th graders) who visit me in my classroom during breaks and after school. I don't think I teach them much during this time, but it's still fun to stumble through single-word conversations and see what they've learned since I've been here. They also do me favors like arranging the chairs in my classroom for the next lesson and the occassional shoulder rub, which is a real bonus. (Side note: yes, the first time a 6th grade girl started rubbing my shoulders I about peed my pants and ran to the office to tell them I didn't mean it. But I soon learned that this kind of student-teacher interaction is acceptable and common in Korea. It isn't uncommon to see a teacher grab a student and hold him/her tight to their chest for a few moments to calm them down.)
Also because it's small, Dongbu stays out of the lens of the Andong Office of Education a lot of the time. I am sometimes not subject to the politics and policy BS that other foreigners are, and I am eternally grateful for that. While some other foreigners in Andong are never allowed to leave early or just relax for awhile at school, I get a good deal of free time. They also sometimes seem to care more about my needs than my job performance, though I never let that get in the way of being a good teacher.
The school treats me very well and the staff understands that while I am in Korea, I am as much a student as I am a teacher. They are gentle, considerate, and at times forgiving when I do or say something that isn't totally appropriate. They also try their hardest to make me feel at home and help me learn about their culture and language. Yesterday, Mr. Kim (our special education teacher) sat me down on the mats in his classroom and brought out some flash card puzzles with Korean words on them. He taught me the words, then separated the words from the pictures and had me re-join them. I think I owe that kind of treatment to the fact that Dongbu has fewer staff members than the average elementary school classroom has students.
And these are my currrent thoughts about working in a small school. It can have its drawbacks, but I think the perks outweigh the downfalls. I am very happy to be at Dongbu four days a week and Youngnam only one. More on the situation at Youngnam tomorrow.
(The pictures in this post were taken during my open class, several weeks ago. That's why you can see some of the other teachers in the back of the room watching. We don't usually have an audience like that.)