Wednesday, 15 April 2009


The Basics.

This is my first week of actual teaching after a two week observation and adjustment period. This is my schedule:

All of my classes are the first four periods of the day and are 40 minutes long. The day starts at 9am, and my fourth class ends at 12:10.

Monday: (6th grade) 6-5, 6-6, 6-7, 6-8
Tuesday: (5th grade) 5-1, 5-2, 5-3, 5-4
Wednesday: (5th grade) 5-5, 5-6, 5-7, 5-8
Thursday: (6th grade) 6-1, 6-2, 6-3, 6-4
Friday: (4th grade) 4-1, 4-2, 4-3, 4-4 (and every other week 4-5, 4-6, 4-7, 4-8)

Note: There are 8 classes for each grade because the school is so large, with about 34-35 students per class.

Lunch is from 12:10-1:10, and then I have the rest of the day until 4:40 for planning before I go home. I'm told that next week I will start holding a class from 3-4pm on Tuesday and Thursday for the school faculty (and so far 30 of the 50 teachers have signed up for it).

After lunch, most Koreans will brush their teeth. They keep toothbrushes and toothpaste in a cup at school. I saw the same thing at the public bathroom of the college where we had EPIK orientation classes, so now I know. I have chosen to adopt this practice, and brought a toothbrush in on my second day of school (after hearing that many others receive toothbrushes as a gift if they don't bring their own).

This puts me at a perfect 22 teaching hours for my contract. I'm really lucky, because most schools are not as large so the other foreigners like me have the teach English at two schools. Scott has to teach 6 classes on Tuesday at another Elementary school because his main school is quite small.


Because most students are too shy to ask me questions, I prepared an intro PowerPoint for my first day in each class. It was mostly pictures with the headlines: Where I'm From, My House, My Family, What I Like, My Favorite Sports. Afterwards, I asked them if they had any questions. Every class asked me how old I am and if I speak Korean, but I did get a few more unique questions such as "Why did you come here?" "Why are your eyes blue?" and "Do you like Kimchi?" (By the way, I did actually finish it the other day! I had expected the spicy fermented cabbage to be the death of me at every meal, but I prevailed! After I announced my success to Taebun, certain I would be hailed as a true Korean, he said "Oh, I don't always eat it."

The English texts are, well, OK here. The Teacher's version of the text is even harder to follow, with it's half English/half Korean instruction for activities. Sometimes it will say the English and the Korean, sometimes just Korean. The only real problem with the text is that Mrs. Shim and Mrs. Im are a little apprehensive to move away from them.

The problem is, a lot of the times the text will use language or situations that wouldn't happen in real life, such as this from the 6th grade lesson on learning seasons:

Dialogue A

Kevin: Hi, Ann. How's it going?
Ann: Not bad. How about you?
Kevin: Fine
Ann: See you later.
Kevin: See you. Ann! Wait.

(The clip shows Kevin going to the grocery store, Ann eating ice cream, and Ann dropping a bushel of green onions as she leaves. They talk in monotone, and the clip freezes as Kevin takes a step forward and holds up the onions like an offering to God.)

Taking out the obvious problem with the "Hello! OK, Goodbye!" style scenario that would never happen between two friends, the bigger issue is that the lesson is about learning the seasons. This clip is played right after having the kids repeat "it's hot in summer" "it's warm in spring" "it's cool in fall" "it's cold in winter."

My other favorite is the 5th grade chant in the lesson about learning prepositions such as "in, on, under, beside":

Wah do wary wary Wah Wah Wah!
Wah do wary wary Wah Wah Wah!
Where's my watch? It's on the TV.
Where's my watch? It's on the TV.
Oh thanks mom.
Wah do wary wary Wah Wah Wah!
Wah do wary wary Wah Wah Wah!
Where's my bat? It's in the box.
Where's my bat? It's in the box.
Oh thanks dad.
Please hurry up.

...hmm. I actually cut that chant from the Tuesday/Wednesday lesson for 5th grade, but Mrs. Shim felt it was important so she worked it in to the Thursday lesson.

Taebun at least is a little suspicious of the text, so I think there's more flexibility with 6th grade. The balance I need to strike, however, is that the standardized tests Korean kids must take pulls questions straight from these texts and my purpose here is to raise their test scores. Pretty much, if they can tell me the phrase "I'm going to set the table for dinner" but I don't teach them to say "the cap is on the table" then I'm dooming them to poor test scores. I'm starting with cutting the unnecessary items and replacing them with something using the same key phrases in a better way.

My first baby step is the games.

4th grade: The game is supposed to be a board game, where they can advance their piece by saying the proper phrase (the phrases they are learning this lesson are "wow! beautiful!" "watch out!" "look at the bird" "don't do that" and "are you OK?" My problem with it is that like most of the games, it means sitting at your desk, but also because I don't want them just to associate these phrases with their textbook cartoon characters in frozen moments.

Instead (and this will be tomorrow) I am taking them on an imaginary walk through the woods, where they will walk in a line around the room and listen for when I tell (and show- I made some supplemental cards) them what they are encountering. They will look at birds flying above them, experience a change in weather, and have to carefully climb a big hill to see and comment on the beautiful view. On the way back down they will fall and need to check if everyone is OK.

5th grade: (learning up/under/in/etc) The game was to look at the two cartoon characters in the book- one at a table and one next to it. There was a book on the table and a pencil case under it. Then they were to turn to their partner and role play the scenario of asking where the book and pencil case was.

Instead, I drew a bedroom/kitchen on a big poster paper and labeled "bed" "desk" "refrigerator" "bookcase" etc. Then I made 15 little cards with items on it like "milk" "pillow" "trash" "chair" etc. I told them I needed help putting things in the house, so they had to come up (in groups of 5) and put things in the house and tell me where they are (with the class asking "where is the ___?" and then making them repeat the student's answer "the _____ is on/in/under/in front of the ____"). Most classes put things in logical places, but after the first group of five items in the 5-8 classroom, the kids got creative. The chair was on the desk, the trash on the bed, and the computer in the freezer. I let them stay there, and had the class repeat where everything was amidst a sea of giggles. I never said there was a right or wrong place for things!

6th grade: The game was to play telephone (say a sentence and whisper it on down the line) in two lines. Not bad, but for a lesson about seasons I thought there might be something more relevant.

I counted them off by season, and had each season group up in a different corner of the room. Then I gave them two papers and had each group (groups of 8, 4 per paper) write in English (or draw pictures and I would help with the new words) as many things that happened in their season to report to the class at the end. It was amazing the things they came up with. I was warned that most students just don't get English, but really just most of them don't talk. Some pages had nearly 20 things on them after 10 minutes! (and I walked around to monitor participation).

The Few.

Now, there are a few students that have spent time in America. Two of them, a girl and a boy, are in the 5-3 class and I desperately want them to do more. They look so bored during class, but still do the work because it's a requirement. I told them, when the class was learning how to write the letters "K, L, M, N, O" to write down words that start with each letter instead. The girl asked me if I wanted them alphabetical, and when I asked her "what starts with K?" she started by saying "Knock". After class, she wanted to ask me what a word meant that she came across in a book she was reading- "Congressional." Clearly, I need to challenge her more.

School Transport.

The 5-8 homeroom teacher, after last weeks "workshop" at the Andong Dam, found out she lives near me and offered to drive me to school in the morning. I didn't know this, but apparently some people were concerned when they found out I had to walk 20 minutes down the road from my home. She doesn't know much English, but today when I got in her car she had a notebook on her lap with English phrases, so she would look down at it sometimes and then try talking to me. She is really sweet, and if for no other reason that to talk to her in the morning, I'm going to commit myself to learning more Korean asap. I know I shouldn't have a preference, but I adore the 5th grade teachers. There are 4 others that are good friends of Mrs. Shim, all about 35 and have just fun youthful energy. They are always grabbing me and including me, even if I can't speak Korean. The 5-2 teacher has the most positively infectious laugh, I can't help but smile, and she always bounds up to me and says something rapidly in English like she's been waiting for 15 minutes for the perfect time to say just that. It's amazing.

Anyway, now that I have a ride to school, I worry that the copious amounts of food they give me at lunch will cause me to gain 50 pounds, so I really wanted to walk home. I successfully managed to tell the woman giving me rides to not wait for me after school, but I made the mistake of telling Mrs. Sim and Im I'd be walking home. I did say "I like walking, I like the exercise" but 10 minutes later they had Taebun signed up for the task of driving me home every day. They ask every day if I ate breakfast and to see if I was driven to school. I am going to let it go for a couple weeks before I say I would like to walk, because I don't want anyone to think that I'm ungrateful for their attentiveness to my care. Today, however, Mrs. Im told me to make sure I was exercising every day for my health.


  1. xD That is awesome! You are so creative, Sara. Seriously, you have to be the best teacher they've ever had! How did you come up with those games?
    And the whole walking thing...kind of going through the same thing. I have a ride to and from work now but I really miss the peaceful walk in the morning. *sigh* Oh well, right?
    Miss you

  2. Hey if you need exercise, maybe you should walk to work. Hahahahahaha oh yes I realize I'm hilarious! <3 Mom