Em in Asia!

My Experiences Living and Teaching in South Korea

SNOW! …and teaching issues

December8

It’s snowing! Finally! When I say “snow” I mean tiny white things that could scarcely be qualified as snow have been falling from the sky for the last half hour and dissolving on impact with the ground [EDIT: as of 12:00 pm it started snowing really hard and now there’s snow stuck to the ground! I explained to my afternoon class that if it snows like this in Virginia we cancel school and they looked at me like I had sprouted tentacles]. Some of the students (my more rambunctious low-level 1st grade girls) tackled me yelling “SNOWSNOWSNOW” but other than that the students are going abut their business in an everyday fashion. I felt like such a grinch of a teacher when it started snowing during my class. Ever since the 수능 (the big test all the 3rd grade students took to get into college) finished I’ve been teaching the advanced 3rd grade class (my host sister’s class). They have no more tests and grades don’t matter so I was worried they wouldn’t pay attention but so far they’ve been great. It started snowing during that class and the students freaked out, and asked if they could go outside. As I am a new and temporary teacher, as much as I want to go outside too, I had to say no for fear that the principal would see me and freak out. Very sad.

Teaching has it’s ups and downs, you’ve heard this all before, this is not a new fact. I’ve experienced a lot of ups and some downs, but I experienced my first major down yesterday. The students are studying for their finals so they’ve been harder to motivate recently (I am not supposed to give grades or homework in my class, and their English final contains nothing from my class). This particular class has always been difficult for me, in that I have students in there that flat-out don’t respect me. To further the problem, yesterday my co-teacher did not come to class. I teach a lot of classes without a co-teacher, it’s normally not an issue, but the combination of low-level tired students, final exam stress, and a lack of general respect led to an awful class. I had scrapped the actual lesson I was going to do last minute and pulled out my emergency super-fun pronunciation lesson (that has never bombed before) because I knew this would be a difficult class, but still it was bad.I demand absolute silence in my classroom. This is difficult to do with a class of 40 but luckily my classes are 30 or less so I can do it. In a smaller class it’s disruptive if 2 people are whispering, so in general I refuse to let anyone talk. This class had 15 people, and everyone was constantly talking or sleeping. If people weren’t doing either they were doing homework for other classes or blatantly spaced out. Some students were apologetic when I called them out on it, and others disrespectful. I make kids stand with their hands over their heads in the back of the classroom if they sleep too much (so it’ll keep them awake) or if they talk too much (so they’re not close to anyone to talk to) and when I told one kid to stand up he refused and put his head back down. So I got up in his face and loudly started counting down. Since I didn’t have a co-teacher and I wasn’t going to reward the class for misbehaving by leaving them alone for 2 minutes while I ran and found an authority figure I wasn’t sure what to do if this didn’t work. Thank goodness the class started counting down with me and because of peer pressure he stood up. The rest of class though whenever I would shake him to wake him up he would violently jerk and look at me like I was diseased and brush off his shoulder.

The lesson consisted of tongue twisters, modeling and practicing R & L pronunciation, rap battling, and a slap game where the students are in 2 or 3 teams and they sit at their desks and scream a word (RICE! RICE) and one student from each team is facing the chalkboard and they have to look on the board for the right words and slap it first to receive a point, the trick being that every word has a rhyming alternate (Rice:Lice; Right:Light; Road:Load) which makes it difficult. Not only were they blatantly disrespectful during the lesson but they cheated during the game – peeking at my word cards, spelling out words instead of yelling them, shoving and tackling each other. At that point I had had enough.

I ended the lesson 5 minutes early and sat them down and read them a long lecture in highly simplified English, then as soon as class ended I ran to the bathroom and sobbed for a good 5 minutes. I have had a lot of difficulties in Korea, both with teaching duties and with adjusting to living in Korea/SG. This is the only time I can think of that I wholeheartedly wanted to board a plane right then and there and go back to the United States.

An amazing class later that afternoon, last-minute meet-up with Joelle that night, and some distance has helped me gain some perspective. Not everyone in that class is bad, and many of them seemed truly sorry that they had upset me. Some of them are definitely rotten eggs but they’re also 15/16 year old boys… I am definitely not the same person that I was when I was 16. As a teacher my job is not only to teach English but to teach them about life in general – and that includes basic respect. Whether this is putting too much pressure on myself I’m not sure, but I will not give up on this class and I will demand and in return receive that respect without the help of an authority figure if at all possible. However, if I cannot I will not be afraid to turn to an authority figure, as that is what they are there for. I could also have it worse… I know some schools have major issues with bullying, others have a lot of swearing, or physical violence, or even drugs. SG for the most part is very sweet and my badly-behaved boys are an oddity, and comparatively not even that badly-behaved, it’s just that I expect more of them and by the end of my contract I will receive it.

My most difficult class initially was not in fact this class, but the all-girls low-level first grade class. They’re known throughout the school as being really difficult. They smoke, and swear, and hit each other, and are super loud, and are always talking. I had a really difficult time with them because I didn’t know how to be strict but also have fun. They are now one of my favorite classes, because I have learned what works and what doesn’t – they are still loud, and still talk, and still shout out answers or non-sequitors but they also care about me and respect me, and always scream my name really loudly whenever/wherever they see me, whether that’s in class or on the streets after school. If my least favorite class can become my favorite class over the span of one semester, then by the end of next year I will force these kids to respect me. So wow Em, this is really personal stuff, why are you putting it online where everyone (even spambots from as far out as Ukraine) can read it? Because this is a reminder to myself. Sometimes life sucks, sometimes life is hard. Sometimes you will cry in the bathroom at school. You will not get cute little notes from your students everyday. Eventually you have to leave the bathroom and go teach agan.

posted under School
2 Comments to

“SNOW! …and teaching issues”

  1. Avatar December 10th, 2010 at 1:58 pm Leah Says:

    I LOVE YOU and keep your head high… you are amazing!


  2. Avatar December 13th, 2010 at 7:24 am Elisa Says:

    Em, I just want to say that you really have guts to do all this in the first place! Not everyone would pick up and move half-way across the world to teach … and go into it with such a positive attitude. Hope things look up soon. And I second Leah’s comment, you’re amazing & don’t forget it!


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안녕하세요! My name is Emily and when I started this blog I had received a 2010 – 2011 F*lbright grant to teach English in South Korea.  I then decided to apply to renew my grant, so I am now staying in Korea until July 2012. This blog is not an official F*lbright Program blog, and the views expressed are my own and not those of the F*lbright Program, the U.S. Department of State or any of its partner organizations.

I graduated from the University of Mary Washington with a degree in Philosophy Pre-Law and Classical Civilizations, and found myself 3 months later teaching English at SGHS. The town that I taught in, SG, is a small town of 12,000 people, an “읍” (eup) rather than a “시” (shi – city), and though it was sometimes hard teaching in such a small town I really enjoyed the unique experience of being the first foreign teacher SGHS had ever had. I lived in the largest part of the county which is significantly bigger (40,000 people) than the town the school is situated in, but is also considered rural by Korean standards.

During my second grant period (2011-2012) I decided to change schools and I currently teach at CPHS which is located in an even smaller town than previously, in Jeollanamdo.

This blog is meant to serve as a reflection not only of being a Native English Speaking teacher in Korea, but also of living as a foreigner in rural Korea.