Em in Asia!

My Experiences Living and Teaching in South Korea

Scores Don’t Matter, Except When They Do (Which is Often)


Fistbump Kid came up behind me, when I was looking at weird thanksgiving hand turkeys on Huffington Post (… yeah. It’s for a lesson plan, okay?) and he seemed much more subdued than normal. Normally Fistbump Kid is laughing and joking with everyone, teachers and other students, and you can hardly get the kid to settle down. Today, I didn’t even notice he was behind me.

“Hey teacher” he muttered.
“Hey FBK, what’s up?” I took a closer look. “Are you okay?”
“I’m nervous…”
“Ah, you have your test tomorrow, right?”
“Yes,” he said, barely meeting my eyes “and it’s an important test but my English score has been going down.”
“Really? I’m surprised by that. Your English is so good. I think that your English skill has really improved over this year.”
“Yes, but when I do tests I get so nervous and I can’t concentrate.”
“Well… score is important but score is not the same as your English level. Even if you do not have a good score, I know your English level is good. Another person may have a higher score, but out of all the students I think you and I have some of the best conversations.” I countered.
The bell rang, and he then smiled, thanked me, and quietly walked away.

I ran into my third grade students at Sloth’s Coffee last night, they were partying like rockstars (i.e. drinking cappuchinos) and wearing their pajamas, and playing on their smartphones. My second graders have countdowns on the chalkboard in their homerooms (358 days until the Suneung), there are more restrictions placed on them now, and they’re becoming more serious everyday.

As someone who doesn’t test well, particularly with Korean, I feel his pain. Every time I’ve taken a Korean language test I’ve scored lower than I should’ve. Part of it is that I psyche myself out, seeing all of that hangeul suddenly pop up on my page (이것을 조금 무서 보이죠? 아이구 외국어 너무 어렵네요) and part of it is that I’m more of a free-answer person anyway. As much as I want to tell FBK and the other students I work with that scores don’t  matter, unfortunately in the system that they’re currently stuck in, they do.

얘들아 – 좋은 점수를 받지 않으면, 괜찮아요. 아직 똑똑한 친절한 학생이예요. 내일 연습 시험을 열심히 해보고, 그때 걱정하지마세요. 점수는 중요해는데, 다른 기회가 또 있을 거예요. 좋은 점수를 받아는 것이 그리고 좋은 사람이 달라요.

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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.