Week 1: Our First Day of Teaching

Gwangju Travel Blog

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I think it's safe to say Justin and I both had a memorable first day as teachers.  He had to get up Monday morning (July 16th) at 5:30am so he could make it to the bus stop by 6:15. His boss (Jay) took us on a practice ride on the city buses the night before so Justin would know how to get to his school. The only problem is that things look very different during the day!  Justin ended up waiting for the bus for almost half an hour. He expected the ride to his school to take almost 20 minutes but the bus driver apparently made it in 9 minutes and Justin missed his stop! He had to get off, take another bus back towards his school and walk a few blocks. He eventually made it but he was ten minutes late.


The first class was supposed to start at 7am. He said he had 2 students at 7, none showed up for his 8am class but he was still required to sit in the classroom for 40 minutes anyway, then he had 8 students at 10am.  Keep in mind he's teaching adults which makes it rather difficult for him.  His students range in age from the early 20's through the mid 50's.  Age isn't a huge factor but all of his students seem to be at different skill levels.  Within the same class he has one woman that says "I am nurse"  and one man that wants to discuss themes of American literature.  He definitely has his work cut out for him :)


Justin has a split teaching schedule so after his 10am class he caught the bus home and ate lunch with me. His next class didn't start till 6pm so he had a few hours to prep (aka take a mega long nap) before he had to go back.


My schedule is a little bit different.  My first class was not until 3:30pm.  I needed to be there by 3 so I left the apartment by twenty till and made the mile-long journey on foot. Of course it figures that it started pouring as soon as I stepped out of the apartment. Luckily I had an umbrella but I was also wearing dress pants, dress shoes (not exactly built for comfort) and a rather thick turtleneck dress shirt. By the time I made it to the school I was sweating profusely. I was a few minutes late because at one point on my walk I ran into some heavy construction on the sidewalk so I had to backtrack, climb up and over a hill and walk down the other side (all without breaking my neck). I was so worried about being late to class that I jumped on the elevator, hit level 4 and walked into the wrong office! I forgot that my school was on the third floor, oops :)


Since I am the first and only foreign teacher at my school (Wiz as in Wizard Language Institute- they must have heard I like Harry Potter) I get a bit of preferential treatment. My classroom is at the back of the building and is twice the size of the other classrooms. I have a long conference table that can seat close to 20 people and I have another 15 desks or so at the other end of the classroom. The room is very well-lit, the whole back wall consists of large windows overlooking the intersection below. 


I was a little nervous before teaching my first class but I had spent several hours that morning writing lesson plans for beginning, intermediate and advanced conversation and writing classes.


When 3:30 rolled around two boys (8 and 9 yrs old) came shyly in and sat down at the conference table. I introduced myself and had them do the same (after writing their names on the board so I could see how to pronounce them).  After introducing ourselves I told them three things I liked to do for fun then I had them do the same.  Kim Tae Houn told me he likes to play sports and eat chicken. Song Young Chae told me he likes sports and playing on the computer. For the rest of class we talked about Little Red Riding Hood.  They had had to read it before coming to class.  At the end of class I had scheduled some time to play a game and they quickly suggested hangman.  The classes are only 50 minutes long so the time passed very quickly. After the boys left I sat down for a bit and started brainstorming all types of fun activities I could do with them.  My feeling of uselessness was completely gone. I was elated because it felt like I had a purpose rather than hiding in my apartment  because I was afraid to go out and explore a city where I didn't understand the signs or the people at all.


Later I had a short dinner break with the three other teachers. They are in charge of teaching grammar, reading and listening skills.  Although they are English teachers two of them (Eun In -say oo like in good-  and Mi Ji - pronounced me chee) are hesitant about speaking to me. I understand that they may think that their English is not very good but at least  I'd understand them a lot better than when they speak Korean.  During a typical 5 minute conversation I can usually pick out 2 words if I'm lucky.  The third teacher, Hae Ah -pronounced as in "hey"- was just hired a few days before I arrived.  She has excellent pronunciation and is not as nervous about talking with me as the other two are. She usually serves as our translator.


Our dinner consisted of the usual bowl of rice and an assortment of side dishes- spicy pickled cabbage (kimchee), seaweed, tiny dried fish (maybe anchovies?) and little pieces of an egg and ham omelet.  We also had a spicy soup with what looked like really long doughy noodles.  Hae Ah told me they were a mixture of bread dough and fish paste.  I have to admit they did taste a bit "fishy" haha :)


My next class was at 7pm.  It was an advanced class of five 13 year old students. I was excited to see how developed their English speaking abilities were.  One of the students asked me if my hair was this golden when I was born.  I gave him an A+ for sucking-up.  But I can't blame him, after all, I AM incredibly smart and good looking :)


Before my 9 o'clock class Mr. Shin (my boss) told me that this class would consist of high-school kids and that it basically didn't matter.  Our school prides itself on providing quality education for elementary and middle school students. He said the high school students only come because their parents make them.


Of course I didn't really believe that this class wouldn't matter so when the 15 high school students walked in at 9 I had them write their names on the board and start telling me what they liked to do.  We didn't get very far though because the first couple girls either were really shy or completely lost.  I had a few more kids walk in so once again I introduced myself and told them what we were doing as a warm up.  As soon as I was done explaining several more boys walked in. So I gave them the run-down again.  Finally 3 rowdy boys came waltzing into the classroom 10 minutes after class had started. Immediately I knew they'd be trouble.  We didn't have any more seats left at the conference table so they all grabbed desks and sat in a clump together- BIG MISTAKE.  I gave them one warning and said if they didn't quiet down I would have to separate them.  It probably took less than 60 seconds for them to blow their chance so I made one boy physically lift up is desk and carry it to the other side of the conference table.  The other two I tried to split up because they were having a good old time ramming their desks into each other.


I think it's safe to say that my plan to discuss red riding hood was quickly reduced to shambles.  I had some kids that didn't seem to understand me at all, some kids that weren't even trying to pay attention, the noisy boys were saying stuff in Korean to me that of course I didn't understand and when I spoke to them in English they just looked at me blankly. (Some of them I knew understood me but they pretended not to). And last but definitely not least, I had two girls sitting up at the front of the table that understood every word I said and were actually trying to participate in class but I couldn't hear them because of the 20 other students that were  having their own conversations.


My attempts to have the kids work in pairs, work in groups, then finally do any kind of meaningful task whatsoever failed miserably.  One of the three trouble makers actually had a lighter out and was trying to start paper on fire while another kid was holding it. Yeah. That wasn't exactly in my lesson plan! :(


At one point I asked the kids if they knew when class had started because I was probably more eager for the class to be over than they were.


Finally I put their homework assignment up on the board and asked them to write it down.  I planted myself firmly in front of the closed door and only let them out one at a time when they had shown me that they had written the homework assignment down.  A couple of the little buggers actually tried slipping the instructions back under the door to their friends behind my back so they wouldn't have to rewrite the instructions.  I almost laughed, I couldn't believe the stuff they were trying to pull! 


By 9:45 all of the little boogers had left the classroom and I immediately headed for Mr. Shin's office to have a little conference with him.  I showed him the names of the 3 biggest trouble makers and told him that I really didn't know what level the kids were supposed to be at because it had been so chaotic.  He told me not to worry, this had been only a trial class for them and that out of the 2 dozen students only 3-5 would be back for the next class.  PHEW!


I definitely didn't expect all of this drama when I walked into the school.  I just wanted to be a good teacher and shape the young minds of today to become highly proficient English speakers.  We'll see how that goes!

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