School Life (a Belated Beginning)

I’m afraid I’ve been horrifically lax in keeping this blog up-to-date since I started teaching. School prep took up so much of my time I barely was checking my email, much less typing up blog posts. Still, it’s nice to look back on how I saw it at the beginning – so here’s a draft that I started back in April…


I’m barely settled into my new life, teaching elementary students and living in a Korean neighborhood, but I wanted to attempt a post about everyday life here. I’m sure this is going to change as the year goes on, but it’ll be nice to freeze the beginning in a bit of amber.

I teach at two different elementary schools, so my commute changes every other day (M/W/F at one school, Tu/Th at the other). But generally, I get up in the morning and get ready, pack my bag for school, frantically realize there’s one thing I forgot to prepare, etc.  Then, depending on the day I either catch the bus to my second school or just walk around the corner and up the hill to my main school.

Teaching as a Native English Teacher (NET) is truly a unique experience. I’ve heard from other teachers who have not felt like they were able to live up to their potential in the classroom, but I’ve lucked out in that I have two Korean co-teachers who have treated me as nothing less than a partner when it comes to teaching. We plan each day’s lesson together, prepare different parts of it on our own, and then teach it together. While we might not actually type up a lesson plan the way I was taught to – we definitely write down a list of activities we’re going to do and topics we’re going to cover.

The textbooks that we have are useful in that they give us a structure and a general idea of a schedule for the semester. But that is just about where their usefulness ends. I don’t know who is in charge of designing English textbooks in Korea, but I would like to write them a strongly-worded letter. The activities are often opaque and highly repetitive (not in a helpful way), forcing the students to do the same activity over and over again. So, except for a few activities here and there, we basically throw the textbook out the window and plan our own activities around the grammar concepts and key vocabulary that the chapter is supposed to cover.

For example, here is a section from my 5th graders’ textbook, from the unit for “What Are Those?”:

read and play.jpg


It’s another repetitive reading exercise – my students’ eyes would be drooping about 3 minutes into class if I tried to make them do this. So instead, my co-teacher and I pulled a typical ESL game called “Running Dictation”. We typed up the words and phrases on sheets of paper that we posted up (with a cover sheet) on the walls of the classroom. Students (in groups) took turns running to a sheet, reading the phrase, and then running back to their group to dictate the phrase for them to write down. This exercise not only gets them awake and moving, but they are practicing reading, writing, speaking, and listening all in the same activity!

But enough complaining about the textbooks. 🙂   School life is pretty charming so far – all of my coworkers are friendly and I’m really starting to feel like I’m part of the community. Only a few of them can speak English well enough to hold a conversation, but all of them have offered me a friendly “안녕하세요” (annyeong-haseyo) or even “hello” as we see each other in the corridors.


And that’s apparently when I stopped typing. 😉

Reading back over it, life seems about the same now in August – though perhaps I’m looking back on it through slightly rose-tinted lenses since I’ve been off on vacation for the past three weeks. We start our second semester this week and I’m a bit nervous to find out whether I’ve managed to actually retain the ability to teach a class of energetic elementary schoolers.

We shall see, I suppose…

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