Back to School time

first day of school


Today is the first day of the second semester of school here in Korea, which actually doesn’t mean anything much for us subject teachers (English, Art, Music, etc.).  The first day of a semester here is usually taken up with the opening ceremonial stuff and the kids are quarantined in their homerooms for the organizational chaos that is involved with trying to get them back on a school schedule.

Meanwhile, I’ve got all the windows in my classroom open so I can enjoy the absolutely gorgeous weather that has magically descended on Busan this week. For the moment, at least, it’s clear and just slightly cool, without a hint of the oppressive humidity that has been slowly killing my soul all summer. I have no doubt that there will be one last heat wave somewhere between now and October – but I can sense the coming of fall, and it gives me hope that I can last ’til the cold weather arrives for real.


winter is coming        …and it’s going to be awesome.  



You’re a Wizard, Harry! (Summer Camp)

An EPIK contract in Korea comes along with the expectation that you will teach English language camps during both the summer and winter vacations of your school(s). Of course, your school should (and often does) work with you to make sure that the camp dates don’t conflict with any vacation days that you want to take during that time. But definitely count on the camps coming first in terms of their priorities.

Of course, everyone’s school setup is going to be different – but my camp was one week at each of my schools, starting right after the end of the semester. So I had a week-long camp at my main school followed by the same week-long camp at my second school (since the students were different, I happily was able to just do the planning for one camp and then repeat it). I had one 90-minute class of lower-level students (generally a mix of 3rd/4th graders) followed by a 90-minute class of slightly higher-level students (5th/6th graders), meaning that I just had to tweak the material slightly between classes.

To the delight of my students, I chose Harry Potter as the theme for my camp. My coteacher is a bit older than me and she was somewhat skeptical of the idea that students would be interested in Harry Potter enough for the theme to work, but I forged ahead and I’m happy to say that they were stoked about it. ^_^    They had to fill out anonymous reviews at the end of the camp and one of the students wrote that when she made a magic wand it “made [her] feel like a real wizard”. You heard that right – we made magic wands!

Still, I will say that planning for a summer camp is Hard Work. You’re not starting with the structure of a textbook, so every bit of structure comes from your brain. Plus it’s camp – these kids are supposed to be on vacation, but their parents signed them up for this English camp (probably because their English isn’t great). They don’t want to be there. You have to balance the desires of the school (for them to do English worksheets and memorize vocabulary all day) with the needs of the kids (to have it not just seem like an extension of school).

I think I managed that balancing act this time around, but I definitely leaned hard towards the “fun” aspect – we didn’t do a lot of worksheets. On the other hand, I think I exhausted my best camp idea and now I’m terrified about winter camp, haha…


Korean Harry Potter



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…