Sunday, March 9, 2014

My First Week of School!

Week one of school was GREAT…well…after the first day anyway.  Let me explain…

My main co-teacher (far left) and third grade teacher
The first day started off great!  I introduced myself in Korean to the principal and other head teachers.  Then I had to do it a second time for the other teachers and one final time in front of the students.  Apparently, my Korean pronunciation is pretty good and many teachers were impressed (great first impression).  I only had one class on the first day.  The teacher brought the students in and then sat in the back of the room working on her laptop (co-teaching isn’t really “co” at the middle school level).  As I began delivering my lesson, I quickly realized that I WAY overestimated my students’  English ability.  They had trouble following me, and I got a lot of blank expressions.  I was a bit deflated after the lesson and went home feeling very overwhelmed.  But after a moment to collect myself (and prevent a complete panic attack), I searched online for some ideas and found a lesson that I tweaked and made my own.  Day 2 and the days that followed were a success!  In fact, I got a few compliments on my “excellent teaching abilities” and classroom management style – that was a huge boost of encouragement that I needed after the first day.  My main co-teacher, Nayeon, also informed me that the other teachers think I’m kind and smile a lot, which puts them at ease.  I’d say I’m off to a good start!

Now, onto some differences between the Korean school system and American system:
  • In Korea, students get FREE TIME!  They have an hour for lunch.  They get to eat and then do whatever they want and are basically unsupervised.  They also get 10 minutes between classes and can do what they want as long as they’re not late.  I'm impressed that the students don’t seem to abuse the privilege!
  • It is a daily routine for students and teachers to brush their teeth after lunch.  There is a little pow-wow in the faculty restroom, and the students use trough-like sinks in the hallway.  Koreans must have great teeth!
  • There is a 20-minute period each day designated for cleaning the classroom.  Professional cleaners handle the restrooms and office, but students clean their own classrooms.  Three third grade students volunteered to clean my room every day.  We have been enjoying brief chats during our time together!
  • Let me explain “third grade students.”  Korean middle school is equivalent to grades 7th, 8th, and 9th in the US, but they call the students 1st graders, 2nd graders, and 3rd graders.
  • The students stay in the same room all day and teachers go to them.  Therefore, the teachers have a central workroom where each teacher has a desk (sort of like office cubicles…but without the cubicles).  The exception to this routine is me…I have my own classroom called “The English Zone,” so my students come to me.
  • The “bell” to signal the change of classes is classical music that plays for about 10 seconds…really nice touch!

My classroom!
The entrance to my classroom, aka "English Zone."
Reading and work area in the back of my classroom.

A sort of lounge area in my classroom once you enter.
On Friday, the entire school went out to eat.  Now, in the states there would NEVER be alcohol at a school event, but in Korea the beer and soju (a popular Korean spirit) flow freely (Korea is a heavy drinking society).  During the dinner the principal made the rounds to talk with some tables, and his visit including pouring shots of soju for people at the table.  I can honestly say, having my principal serve me a shot is a first for me!  At the dinner, I delivered a short “speech” in Korean.  I basically said I had a great first week and felt welcomed by the staff and students and that I was looking forward to the year.  I think I butchered the pronunciation a bit, but they got the hint and appreciated me trying!  

My principal and vice principal belting out a tune.
After dinner, some of us headed to a noreabang.  Noreabangs are karaoke rooms at a bar.  Your group gets a private room where you have control of all the songs you sing.  The room includes a stage, tambourines, and of course plenty of alcohol and more food.  Koreans really do LOVE to sing karaoke…and drink.  There were many drunk Koreans singing Korean songs.  One of them wanted me to sing and showed me the English song selections.  Apparently I was taking too long to choose because "Hotel California" was chosen for me.  Clearly most people were under the influence because they were quite impressed with my singing.  Of course, you know me, I did try to ham it up a bit!  Noreabangs with coworkers are actually a pretty important part of Korean culture, so I was happy to do m
y due diligence and participate.

All in all…it really was a GREAT first week!  I’m gonna say it again…this year is going to be amazing!


  1. Wow what an awesome job! the school looks so clean and modern. I am very impressed that the students have so much freedom. I think I will start serving shots to my employees lol sounds fun! congrats!!!

  2. What an amazing first week! I'm so surprised to see that their classrooms look way better than some of the ones that I've been in. I'm so happy! I'm sure in a few months your Korean will be better and you'll no longer butcher it. :) So HAPPY for you! Keep doing it girl! Go Betsy GO!!!