March 4, First Day

And we’re off!

While yesterday was my first day at school, today was my first schedule of classes. Maybe it’s because I’ve been around the block but I’ve found falling into a routine at school has taken nearly no adjustment. The facilities at this school are great and the teachers are polite and professional.

I had five fourth grade classes today; 4-6 is tomorrow morning. Even the worst class is better behaved than my best class in Seoul, so maybe I really was at a challenging school.

I did a little trivia introduction, taught them my failsafe Hello song, set expectations, reviewed salutations with a relay, played Pictionary, and reviewed the rules and my name once more.

The order was not random but a carefully planned strategy: if I introduced the rules too early, the students would have no emotional connection to me and therefore to my expectations. If I introduced them too late, we would have no time to practice and address any issues. I also needed to break up the content and review periodically to check understanding and keep class engaging.

I asked the students to guess my favorite Korean food and all I can think is that meme from Mulan:

I never got to have class rules before since I started mid year and wasn’t class lead. But damn does it make a difference! There was one video from 4 years ago I took inspiration from to create my 3 rules:

Respect, Listen, Prepare.

The first is a blanket expectation and really helped to stop kiddos from shouting mememe! or not paying attention. I demonstrated with good and bad scenarios and had the students say “yes” or “no” to respect.

This was also really useful because I had two or three students who are very advanced in English but want to use that power to show off or talk over others.

I don’t care if a student is good at English, I care that they have a teamwork mentality and respect me and the class. Luckily with the explanation of this rule, those students started to understand that I wasn’t going to pick them just because their English level is high.

The second is about listening carefully and the third is about having your materials ready. These were easily demonstrated with body language, repetition, and simple words.

Unfortunately I did have to call one boy out in the fourth period class for doing an air humping victory dance after winning rock paper scissors in a battle to see who could come draw on the board. I imitated part of his dance and asked the class if that was respectful and they said no. I allowed the loser to come to the board instead.

I did feel bad since he was shocked and saddened but there will be consequences for acting inappropriately! That class as a whole needed several reviews of the rules.

I am most surprised by the level of involvement overall. Back in Seoul, it was impossible to get more than two kids to raise their hand at any time. In nearly all these classes however, it started off with five kids and towards the end of class often went upwards of 20.

In between classes I got to use the teachers room where I took off my mask for a few minutes, washed my hands, or had some water. I chatted in Korean with some teachers and surprisingly in English with others. Compared to my previous school, I can’t help but be surprised.

Before my last class of the day, the 4-5 homeroom teacher came in and spoke to me in English. It was really sweet and we walked back to his classroom together. He told me that last year he was an English teacher at another school and as a consequence is very involved in class. He even sang along!

At times he was perhaps a little over involved. It’s okay if students don’t understand 100% of what I’m saying at the beginning, or ever. Context is important, total physical response is required. If a teacher translates immediately after I speak in English, then students will stop listening and trying to associate meaning and simply wait for the translation.

I did love his enthusiasm and I loved that the kids saw his interest in English.

“Omg teacher, you speak English really well!” They told him.

After my last class, I went back to our English office and threw myself in a chair. As my co-teacher Helen said, it felt like we had done a week of work even though it was only a day.

Co-teacher Jack, who has two teenage daughters and invited me to eat with his family in the spring, told me after lunch that the fifth period teacher had complimented my class and exclaimed that I was really professional.

Sometimes I feel really uncomfortable in my title as English teacher because the requirements don’t actually stipulate a teaching license*. (And not to mention, I still don’t have my teaching license and I submitted all exams results and paperwork in December… thanks, Florida Department of Education.)

As a result, Koreans don’t always have the best view of guest English teachers in the country: under-qualified, overpaid, and unable to speak the local language.

But I told myself today, let your effort show. Let your work speak for itself. It did and did for that I’m very glad.


*Culture note: In Korean 선생님, teacher, is a respected term of address. Only those who passed rigorous teaching exams earn this title. In addition, when you want to address a stranger but show deference, people sometimes call the stranger “teacher”. It’s similar to the deference shown to the term “professor” in English. If an assistant lecturer showed up to your college and didn’t have the credentials but was called “professor”, you may feel they are overselling themselves.

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