Mondays are at Sunchang High, which is a 5-minute walk from my apartment. I have a very nicely organized desk with a variety of teaching materials and positive quotes from the previous EPIK teacher, Stacey.
When I arrived, Mr. Lee informed me that the schedule changed, so I wouldn’t be teaching on my first day. I sat at the desk all day, at the whim of random meetings and lunch that Mr. Lee would come into the teachers’ office and quickly grab me for. I had plenty of stuff to work on, so it was actually very enjoyable. Most teachers in my program were thrown into teaching upon arrival to their cities, so I felt pretty lucky.
The school lunch, by the way, was absolutely fantastic – and super healthy. Lunch consists of a random rice, hot soup, kimchi, a random meat/vegetable mixture of the day, and yogurt. Everything tastes home-cooked fresh. I’ve heard that the school gets some of the ingredients from some of the kids’ families’ farms.
People don’t really tell me things here. I actually don’t think it’s because of the language barrier. Due to the hierarchy and things changing so frequently, information isn’t heavily flowing. If I need to know something, I ask, and I get the answer. “Do we have school tomorrow?” That’s an important one. I’m not kidding. I’ve heard it’s pretty common for English teachers to show up to school on a day it’s closed at least once throughout their contract because no one told them about a special school holiday.
I still had a slight cough from my strep throat, and Mr. Lee kept asking me if I needed to go to the hospital. Korean co-teachers can be so sweet; they know you don’t have any family here, so if you work closely with them, they take it upon themselves to be your family. Our EPIK Coordinator, Aaron, told our orientation class that you have to be really deathly ill to call-in sick to work, and faking is not an option; your co-teacher will be genuinely be worried about you and likely even show up at your doorstep to take care of you (cook you food, clean your apartment, bring you medicine, and etc.).
At the end of the day, Mr. Lee told me that I would start teaching in the classroom on Tuesday afternoon. There isn’t a textbook, so I’m responsible for preparing my own lessons. Talk about pressure.
Next, he pulled out a stack of papers: student performance reviews. He told me that at the end of each semester, in July and December, I would have to write a short review for each student. I would have to learn all of the students’ names and jot down notes during classes for the reviews. That’s 200 names to learn. My weakness is names; I will remember someone’s life story but never their name. These were also Korean names… Kim Ji Hea, Jim Tae Kyun, Nam Seon Woo, Gyeong Da Eun… Ugh Me Life.
I read through the performance reviews from last year and giggled a little bit, though. The reviews were so positive, so Korean.
(Student) has made steady progress this semester. She would, of course, benefit significantly by applying herself and speaking English more often. Well done on your progress made thus far! (July score: 70, December score: 75)
(Student) has made significant progress this term. He was more motivated and participated in all activities. He has made more of an effort to improve each week and as a result, he has started to develop a good oral vocabulary. Well done on the progress made thus far! (July score: 85, December score: 90)
(Student) is a very hardworking student and always shows enthusiasm in class. He has continued to make good progress and has become more self-reliant and confident when using the language. He also continued to perform exceptionally well in both oral and written test. Well done and keep up the good work! It has been a pleasure to have him in my class. (July score: 90 , December score: 100)
This reminded me to stay positive for all the challenges to come, and I looked back at the quotes hung up on my desk.
Watch your thoughts for they become words. Watch your words for they become actions. Watch your actions for they become habits. Watch your habits for they become character. Watch your character – it becomes your destiny. – Lao Tzu