On Thursdays, I go to the primary school in Ssangchi.
For the first time today, I hopped on the bus and waited patiently to come close to the dot that I had marked on my map. I rode through the mountains for an hour, unsure of where exactly I was going. I got off at the end of the line, in a very rural, small town… much more rural than Sunchang. Roosters were crowing as I walked through the alleys. The school is pretty hard to miss because it’s a huge, modern building, dissimilar from the rest of the city. It really puts into perspective how much value is placed in the Korean school system.
I thought I was late because I didn’t arrive until 9:20 AM, but thankfully, I don’t start teaching until 9:50 AM. EPIK teachers are in class for 22 hours per week, and we’re responsible for lesson planning for rest of the 18 hours. Since I teach every single grade from primary school to high school, I can’t use standardized lessons; I need every single lesson planning hour to create fun and challenging activities that the students are interested in and capable of doing. On top of that, students in a certain grade at one school may be at very different levels than students in the same grade at another school.
In Ssangchi, I teach 4 classes (40-minutes each): 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th graders. Class sizes are small: between 5-10 students. The 3rd and 4th graders were like a troop of monkeys today. I’d usually be able to handle the dysfunction, but I don’t know any Korean, and they don’t know any English. Korean children start learning English in public schools in 3rd grade, but most have picked up the alphabet and a lot of basic words already; I just wasn’t able to gauge what they did or didn’t know because… It. Was. A. Zoo. I couldn’t tell if some of the boys were ignoring my directions to stop playing hide-and-seek under the tables between the few well-behaved students, or if they truly didn’t understand me.
Just like every class has its jokester, every class has its superstar. The only reason I survived my 3rd and 4th grade classes today was thanks to the 2 superstar girls who must be in English hagwons already. They helped out with translation and made sure the boys followed my directions. (How fitting for International Women’s Day!) I definitely have to speed up my Korean language-learning to get to a basic level so that I can be a better translator for these muskrats.
Right before my 5th and 6th grade classes, another teacher blessed me with an English textbook (my first) so that I wouldn’t have any trouble lesson planning for them. Hallelujah!
Lunch was delicious. Nutrition must be high valued in school in Korea, too. I want to inhale my food at lunchtime, but I sit with the other teachers and try to pace myself to them instead. I’m not really sure what’s culturally acceptable in the school lunch arena, so I’ve become a really good mimicker, except for with the use of chopsticks. I’ve had one-too-many stains this week from my attempts with chopsticks.
After lunch, I went to back to the English room instead of the teachers’ lounge for 20 minutes before my last class of the day. A few little girls came in and tried to talk to me; they kept telling me I was “so pretty” and started playing with my hair. When I wasn’t looking, they also sniped the candy that one of the 3rd graders had given me earlier. Little devils. They ran away laughing, but then came back and started drawing me pictures. This was one of the drawings I was given after I said, “draw me something you like…” 🙂