Things change so constantly in Korea that a lot gets lost in transition and lost in translation. Many of my co-teachers are new to each particular school, too, due to the 5-year teacher rotation program in the public school system.
EPIK simply places foreign English teachers at schools across the nation, but the schools have no idea what/how I’ve been trained because that changes every year, too. The schools just know that they’re getting a new English teacher each year but aren’t told much more than that. Everybody I’ve worked with in the schools has asked me, “How did you get here?” and “What’s EPIK?”
At EPIK orientation, we learned about teaching methods and Korea in general, but everything school- and living- and transport-specific for each individual… we were just dropped off to figure out for ourselves. If you are lucky, the previous EPIK teacher that you’re replacing can reach out to you to give you tips on your placement, but that’s not very reliable in many cases, like mine.
On Tuesday, after my prepared lessons about body parts to the middle schoolers, my co-teacher handed me a textbook and said, “Brooke, maybe you should use this.”
I didn’t know what she wanted me to do with it, so I asked her a few questions, and she just flipped through some of the pages, which are mostly in Korean and require a CD that didn’t come with my copy of the textbook. “OK? OK,” and she nudged the book at me to take home.
I looked back and nodded, feeling somewhat stupid because I had no idea whether she wanted me to go through all of the pages with the students exactly, or if I was just supposed to cover the topic for each chapter and use separate activities. I think my co-teachers use the books to teach English on the days that I’m not at their schools, but every school and class can be different. During my first week meeting everyone, I asked all of my co-teachers at each of my 5 schools what I should be doing for my lessons, and I was just told to have “fun” with the students. OK, then…
Wednesday was a blur because I didn’t sleep the night before. This was my 1st week of routine in Korea, so even though it was my 4th week here, the time zone change really hit me. After daylight savings, Korea is 14-hours ahead of Minnesota. In the day, my body wants to sleep, and at night, I’m wide awake. I recently discovered zzzquil, though, which really helped.
On Thursday, at the elementary school in Ssangchi, one student at the beginning of each of my 3rd- and 4th- and 6th-grade classes handed me a textbook and said, “For you!” That was the extent of direction that I got for each of those classes… a co-teacher (besides the student-specific co-teachers for students with disabilities) didn’t even show up to assist me. So, I taught the kids my pre-prepared lesson about the weather, or at least I tried to when I could get them to stop climbing on the bookcases.
For 5th grade, a co-teacher asked me if I could teach the book, so I frantically asked for the CD and started flipping through the pages online. It didn’t go so well because I hadn’t used the technology before, so he said, “Brooke, maybe next time. I teach the book during the week. You have fun. Maybe, you can do your own lesson this time?” So, I went on to teach my weather lesson again. His English was good, but there was definitely a disconnect between my questions and his answers, so I decided that I was going to seek information elsewhere, like the Office of Education in Sunchang.
My co-teacher on Fridays, Mr. Park, is my favorite co-teacher to work with because he is a “hip” dad and has very good English; most importantly, he is blunter than the others. The others really like the word ‘maybe.’ Subtlety is a big aspect of Korean culture.
After my first pre-prepared lesson of the day at Yeudeung, which is pictured above, Mr. Park told me to use the books. I told him that I didn’t have the books, and I asked him what I should do with them when I got them. He was confused. I was confused. He told me that all the other English teachers just knew what to do and taught the kids the right way out of the right books. He said, “Stacey didn’t leave anything for you, not even the books? She didn’t tell you anything?”
Nope. I’m not even living in Stacey’s apartment, even though I’m taking over her position. (I know the English teacher who is, though, and I later got some of the teacher manuals that Stacey was supposed to leave for me to use since the students’ copies are mostly in Korean.) Thankfully, Mr. Park explained to me that guest English teachers, like me, are only supposed to play games with the kids. He said that the school-specific teachers teach the books to a tee and that I’m just expected use that material (key expressions/vocabulary) to plan fun activities for my lessons. He shared his lesson plans with me so that I could make sure I covered the right material for where they’re at next time. It finally all made sense.
Unfortunately, each of my 4 elementary and middle schools uses different textbooks, so I have a lot of lesson planning to do. It’s only the high school, my main school with my main co-teacher, Mr. Lee, that doesn’t have a textbook so I have freedom with my lesson planning. On a positive note, at least I know how to do my job now!
Anyways, since 3 of the 18 students at this school are Mr. Park’s kids, and I’m supposed to tutor his 3rd-grader on the appropriate material, I felt like I had personally failed him with my lessons that day. He was so kind about it, though. After lunch, he invited me to hang out in the teachers’ lounge again, and all of the teachers made an effort to have a conversation in English for me.
They asked me the typical questions about how I got to Korea and Sunchang and their school, and what I thought of Trump. We laughed about Trump’s stupidity and bonded together about it. We talked about politics, and they shared their concerns with me. With someone like Trump as President, and with the type of rhetoric he uses, some of them are scared of war. Since South Korea has political instability right now and North Korea’s government is crazy, they’re a little on edge. They said that the USA would probably be OK if there was a war because it’s so big and powerful, but South Korea could be destroyed, so there’s a lot at stake right now. Perspective.
Thankfully, the South Korean election cycle is very short and would be over mid-2017. I’m jealous of their short election cycles. I told them how long US election cycles are, and I told them that if the US impeached Trump, the VP (Mike Pence) would just take over, and he is even worse than Trump. It didn’t make sense to them why we wouldn’t be able to elect a new President since the VP is picked by the President. I agree that this US impeachment process is pretty nonsensical. Conspiracy theory: Trump took advantage of this dysfunctional process and picked a shitty VP so that the People couldn’t find hope through the idea of impeachment when things go sour for him.
Once the bell rang for the afternoon session of school to begin, I got to take the bus home at about 2:00 PM. Mr. Park told me that next Friday, I can come on a mountain hike with the rest of the school in the afternoon, but I can do my lesson planning at home. Hallelujah.