Some folks think my job teaching English in Korea is a breeze. Some think it’s hard. As I’m working in Korea and the work culture and education system is different here, I feel like my job is challenging. It’s certainly never dull. I meet surprises on a regular basis and there’s always a new and fun challenge to throw into what you might think can be a monotonous schedule. Hardly.
For those who are planning to work and teach in Korea, this is for you~ a day in the life of an EPIK teacher.
My Schedule as an EPIK Teacher
8:25 am Arriving at school
Stepping onto the school grounds, I am greeted by sleepy-eyed elementary students.
“Hello Christine teacher!” they chirp.
“Good morning. How are you today?” my energy level shoots from 0-90, caffeinated by my students’ voices.
Alarm is the volleyed reaction. A deer-caught-in-the-headlights kind of look. My more confident students who attend after school programs might respond; but my lower-leveled students giggle and run away.
Ai! Some days I feel like my students and I are still on Lesson One.
8.30 am Warming up the English office
Brrr! It’s freezing. I turn on the lights and heater of our English office. There is no heating in the public spaces in Korea and certainly no heating when class is not in session. But the office heat, when someone is occupying the space, can be turned on. It is my warm hideaway. I plug-in the computers and turn them on. Any moment my co-teachers will breeze in after me.
8:45 am School Begins
Ring a ding ding!
The first bell of the day chimes — Korean school bells sound like cellphone ring tones.
This is home room period. Each Monday, I’m shuffled to the video broadcast room for school TV . A cheap hand-held camcorder with bad focus, records my 10 minute storytelling session.
Students man the control booth.
Let me tell you– crappy focus is an ex-shooter’s greatest pet peeve. Still, my job is not to teach video engineering. My job is to simply perform or speak… English. To read a story over the video/PA system, which will send my image into every classroom in the school. I must read my story…
…with fun and amusing sound effects, while explaining difficult or confusing vocabulary along the way.
The book I’m reading today.
8:55 am Last-minute schedule changes before my first period.
An audience of cute 3rd graders sit in our English class, anxiously awaiting their lesson. But something’s not right with this picture.
Normally, I teach 5th grade on Mondays. Today is Monday.
So this means, we have a last-minute schedule change (very synonymous with Korea). Now, I have to teach 3rd and have only a few minutes to give today’s lesson a once-over look before… the school bell rings.
“Okay Christine, it’s Bingo Time!” chimes my co-teacher, who waltzes in moments before we go live.
By now I know my 3rd grade co-teacher’s directorial formula. We run through a last-minute script rehearsal. She gives me verbal bullet-points and cues me up on sections we’ll handle individually.
Most of the time, I play a CD-Rom animation dialogue and illicit answers from them, coaxing the shy ones out of their shells and rewarding the ones with eager performance confidence. Sometimes I feel like I’ still producing, just on a milder scale– cueing my students to speak, prompting their listening skills with questions or having them repeat my expressions.
An important thing about teaching is listening. While you’re looking out into a sea of 24-30 students wooing them to repeat your words, you must listen– not only with your ears, but your eyes. You must notice who is speaking, who is shy but smart, who is mumbling because they lack confidence, who lacks focus because they don’t feel the practical value of their learning. You must listen to all these things, along with pronunciation.
This is actually the fun challenge of my work. This is where I get to know my students~ their skills and weaknesses, even the educational baggage they might have developed over their short years.
9:50 am Second period
Oh Lord, she’s at it again…
Returning from break, I find half of my second period class standing at the back of the room with raised arms and balled fists. My third grade Korean co-teacher, is reprimanding the class for their irresponsible and negligent behavior.
How can half the class forget to bring their textbooks?!
Discipline to my co-teacher is endurance training and students must hold stance, while being lectured for the next five minutes about the consequences for not having the proper mind for learning. This type of physical discipline is weird to me; like something might Dad might have had to do in his school time. But the way my co-teacher is doing so out of care is something I strangely respect. She is like a classroom mom– a firm disciplinarian but one that I know loves her students. I learn a lot about classroom management from her.
…But 3rd graders are still kids, they’ll forget this all by next week. Textbooks and homework will still be forgotten.
12:20 pm Lunch time
Korean kids love food. If I show them a picture of food in class, they begin fantasizing– my students are always hungry.
Today we have bibimbap for lunch! Yum. Being vegetarian, the lunchroom ladies set a hefty bowl of plain bap (rice) aside for me, especially if it’s been mixed with meat.
12:40 pm Recess
Occasionally, our female teachers will stroll around the schoolyard, arm-in-arm, play badminton in the gym or go to a teacher’s room for a coffee break. Today, one of the teachers has gotten a new car! He offers to give us a test drive and drives us around the block. Everyone chatters as I sit quiet in the back seat.
Conversations in Korean go right through me. I may strain my ear to listen for familiar words now and then; but often, this social hour unfurls industry buzz I can’t grasp. Mostly, I get the impression its standard stuff– a spousal fight, their children or a complaint about a mother-in-law.
Perhaps the one pet peeve I’ve developed here is not knowing what’s being said when my name or the term, weygook is spoken. It’s almost as if people are talking about you in front of you. It’s so disconcerting.
1:20 pm Meeting with my co-teacher for the next day
Next up is “Ellie”, my 4th grade co-teacher. She is a freelance teacher, splitting part-time with our school and with another. She’s great with motivating the kids with jokes and games. She knows how to make learning fun, while also being a strong and effective teacher. I learn a lot from her and the students really like her.
We meet to walk through this Thursday’s schedule (read about schedules here): rehearse our lesson plan and divvy up duties. I will choreograph motions for the song/chant section of our textbook, lead the CD-Rom speech exercises and questions. She will direct the game activity and explain complex rules in grammar.
2:40 pm Lesson Planning Time!
I spend the rest of the day brainstorming, finding or creating materials to inspire learning for the lessons I’ll have to teach for 5th grade, 6th grade and my Parents and/or Teacher’s English class. This is where my real work begins. My 5th & 6th grade classes are taught with my main co-teacher, EH, who I take turns lesson planning with.When I write teh lesson plan, I brief her on it and tell her which parts she’ll handle. When she writes it, vice versa.
Meanwhile, my adult classes I teach alone. Sometimes, I must improvise on a lesson I pull from the internet or create lessons from scratch. It tests my creativity and I can teach with free range and generally, they’re topics I’m more interested in teaching.
4:30 pm School’s over; that’s a wrap!
I shut off the lights, turn off the computers and leave. Back to my snuggly apartment! Watch the video below for my apartment tour or read more here.
Want to know more about how to teach English in Korea with EPIK? For more information about teaching in Korea, click here.
Bonus Video: How to Teach English is Korea and Japan