Video: My First Day at a Korean Elementary School

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Last Updated on August 24, 2017 by Christine Kaaloa

A video of my first day at Anil Elementary School
(totally rough version- I threw it together at the last-minute…)

The first day at a Korean school was nerve-wrackingly easy.

There was no “teaching” on my first day of school

… and essentially the rest of the week.

My job has been to sit in our English teacher’s office room and browse through textbooks. So I volunteered to do a Learning about Introductions presentation for my classes, to escape boredom and to finally see some of my kids. On Facebook, some others are experiencing the same sitting-around thing.  It sounds as if many co-teachers aren’t prepared to have to work with us or are just as new to teaching English as we are.

I help teach 3rd-6th grade and there are 4 classes per grade, so essentially, I teach 16 classes a week. I have 3 different co-teachers I  work with (all around my age and married with children) and only 2 have experience teaching English.

They say flexibility is key in Korea – how  teachers are thrown different responsibilities at the last-minute is an example.  I am one of those thrown responsibilities for my main co-teacher and the English teacher without experience was really a music teacher until last year.

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The English teacher’s office

First Day of School Introductions

Hello, You’re a Celebrity on the School News Channel

My school introduced me via video broadcast. Our school has a broadcast room and when they introduced me via video camera, I had to perform a short bow so that the students could see me on the computer web-cast/projection screen in their classroom. While this may seem spectacular by western standards, for Koreans, its nothing out of the ordinary.

The Korean school system seems to be a more technologically advanced in their own way; and while teachers may not all be tech-saavy, they can all teach via Powerpoint presentations! I guess you could say the Korean classroom has the tools of a typical American business.

The Welcome Lunch

Being a new inductee to the school, a handful of other newbie teachers and I were treated to a welcome lunch by our Principal and Vice Principal.  During lunch period, we walked over to a nearby restaurant.

My co-teacher was um…”uninvited”, which embarrassed and miffed her a bit; but my Principal is a soft-spoken and elderly lady who makes you smile inside and her English isn’t bad either.

We spoke on the way over to the restaurant and I sat next to her. Oddly, it was our Vice Principal who sat at the head of the table and posed a more intimidating seal to crack.  Sandwiched proudly between my Principal and V.P. on the left side of the table, it was the right hand seat of the VP which seemed to be the senior and honored seat (I’m guesstimating…). The new 6th grade home room teacher who was seated there mock-declined her seat in the standard “Please, please…I’m not worthy…” Asian way. She looked sweet yet was dressed in a bit of an authoritative, masculine way- a suit with a tie- and took charge of certain traditional things that I wouldn’t have known, like pouring drinks, etc… She was definitely the right right-hand.

Other EFL teachers on my EPIK Daegu groups on Facebook experienced drinking soju, dinner partying and noribanging (aka going to karaoke) with their Principals and co-teachers. Not here. The air was stiff at our lunch table to the point of making me forget how to use chopsticks! There was light conversation, but only in reply to the seniors when they would speak. It was a meek, serious and quiet bunch… still, I was very grateful they weren’t into getting plastered and noribanging (“pretend drinking” and fake-smiling during long norebang (aka karaoke) sessions would have been dreadful to me)!

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My 1st day name cheat sheet (all the teacher & principal, admin staff names I should  know)

Memorizing Korean names

Unlike the Western culture in which each person is called either by their first or last name (i.e. Joe or Mr. Lee); in Korea, each person essentially has 3 names- a family name and a two-legged surname (or “last name, first-first name”.. something like that). For instance, these are the important names I have to eventually know:

Principal:  Choi, Jung-Hye
Vice Principal:  Jung, Yong-Suk
Main Co-Teacher:  Kim, Eun-Hyung
Co-Teacher #2: Kim, Soo-Mi
Co-Teacher #3:  Lee, Hyun-Jeong

That’s a brain-full for the first day. Seeing as I’m new and obviously will have trouble remembering them all, I’ve been allowed to call a teacher by her first name (at least that’s one down) and if a teacher is really nice and excited about my being there, then she might even give me a English name to call her by, if she has one. I’ve only gotten one English name and it’s Angelina (I think you can figure out where that name comes from, so I’m actually going to try my hardest to remember her real name)



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  • hi Christine!

    i was wondering if you found it difficult to find veg-friendly food while eating with your coworkers? were they understanding of you not eating meat? i’m just a bit worried bc I don’t eat meat either and I’m going to teach with EPIK in feb so any pointers you have would be so helpful!

    thank you 🙂


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  • Oh, it’s not exam time, they’re just not prepared. Unlike the US/Canada/most of the rest of the world, Korean schools do no preparation over holidays, so when school starts they have to start from scratch with figuring out schedules, who will be teaching what, etc. It’s disorganized, but it’s just the way they do it. They haven’t put you in classes yet because they likely don’t even know when you’ll be teaching classes.

    • I could believe that. There’s a lot of last minute changes to things and my CTs are all new to having an NT teaching with them. BUT… it was exam time. apparently I did a voiceover for one of the exams… a whole script! They didn’t tell me what it was for but I eventually found out. 😉

  • Be prepared for a lot of desk-warming, as most NT (native teachers) call it. Most Korean public schools are not really aware of how to use a foreigner in the classroom, and you will mostly be used for games and for reading dialogues. I taught at 7 different schools and only two of them ever let me do my own lessons, despite the fact that I am a trained and certified teacher.

    Especially when your students are near exam/midterm/finals times, you will likely be told to simply sit at your desk and do nothing, sometimes for weeks at a time. I highly suggest watching movies on your laptop. Some folks who don’t have ESL certification use that time to get certified online, and some folks earn an entire online master’s degree in the amount of time they spend desk warming.

    I don’t mean to sound discouraging – merely to prepare you for a very real possibility.

    • Ha ha… Good to know. Yes, “sitting” is the hardest part right now. I’d like to either see my students or just play online (because there’s not much to do) but I also feel a bit guilty. This is our second week and it must be exam time for the students. Some of us haven’t made it into the classrooms yet & some are already teaching lesson plans. The NT experience for Korean teachers is fairly new for a lot of the teachers here in Daegu (what I’m gathering from others), due to the fact the Korean government has only recently been injecting money into this program- many CTs aren’t sure how to implement us yet.

      It’s all about the “flexibility is key” approach- you have to be prepared for the spectrum & for the NTs here in my program, the situations are all varied. But, on the other turn, the school is also planning another sched for me. I will storytell for low income students, do a Mon morn video broadcast in English & teach parents conversational English… this is all subject to change or modify. This may be a fun challenge for me. Flexibility. I’m silently waiting things out– I get a bit how my CT’s load of responsibilities go in order to feel understanding of her situation. She’s doing her best w/ what’s being thrown at her too. 😉

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