I was very nervous for my first day of proper teaching. But given that I had no idea what I was doing (and that included which lesson the various classes were on) and hadn’t prepared properly, I probably should have been a lot more nervous than I was.
In the car on the way to school, Sunny (the fifth grade teacher) asked me how my weekend was. “Good thanks,” I replied. “What did you do?” she asked. “Oh, nothing much. I slept a lot,” I replied. I then enquired about her weekend. “Uh, fine,” she said hesitatingly, then added, “I did work. I was at school.” Yeah, that’s right people. She spent the entire weekend at school, doing work. Mad.
I had made a slideshow about myself and South Africa, which I naively assumed would take up the entire 40-minute lesson. As a suddenly-inspired backup plan I found “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” on YouTube and made a quick PowerPoint with the lyrics.
Well, my introductory slideshow did not take the whole lesson. The grade ones I occupied by having them draw and colour in namecards. The threes I made sing “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” – hearing a room full of Koreans solemnly singing “a wimba wap” remains a personal highlight for me. With the fours and fives we struggled our way through the textbook pages for the day (the accompanying DVDs, naturally, were all in Korean). The grade four homeroom teacher became an instant favourite with me when she did not say a word about the trainwreck of a lesson I’d just presented to her class but just smiled sympathetically and patted my hand. (After the second lesson I had with them, which did not show much improvement, she just smiled, again, and said: “Teaching…first time…very charrenging.” I love her.)
They were all deeply interested in my slideshow, though. They loved the pictures of the cities, the scenery, and my old school. Strangely enough only one class asked about my brother (he’s black). Fortunately the homeroom teacher was on hand to translate the word “adopted”. Another class asked about the meaning of the colours of the flag. I explained as best as I could, but I think I got a little mixed up about the white in the flag – I told them it stood for white people. Ha ha. Oops.
I was feeling so hideously discouraged and failure-tastic that I hid in my classroom during lunch and didn’t go down to the cafeteria. After lunch, however, I had to go to the grade sixes for their class. (Now would be a good time to explain how the teaching works at the MWF school. I teach the grade ones to fives essentially by myself, with just their homeroom teacher in the room to handle any translation and discipline issues that arrive. It’s not so bad because the classes are quite small and the kids are well-behaved. For the sixes I attend their classes and help out with whatever their teacher, my official co-teacher and main English teacher, asks me to do.)
After their class, in which we sang a silly song called “Where is York Street?” accompanied by even sillier actions, my co-T told me, in a nice way, that the classes found my accent strange (the last native teacher was Canadian) and I spoke too fast. Oops. Sigh.
I was thoroughly exhausted after my first day of teaching, and I still had to go through to the other side of town to apply for my ARC (alien residence card). Fortunately this was not too arduous, although I did have a particularly maniacal taxi driver. My life flashed before my eyes more than once…
Tuesday and Wednesday: It gets better
The next day’s teaching went a lot better, mostly because the head teacher had prepared me for it by actively including me in the class the week before. I only had to teach the grade sixes and having watched the head teacher at the other school do the same lesson, I wasn’t too fazed. And when all else fails? Play hangman with the vocab from the lesson. Winner, every time. Plus a little girl gave me a caramel toffee; one of the perks that comes with teaching!
(At the TT school, by the way, I teach the grade ones and twos by myself with the homeroom teacher in the class, and the threes to sixes with the head English teacher. She leads grades 3 and 5 and I lead 4 and 6. )
Lunch was…not so good that day. What looked like seaweed salad, spicy octopus (tentacles and suckers still attached) and noodles, and pork offal and potato soup. Shudder. Thank goodness for rice.
The next day, at the MWF school, was an improvement on Monday, but not greatly. The grade ones were great, even though I ran out of stuff to do with them, and I somehow prepped the wrong lesson for the twos and ended up having to just wing it. The fives were ok, but that’s mostly because they’re a great class, and I just got to relax in the sixth grade class :) Lunch was wonderful – noodles, carrots and potatoes in some brown sauce. Sadly, though, my noodle skills were not sufficiently advanced enough to allow my full enjoyment of the dish.
That afternoon, travelling home with the afterschool teacher, the librarian and some other woman (she’s very nice but I have no idea what she does) the librarian was so moved by my attire (coat and scarf) that she said to me, holding the sleeve of her one long-sleeved shirt for emphasis, “It’s warm!” I nodded and smiled. Little did she know I was wearing thermal underwear too…
I spent the evening at the local coffee shop, where they gave me one sugar and a spoon (usually I have to sneak one of the ice cream spoons to use to stir my cappuccino) and engaged me in conversation. Obviously, they’d noticed I’d been coming there a lot. “They”, by the way, are two guys around my age. They couldn’t find South Africa on a map, coming up with Saudi Arabia and South America before I helped them out. They’re pretty nice though. Maybe I should offer them conversation lessons in exchange for free coffee :P
At 11pm, closing time, I was saddened to see it was raining outside, as I hadn’t brought my umbrella. But as I stood up leave, the lady who owns or manages the place handed me one of their umbrellas, telling me to bring it back the next day! I was touched by her kindness.
Thursday: I think I might like this teaching thing
At the TT school the next day, I was given the textbooks that I would be teaching the 1s and 2s from, starting the following week. It probably goes without saying but yes, they were all in Korean. I had some serious preparation work ahead of me!
The classes went well…except for the grade fours disappearing on me. Yes. That happened. We were struggling to get the DVD working so the head teacher had got the computer teacher to help us. After a couple of minutes the head teacher said something to the class in Korean, then they all got up and left. I was left standing there with a mouth full of teeth and a blank expression. I followed the noise and found them in the computer lab next door. I looked enquiringly at the teacher and she smiled and said “Computer class today!” Uh. Huh.
So, the first four days of teaching were done. It was exhausting, and I often wondered what on earth had possessed me to list elementary school as my first choice, but to my astonishment (and delight) I found I was loving it. The kids are great (if exhausting and loud), and the teaching is fun. It’s exciting living in such a different place and eating strange foods and figuring out how to adapt and survie, and thrive, even. Just sitting on the bus when you’re the only foreigner is an experience. Buying groceries is an experience. And teaching brings something new and different every day. It’s great to be here.