One year in: Changes

To begin with one of the ultimate clichés: time flies. Note that being a cliché doesn’t make it any less true; in fact, rather the opposite.

The next post will have more pictures, promise.

Today is April 30, making tomorrow May 1 (and yet another public holiday for you lucky people in South Africa. Almost all of Korea’s public holidays this year fall on the weekend – how swak is that?!) and the start of the FIFTH month of the year. It feels like January was only yesterday. It feels like 2011 was only yesterday. But the months have passed, in a fairly regular rhythm of teaching, deskwarming (lots of it in January and February) and weekends. Mostly cold months, but I am pleased to report that it has finally, finally, FINALLY started to warm up here. I’ve even been wearing T-shirts (although no shorts or skirts without leggings just yet). But one country’s “warm” is another country’s “freezing” – while people in Sydney and Cape Town complain of the cold (at 17 to 20 degrees) we rejoice in the warmth of similar temperatures. It’s all relative, yo.


From left to right: cool, cold, warm.

(Fun fact! Korea’s weather cycle goes something like this: seven months of cool-cold-freezing-cold-cool, one month of monsoon rains, two months of melt-your-face-off heat and humidity, and only two months (September and May) where it’s actually nice. I don’t know how people live like this. Also: South Africa has the best weather. In the whole world. So stop complaining. I’m serious. <teacher glare>)

Anyway, the start of the new school year (March 1) has not been without its changes (as the name of this piece would imply. Ah, you’ve been paying attention.) District education offices in Korea have a lovely (sarcasm. I mean “bizarre”) system of not allowing staff (teachers, principals, admin people) to remain at the same school for more than two to four years. So along with my late-lamented, never-fully-appreciated co-teacher, my main school lost its head teacher, two other homeroom teachers and extra maths/I don’t know what teacher. So basically, because my school is tiny, half the staff is brand new. One of the new teachers is so brand new, in fact, that she is two years younger than me and has never taught before! Weird feeling. It’s been weird all round, generally.

Also, along with that, my main school is no longer my main school. Epik sadface (in-joke). The POE, in all its infinite wisdom, has decided that teaching little kids to read was far too much of a waste of my valuable, native English speaker time, and I would be far better employed as a classroom assistant slash ornament to several highly competent Korean English teachers at a school so large the kids have to eat lunch in shifts.

Mind you don’t slip in the sarcasm.

Yes, I found out (after I’d left there for the last time, naturally) that I would not be returning to my second school, that my days at my now-former main school would be cut from three to two and my new main school was Hallim Elementary, where I would be teaching fourth and sixth grade only. I wasn’t too sad about leaving my second school as the people I’d liked best, the 6th graders and the TaLK teacher, had left. I will miss some of the other kids though, and I wish I’d been able to say goodbye to some of the teachers. Also, I still have a couple of books that I borrowed for winter camp. Oops.

On top of a discovery that I would not be teaching grade 1 or 2 at my first school anymore either (in case you didn’t know, last year’s grade 1s were my favourite class EVER. They brightened my day every time I saw them. We played games and sang songs and had so much fun together. ) and the feeling of generally being superfluous to activities at my new school (even my new co-teacher, sweet as she is, delicately wondered why the POE had made Hallim my new main school when my other school needs me a lot more. Oh, and did I mention Hallim already has a full time EPIK teacher on staff? Yeah.) conspired to bring about my lowest point in the whole 11 months (at that point) of my being here. I have never, before or since, been so close to climbing on the first plane out of here.

(Also, I use a lot of parentheses. I do this a lot when speaking too. Just go with it.)

But I soldiered on, as you do, and was rewarded first with miraculous, near-angelic behaviour on the part of the fourth graders (last year’s third graders, aka worst class ever) and the offer of doing afterschool class at Hallim with the grades of my choice (no prizes for guessing I picked grade 1 and 2). And things have been pretty good so far.

On the upside, my new co-teachers are fantastic. They speak really good English and it’s been a really good experience teaching with someone else. And my main co-teacher gives me lifts home most days – so much better than having to take the bus! Also, I technically have far less work than last year, planning ten lessons a week (including two afterschool classes) instead of 17. Another highlight is the fifth graders at my first school – they are an amazing class, full of fun and laughter and enthusiasm. I’m looking forward to doing my open class with them soon.

Also, now both my schools are close to beautiful beaches!

On the downside, I have to share lessons with the homeroom teachers at my first school. At first the fifth and sixth didn’t tell me about this, so I came to class with the wrong lesson prepared, and so had to pull a lesson out of my backside when informed at the last minute that “Oh, I taught this lesson last week.” Then they stopped teaching this extra lesson, and didn’t tell me, leading to same lesson-out-of-ass pulling situation. The seriously carrot-grating part is that I was told that the kids “need” this extra lesson a week (granted, fifth and sixth grade are supposed to have three English lessons a week) because of a national test they have to take in June. Fair enough. But then the teachers don’t teach their lesson and who has to pick up the slack so that the kids don’t fall behind for that all-important exam? ME, that’s who. Oh yes, just pass that slack over here, I’ll grab it, don’t worry about it.

And did I mention that we have all-new textbooks for those two grades? Last year’s national textbooks have been phased out and the waygookin teacher community is floundering online, divided into much smaller groups and therefore with a far smaller pool of potential resources. See why I said “technically” less work?! (Yeah yeah, white people problems, I know.)

With the third and fourth grade, the situation’s a little different. Last year I taught the same textbook on one lesson a week and managed to finish it (well, I totally WOULD have if the teachers had sent their kids to all the English lessons they were supposed to, I’m just saying). So I was totally prepared to do the same thing this year. (We do an additional textbook, Let’s Go, on Wednesdays.) But the head teacher decided that it’s not enough, so the homeroom teachers have to teach the textbook once a week too. Fortunately I managed to step in and assert my (very minimal) authority, granted largely by the fact that both third and fourth homeroom teachers are new this year, and asked them to teach alternate units, instead of alternate lessons. Now the problem is I have to actually do a lot of the dumber activities I skipped over last year, or find/make suitable alternatives. And we’re already at the halfway point, and it’s not even May. Fun times! (I mean that literally. Game, teacher!)

At Hallim I’ve had to get used to a variety of new and different things. Only teaching three lessons a week, but repeating each lesson four or five times. Classes of 28 kids (my biggest class at the other school is 14). Eating lunch in shifts: the school has 900 students, so only two grades can eat lunch at a time. This means that on the days I teach sixth grade I have to wait till 13:10 to have lunch – the horror!

My afterschool class has also been a bit of a nightmare. The kids are all super super cute, but they do not speak a word of English. Not only that, they do not understand a single word I say. “Duh”, you might be saying, but both first and second grade classes I worked with last year understood at least the basic “Hello Teacher” greeting, and most of them knew the alphabet. With these kids I’m starting basically from scratch. And did I mention it’s just me and them, no Korean teacher of any kind? Yeah. But it’s ok! I have Plans! Involving lots of games and singing and laminated personally-made flashcards!


See? Super cute.

And that’s pretty much it. Life goes on. Eat, sleep, teach; rinse and repeat. Currently slash soon: salsa, volleyball, beaching, hiking. Watch this space!


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