15 August 2011

Return to Seoul: Week 2

This isn’t the first time that I’ve lived in a foreign country, so I know that it isn’t always going to be easy. This last week has been a rough one for me but, I’m taking it in stride and trying to remain positive. People are always telling me how brave and adventurous I am for moving to a foreign country on my own. The truth is, there are days when I think, “What the fuck am I doing here?” I had one of those days this week and I’m still trying to recover from it.

This was my first week teaching solo and it was filled with highs and lows. I’ve got quite a few years of teaching experience under my belt but, this is a new school and there are a lot of things that I still have to learn. To be honest, I’m kind of feeling overwhelmed with information. The fact that I’ve had to test kids that I’m just getting to know and write report cards for some of them certainly doesn’t help. I don’t want to end up spending 12 hour days at school like I did at my last job in Korea. I will do my best for these kids and give them lots of love and attention but I also need time to myself: time to think, time to write, time to explore.

I teach at a private English school, meaning that at the end of the day, it’s all about making money. They offer all types of English courses to kids aged 3 to 10 years of age. The most popular programme they offer is a full-time English immersion Kindergarten programme that is open to kids aged 4, 5 and 6 years of age (Korean age 5, 6 and 7) and runs Tuesday to Thursday from 9:30am to 12:30pm. As of 1st September, I will be teaching a full-time class of 7 year-olds. Don’t ask me to explain, but in Korea everyone is a year older than their actual age so these kids are actually 6 years old. For more information on how that works, click here.

Furthermore, in Korea, Grade 1 starts at age 7 (or Korean age 8) so for these kids, this is the only school they go to. I am also teaching an intensive course four days a week from 1:00pm to 2:00pm. These kids are 5 years old. They are exceptionally bright and speak English almost as fluently as native speakers! Twice a week, on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 4:00pm to 6:00pm, I teach another advanced class, to a group of 9 year olds. On Wednesdays and Fridays, beginning 1st September, I will be teaching a group of beginner 8 to 9 year-olds from 3:30pm to 5:30pm. Right now, they’re on summer holiday from regular school but once Korean school begins, they will be coming to my classes after school so I can expect them to be tired and overwhelmed. The advanced group are very bright but the material is too advanced, in my humble opinion. I haven't met the beginners yet, but I've heard that there are behavioural issues. For now, I am subbing on Saturdays, so I’m teaching different classes (most of which I know nothing about) to different ages and levels until 1st September when I will supposedly be getting my own Saturday classes.

The school offers courses all year round and are only closed for a week at Christmas. It would appear that officially, that will be the only holiday I’ll be getting. This sort of feels like Nova (where I worked in Japan) all over again but I’m trying not to let it get to me. The bottom line is: I’m here to gain experience and save money. I don’t plan on staying longer than a year. I’m fairly certain that this will be my last teaching stint in Asia. Most people do the whole teach abroad thing in their 20s. My first job teaching abroad was at age 33 and I’ve been doing it on and off for over 7 years. I think I’ve had my fill but… I need to make it through this year! I’ve only been here for two weeks, after all.

So that’s a breakdown of my classes and my schedule but none of that really matters. I know from experience that what will get me through the day (or the year, I should say) are the students themselves. Interestingly enough, the class that started off giving me the most trouble is now my favourite group! I’ve got a couple of anecdotes that will explain why…

Dana, who I jokingly referred to as “the meanest six year-old in the world” in the beginning made it very clear that she did not approve of me taking over the class from day one. My first week, I joined Paul (the director, who shouldn’t have even been teaching classes but they were short staffed until my arrival) in this class daily and Dana spent her time saying things to me like, “Who are you? What are you doing here? You’re fat! I don’t like you,” which of course, I didn’t take personally because I knew that I was the fourth teacher this class had seen in less than a month.

Well, on Tuesday, I taught them for the first time on my own and Dana was all like, “Where’s Paul? I don’t like you!” so I retorted with, “That’s a pity, Dana because I like you,” and carried on. The next day, she got into a tiff with another student, James, who had been acting out since my arrival by generally being disagreeable with the other kids. James said, “I don’t like you Dana!” to which Dana replied, “Well, I like you, James.” Then, she looked at me and said, “Deena, I like you very much.” You see? They’re actually listening. After that exchange, I talked to the entire class about the difference between not liking someone and not liking something that someone does. I ended with, “I think that everybody in this class genuinely likes each other and I’m glad to be teaching you because I think that you’re all very clever and very good kids.”

On Friday, at circle time, James suddenly took my hand, grasped it very hard and said, “I like this!” to which I replied, “I like this too!” and then I looked at all of their beaming faces and said, “I like all of this!” Then, something incredible happened: Dana spontaneously decided to sit in my lap! I hugged her and then politely asked her to go back to her place in the circle. If only adults were this easy to deal with…


Suzy said...

I wish you the best Deena! I think it's amazing what you are doing. I hope you can post a lot of pictures. Thank goodness Dana is coming around ;). Miss you Deena <3 -Susanna

Karen said...

It sounds like you're such a nice teacher! Good luck with all those kids and classes!

Deena said...

Thanks ladies! I'm hanging in there!