It seems like all of my awkward and sweaty Korean experiences have needed a few days for me to lose the goosebumps and process before sharing. And my first couple days teaching were no exception.
My first day, last Monday, I was to be at the school at 8:20 to introduce myself in the staff meeting, so I walked in to the teacher's room, armed with my book bag and the 5 gifts I was "supposed to" give (chocolates wrapped in tissue paper) (one for each English co-teacher and the other two for the principal and vice principal). I was immediately escorted by Ms. Koh (the co-teacher who speaks the best English) to the staff meeting, which was outside the main building. The room was FULL. I mean, we sat at the wayyyyy back and there were probably about 15 rows of 5 desks on each side of the room, all full. I wondered where all these people had been hiding the 3 times I'd been to the school previously. The person standing at the front with the microphone motioned to Ms. Koh next to me and she nodded at me and started walking. So I quickly followed. Alllllllllll the wayyyyyyy downnnn the aisle. I was handed the microphone and gave a very simple greeting and told them all how excited I was to be in Korea and to be teaching their students. I couldn't think of anything else, especially to a group where I had no idea if they knew what I was saying or if I had suddenly sprouted two extra heads. I handed the microphone to Ms. Koh and she added a couple things in Korean which made the crowd ooh and aah. Then we walked back down the aisle and she told me I could go back to the teacher's room and not have to sit in on the staff meeting, which would of course be nothing I could understand.
And it wouldn't be a proper first day of teaching if you (and the Korean co-teacher) can't figure out how to work the equipment. The most frustrating thing to date is having all 3 of the computers that I have access to and will use on a regular basis be in Korean. Every day, I appreciate coming home to my simple laptop in English.
It turns out that on Mondays and Tuesdays, I will be teaching all 1st graders (which is high school sophomores, I believe...?) and 4 class periods of 50 minutes each. I figured out that their bell (which is delightful and upbeat music) rings at 40 minutes after every hour, signaling the end of a class period and doesn't ring again until 50 minutes after every hour, which means the students (and ME!) have a leisurely 10 minute break between every class. Anyone who wishes can visit the snack bar or use the bathroom during this time (me included!) It's amazing.
My first day slideshow was both wildly successful and a terrible flop, depending on which class I was showing it to. It had pictures of where I grew up, where I had lived, my family and friends and some of my hobbies and took anywhere from 7 minutes to get through to 20 minutes.
The first class had the most questions and are the most energetic. I was quite surprised that the very first question I got asked was if I could speak to them in a British accent. I managed to keep back my laughter and spoke to them in a way that Jude Law would be ashamed. After my slideshow introduction, I asked if each one of them could stand and introduce themselves by giving their name, telling me who is in their family and their favorite hobbies. After the first day and having 15 extra minutes at the end of the class, I added asking them about their favorite animal, which left us with only 13 extra minutes. I would be lying if I said I understood a single name, but boy did I pretend. As far as I can tell, the Koreans introduce themselves with their last name first (a lot of them are Kims) and then what they call themselves. For example, the one teacher who seems to like sitting with me at lunch and practicing his English introduced himself as Kim Yung Sun. And the next day all I could remember was Sun so he said yes, and then said Yung Sun.
As far as teaching goes, I have had to be very simple and slow, which I've found it hard to not dumb my own speech down in doing so. In this school, the students all live on campus (many high schools are boarding schools) and are training for technical jobs. (the equivalent of attending a vocational college in the U.S.) So their motivation for learning English is simply not as high as other Korean high schools because they are not taking a college entrance exam that is dependent on their grasp of the English language. These students hope to learn English for potential job advancement, or future travel. Or perhaps just because the Korean government requires it. So my lessons need to be fun and motivating.
Speaking of motivating. For some reason, the air conditioner has not been turned on in the school (except for the room where the staff eats lunch in the cafeteria, thank goodness) so while I have this big fancy English wing (a separate building from the rest of the school), it is hot and stuffy from the moment students walk in. And if you have ever been in a humid climate in the summer, you know what that feels like. It's the kind of weather where you wonder why your face has a permanent sheen, or why there are beads of sweat on your forearms after bringing the trash down. There is no eyeliner, eyeshadow or blush that can stay on a face after being exposed to this kind of humidity. So not only do I literally come home and have to dry my soggy body out, but the poor students are not only exhausted from their 12 hour school days, but the room is probably 80 degrees (and again, stuffy) so in the likely event that they do not understand what the American teacher is saying, it is very easy for them to slowly (or quickly) nod off. I'd like to say that my teaching is so good or my height so intimidating that no one would ever dare not pay attention, but that is simply not the reality. One time yesterday during my otherwise amazing lesson on geography and the World Cup, I counted 10 dark haired heads down. Out of 20. And yes, neither I nor the co-teacher condone sleeping in class, but I can truly understand how it happens. Especially when the teacher is at the front of the room sweating through her clothes.
I could go on and on, but I am honestly having so much fun. It's only been 4 days, so I won't get ahead of myself. Apparently tomorrow I'm judging the students' English speech competition. I might have also agreed to playing in a soccer game and reading a historical novel to my friend, Yung Sun. I'm interested to see what kind of trouble can be caused by a mediocre grasp of the English language and a polite and eager new teacher.