My apologies to everyone for keeping everyone waiting the last week or so since my last blog entry. I have been extremely busy since my last blog. I have been in and out of orientation classes, hanging out with my new friends, traveling around Busan and Cheonan, getting situated in my new apartment, and of course, keeping myself prepared to teach. So I'll start from today and work myself backwards, and this could end up being a longer blog, but I may have to cut it short since I have to wake up early in the morning for school.
Monday, March 2nd, 2009
Today, I started my first day in school. I am teaching English in Dukcheon Middle School which is about 30 minutes walking distance from my apartment. It's an all-boys middle school which generally spell mischief and testosterone galore. One of the school board members gave me a ride to the school. There, I met up with Kim Euun-Yi, my main co-teacher. I put on my indoor sandals on (you must wear sandals/slippers inside a school building). We met with my other co-teachers whom I'll be working with in some of their English classes. I spent some of my free time working on my introductory lesson plan for my first two classes. One is for 3rd year English students, and the other, 2nd year.
I was introduced as a new faculty member in front of my new colleagues by the new principal. He even made a little joke reminding teachers that I'm not Korean despite my last name. Soon afterwards, we headed outside for the opening school ceremony. During that time, students were a little out of order, and this is where it got fairly interesting. The principal made finger gestures towards the crowd on numerous occasions during the ceremony, and signaled to one of the teachers to take care of one student. As she reached toward one of the students, she whacked him across the head. Yes, so to answer any of your questions, corporal punishments still exist in the Korean public schools. Not too long afterward, my principal gestured one student to come over in front of him, and made him do push-ups in front of the school. During the assembly, we listened to the Korean national anthem as well as the school anthem. The weather was freezing cold that morning, and I was still recovering from the recent cold I've been getting. When it was time to introduce the new faculty, the principal introduced me in front of the students and I was given a very rowdy reception. Several students were clapping, others were laughing, and I had this feeling that the vultures were hovering over me. Either, I will let them eat me alive, or I'll just load up my shotgun. :)
I met with 3 of my other co-teachers, and they wanted me to plan an introductory lesson plan. During my free time, I spent some time coming up with some ideas and ice-breakers to get students to utilize the English language. Prior to teaching my two classes that day, I was told by my teacher that despite their previous experience taking English classes, their English-speaking level is still very low. I was headed off to my first class, and I quickly noticed the curious looks on my students' faces. After having them recite my four rules, and telling them where I'm from, I noticed that students were still struggling with basic key phrases. So, much of my time was spent trying to re-enact key words like "soccer", "singing", and other basic terminology. I was able to get one student to respond to "Do you like dancing?" He responded by saying "Yes, I like to dance." and I asked him if he can show me how he dances. We were able to get him in front of the class, and he busted out a break dance move. So, that moment somehow loosened some students up. I worked on getting students to work with each other on "how to greet people." I, then, would pick random students to demonstrate their greetings in front of the class.
The 2nd class, however, was night and day compared to my first class. The second I walked into the classroom, students were already trying to talk to me simultaneously. I was a little taken aback by their enthusiasm. I noticed that they have had some troubles much like the first class with their English-speaking skills, but they had more desire to speak in class. There were a few class clowns in that class, as my co-teacher threatened one student with a ruler. I had them do the same role-playing activity that the previous class did with a greater success. As I was going around the classroom working with each pair of students, I couldn't help but notice that one student was particularly happy to see me. He kept wanting to shake my hand which was a better feedback than having a student cuss me out; however, it was rather uncomfortable considering that I'm a teacher that needs to be firm and consistent with appropriate school conduct. By then, school was already over. I went over to the bank to get my check card, and headed back to school to get my belongings. On my way, I noticed that one of my students said "hello" to me. So, I realized after an interesting first day, I came away knowing that not all of my students think I'm some evil or dorky teacher from America.
Also, what I've come to realize after being in Korea for two weeks is that the Engish-speaking in their country is far lower than expected. They rank 134th out of 147 countries in English-speaking. Even going around a huge city like Busan, my friends and I encountered very little English speaking interaction. This experience as well as what I've seen in my first day at school strike home an important point that there is a real reason why the Korean government spends so much money on teachers like myself to improve their L2 abilities. I can only hope that I can justify a little of what many Koreans hope to accomplish in the near-future.