Posted in Teaching ESL, Travel

A Day in the Life: Teaching English in Korea

5:30AM: I’m a morning person, I tell myself. I like getting up early, I tell myself. Go be an early bird and catch some worms, I reason with myself. I let out a groan of misery and flop onto my back, count to three, and throw my limp body forward into a somewhat-upright position. Happy Wednesday, I think.

6:30AM: I’m wearing human clothes and sitting at my desk/kitchen table that I use to drop all my books because I don’t have a bookshelf, studying for the GRE. I’m on chapter 3 of the Algebra review guide and it occurs to me for the 100th time that not taking any math classes for my four years of undergrad was a bad decision because I forgot everything. 

7:45AM: My co-teachers like to make me practice Korean by asking me (in Korean) “What did you eat for breakfast, Kylie?” The answer is always the same. Peanut butter on toast and almond milk at 7:45. This doesn’t come from a place of trying to minimize my decision fatigue à la Steve Jobs same-outfit-every-day, but rather from a place of absolutely hating purchasing groceries and needing my shopping list to be as simple as possible. If you spend too long in the grocery store, you will eventually be mowed down by old Korean ladies.

8:15AM: Walk along the stream to get to work. I see a few tiny dogs in sweaters pulling their owners along the path. My school is on top of a hill, so I climb about 10,000 stairs to get to my room and would arrive covered in sweat if it weren’t 2 degrees outside.

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My commute to work. Yes, it is very slippery.

9:00AM: I teach a class of 20 sixth-graders. I hear a boy in the hallway shouting “I hate you, my fucking brother!” I debate whether to reprimand him for swearing, or teach him how to swear correctly in English.

This chapter in their book is “Do You Know Anything About It?” which does not top my personal list of The Most Important Things to Teach English Language Learners but I have to choose my battles wisely lest I end up rewriting the entire English curriculum. I show them pictures of bizarre animals and ask “Do you know anything about blobfish?” “Do you know anything about pangolins?” Unexpectedly, one student is an expert in pangolins. I teach the rest how to say “I have no idea!”

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9:50AM: Another sixth-grade class. One boy in the front shouts: “Give me candy!” and I regret using candy as an incentive earlier in the year.

10:30AM: Retreat to the teacher’s room. I lounge on the couches with the other subject teachers and try to decipher their Korean conversation. I hear something about a “wind snake” and develop a newfound fear for flying Korean snakes. When I ask, I’m told that they were talking about “blue snakes” in one of their dreams, which means that someone will have a baby boy. There are no such things as wind snakes. I’m just bad at Korean.

10:50AM: 6th grade Take 3. This class is my favorite because the kids frequently dance into the classroom while screaming “HELLOOO KYLIE TEACHEEERRRR!”

11:40AM: I teach my last 6th grade class of the day and send them away 5 minutes early for lunch. I tell my co-teacher: “gosaeng hasyeoss-eoyo” (고생 하셨어요) which she told me means “you’ve worked hard today,” but I think it literally means “you’ve suffered,” which isn’t inaccurate when it comes to teaching 6th graders.

12:20PM: Korean lunch, aka The Best Meal Ever. I eat rice with lots of seaweed sprinkles (which is probably not their actual name), soup with beef and vegetables, fried lotus root, apples, and chicken in a mysterious-but-delicious red sauce that also comes with tiny eggs.

1:00PM: I teach 3rd grade with a different co-teacher. There’s a section called “Showtime” at the end of every chapter in our textbook, where the kids watch a video and then perform it. This one is a watered-down version of The Prince and the Pauper in which said characters switch identities by switching clothing (aka “Here, put on this shirt!” “Okay. Put on this jacket!” “Okay.” “Bye!” “Good luck!” FIN). I brought my own jacket and shirt for them to use as props. The jacket is a dress on their tiny bodies and it makes me laugh.

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1:40PM: I type out my lesson plan for tomorrow. The teacher book has a lot of Korean text, so I need to pre-translate a lot of it before class in order to use the corresponding computer software, lest I end up saying things like “Okay, now do Reading Check Question number 1… I don’t know what it says, but just do it… And the answer is… something in Korean. I don’t know what that says either but you know it right? Right.”

I research some ball-throwing games (the kids are always sad if there’s no game) but ultimately decide to take a powerpoint game from the Waygook teacher’s forum (which I grudgingly paid for) and add in the target language from this lesson. The game features copious Pokemon which I think the kids will appreciate.

4:40PM: FREEDOM (I go home)

5:00PM: I roll out my dollar-store yoga mat and somehow manage to do yoga in my studio apartment, even though I can’t stretch my gangly arms out all the way without hitting my bed or dresser.

5:40PM: I cook dinner, which (just like breakfast) is almost the same every day: two fried eggs and half a zucchini. Don’t be fooled by how healthy this is. I always eat chocolate afterwards.

6:00PM: I have a Korean lesson over Skype. My teacher reads through my homework with me on our shared Google doc and points out the numerous errors. I wrote a lot of practice sentences about dragons (The purple dragon is having surgery, right? … Oh no, the pink dragon ate another dragon!). My teacher laughs. Then she tells me to stop writing about dragons.

7:00PM: I turn on my ondol (heated floors), leave my pajamas on the ground so they get warm, and hop in the shower. I do the dishes, meditate, then make some hot chocolate and curl up in bed to watch the newest episode of Run! BTS. In this one, the boys are trying to train dogs. My love of corgis is reinforced and I end up reading 20 articles on puppy training for my future corgi.

8:00PM: General tomfoolery that sometimes includes writing or studying but mostly relaxing because teaching can easily suck your soul if you don’t take time for yourself.

9:00PM: Tidy up, brush teeth, read in bed. I’m currently reading David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell.

10:00PM: I turn off the lights and snuggle my stuffed Ryan lion in bed, actively reminding myself not to angst about tomorrow’s lesson while trying to sleep. My favorite line in my favorite book (The Alchemist by Paolo Coelho) is “the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself,” which applies well to my teaching nerves. I fall asleep thinking about corgis.

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My stuffed Ryan and favorite Korean candy

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