A different day in the life

So I begin my day by walking Mike past our friend Kelly’s school, to his school,where I don’t kiss him good-bye (cause opposite sex people don’t kiss in public here),  then cross a super busy street and walk “through” a mountain past the fields and orchards,  past two abandoned houses, and down a city street to my school.

I enter on the kinddegarten side of the building.  I’m still amused by the building configurations.  One building is kindergarten and 1st grade  on 1st floor, 4th and 5th on second, and 6th grade on the 3rd floor.   My building has Administration, broadcast, and English on 1st floor, 2nd and 3rd on 4th floor, and  Special ed and library together.  There is a newer, third building, for the gym and cafeteria.

I get to school and put my shoes in the cubby marked “English teacher,” and I walk to class.  I teach a class or two, then when we have a break between classes we go and bow to the principal, vice principal, and anyone in the “teacher’s office,” finally we go to bow to the administrators.  There are three administrators that take care of the finances and ordering of the school.  At home they would be in the superintendent’s office.  There is no secretary.  There is a school assistant and the school “nurse teacher,” sometimes they answer the phone.  The rest of the administrative duties that would be done by the principal’s secretary and office staff get done by the general teaching staff.  (more on this later) Nurse teacher is the school nurse and health teacher.  She teaches sex-ed, smoking prevention, and other “awkward” classes.

Like Mike, I teach 22 40 minute classes a week.  I teach kindergarten,  5th and 6th grade.  There are constant schedule changes.  I have worked my assigned schedule one week in the 3 months we’ve been here.  All other weeks classes have been cancelled or rearranged.  We teach out of the national curriculum. Lesson one is always listening activities and introducing vocabulary.  Lesson two is speaking activities.  Lesson three focuses on reading and lesson four focuses on writing.  It is still mainly just copying sentences into a d’nealian print form.     I co-teach with a great guy named Benji.  We try to to teach using the 50/50 model and we have a pretty good relationship.

I teach until lunch time.  At lunch time the English department (3 of us) meet in our office, walk to the cafeteria and wash our hands, then butt to the head of the line for lunch.  Everyday we have a large pile of rice, usually with  beans or grains in it, a few types of kimchi, and some broth based soup.  There is often a piece of fresh fruit, sometimes a few pieces of fish or chicken.  The meat/ chicken is always an “odd cut” of meat with bones and skin.  After 3 months, I am still a novelty and the students wave and call out to me trying to get me to look up and call back. We eat with metal chopsticks and a spoon.  Meat is served “on the bone” you eat it with chopsticks and discard the bone on the tray when you are done.

After lunch I take a stroll around the garden and chat with kids on their break.  A group of kids comes to”clean” my classroom.   I play k-pop for them and chill out as I make sure that they are “cleaning” the room.  Usually they push the dust around.  Kids are responsible for cleaning the whole building.  You can imagine how well they do.

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I then go and teach whatever classes I have left.  I have 2 hours between the end of classes and the end of my contract day to prep, but there are always extra things popping up along the way.  On Wednesdays we go to the gym at 3 and play volleyball.  This is very big among all the elementary schools in my city.  My co-teacher stays after school to practice until 7 pm every night!  There are snacks during volleyball, the overall goal is to develop and maintain harmony amongst the staff.  I don’t play volley ball, but I chill out, cheer, and have fun.  If I’m back logged on planning I’ll just stop by for a few minutes, then pop back to my desk.

The kids stay around the building until 5 or so working on projects and playing games.  The soccer team practices outside my window until after 5 every day.  They are some of my brightest, funniest students.  I love our chats through the window everyday.  They are amazing boys.

We also have a staff dinner every month.  Some foreigners dread this, but I like it.  My co-workers are friendly and we work to piece together a conversation.  I like Korean food, and don’t mind spending a few hours after work with them.  This week we went to a fancy restaurant in the Shinan Beach Hotel to celebrate the end of the semester.  There are several rituals that are involved in these dinners that I am constantly trying to get right, but still am a little clunky at.  After we’ve eaten we all take turns going to pour drinks for the principal, v.p. and admin.  Each shot you pour gets reciprocated.  There is an order to who is served first and who eats first.  I’m okay at the obvious stuff, but the nuances are too much for me.

I’ve enjoyed these first few months.  This summer the kids go on vacation, Mike and I will teach four weeks of “English Camp,” then have a short break ourselves.  Who knows what second semester will hold.  I hope to write about the differences in schools overall soon.  There are some seriously huge differences in how schools function that I think are very interesting.

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