No Rest for the Wicked


Since the new school year started in March, I’ve had lots of new roles and responsibilities here at school. Today is a test day (meaning no lessons, which is why I’ve got the time to write this) and before settling down at my desk for a taxing day of surfing the internet I went to fill up my water bottle at the other end of the school. From every classroom I could hear a recorded, robotic voice saying things like “number one: the pencil case is under the chair; number two: the computer is on the desk”, or “Hi Jiho, how’s it going? Great, Minho. How about you?”. I then realised the voice was mine. All this week I’ve been arduously recording the English listening tests that the students are taking now. Each lasts about 20 minutes, but thanks to a combination of our poor technologcial resources and our inept editing skills they have to be recorded in one take, so a single, simple slip of the tongue means the entire process has to be repeated. Reading words off a sheet clearly, slowly and in order is one of those things that’s so easy it becomes hard, like playing table tennis against someone who loops returns back to you at half a mile an hour, and it seems like every spare moment I’ve had this week has been spent speaking into one of those Britney Spears headset microphones.

But that’s not all I’ve been doing extra – not by a long shot. I’ve started teaching a kindergarten (nursery/preschool) class of 32 four and five year olds once a week. They can’t even speak Korean properly yet! They all file in in their luminous orange jackets and sit still, bug-eyed, for a minute or two while I show them a video or a song, and once it’s finished all hell breaks loose. A simple colouring-in exercise I expected to last 10 minutes ate up an entire lesson since all the pencils had to be dumped out of their packets into a giant mess on the floor, picked up and then rearranged back into their packets in slightly different permutations before they would even think about whether to make their apple red or green. I’ve given up on the alphabet, apart from quick reviews and time-fillers, because even at that age there’s a huge discrepancy between levels – some could sing it backwards to you if you asked whereas others can’t get past ‘A’. They’re tiny little vocabulary sponges, and I’m finding it much easier and more effective to teach things no-one’s learned before.

I’ve also taken control of an online writing class. This is amazing. All I have to do is read one paragraph of writing from about 30 students every two weeks, mark it whilst chuckling to myself and then give it a grade. I also have access to the work of kids from about 15 other schools, so in my 10-minute breaks between lessons I amuse myself by reading these. Here’s the best one I’ve found so far:

Hello~My name is Ha Yoon Ji. I am 13 years old and l live in Ulsan, South Korea. Now I will introduce my self. Please listen carefully. First, In my free time, I watch TV and sing a song or dance. My favorite exercise is ride a bike. Because it’s funny, interesting and active too. And I am little good at sing a song or dance. I like to dance to my favorite dance group “BEAST”. One of my favorite things is to play a musical instrument. I can play piano, fulte, guitar and violin. But, I think I not good at musical instruments. My motto is “NO PAIN NO GAIN”. This motto is give me some patience. I am little bit stubborn, but when I decide to do something, I firmly finish it.

Second, I will tell you our familys and the special rules! My family members are four, my parents, younger sister and me. My father is a police man, so he is very strict. That’s why I am skillful. My mother is so kind. She is opposite to father. She is very good at cooking and take care of our sisters. My sister is so cute. Some times she is so obstinate. Our family have a special things…like the rule. Once in a week my father call me and mother and sister. On the living room our family gather and talking about mutual daily life, or future and the immediate future. That’s why our family is get long amicably and each other know about so~detaily. At the bed time my mother prays for my dream. Pray and affection of a parent for a child is the best reason why I love my mom. I love my family and friends and all about me that make me!These are special things all about me. Did you enjoy it? I hope so.
Thank you for listening to my essay!

I still teach my after-school class every day, and I recently had to write them reports. This was pretty tough actually, because to those parents whose kids are really excelling I wanted to make it known, but at the same time I was reluctant to write anything critical whatsoever because these guys are between six and eight years old and made to stay at school longer than I am. I ended up writing something positive about everyone so that no undue pressure was heaped upon anyone, but if one individual had the opportunity to read all 20 reports they would easily be able to distinguish between the “gifted student” reports and the “makes an effort” ones. I got a very nice reply, in English, from one of the parents, who wrote that whilst he didn’t really agree with the amount of pressure that Korean students are put under from a very young age, he didn’t want his children to be disadvantaged and really he was just happy for his children (twins) to be in my presence, listen to me speak and interact with a foreigner.

Finally, I was recruited this week to be a consultant for other teachers performing their open classes. I had to watch one 40-minute lesson and five 10-minute snippets, and then feed back to those teachers about how they did. It was a bit awkward, especially as I knew a couple of them and because I was the youngest and had the least (or at least joint-least) teaching experience out of everyone there. I heard that one teacher had been told to use broken English when teaching her students, which I thought was peculiar, but I didn’t question it too much at the time and retrospectively I wish I had done. One teacher hadn’t been told that there would be “real students” there for her open class, which was difficult for her and kind of contributed towards by general disregard for these open classes altogether. Nevermind.


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