Posts Tagged teaching



It is going to be boiling in August. It’s going to be sick. Long ago I confined my warm workwear to a dark corner of my wardrobe and already I’m starting to get jealous of the students who dress in shorts and sleeveless tops for school. I’ve been to hot places before but none that have ever required me to stand up and do stuff for most of the day; this morning it took me until lunchtime when I returned to my desk in front of an open window to stop sweating. Luckily children are pretty smelly themselves, so as long as I can conceal any damp sweat patches that materialise I shouldn’t get ruthlessly bullied by them – it’s just all my co-workers I’ll have to avoid for the next 3 months.

Meanwhile, at the weekends when I’m able to wear slightly airier clothing we’ve been managing to enjoy the sunshine by spending the last couple at the beach in Busan. Last weekend Elizabeth and I were sitting on a bedsheet on the sand playing cards and eating grapes we were accosted by a group of probably 25 middle-aged Koreans. They conducted the most efficient whirlwind of a picnic I’ve ever seen: in literally 10 minutes they all arrived, unpacked dozens of trays of food, summoned us over to forcefeed roe and soju to us (laterally for photographs in a variety of poses), took some snaps of each other rolling around in the sand, packed up and then left. This generosity and conviviality shown to foreigners is characteristic of groups of picnicking locals  and one of my favourite things about living here.

It doesn’t seem too long ago when the dry, biting winter here threatened to cut into any enjoyment of time spent outside but it’s amazing the difference a few short weeks can make – and they have been very short, whizzing by now. It’s almost as though I wake up on Monday mornings, robotic and bleary-eyed, and then the next time I take a minute to reflect it’s Thursday. Incredibly, I occasionally feel a bit panicky that I won’t have time before I leave Korea to eat my lifetime’s fill of kimchi. This particular week has whizzed by with a very, very polite Korean man lurking behind me for many of my lessons, whispering apologies in my ear. Every morning he knocks the softest of knocks on the English office door before it opens to reveal legs and the hairy crown of a head, and as they retreat I realise it’s a human form bent double, muttering honorific salutations. This is how this man greets his co-workers, the principal, the dinner ladies, the students – if he’s married I bet this is how he greets his wife, children and pet pink chihuahua too. He looks to me in lessons for permission to speak, to press play on interactive English CD ROMs and to pick his nose too. One co-teacher has been absent from work all week and this is the guy they found to replace him – as if to say “look Joe, you’ve been getting complacent. You appear to be adapting too well and too quickly to the quirks of Korea, here’s a little something to throw you off a bit. Good luck”. Well Korea, you’ll have to do better than that.


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Short Stories II


A few more extracts from the weird, wacky and wonderful (see story #3) world of Korea.

Slave Labour

I feel like I’ve gotta start with this one, as I find it the most ridiculous. Hopefully it’s not too indicative of what other Native Teachers’ experiences have been like, but given the commitment to hierarchy and harmony here I’m not so sure. In a setence: my principal wanted me to teach one extra after-school class every single day for a monthly salary of 50,000 won (or roughly £1.30 an hour); I didn’t. The problem stemmed from the fact that I can’t speak to him about any issues I may have (hierarchy) and my direct superiors and his subordinates won’t say no to him (harmony). Over the last few weeks and months there’s been a prolonged struggle about this, via various middlemen, that has gone something like this: Read the rest of this entry »

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An Update


As I near the midway point of my year-long contract here in Korea, it’s difficult to tell how fast the time has gone. On the one hand, when I have been stood in a classroom during the non-teaching part of the first of seven identical lessons, watching the school leavers video of some unsuspecting American child, it has felt like the weekend is a lifetime away – let alone August 25. Incidentally, that’s what I spent Thursday and Friday of last week doing: the sixth graders “graduate” this month and one of their final English lessons consisted of learning about the differences between the ceremonies here and in the USA. I’ve no idea where my co-teacher found the video of “Daniel O’Hare’s Elementary School Graduation”, as it only had about 100 plays on YouTube when we watched it, but I decided not to ask. On the other hand I think of the new native teachers who will be arriving in Korea for their orientation around now; remember how unused I was to my new lifestyle; reflect on how much I’ve learned – and it seems like the previous six months were spirited away with a click of the fingers. Read the rest of this entry »

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Winter Camp


Winter Camp’s over. YES! The past 14 teaching days, since January 2, have basically consisted of a lot of hard work and will culminate tomorrow in a “closing ceremony” day of song and drama performances from the students. ‘Camp’ is probably a slightly misleading thing to call what is just English lesson after English lesson after English lesson – there are no tents, no ghost stories, no melted marshmallows round a burning bonfire – but despite this and despite the fact that other native teachers will collect their January paychecks having sat in front of their computers for three weeks, I’ve enjoyed it and I think the kids have too. But that doesn’t mean I’m not glad it’s finished.

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The Open Class and How Korea Gets Things Wrong


I have just performed my second open class since moving to Korea to teach. I hesitated after the first three words of this post and I was racking my brains for a more appropriate verb to use when it struck me that ‘perform’ was perfect – because on reflection the programming and practice (before) and the posing and the precision (during) make these open classes pseudo-lessons: performances. I have noticed here that a robotic predilection to avoid deviation from directions that come from above permeates the Korean education system – whether these directions are effective or not – and this manifests itself in such things as co-teachers’ biblical devotion to the elementary school textbooks. Of course I’m generalising massively, but my point is that a satisfactory open lesson does not a good teacher make, and the belief that it does is representative of some common misconceptions that I believe certain teachers, parents and head honchos hold.

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