Alex and Chickpea Do Korea

Welcome to Korea: My first day as a middle school teacher

…..well, sorta. Today I experienced a common trend of teaching English in Korea, the infamous….dun dun dun….desk warming!

I was under the impression that I would come in for a little while in the morning, take a tour of my new digs at Gu-Am Middle School, meet the principal and peace out. But, they like to get their allotted time out of you, even if you’re just sitting around doing nothing, so I had a full day of just that.

I did use my time to plan my first few lessons, though. I was on a roll, until they changed the section of the book that they told me to teach and I had to re-do them all. Basically, it took me the whole day to write four lesson plans. I gotta get faster at that!

I was really early for school today, because I left the house super early. I was sure I’d get lost. Actually, I had no problems finding it — a minor miracle. It’s about a 15 minute walk from my apartment. I was taking in the cool morning air, enjoying the new scenery (mountains, whoa!), and thinking about how much better this is than driving everywhere. Of course,  I nearly forgot that sometimes there will be rain, snow and other inconvenient acts of nature. It will be an adventure!

There’s not a whole lot to report for the “big” first day. The school is nice; I have my own desk in the teacher’s room, where most of the teacher’s just smile sweetly and nod when I say hello. I’ve been trying out my Korean greetings, to mixed reactions. Some people seem surprised and pleased that I can even form words in Korean; others seem to grimace at what I’m sure is my miserable pronunciation.

None of the teachers at my school speak much English (ironically, not even the English teachers) so I am still unclear as to how my classes will be run. First they told me that I wouldn’t have a co-teacher (which is actually illegal, a co-teacher is required to be in class with me at all times). I wouldn’t complain though; I think in a lot of ways running a class would be much easier alone. Then they told me I would have a co-teacher, but I’m not really sure who teaches which grades, which part of the lesson I’m responsible for, how much time I’m allotted in each lesson — you know, minor details. In short, I’ve got bupkis. I planned my first few lessons from start to finish so that I’ll be ready for whatever they throw at me.

One of the English teachers is so sweet and cute (although she did make fun of me for my poor use of chopsticks). She offered to help me with my Korean, so I hope that I won’t be so useless at this language for long.

I am still getting the hang of wearing “inside shoes,” “outside shoes” and “shower shoes.” All the teachers look really funny because even though they’re dressed up for work, they’re all wearing these funny indoor slippers (like the Adidas slip-ons that were popular a decade or more ago) and crazy patterned socks with their trousers and dress shirts or dresses.

I ate lunch with the teachers today, which I was nervous about because …
1. We eat in the cafeteria with all the kids, so its a little weird (and loud) and
2. I didn’t know what kind of crazy food there would be, but I knew I would have to try it all, and eat everything on my plate.

Fortunately, everything was tasty. I tried a couple new things — lotus root, fried pork with sweet corn sauce, some new type of kimchi with what looked like collard greens and onions. It was all good, but eating Korean food all the time will really take some getting used to.

After school, the kids come in and clean the teacher’s room. I’ve never seen anything like it. They all run around with dust rags, mopping the floors, emptying the trash and generally being sweet and helpful. One girl spoke with me for a few minutes (in between being really bashful and giggling with her friends), and told me that everyone says I am so beautiful and have “such a small face.” I really didn’t know what to make of it until she told me that having a small face is considered a sign of beauty in Korea, so I’ll just take the compliment.

Coming to Korea will do wonders for my self esteem. Almost everyone I meet tells me how beautiful I am — kids and adults alike. It’s flattering, but gets awkward real quick — especially coming from male co-workers two or three times my age. I went into a class every period to introduce myself, and you would think Britney Spears had walked in the door. They all gasp and clap and go crazy. A few of the braver kids even talked to me, and their English proficiency was surprisingly low. This will be quite a challenge.

On a positive note, the English classroom is fabulous! It is huge, and everything is brand new. There are all sorts of useful charts and posters on the walls, an English library, a smart board, and even a closed-off teacher’s area with a few couches in the back (which, I admit, I really don’t understand. Aren’t I supposed to be teaching when I’m in there? Is this a secret nap lair?!) I think I share this room with the other English teachers, but I’ll get my schedule hammered out on Monday (I hope).

I guess for saying that I didn’t have much to talk about, I filled up a fair bit of room. Coming soon: I will fill you in on this weekend’s adventures (I hear there is a body painting festival!)

<3 Chickpea

4 thoughts on “Welcome to Korea: My first day as a middle school teacher”

    1. Alex Pickett says:

      I didn’t know about it! But now I’m going to look into it. I wonder if the Seoul team will bring some of Korea’s ballpark favorites, like Beondegi (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beondegi). Anyway, thanks Tom!

  1. Kimberly says:

    Funny, I always get the “you have such a small face” comment. Never thought that it was that small but the Koreans seem to think that is a good thing, so I’ll take the compliment!

  2. Rafael says:

    hey, i saw this video, and i’m very happy to know thatthere is a pesorn who likes KOREA.sometimes, i think that the foreigners don’t like KOREAbecause they may see many unpleasant stuff during theirtrip, or experience weird situations but, now, i’m EXTREMELY glad because you introduceour country very well. and thank you.

Leave a Reply to Rafael

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *