My First Day of School

Trip Start Aug 25, 2012
Trip End Feb 25, 2013

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Flag of Korea Rep.  , South Chungcheong,
Monday, September 3, 2012

The subtext for this entry should be "Or how I got myself in over my head". Because seriously. What the hell? I might need to swear a bit during this entry because...well fuck. This is also going to be another long entry but... I have some shit to process right now.

So, last week when I asked my co-teacher what I should prepare for class this week she said "Introduce yourself". What? All week? Just spend all week introducing myself to the kids? Um... that's not very helpful, now is it? I knew that my kids are in middle school, but I didn't know their levels, I didn't know how much English they know, or how well behaved they are. I didn't even know how many kids are in a class. Introduce myself.
I decided I would make a slide show about myself. Sure. That will be good. Picture of America so I can show them where I live. Picture of my family and pets so I can talk about them. Picture of me cooking, me knitting, me riding a motorcycle. Then travel pictures. Yeah. That will entertain them and eat up time. I can ask them questions about traveling. I can get them engaged. Sure.
I also struggled to put together rules for my classroom and maybe a few getting to know you games. I searched through endless ice breaker and getting to know you games online, trying to find good ones that were easy to do, but would keep the kids occupied.
Good. I should be prepared. Right?

I woke up early this morning. Well, actually I woke up repeatedly through out the night, tossing and turning, afraid my alarm wouldn't go off. I kept having partial waking dreams. Was someone in my apartment? Did I forget my laptop at home? But no, I woke up on time and once I was awake I was alright. I got dressed, tried to prepare myself, gathered up all of my material, and headed off to school.
I live about a 15 minute walk from my main school, so it wasn't difficult to get there. Unfortunately, right now in Korea it is terribly humid and I felt like I was about to melt by the time I actually arrived at the school.  When I got to school my principle was standing out in the courtyard to greet the students, looking much more sober than the last time I saw him (okay, completely sober) and he beckoned me towards the middle school. I bowed to him and headed inside with a group of girls who he had instructed to show me the teachers room. We stopped just outside the entrance and the girls removed their shoes and I struggled to follow suit. This was unexpected. I must have missed this part of orientation. I tried not to fall over myself as I stumbled through the door, holding my shoes in my hand. The girls all slipped their feet into soft plastic sandals, but I went forward wearing nothing but my socks. (Thankfully a teacher lent me an extra pair of sandals)
As I went into the teachers room my co-teacher stepped up eagerly to retrieve me. She showed me my desk and invited me to sit. She explained to me why I didn't have a computer (it got lost?) and that I would have one soon (sometime... or whatever). I then took a box of cookies out of my bag and I told her that I wanted to share some cookies with the staff. She looked at them with blank eyes and simply nodded. Those cookies sat on my desk for the rest of the day. So much for kind gestures. Ugh.
My co-teacher then brought me upstairs to the English room where I would be teaching. She explained to me that each class would have around 30 students, and that each class saw me only once a week. I would be teaching all 600 students that attend the middle school. Every fucking one of them would come through my class in a week. All of them. Did I say I was in over my head?
So she left me to prepare and soon a class was entering. I showed them my slide show and they struggled not to be bored. I tried to get them to interact, but no one wanted to volunteer. No one raised a hand to ask a question. It was like pulling teeth to get them to appear more than just present in the room. Which meant that my slide show went a little faster than I expected.
Okay, so let's move on to my "getting to know you" game. Which consists of writing "My name is _______ My favorite thing is ________" and then drawing a picture. Some of the students put marker to paper. Some students looked off into space. Some students talked (or rough housed) with the other students. I tried to go around the room to see what people were working on. I tried to engage kids in conversation to keep them on task. What are you writing? Some answered, some just ignored me. Lovely.
Soon the class period was over and I waited patiently for my next class to do it all over again. But no one came. Okay. I surfed online, trying to come up with fresh new ideas. That period ended and I waited patiently for my third class. Again. No one. I'm not going to complain. My English room has internet access and I can sit there quietly, by myself, and try to figure out what the fuck I am doing without anyone looking at me.
After that it was lunch and after lunch my co-teacher was supposed to show me how to get to my other school that I teach at on Wednesdays. Let's just make this part as short as possible. It is difficult to teach someone how to take the bus, if you have never taken the bus yourself. It is difficult to teach someone to take the bus to a place, if you don't actually know how to get to that place. These are the lessons that we learned today. You would think they would have an easier time doing this. The teacher that was here last year lived in my same apartment and taught at both of these schools. "He had a hard time too" is all they can tell me. Well, no shit! I have ABSOLUTELY no idea how to get to my other school. No clue. Awesome. This blog is going to be about me getting lost trying to go to my other school. Just you wait and see.
So, we go back to my primary school in time for me to teach my "extra classes". Apparently students' parents' can sign them up for additional classes at the end of the day and it is 2 hours, back to back. These are also students who I will see later this week, or have seen earlier today. Great. I haven't prepared for this.
So I punt. In the first hour I introduce myself a bit and then I try to put together a game where you come up with a word for the first letter of each letter of your name. This went fairly well. The kids seemed to appreciate it. Or at least some of them did. The second hour I tried to break them up into groups. Big. Mistake. They didn't want to move. They didn't want to talk to or work with people who weren't their friends. Oh shit! I instructed them to come up with 2 things that everyone in the group had in common. Easy. Right? No. No one wanted to talk. No one wanted to work together. There was silence. How do I make them do the work? I tried walking around the room, but they just sat in sullen silence. I tried to call on the groups to ask what they had come up with, and half the groups wouldn't respond at all. What? Come on!
Finally I gave up. I spent the last 20 minutes of class doing a power point presentation that I had found on the school's computer from the last teacher about introductions. It wasn't very good, but it was something. I made the students read out loud from the power point and it sort of worked. Fine. There. Done.
Class ended and I walked downstairs to try to gather my things up to leave. As I was going one of the teachers tried to ask me how my first day was. I tried to be as positive as possible without breaking into tears in front of him. As I was about to leave my principle awkwardly came up and handed the teacher I was talking to a box to give to me. A present for my first day. I nodded a thank you and hurried out of the building.
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Kimberly on

How incredibly stressful. But it sounds like you got through it with your usual pluck. Keep your chin up; unless the kids turn out to be brain-munching zombies, it can't get any worse. :)

Jen on

It's gonna get better sugar. :) You are in a huge transition, be patient with yourself. Time is what it takes, and in time, you'll figure these kids out, and how to reach them. :)

Carlo on

Ugh, I *hate* to badmouth your co-teacher but she sounds less than helpful at these early stages. Not only is she making you do more legwork, she's not even helping you with creation of said legwork! :p

Hang in there, Babe, it *will* get better! <3

Benny on

Yikes! I really hope this gets better. I guess this is why all of my classes give points/credit for "participation." What are you supposed to base grades on? Can you consider their willingness to participate in the grading structure?

Rhonda on

Hang in there! This reminds me of Michelle Pfeiffer in Dangerous Minds. It won't be long, and you'll have those kids figured out.

beckiablaze on

I actually don't know if I assign grades to them. For the vast majority of my classes I'm sort of like a "guest speaker" who comes in once a week and teaches about something. It doesn't even have to do with what they are learning in their regular English class with their Korean English teacher. I also don't think I need to give them homework or tests, which I am kind of relieved about.

Christine Jacobs on

Stressful yes. Anything you can't handle? Nope. You'll figure this out. Maybe they are just testing the water - sometimes kids need time to adjust too. I would know lol. Just breathe and soon, everything will fall into place. YOU CAN DO THIS! LOVE YOU!

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