Sunday, December 07, 2008


Things have been a bit quiet on my blog - apologies! We haven't had that much news and I have been making an effort to work hard at school and not let myself get distracted!
So I think it's about time for a post on school - not a bad idea since that's the reason I'm here at all and I spend a third of the 24-hour day at school!

I teach at two schools in Sangju. My main school is Sungshin Girls' High School. I teach there three days a week, and the other two days a week I teach at Sangju Girls Commercial High School. I get a bonus on my salary for teaching at two schools which is great. And fortunately for me the schools are neighbours on the same property as they are both private schools run by the same trust foundation. Private school in Korea isn't quite the same thing as in South Africa: they still follow the same curriculum as the government schools and the teachers are government employees- like me. They are a bit more expensive and I think in general the quality of education is better and the teachers possibly more motivated than in a public school.

Anyway, so let me start off by telling you abut Sungshin Girls' Middle School. There are 700 girls. They are in 3 grades and there are 6 classes per grade. Usually theer are 35 students per class. I only teach the 1st and 2nd grade students (this is equivalent to Grade 7 and 8 students in the SA school system). This means I see each class once a week for a 45-minute lesson. I teach a total of 20 hours a week (my contract says 22 but for now 20 will do just fine): Of this I teach 14 hours at the middle school and 8 hours at the high school, so I teach 4 lessons a day. In between lessons I sit at my allocated spot in the teacher's room. This is a room where each teacher has a desk and computer. There's a small kitchen and "rest area" with couches and a massage sofa - apparently this is only for the older male teachers to use, because only they really have that much stress!! Damn Korean men, they think they are the bees knees. Feminism has a way to go in this country.

So at the middle school we have lunch at 12:30 and all the teachers and ss traipse over to the cafeteria (shared with the high school) and the teachers can help themselves to lunch. We get a tray with little sections in and in these sections one dishes rice (always bottom right!), soup (bottom left) and the veggies, kimchi and some kind of meat dish. There is usually also some kind of fried meat in a batter or crumbed schnitzel type stuff. The rice is sometimes accompanies by seaweed or beans. Some of the less pleasant food items in the school lunch for me have been cooked seaweed (the dry stuff is palatable but cooked and kind of limp and steaming it just doesn't go down that easily), seaweed soup, funnny squishy sea sponge stew, acorn jelly (in soup and with veggies) and of course rice cake. But I am getting used to the rice cake: it is actually one of the lesser evils! It is more predictable than some of the other food. Another thing I don't enjoy that much at lunch is the barley tea afterwards. It's not compulsory and so I can usually avoid it but some of the teachers feel compelled to hand me a cup if they see me walking out of the cafeteria not having had the barley tea, eew! It just kind of tastes very earthy and brown. Weird. They say in Korea barley tea is like water, very important and good for your health. Oh well. So that's lunch.

I have tried to take some photos of the students in my classes but they are incredibly camera shy. This ties in with the obsession with image in Korea - in fact obe could probably quite safely say that Koreans are vain: there are mirrors everywneher! They are terrified that they might look less than perfect on the photograph. So in most of the photos I've taken they are all trying to cover up their faces, so I've given up. This is the best you'll get! They all agree to having photos taken but then all cover up...oh well. I took these photos at the middle school during the 'superheros' lesson. It was one of my more 'laid-back' lessons and the students were allowed to chat in Korean. They quite enjoyed it and came up with some interesting ideas for their superheroes!

This is Mimi - she is one of my best students. (Mimi is of course her English name, I haven't yet got round to learning their Korean names though I would like to try) She's in the Grade 1-1 class and is very confident and speaks English quite well. I think she's probably one of the students who's parents send her to an English Academy or Hagwon for extra English after school.
These students have such a long day: they're at school from 8 to 5pm and then they go straight to the Hagwon for an hour or two before dinner (the Hagwon sends busses to the schools to pick up the students). Ir's pretty amazing stuff. Koreans are incredibly serious about their careers, making money and being successful. They give their all to get into a good college/university and the parents push their kids incredibly hard to be successful. This really does put a lot for pressure on the kids. It's actually quite sad.

This is the whole Grade 1-1 class in their 'homeroom' classroom which is where I teach them. They're a really great class to teach: chatty and mostly out-going and don't mind trying to speak English even if they're not that good.
Our school is going to be getting a new 'English Zone' next semester i.e. a classroom dedicated to English: I can't wait to have my 'own' classroom!
My co-teachers at the middle school are Lucy (Song Jeung Suk), Mr Park, Mrs Kim and Cathy (Miss Kim). They are mostly good co-teachers and we do our best to communicate effectively in the classroom! (It is hard at times!!)

So at the high school I teach the 1st and 2nd grade students. (=Grade 10 and 11). I see the Grade 1 students once a week and the Grade 2 students once every three weeks! This seems a bit much can they learn and remember between one lesson and the next?? Oh well, it must be better than them not having exposure to a native teacher at all....well that's what I keep telling myself!

The high school students are generally at a much lower English level than the middle school students. This is most likely because it is a 'commercial' high school i.e. these girls will most likely not be going to University but will go straight into a job. Not the most respected people in Korea the non-university lot. So they are quite unmotivated about school and learning - not surprising as they are prpobably 'looked down upon'by many people in Korea. A bit sad. Anyway, this means they are also a bit less disciplined than the middle school students and I find they have a bit more attitude than the middle school - although this might also have to do with their age.

There is a class in the first grade, the Grade 1-6 class which makes me want to tear my hair out almost every lesson I have with them! They are rowdy and chatty and just keep talking throughout the lesson no matter what I say. Very frustrating because I know they understand so little of what I say but maybe if they tried to listen they would understand at least something! And Mr Kim, my co-teacher in that class is such a softie. He has very little control over the class and just let's them get away with anything. He keeps telling me to be patient, and I just want to tell him that he's being way too patient and the girls are running all over him, aargh! Anyway, I'm sure we'll work out some middle ground sometime...

I teach with three co-teachers at the high school. This means they are in class with me and help me to keep discipline in class. They also do a lot of translating. The actual language I am teaching I try not to have translated because they should be able to understand that but the instructions and explanations for activities and games usually have to be translated. So I have Mr Kim, Mr Yoo and Mr Kang. Because I don't yet speak Korean and they sometimes battle to understand my accent we sometimes battle to communicate but we do our best and things generally work out OK! Kang was in the US army and his English is great: we get on very well and he helps me a lot at the high school.

Mr Kang and I in the Grade 1-4 classroom. He's a bit of a joker, hence the 'mock-serious' look!

These are the students in the Grade 1-4 class in the high school: also one of my favourite classes. They're a really lively bunch and enthusiastic. But obviously not about having their photos taken, I will stop harassing the girls now. No more photos.

So that's my bit about school and teaching. There is so much more to tell and write. We recently went on an in-service training course to Gyeongju...rather than training it actually just opened up a whole can of worms: it made us realise how inefficiently this EPIK (Government English Programme in Korea) is being run. We have so few guidelines on what to do with the students...and they pay us so much. It's pretty crazy. But more on that another time.

1 comment:

EEbEE said...

Jess that pic with you standing in front of the chalk board... you really reminded me of your mum teaching us isiZulu back in grade 8.

Teaching really flows in blood of Cockburns.