Teaching from the Bottom of the Totem Pole #4: 6 Months Down (6 More to Go)

3 Mar

Yesterday was the official start of the new school semester and the (unofficial) halfway point of my one-year contract.

I’ve been here 6 months. How do I feel about it?

The end of last semester was fairly  confusing, to say the least. My sixth graders took off for middle school and while there was a big ceremony commemorating their time elementary schoolers, many of the teachers seemed to take it pretty lightly. I brought a camera to possibly take some photos with some of my students before their departure and hoped to shake their hands and wish them good luck. Instead they were promptly marched out of the auditorium and out of the school to the sound of applause and cheering from their families and fellow classmates. As far as I could tell, most of the other teachers in the school went back to their rooms or to the teachers’ office to finish out the rest of the day. I took no pictures, shook no hands and congratulated no one. The ceremony, it seems, was mainly for the students’ families. Not that I have any problems with this, but I would’ve thought that many of the teachers would be little sad to see their students go. I certainly wasn’t shedding any tears on the matter, but over the course of six months I have developed a fondness for my students and admittedly (cue the violins) was somewhat sad at their rapid departure.

It then dawned on me that in Korea teachers and administrators move from school to school quite frequently and are very used to these sudden changes. They come and go almost as much as the students so when it’s time to move on, the goodbyes are short and everyone continues on with their assigned tasks. Sorry Mr. Dreadlocks. There is no time to dwell on your previous kids. We must prepare for the new semester.

As is the norm, change brings about confusion and this situation is no different. New textbooks are being used (though much of the material is the same), I have a new co-teacher (my former one moved to a new school), and my schedule has been jostled a bit. Surprisingly I’m taking it all well. If the past 6 months have taught me anything, it’s that in Korea it’s best to roll with the changes and (as much as you can help it) let the stress fall by the wayside. To do anything else might drive you into a state of depression.

A few thoughts about my first six in the classroom:

–Getting used to my completely illogical teaching schedule didn’t take as long as I expected, but I still have problems understanding how they came up with it. Why am I only seeing my third and fourth graders once every other week?

–Classroom rewards can be useful to foster participation, but they’re a pain in the ass to manage. I’ve written about this before.

–What is the benefit of placing special education students into my classes if I’m expected to completely ignore them? Everything about this seems unethical. *Chris (now gone from Korea) over at Kimchi with Eish wrote a good post on this a while back.

–Playing soccer with the students outside beats desk warming any day of the week.

–Instant coffee isn’t so bad…especially when it’s all you got. I just close my eyes and pretend it’s hot chocolate.

–I never expected to be told that I look like a “strong African warrior” during my time in Korea; let alone be told by someone at my school. Truly, the assistant principal is my homeboy.

–Soju hangovers will not improve your teaching ability, but it will make your breath smell like the inside of a Korean squatter toilet. Never again.

–Teaching my students how to beat-box and pop-lock (in addition to teaching a few hip handshakes) are some of the best ideas I’ve ever had.

–Simply put, the old textbooks were horrible and the new ones show little promise of being any better.

–Dong-Chim was created by satan.

All jokes aside though, the first half of my teaching contract hasn’t always been a breeze, but I have thoroughly enjoyed it and am looking forward to another six months of last minute staff dinners, desk warming and perky Korean students throwing up the peace sign as I pass them in the hallways.


Kimchi Dreadlocks

* On a side note, welcome to all the new EPIK teachers who just started. Words of wisdom for the “newbies” in Busan: KSU on Saturday nights can be bad for your health. See you there.


8 Responses to “Teaching from the Bottom of the Totem Pole #4: 6 Months Down (6 More to Go)”

  1. Nombuso March 3, 2011 at 10:23 PM #

    You know Mr Dreadlocks, I enjoy your blog the most of all the KOR blogs. You get the ironies, crontradictions and general craziness of this place with refreshing humor!

    Here’s to the next 6 months!


    • Kimchi Dreadlocks March 4, 2011 at 11:51 AM #

      Thanks for the compliment, Nombuso. Korea is never lacking on blog inspiration. Let the craziness continue!

  2. Chris in South Korea March 4, 2011 at 12:10 AM #

    Sure, the Korean teachers care. By the time graduation rolls around, they’ve probably already said their goodbyes and had the parties. For better or worse, Korean kids don’t grow up having the same math teacher their mom had, or even their older brother had. The implied message – stability isn’t to be expected – is imprinted on them at an early age so it’s easier to adjust. They’re used to having new teachers every 6 months to a year, or perhaps even more often than that.

    Regarding classroom rewards: drop them. Make rewards immediate and specific. After reading the story, we play a game. Suction-cup ball (easy to find). Whiteboard. Draw target. Get a question right. Throw.

    • Kimchi Dreadlocks March 4, 2011 at 12:02 PM #

      Good point. I realize that stability isn’t expected, especially with the subject teachers. Still, it seemed odd to notice homeroom teachers rushing off to lunch or back to their classrooms before the kids were even out of the building. Perhaps there were goodbye parties in the homerooms and I’m just sour that I wasn’t invited.

      Thanks for the idea regarding rewards. Now if I can only get my co-teachers on board…….

  3. mich March 8, 2011 at 8:19 PM #

    I have no idea how I stumbled into your world but I have to tell you that your poop needle stories made me laugh harder than I’ve laughed in a long, long time. I stayed up most of the night to read all your entries, enjoying your observations on a foreign culture. I taught English in Japan in the 1990’s and developed a love/hate relationship with the country. Its interesting to find that not all that much has changed for unsuspecting native English speakers teaching in Asia. Except, you have Skype and ipod, you lucky bastard.

  4. tanya March 10, 2011 at 9:05 AM #

    just came across your blog. seems really cool and will defs come back. like your comment ‘you look like a real african warrior’! That seems to encapsulate their perspective on anything that seems different. It’s funny, bizarre and slightly offensive all at the same time:) x

  5. Coco in loco land March 18, 2011 at 7:24 AM #

    It’s so interesting, my friend, how I can relate so much to what you have to say about teaching. Even though I am across the ocean, and in such a different culture, I felt the same about saying goodbye. Great work keeping up with the blog. I wish I were that ambitious with my writing. Miss you, and cheers to another exciting six months.

  6. Annie at Maximum Chaos March 22, 2011 at 11:29 AM #

    Happy blogging! Your rock and have been given the Stylish Blogger Award. Thank you for all of your awesome content.

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