*Insert jealousy here* (yours, not mine)

I’ve decided to kick it off with a post about the school where I work, seeing because, well, I’m at work.

Now those of you who stalk me on Facebook will know that I have an album dedicated to my previous job. It’s called “Why I show up every morning.” Turns out I have a new reason to show up every morning… Scrap that, I now have no reason not to get up. I’ve never been a morning person (understatement, right?!), and I’ve always feared kickin’ it on my own. What if my mom doesn’t nag me to get out of bed? Forget wake-up calls – it’s roughly 2am in SA when my alarm goes off. (Note how I used 2am and not 02:00. I’m losing my roots!) Turns out that waking up is a lot easier when you don’t mind going to work. Now, early days, I know, and I anticipate that some of the novelty will wear off come winter, but fundamentally, I love my job. The school is awesome, my colleagues are awesome, my co-teacher is awesome, and, I’ll admit, with time I’ll even find the food awesome.

I don’t even know where to start, so you may as well go get some coffee. And cake. This is going to be a long post. What you’ve read so far is only the introduction.

Let’s kick off with an explanation of the foreign teacher/co-teacher thing. I am the foreign teacher, or native English teacher. My co-teacher is the Korean teacher who is the main English teacher for the school. At Elementary School level, teachers teach all the subjects to their own class (as is done in SA), but English (along with Music and Science) is specialised. The co-teacher is (supposed to be) fluent English (mine is!), and the foreign teacher’s role is to help with the smaller nuances, like inflection, pronunciation and all that stuff. The co-teacher and foreign teacher are supposed to share the load as far as doing lessons are concerned. More on that later.

Right. The school. Now, to set the scene, let me explain that it’s about a 20 minute walk from my apartment to the school. It’s a lovely walk. I walk past lots of greenness, and lots of students, as the middle and high schools are across from my apartment. This is where my good day starts. I am always amazed at how, despite having variations to their uniform and dressing very individualistic, they still look neat and presentable. The boys’ uniform has skinny pants. 🙂 I also enjoy how they step out of the way when coming from up ahead, so that I have a straight path ahead. This sort of respect is evident everywhere. I won’t mention that it’s because of my age, as that is not what this post is about. My age is just fine, thank you very much. As soon as I turn the corner near my school, kids start noticing me. They then come running, with an enthusiastic “hi teacher”, “hello”, “herro”, “how. are. YOU.” or just to wave and run off. Who can be grumpy after that? Then, as I approach the building (which is where everyone changes into their “inside shoes”), the kids scramble to get out of the way so that I can walk inside. Imagine a learner in SA stepping out of the way so a teacher can pass… Yeah, I couldn’t either. Once inside, and in my comfy inside shoes, I take the elevator (lift, damnit, it’s a lift!) to the 4th floor. There are three roomy flights of stairs, but I like to look in the mirror on the way up. My classroom is on the 4th floor, which is what we know as the 3rd floor, as over here there’s no ground floor – they start at 1. As soon as I step out of the lift, kids start greeting me again.

Students have to be in class at 08:30. At 08:20, a bell rings, and then the ones who are still outside start running in. It’s amazing. When the 08:30 bell goes, there’s not a soul in the corridors. Double amazing. I’m assuming there’s a type of register period from 08:30 until 09:00, as that is when I start teaching. Back to the register period. There’s no assembly here, or staff meetings, except for special occasions. Each classroom is kitted out with a (very fancy) TV, and there is a broadcast room downstairs. Not bad, eh?

I have an awesome schedule. I will have some conversation classes added at a later point, but for now I have most afternoons off. I teach grades 3 – 6 as well as kindergarten, and take grades 1 and 2 for aftercare. So I teach the whole school! Can’t wait to start learning names. The kids here don’t have English names, so I have a massive challenge ahead of me.

Hmmm… finer details: each period is 40 minutes long, with a 10-minute break in between, to finish up if you haven’t and to give teachers a break (a what???) before the next class. Lunch is at 12:10. It’s an hour long and teachers and students all eat in the cafeteria. Lunch is lunch, no staff meetings, no dealing with student matters, just lunch.

The school has two English classrooms: the English room, with desks, chairs and a whiteboard, and the English experience room, where the fun stuff happens. It has a smartboard (a type of projector that shows your computer screen to the class, and works with an interactive pen, so you can flip through slideshows, watch clips, and do all sorts of fun and interesting things) as well as many other things to make learning fun. And it’s so colourful! I spend all my time in the experience room. And not everything has to do with the computer with the super fast internet.

I could dedicate a post to the internet in Korea.

What else? Oh, kids are always on time. No-one arrives late. No-one gets up to do something random (vs. back home – “it’s OK to litter, but I *have* to throw away this piece of paper while the teacher is explaining this very important concept”). They don’t ask to go to the loo, they don’t forget to pay attention, they just don’t screw up in general. And they’re SMART! I’m amazed at the Korean capacity for memory retention. In my first week, I had to introduce SA. My co-teacher translated for the kids, and afterwards he quizzed the kids. What amazed me was that, after hearing my talk the first time, he could recall the Big 5, he knew the names of five of our traditional foods, and he could recite all the facts about Cape Town. (He’d probably memorised the whole thing, but that’s what he asked the kids.) This man is amazing. The kids are not far behind when it comes to learning new things.

My co-teacher has done a great job of gradually phasing me in, and I’ve started presenting classes. I suspect it will get tougher (it still feels like a holiday), but I’m really lucky.

Right. The syllabus. Each grade has a CD, textbook and teacher’s guide. Students get the CD and textbook. The teacher’s guide is very well set out and helpful. Except for the part where A LOT of the teacher-y stuff is in Korean. Everything is already divided into lesson themes, which helps with the planning. Each lesson has a key phrase, think of “I like fish”, “Don’t touch that”, “I have a headache”, etc. They learn a key phrase, and how to adapt it to other situations. Elementary English is all contextual. Yay! So the lesson starts with a review of the last lesson, then they listen to a dialogue dealing with the theme and answer a few questions. Then there are smaller dialogues to demonstrate how the phrases may be applied, and the lesson ends off with a fun activity that ties in with the theme, such as role play, reading a story, playing a board game and such. As for the horror stories I’ve heard, they include some foreign teachers having to do all the teaching, or in other cases the co-teacher translates everything and no learning takes place. My co-teacher is all about the balance. He is passionate about teaching English and he does it very well. At first I thought the kids couldn’t speak any English at all, but as they’re warming up to me, I’m realising that there’s a lot of English going on here!

As an example – the kids all know “hello”, and the older groups know “good day”. One day I said “good morning” and I got very blank stares. Anyway, I was on my way down for lunch when one of the grade 6 boys walked past and said “good afternoon”. I didn’t realise the time and corrected him, nogal ewe, “no, it’s ‘good morning'”. Felt very proud of myself. He gave me a frown of disbelief and very nicely replied, “but teacher, it’s noon, doesn’t that mean I say ‘good afternoon’?” Hats off, young man!

Yesterday I playfully sat on another boy’s seat and watched him panic before very nicely explaining to me that he sits there every day, and I’m new and a teacher so I should stand.

I’ll come back to my newly acquired accent at a later stage. It falls under ‘Korean quirks’. I’m the first non-American foreign teacher at this school, so my accent is taking some getting used to. And let’s not even mention the speed at which us Saffas speak.  I am now that person I used to tease, the one with the half fake accent. Hey man, it’s all in the name of education!

Is this post becoming a bit long? No? OK.

I’ve been here a week and I don’t see myself every settling back into teaching South African kids. That’s a scary thought. Please understand, I’m not about to become one of those people with that annoying “Why would you live in PE (SA) when you could live in Cape Town (Korea)?” line. What I mean is, something back home wasn’t working for me (actually, lots wasn’t, but OK), and I made a change. This was the best decision for me. It doesn’t mean it’ll work for you. Of course you really should move to Korea, it really is the best place on earth, but I’m not going to nag you. 😉

So yes, in summary: I have the best job in the world. If WordPress had an ‘insert table’ function, I’d draw a few comparisons between my last teaching job and this one, just to rub it in more. I think you get the picture.

Oh oh oh – how could I forget? I love that here, the students don’t do what they’re not supposed to, and they don’t go where they’re not supposed to. Teachers lounge? Teachers only! Teachers kitchen? Teachers only! Teachers toilet? Teachers only! Teachers cupboard? Teachers only! See where I’m going with this…?

And so ends my first post in Korea. It’s long weekend, and if I’m in the mood, and loaded up on all things sweet and yummy, I’ll post lots more. I have a list of things I want to write about. Might as well get started.

Here are a few photos of the school and my classroom:

The school from the outside.

My classroom. What a pleasure to work in here!

Robot Doctor, an interactive program where they can practise speaking English.