A day in the life of THIS Korean elementary school English teacher

Greetings.  In keeping with Zach’s post about a typical day at his middle school, I’ve decided to do one of my own in a much different setting… Korean elementary school (or at least the one I’m employed at).  My day starts at 6:36am when my alarm goes off and is quickly “snoozed.”  I usually get up by 7am – though if it’s Monday or I’m especially cranky I may stretch it to 7:15.  I leave my apartment around 8:05am and head to the Pyeongnae-Hopyeong station (the train station).  Across the street from the station is my bus stop where I wait anywhere from 5-15 minutes for a bus.  I’ve discovered recently, though, that several other teachers also wait at this stop around 8:10/8:15.  One of them speaks English quite well so it is nice to talk with her.  I’ve also discovered that if I wait with these teachers their other teacher friends will stop on their way to the school and give us a ride.  Not only does this save me time and money, but it also keeps me from having to stand on the bus!  I don’t think I’ve taken the bus to school in 2 weeks because of this.  I get to work super early as well; usually I’m the first English teacher there (around 8:25/8:30). Upon my arrival, I change into my slippers, which is way better than wearing heels to work, and head to my office.  The office has 5 desks in it and is attached to the language lab (where I teach).  Therefore I spend very little time walking around the school.  I spend the time between my arrival and the start of classes checking email, Facebook, and other various sites.  Depending on how prepared I am, I may run through my lesson once or twice before class too.  I either have 4 or 5 classes depending on the day.  The lessons vary depending on the grade (I teach 3rd – 6th, but mostly 5th and 6th) and on the co-teacher.  Each co-teacher has a different teaching style as well as varying English skills.  Since elementary teachers are educated in all subjects, some lack in their English skills and as a result some English teachers should really not be teaching English.  Also, the English teachers in my school only teach English (and maybe music as well).  They do not have home rooms – whereas other teachers have their own classroom/students.  Three of the English teachers follow the textbook and teaching guidebook fairly closely but one of the teachers (she isn’t actually an elementary teacher, she only teaches English at all levels) likes to mix it up a bit.  She is the hardest to please with my lesson plans, but the most skilled in the English language.  My classes all start with “Hello, everyone.”  ”Hello, teacher.”  and is usually followed by “How are you?” “I’m tired/I’m hungry/I’m fine/I’m so-so.”  depending on the day/time of day/grade I’m teaching.  Lessons fly by and the kids are a lot of fun to teach.  The third graders are the hardest to communicate with and the sixth graders are the hardest to keep motivated.  The fifth graders are my favorite thus far… highly motivated and have some sense of the English language.  Lunch is served at 12:10 and I teach straight until lunch every day.  My school’s website has a picture of what we eat for lunch every day.  We’ll work on getting that linked to the website so you can see daily what I’m eating for lunch.  Here’s a picture of what I ate today:

Typical lunch at Cheonma Elementary School

Delicious!  Each meal always has a variety of rice (usually mixed with other grains or beans), a soup of some sort (varies on spiciness and ingredients – today it was seaweed soup with tiny shrimp, complete with eyes, feet, and tentacles), and kimchi.  The other dishes may be fruit, egg based (like today’s omelet-esque dish), more types of kimchi, meat (rarely is it big pieces of meat, most meals have very little if any meat in them), and sometimes we get a special treat (frozen fruit, traditional snacks, songpyeon – rice cake snack, etc).  At first I was worried about the lunches because I wasn’t sure how I would like them.  I now look forward to them every day.  This is usually because I’m starving, but really I’ve yet to absolutely hate anything I’ve eaten.  I do, however, have trouble identifying anything on my plate.  I also feel a bit like I’m in prison eating off of a metal tray with “Cheon-ma” engraved in it, but I get fed… and it’s usually pretty delicious.  Another strange thing about lunch is that Koreans typically don’t drink with their meals (water or milk or otherwise).  That is either saved for after the meal or not at all.  I guess that something else “Korean” about me.  I always end up having to chug my beer or soda after I’m done eating because I’ve forgotten about it, but in this country I fit right in!  I think it’s from years of saving my milk until the last possible second in the hopes of not having to drink it… I’ve formed a habit of not drinking much during my meals.  Plus, when you have soup every day it adds a liquid, and rice counters spiciness better than water.

After lunch I’m either free to lesson plan/do nothing or I have one more class (again, depending on the day).  Although this would be a great time for rest and relaxation, this is the toughest part of my day.  If I’m busy with an especially engaging lesson plan the rest of the day will fly by, but since most of my co-teachers don’t expect much in the ways of lesson plans and like to stick to the textbook, lesson planning doesn’t take 4 hours.  I should also mention that my office is always very quiet.  The other teachers keep busy – I’m guessing they are lesson planning or doing other paperwork, though sometimes I catch them napping at their desks.  Either way, no one talks.  So, I sit in silence for 3-4 hours surfing the internet or bugging Zach with emails.  I’ve recently made the smart decision of bringing my kindle to work as well as started listening to Pandora to fill the silence.  Sometimes we get a knock at the office door, which is usually ignored.  If a student does enter the office and begins talking (to no one in particular) the other teachers completely ignore them and they leave.  I find this kind of mean, but at the same time I have no idea what the student is saying.  Other times, they come in with copies for one of the other teachers and when they are invited into the office they reluctantly step 2 steps in and stretch their arms as far as they can to avoid coming in any further.  Apparently walking into an office of teachers when you are a little kid is really scary!  Luckily, walking through the halls is much more friendly.  I get bowed to frequently and the students that I have in my classes like to wave and say, “Hello Elijabess, teacher!!”  Almost daily I get a student coming up to me in the hallway speaking Korean and when I tell them in Korean that I don’t speak Korean… they continue to talk to me.  I have a feeling that my Korean looks are confusing to them… they seem to think that I’m simply refusing to speak Korean to them but know what they are saying to me.  Nope, sorry kiddos.

My day ends at 4:40pm.  After saying goodbye to my co-teachers I head downstairs and change into my “outdoor” shoes.  If the other third grade teachers (the ones with regular classes) are leaving they will give me a ride home, but I typically take the bus.  I walk past the Orange Factory Outlet mall adjacent to the school and wait at the bus stop (a 5 min walk).  99% of the buses stopping at the stop go to my bus-stop in Hopyeong so I don’t wait long.  Upon my arrival home I am either greeted by Zach or he arrives home shortly after me.  We usually either enjoy dinner at home (cooked by yours truly) or head out to try a new restaurant.  We have recently decided to start trying all the different coffee shops in town so look for posts about that, too.  Speaking of dinner, I have a piece of pork that needs cookin’!!

  • Richard Wansley

    Nice to have a description of your day, and very interesting!

  • Michaela

    Very interesting, nicely written! Looking forward to another post.

  • Mom/Meredith

    I wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed reading your posts. They are so detailed and make me feel like I’m getting to share the experiences. I sympathize with your boring afternoon … when I was a graduate student I had a job in a mental hospital where there really wasn’t much to do. It was difficult not to fall asleep (we didn’t have the internet to surf!) but I finally started reading patient charts to stimulate myself.