Today was one of those days where shit just didn’t go right. This month in Korea is the beginning of the new semester (basically equivalent to America’s September) where many students change schools and everyone moves up one grade. Understandably things are a bit hectic and unorganized to a degree, and my school has been no exception to that. It all started late last week when my Korean helper, Angela, told me that my curriculum has changed and I’ll be teaching phonics. OK, no big deal, I know how to do that. I asked her what book I will be using, and she handed me three boxes that contained some flash cards, a CD and some early level reading books. As I looked through them I noticed that there was no real “unit one” or anything like that, no curriculum to follow, just some tools that would aid me in teaching a lesson – but what were the lessons I was supposed to teach? I asked her what guide I should use when planning my weekly schedules, and she basically told me to create my own topics. For instance, one week maybe talk about being in a supermarket, the next in a classroom, the next maybe in a hospital, etc. I had a feeling that this wasn’t exactly correct and would most likely change soon, so I asked her what books the class would be using. She said that the school decided to not get me any books because the children have so many already with their other classes and it might get confusing for them. For the past few days of me trying to figure out exactly what I should be doing, the conversations have been as follows:
1. “We want you to teach phonics. Here’s a box with some note cards.”
2. “OK, maybe spend a few minutes teaching vocabulary, a few minutes on phonics and the rest on conversation.”
3. “How about you use your old books as a guide for what you should be covering and incorporate speaking and phonics and vocabulary into those lessons.”
4. “Oh, we actually did ordered new books. They’re coming in about two weeks. Just decide what you want to do for the first week and then you’ll have books to go off of.”
5. “Actually, we didn’t order you any books, but we think that you should teach from the NoBuYoung phonics curriculum. I know that there are two other teachers here, who are hired from a specific agency to teach all of this information, and they have all the material, but maybe they could share with you?”
6. “OK, maybe one day phonics and then the next day you teach conversation about whatever topics they’re covering with NoBuYoung.”
Well, by this time my mind was swimming and I still had no grasp on any sort of curriculum that I should be making or following because everything seemed to contradict itself. Basically the bottom line was I have no idea what you should be doing, but I’ll tell you if I don’t think you’re doing the right thing once you’ve already started. After feeling jerked around for the past few days and having everyone talk about me and my classes all in Korean so I didn’t actually know what they’re saying, I started to get upset and basically said: TELL ME WHAT YOU WANT ME TO DO. Give me a book. Give me anything with units and any resemblance of a curriculum and I’ll figure it out from there! Everyone I work with knows that I’m really good at rolling with the punches and adapting to whatever needs to be done; however, they knew that I was at the point of pissed off and frustrated so something needed to happen. I explained to them that if I can’t plan my lessons and I don’t have any idea what I’m really supposed to do, the kids are going to get a lot of different information thrown at them in a short time, not much will stick and then the parents get upset because they feel that the kids really aren’t learning anything, and then the parents will start to question what the English teacher is actually doing in the classroom. This seemed to make sense to them, so after school today they sat down to see what parts of English are being taught in the school and where I would best be utilized. The end result was extremely positive, and once I have all of the new text books and curriculum that have been designated for my classrooms I feel that I will be a better teacher and things will go in completely the right direction.
I know that the other foreign teachers here understand what I experienced today because this is a bit typical of Korea. When I first got here they would tell me to do one thing and then change it suddenly, and I felt that I was being approached in a “we said this all along” type of way, and I would take it personally like I was doing something wrong. After discussing this with other foreign teachers I realized that this is quite typical and that the Koreans don’t mean to be offensive, they just changed their minds. I can totally handle this to an extent, but today I cracked a bit.
As I said, all of this chaos is typical at the beginning of the semester with new students, new schedules and new classes. I know that once everything gets organized things will start to run smoothly and I’ll get into my groove again; however, after today I was thankful to just come home and tear into a chocolate covered peep and Cadbury Egg that my mom sent me from the U.S. (good thinking, Ma). Also, tomorrow is Friday (YESSSSSSSSSSS), and this weekend I’m going on a road trip (an actual road trip because my friend has a car here!) with some friends down south to Damyang to visit the Bamboo Forest and Castle there. Blog and pictures on that soon to follow, I’m sure.