I’m a Real Life Teacher!
by Sharon -- April 7, 2011
In South Korea, I have many names; GET, NET, NES, “wun-uh-min”, teacher, Sharon teacher, etc. I feel like there are hoards of different names for what I do here, which is teach English at an elementary school. GET means Guest English Teacher, NET means Native English Teacher, NES means Native English Speaker, and wun uh min means something along the same lines in Korean. I have been a GET for three full weeks now and I would like to enlighten you about my experiences so far, some of which are great and others which are… kind of obnoxious.
Prior to arriving here, I was under the impression that being a GET at a public school in Korea meant assisting the main Korean English teacher in English class. I believed that I would not be creating the actual lesson plans, and that I would basically be there for the students to hear an American English accent. (The most sought-after English accent in most Asian countries, if not all, is the American/Canadian accent). I thought ‘Psht, this sounds like cake’ as I tossed my one-year contract in the air and went to get a cocktail…
In reality, I could not have possibly been any farther from the truth.
Not only am I the main teacher in the class, in some cases I’m the ONLY teacher in the class. Not only do I create my own lesson plans from scratch, but I have absolutely no framework as to what topics to teach and when, nor do I have any sort of curriculum or textbook to go by. This, as you can imagine, is a daunting job description for someone who has no experience in the field of academic teaching. Thankfully, the first two days of my job were completely free for me to lesson plan my little heart out for my first week, and I can assure you that every minute of those 16 hours of work were spent preparing for class. I was excited to begin teaching, but I was a bit frightened as well.
At orientation we were given multiple different scenarios for what our school situation would be like. They informed us that everyone would have “co-teachers” which are the main Korean English teachers. We were going to be planning and teaching lessons with these teachers. We were told that some teachers would have only 1-2 co-teachers, and some would have as many as 5-6. Well, guess what? I have 20. Each class that I teach has its own homeroom teacher that usually sits at the back of the class grading papers or reading while I teach their class. Unfortunately, to them, when I’m teaching it’s their break time. What this means is that I have absolutely no help in lesson planning, nor do I have any help in the classroom since there’s no way I’m going to get all 20 teachers to meet up every week to go over my lesson plan.
We were told that some teachers would even get their own “English Zone” classroom where the students would come to you and you would never have to leave your English Zone class. Well, guess what? I have to go to 20 different classrooms.
We were told that Korea, being a very technologically progressive country, has many schools that have what are called “Smart Boards”. These are white boards that require no dry-erase markers, but instead are huge computer touch-screens and all you have to do is use your finger. Can you guess what I have? Yes, that’s right, I have 20 different chalkboards. I’ve never even used a chalkboard before 3 weeks ago.
Just to quickly rant about the last few bits of my situation that aren’t great: My computer moves approximately at the same rate of a snail. It literally takes minutes to load things… MINUTES. My school building is also very old, so Western toilets are non-existent there. This means that I have to deal with my favorite squat toilets every day. You can imagine my joy at finding this out on my first day as I searched every bathroom of the school’s 5 floors looking for a western toilet.
Now, let’s get to the good stuff. My coordinator is the lady at the school who I have been going to for any administration, housing, teaching, and Korea stuff in general. I could not have been luckier in having her as my go-to lady! She is the sweetest woman in the world and is only 2 years older than me I believe. In a country where foreigners can easily get taken advantage of, she is kind and very honest, so I really don’t believe I have anything to worry about in that area.
Unfortunately, my school didn’t know that Jason was going to be coming here with me, so the apartment that my school gave me is smaller than my room back at home (and it includes a kitchen and bathroom). When finding out that I was married, my school was extremely cooperative and even told me they would look for a bigger apartment for us. I have had no problems with the school in any administrative way. I have heard horror stories about teachers who desperately try to get out of their apartment lease but their school wouldn’t let them.
Teachers at public schools have anywhere from 16-22 classes a week. The Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education (SMOE) “regulates” our teaching schedules, and GET’s in public schools are to teach no more than 22 classes a week. I have 20 classes, which is pretty normal. Many teachers that I know of are being forced to teach after-school classes and even weekend classes. My school has done no such thing to me… yet.
In the end, given both the pros and cons of my teaching situation, I am definitely happy with what I have. I get the ability to plan lessons on unique topics, such as Halloween, garage sales, American pop music, the Olympics, Superheroes, etc. Although I have to spend more time planning my lessons than other teachers who teach by a textbook, I have complete freedom in the classroom for 40 minutes. I don’t have any co-teachers taking note of what they want me to fix, and I don’t have anyone to report to in the end. I believe this is going to be a busy and liberating first year of teaching!
Random Thought of the Day: I just got my first touch-screen phone today. Ever! I used to be so prehistoric…
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