I’m 6 months into my stint as a Native English Teacher in South Korea. Wow. Time truly flies when you’re having fun, what can I say ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
I will no longer be part of the newest EPIK intake; once September hits, hundreds of new teachers will start their own exciting journey at their respective schools. I thought I’d take a moment to reflect on my first term, and share some things I’ve learned along the way.
Make notes. The little things count.
I fell out of this habit halfway through the term, but will start doing this again. This helps you with many things:
- Remember little tidbits about your students. Write down what you’ve learned about them in passing conversation. When you bring it up next time, they get very excited that you remember something about them.
- Remember students’ names. Do they have a quirk, a physical feature, or just something about them that you’ll remember them by? I associated this one girl with a minion shirt that she wore to school on the first day. I called her minion girl (in my notes) until I was able to remember her name was Jiah.
- Make note of strong points and things certain students need some assistance with. If Sang In is great at spelling, keep challenging him to develop those skills!
- Lesson planning. How did your classes react to what you planned? Really helps you reflect on what kinds of activities work, and what garners the most interest. Some of my classes love the evolution game (and anything that requires them to do RPS), while others prefer to do team games.
Keep things simple.
For some reason, we always try to complicate things. 40 minutes at an elementary school (45 at a middle school) goes by WAY TOO QUICKLY. There’s just no room for anything that’s complicated with 10000 rules. If you can’t explain the game with just a few simple instructions, it’s too hard. I’m guilty of this too and have to work on it myself, but just remember that simple games are still fun! (arguably even more fun, since the students will understand what’s going on).
Don’t take things TOO seriously.
Honestly speaking, the kids won’t retain any proper grammar structures from elementary school. Middle/High school is where that kind of stuff will be drilled. We are here to promote confidence in speaking English, and encourage them to communicate using the language. Don’t be discouraged if they are inclined to say “I went to water park.” instead of “I went to the water park.” Of course, keep speaking properly in hopes that they’ll pick it up (some do!) but let’s just pick our battles. Move on and don’t dwell on it. What makes me happier than proper grammar is when kids try to initiate conversations in English with the limited knowledge they have.
Don’t be too hard on yourself.
There will be bad classes — classes that will leave you thinking, “why am I here?” and wondering why you moved halfway across the world to ~make no difference~. That’s normal!! Don’t beat yourself up or think that you have no right to be here. You were hired for a reason, you have been trained, and you have plenty of resources at your fingertips. Turn that frown upside down, and look for something else that might resonate with your classes better. Reach out for help when you need it, and don’t give up! Giving up and becoming lazy is a disservice to yourself, your co-teacher, and your students.
Don’t be embarrassed – have fun!
I used to be a shy kid. Somewhere during high school/university, I became more goofy and willing to show that goofy side in public. You’re gonna have to bring out your most animated, goofy, and passionate version of yourself for classes. The kids will love you more for it, and it makes learning more fun. There’s nothing more rewarding than doing these “embarrassing” things (dancing, singing, changing your voices) to see the kids cackling away and loving their time with you.
Learn at least a little Korean.
You don’t need to know any Korean for this job. However, I’m not going to lie – it makes a huge difference if you know some basics. It helps kids feel more confident when they speak to you, and you can get your point across to them without needing to rely on your co-teacher all the time. Take some time to learn at least a few phrases at the very least.
I started off this year kind of discouraged, but as the days went by, I made stronger connections with more students. This drastically improved how my classes went. I slowly became more confident in myself as a teacher. I still have a long way to go from here, but just know that things will go up from here!
In regards to lesson planning: I teach 4 grades at 2 different schools. Each grade uses a different textbook, and none of them overlapped at my schools. I have 8 different books to work out of.
In the beginning, I was exhausted and still adjusting to Korea. I would be WAY too tired after class to do any real planning, so I’d bring the lesson planning home to do. I found myself taking a nap after school, waking up at some odd hour to plan, then sleep at 2 or 3AM. It wasn’t a sustainable lifestyle (I had 13 different lessons to plan for one week). I only found my groove maybe 2 or 3 months in. So here’s me telling you: don’t despair if you feel like you’ll never get the hang of it. You will. I promise!
Here’s to hoping we all have another great term!