This is what it's like to teach in Korea?
My 4th graders have given me the name 예빈 (Yeh-bin), which means pretty and shining. So please call me that from now on, thank you. ;)
I first came to Bansong Elementary School on a Wednesday. I mention the day of the week because it is important, and I'll get to that in a bit. When I was ushered in by my co-teacher (the person who is essentially responsible for handling me during my tenure here), I had no idea that I would have to take class photos immediately, or change my outside shoes to slippers to walk around the school, or that I would have an office desk, or that I would be treated like a celebrity. All those things did happen, though, and I just rolled with it. Like starting any new job, there's a lot to learn about office culture and protocol - this was no different. What did surprise me, I'll say, is that I didn't actually receive that much attention from staff after the initial hulabaloo (from kids, they still ask to touch me and scream "hello!" in the halls). Thank God. I'm a Leo woman (whatever that means) but all that adult attention just makes me feel anxious. Good thing is all I would have to do to appease any crowd is recite my faved 안녕하새요 (annyeonghaseyo = hello/goodbye) thus inciting a riot of laughs and cheers. That all would die down in a matter of seconds, though, and then it's back to work, back to life. This school is huge, and teachers clearly don't have the time to gawk at the new native English teacher. There are always 20+ cute little kiddies biting their ankles at any point in time. I guess this is why I feel comfortable here. I don't get touched randomly (a co-worker even asked to touch my hair and inquired about its maintenance, which is way more than I can say for what my working experience was like in the states at times), and with what little Korean I can understand right now, I don't hear whispers about me behind my back. So, all's well!
Back to Wednesday and it's apparent importance. Wednesday is commonly known as "humpday," and it is no different at Bansong. On Wednesdays there is a special lunch with maybe two desserts instead of one, or rice and noodles (not just rice). There is also a staff volleyball game, which many people have asked me to join, and I'm really hoping I don't have to because I'm just not into volleyball or sports at work in general, haha. These little things on Wednesdays are to get everyone over the hump and to the end of the week - gotta say, I like the sentiment. Would be better if work ended when classes ended at around 2pm, but that's just me!
As an orientation on the first day of each of my 21 classes, I ran a short game with the ever-complex name "Nkem Teacher Trivia." To this, half of the kids in the class would look confused, mouths half open and eyes wide; the other half would throw their hands in the air accompanied with an emphatic and excited "Ohh!" As you can probably imagine, the game was super simple: I asked a question about myself, like "What country am I from?" or "What is my favorite snack?" and each team of kiddies wrote down what they collectively thought was the answer. The team with the most right answers, and therefore the most points, would win the game. I would then give the winning team candy, which they loved, naturally. After the game was finished there was time for the students to ask me questions. In all of my classes, the first question was nearly always "Teacher, do you have a boyfriend?" followed by "Do you have a husband?" in some classes.
I've never felt like I was lacking something without a boyfriend, but there's something about being in a society where relationships are not only the norm but a given that sort of makes me feel like I'm a serious anomaly. Not my dreadlocks or height or even brown skin make me feel outcasted - it's being boyfriendless, haha. That doesn't mean I'm going to jump into a relationship just to feel normal here (what does normal mean anyway?). Like I said before, I thrive in situations where I am an other, so I'll be alright with that. Who knows, maybe as time progresses these pre-pubescent peeny weenys will come to find meaning in themselves and not relationships as they get older through my teaching them.
That was clearly a major rant - but some of these societal differences really make me think!
What also has me pondering is the notion that there can be some teachers who are assigned to teach students English, but they don't speak more than a modicum of English themselves. From my brief stints in the classrooms so far, it's clear to me that the more advanced students run the show. They'll be the only ones answering and asking questions, and delineating subject matter for other students. Now I know this sounds shady, but it's just meant to be a perplexed observation. I can only speak from my experience, though, and I know this experience has the inherent privilege of growing up in upper-middle class America. In other words, all the schools I went to had teachers who were more than well equipped to teach that given subject. Teachers weren't thrown into a classroom with their higher-ed skillset relegated to babysitting because they specialized in Language Arts and not Chemistry... Another rant... I guess I didn't know how passionate I was about schooling. Anyway, I'm not here to change the school's policy; I'm here to teach these precious chikadees English in the best way I know how, and have some fun with them while doing it!
Stay tuned for more stories from my life as Nkem (or 예빈) Teacher!