Friday, September 21, 2012

Natalie's School

The day before we arrived in Busan, the head of the Busan education office handed me an envelope with my contract and the name of my new school. I opened the thick manila envelope and read: Congratulations! You will be teaching at Choup Middle. Roughly 30 hours later, I was in front of forty 15-year-olds showing them a PowerPoint about my life.
I've been teaching at Choup Middle School for three weeks already, and I can't believe how time flies! However, I already feel like I've been here for a long time. The staff members smile and nod at me in the halls, the students forcefully shout, "Hi, Natalie Teacher!" when we cross paths, and I can properly serve myself a Korean lunch on my lunch tray.

I take two busses to school every day. First I take the 179, then I transfer to the 33, 44, or 63. The busses get ridiculously crowded, but I'm lucky as I get picked up at the beginning of the driver's loop. This means I can listen to my iPod in peace in a bus seat instead of getting shoved and stepped on by pushy Korean passengers. And boy, can they get pushy. The bus drivers pilot like madmen as well. If you're not standing practically in the middle of the road near your bus stop, you won't get picked up. Also, you have to book it to get off of the bus. If you don't have one foot out the door at your stop, you won't make it out. It's an adventure getting to school in the morning to say the least! Below is a picture of what a Korean bus looks like. 

The first thing I do when I get to school is put on my inside slippers. Teachers use their own personal little cubbies to trade their outside shoes for their inside shoes. They make the swap again at the end of the day. I love having comfortable feet all day long! No more heels at work! 

Each week, I have 20 classes of 45 minutes each. I work a normal 40-hour week. You know what that means? I have 15 hours of class time and 25 hours of plan/break time each week. Show these numbers to any American teacher and I promise you they'll keel over in disbelief. Last year, I taught third grade in a high needs elementary school. I had roughly one hour of plan time each day, which was significantly cut down due to long-awaited bathroom stops and meetings. By comparison, this year is and will continue to be a dream. No wonder Korea's teachers are amongst the happiest teachers in the world!

My classroom is wonderful. Given that I was confined to a portable last year, this room is incredible. I utilize the front half of the room every day for class. The back half is used for "English Cafe," a zone where students can come during lunch time speak English only and watch American music videos on a big screen TV. The back half also has an extensive English library to my disposal. I'm in teacher heaven! 

I manage my classroom by putting my students in teams of 4-5. Each table group has a color, and that color is their team name. Students earn points for their teams by paying attention (not doodling on the desks), speaking English (except for English swear words), and answering questions correctly (instead of shouting Korean phrases at me that I do not understand). 

Below is a picture of the answer to all teaching problems. It's a bucket full of candy. 

Students also have letters taped to their assigned desks. These letters allow me to assign partners quickly and make sure that students aren't choosing the same partners for every dialogue. Also, I can get answers from table groups speedily after teams have been working together. For example, I can say, "All As stand up and share what your group talked about." This method saves me so much time and keeps the kids accountable for their work.

Students who misbehave once get their name written under this sign on the whiteboard in class. If they misbehave again, they are responsible for coming in at lunch time to clean my classroom. Only two boys have come in to clean so far, so I think this system is working! 

My first big project was to assign all 700 middle schoolers English names. This took a long time, but I'm so glad I did it! It would have been impossible for me to remember hundreds of Kims, Lees, and Parks. Some of the students already had English names from Hagwons, but most did not. I wrote the students' new English names on the backs of nametags they created on the first day of class. The boy who made the nametag below tried to name himself first Abraham (after Lincoln), then Cristiano, then Obama, and finally Jicksso. I don't know what Jicksso means, but it sounds like a really bad word. I decided to call him George. 

Let me just say that I love my students. They keep me laughing every day. At first, I was really intimidated by the "zeal" of middle school boys, to put it nicely, but now that the students know what to expect in class, they are so much better behaved! Most of them really try their best to speak and participate in classroom activities. They're all a lot of fun and bring me a serious amount of joy. 

Last, I'll show you two of my favorite faces that I see every day at school. The first photo is of my main co-teacher. Her name is Soo, and she's been such a lifesaver for Ty and I during our first weeks here. She picked me up, helped me get my Alien Registration Card, saved us tons of money on our cell phones, and set up my bank account. Even though this is also her first year at Choup, she always goes out of her way every day to make sure that I'm taken care of. She is so sweet and wonderful to work with. 

Jung, the staff worker at our school, let Tyler and I into our apartment on our first day in Busan. He came to me during my first week and told me that his English wasn't good, but he really wanted to learn. Since then, he's been coming to my classroom bearing gifts of delicious coffee and sitting down with me to chat. He often talks about his love for autumn, hiking, and flowers. Lately, he's been picking me up at my second bus stop in the mornings and giving me a ride to school. He saves me a giant walk up a big hill and we get to practice more English! He is such a lovely person and is planning on taking Tyler and I for a hike in two weeks. 

My first few weeks teaching have been a challenge, but I know now that I'll love teaching middle school this year. Middle schoolers are so much more independent than elementary students. Also, I can be sarcastic with them and be more relaxed in the classroom. Teaching is always a double-edged sword of the good and the bad, but I think the bad edge of my blade will be quite dull this year. I've already been so rewarded. 


  1. What fun! I am so happy to see u guys doing well in Korea~
    Miss u guys badly~

  2. This is so good to hear Natalie. I wish the both of you the very best!

    Don't get too comfortable over there, seattle is definitely not the same without you guys.