Teaching English in Korea: My New Students

It’s been a while since I last posted. What’s kept me away?  In February I started a new teaching job. Now I teach English to all ages of Korean students at an English Education Center in Pyeongtaek, Korea. I work with kindergarten all the way up to adults. I’ve gotten into the swing of things and have more time to blog again. This new teaching position is quite different from my previous one, where I taught seventh grade science in Oklahoma.

When I was back in Oklahoma my class sizes were upwards of thirty. Now, my biggest class is 12 students. It’s been a very nice change. The smaller class sizes allow me to get to know my students better, something I was missing when I had the enormous amount of students I did in OK. However, it is way more difficult to get to know my students because most of them speak very limited English. I think it’s difficult for us to relate to each other as well, since we have such vastly different backgrounds. I’m working on coming up with things we have in common with each other. So far food, recreational activities, and the occasional movie have created some fun partial conversations.

Most of my new students came into my classroom with English names. I have no idea what their real names are and that’s strange to me. Do you know what happens if students come into your classroom without English names? The teacher gets to name them. Their English name will stick with them for the rest of their English education, which can be well into adulthood. Some of the names the students receive are amusing, though that may or may not be a good thing. For example, there is a little boy named Honey and an adult named Obama. Some are named after superheroes. I guess as long as they’re happy with their names, right? I’ve named two adults and around half a dozen kindergarteners. Whenever I think I might have a new student who needs a name, I try to have some in the back of my mind because it can be challenging to come up with an acceptable name on the spot. I was going to name my adult class Downton Abbey character names, but unfortunately only one student in that class needed a name. I named her Daisy, and she was pretty happy to have the name of a flower.

I miss working with seventh grade students. That was one of my favorite parts about teaching in Oklahoma; I got to work with my favorite age of students every day. Now my students are kindergarten through six grade plus two classes of adults. Surprisingly, my favorite classes to teach are my adult classes. The first day I was so nervous. The class had started late because the teacher using the room before me finished her class after the bell. I came into the room and began to set up quickly. I casually said “hello” to the class and was shocked when every one of the adults said, in unison, “hello” back to me. It was such a surprise that it made me laugh aloud and ever since then I’ve enjoyed every class with them. Also, it is a wonderful change to be thanked by all of your students after you teach a class.

The youngest grades are…interesting for me. I’m doing just fine teaching them, but they drive me a bit crazy. I’m not a natural at connecting with that age level. In addition, there is an extra level of difficulty because they know the least amount of English.  The first day I taught my kindergarteners, I spent an entire ten minutes trying to get them to pack their bags and line up at the door so they could go to their next class. Eventually, they were so late their next teacher came to my room to get them. She’s a Korean teacher so within moments she got them packed up and herded into her room.  They’ve improved dramatically since then, but there’s been plenty of humorous minor problems that’ve popped up.  I think I should create a series of blog posts entitled “Teaching Kindergarteners Who Speak Only Korean When You’re Actually a Middle School Teacher Who Only Speaks English.” It’d be quite comical.

Well, that’s all I have time for now. I’ll try to write another post soon. Let me know if there is anything in particular you’d like to know about the differences between teaching in the US versus Korea.