It took time to adjust to a standard 40 hour work week.
This might sound crazy, but I had to adjust to a standard 40 hour work week. Before I came to Korea, I was a special lecturer at a 4-year public university in the United States. Due to the nature of an adjunct position, I wasn’t always working for 40 hours a week. My teaching hours varied by semester, and depending on the class I was teaching, so did my prep hours.
Now though, I am expected to be in school from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm Monday through Friday. I don’t mind being there and I don’t want it to sound like I am complaining, but it was an adjustment. Not just the amount of hours I am actually in school, but also the time, the makeup of my students, and the content were all things I needed to adjust to.
Time and Time Management
As I previously mentioned, my work day starts at 8:30 am. That is when I am expected to be in school at my desk. Classes start at my main school at 8:50 am and at my second school, classes start at 9:00 am. My schedule is different everyday.
- Monday (second school): four 45 minute classes (2nd graders) and one 90 minute after school class (1st-3rd graders)
- Tuesday (second school): two 45 minute classes (2nd graders)
- Wednesday (main school): four 45 minute classes (1st graders and 2nd graders) and one 60 minute after school class (1st-3rd graders)
- Thursday (main school): five 45 minute classes (1st and 2nd graders)
- Friday (main school): one 45 minute class (2nd graders) and one 40 minute after school class (2nd graders)
This can make days and weeks go by fast or slow depending on the lessons I am teaching and the students’ behavior.
When I am not teaching, I am doing what is known as deskwarming. This is time when you are meant to be at your desk lesson planning for future classes or camps. However, I don’t find that it takes all that long to come up with lesson plans. Some can be more time consuming than others, but in general, I do not use that much time to lesson plan. As of right now, I am at least one month ahead for both my first and second graders.
When I’m not lesson planning, I try to keep busy with something (like writing this blog post). I am going to start picking up studying Korean again during deskwarming. My Korean lessons have fallen by the wayside in the month that I moved. I was too busy and too tired to give language learning the attention needed. Now that I feel more comfortable in my routine and in my place in both of my schools as well as Korea as a whole, I am ready to focus again.
On the other hand, when I was teaching in America, for a semester, I had a consistent schedule. Whatever class or classes I was teaching, they were at the same time with the same students Monday through Friday. I always knew what my day was going to look like and what lesson I was going to teach. When I wasn’t teaching, I could choose to work in the ESL instructors’ office, or I could go home and work there. There was more flexibility in terms of how and where I put my hours in.
If I knew I really needed to focus and get something done, I would go into the office because it was an environment that I strictly associated with work. If something wasn’t as pressing or I just really wanted to work at home, then I chose that option. Either way, I always made sure to get done what was needed.
Besides the consistent schedule, my start time varied semester to semester. I had classes that started as early as 8:00 am, but I also had classes that didn’t start until 1:20 pm. My last few semesters, I didn’t teach until the afternoon, so consistently waking up in the morning was difficult at first.
Knowing My Students
This leads me to the next thing I have had to adjust to: knowing my students. I mentioned previously that in America I had the same classes and the same students everyday. I do not have that in Korea. In fact, I only see each class once a week. It is impossible to really know and connect with my students. I do not know their names, and I can’t have any long conversation with them due to lack of time.
Some students just naturally opened up more than others back in the U.S., but there was still a chance to interact everyday and have a better understanding of the kind of student they were and what lessons and activities they responded to and what ones they didn’t. I was able to ask for their input and adjust things as we got deeper into the semester because I knew their strengths and weaknesses.
Here, some students are more willing to talk, but because I only see them once a week, there are not many opportunities to expand upon what I learn. This makes lesson planning more difficult as I don’t really get a chance to learn about my students or individual classes. It is too difficult to get a solid feel on a class when I only see them 45 minutes a week.
Middle School Students vs. University Students
I’m sure this is obvious, but there are glaring differences between middle school students and university students. Of course, there are similarities, but the differences are what I needed to adjust to.
Middle schoolers have energy, a lot of energy. They are loud, they are crazy, and they just want to talk to their friends. It doesn’t matter if it is in the middle of class, they want to talk. It is even worse in the 10 minutes between classes. Students are running and jumping and screaming in their classrooms and down the halls. It was so unexpected for me. Even in American middle schools students aren’t that loud and out of control.
Obviously, university students talk in class too, but not like Korean middle school students do. University students are generally calmer. They can sit at their desk for the entire class period and focus. They do not need to constantly be told to “be quiet.”
This has taken a lot of adjustment from me. In fact, I don’t think I am used to it still. It still shocks me how loud they get between classes, especially if I have two periods off in a row and have been sitting in the quiet. That 10 minute break and the noise that is sure to accompany it come out of nowhere.
It is not all bad. I am glad that they are still able to be kids and have fun with their friends. I am glad that they can find enjoyment during the long school day. I am just tired when I go home. I will never be able to match the energy of middle schoolers.
The Length of Class
This has been an adjustment, but not necessarily a difficult one. It has made me think a little bit more in terms of my lesson planning, but I don’t hate it. I also don’t love it. It depends on the day.
In Korea, elementary classes last 40 minutes, middle school classes last 45 minutes, and high school classes last 50 minutes. I teach classes for 45 minutes as I teach in a middle school. Duh. This is a stark difference to class times I am used to. At the university I taught at, I had classes range from 80 minutes to 100 minutes. I am used to planning long lessons and covering a lot of content. This is the nature of teaching in an intensive English program.
Thinking of lessons and activities for 45 minutes is something I am still working on. Sometimes my lessons are still too short and I find myself thinking on the spot what I can add or trying to extend an activity, and other times, I try to do too much in my allotted time. Lesson planning and teaching is always such a fine balance.
It might not be fair to compare the motivation of middle school students to university students, but it something that I have to deal with. Motivation definitely changes the composition of the class.
My former university students, in general, were motivated to learn English. There are always going to be exceptions, but they usually tried and were in class because they wanted to be. They had a desire to learn the language so they came armed with questions and a willingness to learn.
Middle school students, on the contrary, are forced to be in school. They did not choose to go to school, nor did they choose to study English. Therefore, the motivation level of the class is wildly inconsistent. Some want to learn. They have a desire to speak English. Others see it as a complete waste of time. How do you capture the attention of a student who has no interest in the subject matter? You make it fun. How do you make it fun? Games.
Games in Class
In Korea, classes with the Guest English Teacher are meant to be fun. It is an opportunity for students to interact with a native speaker and be exposed to a new culture. Sometimes, I think I struggle with fun.
I do not have a huge library of games and fun activities to draw on yet. I have gathered some that look promising, but I have not tried them. Sometimes I tried to incorporate fun activities into my university classes, but that was rare.
In Korea, I teach conversation. This makes it possible to play games. In America, I mostly taught writing. Games were harder to incorporate. On top of that, there were objectives that I needed to meet. If students were not performing at the appropriate level at the end of the semester, they could not move on to the next class. This left little time for games.
Here, though, the only way to keep their attention is with something fun. And even then, some students are still face down sleeping on their desks. I feel like this adjustment is taking me the longest time. How do I make class fun? How do I keep their attention? I feel like I learn a little more after every class. Some things that work and others that don’t. However, some activities can be great with one class and bomb with another. It is a constant learning curve that I am on.
Overall, I enjoy both teaching jobs. They each present their own challenges and learning opportunities. Sometimes I want back the calm of my university classroom, but other times I see the excitement on the faces as they truly enjoy an activity we are doing in class. I think, in the end, a teaching job is the best when you feel like the students are enjoying themselves and learning. I have seen that in The United States, and I have seen that in Korea. For now, that makes adjusting to the differences a little easier.