I asked Jennifer, to share her experience teaching in South Korea so far. Jennifer has lived in Korea before, so I wanted to get some insight of a returnee. So without further ado, here is part three of the series ‘Teaching in Middle School’ from Jennifer’s perspective.
“Congratulations! You’ve been placed in a middle school!” So really, what were your first thoughts when you saw that placement certificate at the EPIK orientation?
I felt panicked and fearful and mildly betrayed. I had fully expected to be teaching in an elementary school. I have experience with elementary (more on that below) and the EPIK co-coordinators repeatedly told its applicants that most positions are within elementary schools. Experience notwithstanding, middle school was initially a scary concept. Teenagers have hormones and mustaches and extra sensitive egos. I was very intimidated at the thought of teaching this age group.
Now you’ve been teaching in your middle school for a little while, do you like teaching middle schoolers?
I am happy to report that I do enjoy teaching middle schoolers, maybe even more-so than elementary school students.
What is an average day like?
I get to school at 8:30am. My office is the ‘party’ office of the school. There are six of us who work there, but due to our massage chair, balcony, frequent snacks, and hand-ground coffee, the other teachers frequently drop by to chat, eat, and steal the coffee. It’s always loud and crowded.
I teach two classes before lunch, eat lunch, walk three laps around the school with my co-workers (they walk soooo slowly) and then race upstairs to do ‘English Cafe’ for twenty minutes. Then I teach two more regular classes and one after-school class. By this time it’s 4:10pm and I’m exhausted!
Throughout the week I also co-produce and co-host an “English Broadcast” and teach a reading and discussion class (we’re reading “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”).
Because my days are so full, I usually spend a few hours every weekend lesson planning. I’m hoping to become more efficient as time goes on so I can have my weekends all to myself.
What are the classes like?
WAY BETTER than I was expecting. The students are eager to participate and they generally listen as well. Out of my 18 regular classes, I only have 2 that are challenging. That’s not a bad average at all.
If you can compare your current teaching life to your previous teaching life back home (or in another country), how does it differ/resemble what you’re experiencing now?
I taught English in South Korea in an elementary school in 2008. Elementary school students will behave out of their innocent belief that adults know best. They are easier to manage and more forgiving if a lesson crashes and burns. However, middle schoolers are fascinating. They’re so funny and fearless and insecure and mature and vulgar and innocent. Some of them look like they’re eight years old and some of them are bulky 6ft tall mammoths sporting sparse mustaches. But even these hulking giants will quietly sniffle if they are having a hard time or demand a pink sticker instead of a yellow one.
Have you found teaching middle school a struggle or a breeze?
I think it’s harder than teaching elementary school, but it’s also more rewarding. I’m giving up some personal time to lesson plan, but it’s worth it to have smooth classes that benefit the students.
Any advice you’d like to give people interested in teaching in Korea – especially those falling into middle school level.
The best advice I received was from my mother (teacher/vice-principal/
She metaphorically reached through the phone, grasped my shoulders, looked me in the eye, and said, “Jennifer, they’re still kids”. And they ARE. They are lovely little unripened humans who are going through the terrifying ordeal of puberty. Be compassionate and don’t take it personally if they are being horrible in your class. They are easily bruised (even though they are six feet tall with mustaches).