Co-Workers and Co-Teachers

We’re going to try to write more about daily life things – we usually only write about things we deem interesting but you guys still don’t even know what we do everyday or what normal life is like for us. So here is a post about the people we work with, later we’ll be doing a “normal” day.

For now, here is what it’s like to be the only foreigner in a school of 70 staff members and who my co-teachers are. Chris wants to write about his own school and teachers so this post is just about me for now.

Co Teachers

I have four co-teachers who all monitor classes and help me out when I teach my classes. In some situations (in EPIK’s ideal world) co-teachers are supposed to teach the class with you. Like a 50/50 relationship. However, my school has 2 English classes. English Grammar and English Conversation. “Conversation” is obviously my domain. So most of the other teachers are grammar teachers as well.They have already taught the same exact chapter to the exact same classes so they don’t  co-teach. Rather they are there for discipline and classroom control.


The English department is made up of 6 people. Andrew, myself and my 4 co-teachers. Andrew, who picked me up the first day is actually not one of my co-teachers. He is strictly an English grammar teacher so I will never actually have him in my classrooms with me. He mentioned the possibility of him working with me for summer and winter camps though.

I see all 1st and 3rd grade class once a week.  Second grade is an exceptionally large class. The average class size should be 7 classes of about 35-40 students. But 2nd grade has 9 full classes. So we have to rotate girls and boys every other week.

Because of this, I have only seen most of my 2nd grade girls 1 time this whole year so far. The first week classes were all kinds of FUBAR because it was the first week of school. Two weeks later I saw them. Then two weeks later I had the training so I missed them. The next time I should have seen them, there was a school trip. Then in two weeks it’s midterms so I won’t see them. Uhhh…  my co teachers say there is really nothing that can be done so why worry.

All of my co-teachers are  incredible – they help me out  a lot and are always extremely apologetic if something needs to happen last minute. Like I said, we never teach together. They hang out in the room; help me pass out papers; monitor that students are on task. One of their most exceptional skills is quieting down a class or having students return to seats. When the students do a speaking activity things get loud. I am a loud person – I can yell very loudly. But the co-teachers just say one or two things in Korean at half the volume of my yelling and the whole class gets quiet. So sometimes it may seem like they are just standing around or watching my class, but they are incredibly important for these times.

Two of my co-teachers are brand new. One of them met the principal with me and is the closest to me in age (we are probably the youngest teachers at school).. I consider her my blood brother (sister?) since we both met the principal (baptized by fire together) and are both fresh out of college.

My other one is new to the school but I believe new to teaching as well. I teach with her probably the most and for the life of me can not remember her name. Which is awkward. She teaches all grades with me so she sees all my lessons. 2 of my co-teachers are only co-teachers for specific grades but she joins me for all 3 – hence me working with her the most. She is very nice and we ask each other many questions – I ask about Korea and she asks about English words/grammar.

The other two are seasoned teachers, both of whom have worked with foreign teachers before. One drove me to the school dinner and we chatted about lazy foreign teachers. She’s smart to suggest things and help me out: “my last foreign teacher didn’t like parilla leaf” she will say as a warning. I try it and sure enough I’m not a huge fan either. “My last foreign teacher didn’t like dduk. Most foreigners don’t like dduk” which is probably true. Neither Chris nor I like dduk (glutinous rice cake). She always brings me cookies as gifts instead of the classic dduk gifts.

The 4th co-teacher is not only the eldest (which means we have to do what she says and wants) but she is also the head of the entire English department. Which basically makes her an English god. Fortunately she is sweet and forgiving of mistakes. She helps me the most in class – partially because she wants the class structured a certain way but also she makes the students do what I want/say. She never lets them stare at me in silence – If I ask a question then she will ensure that everyone answers.

Co Workers

I believe our school is made up of 70 (???) staff members. I am, of course, the only foreigner at the school.  I’m very comfortable with being stared at and being different – Ghana helped a lot with that one. Though they really don’t stare at me anymore, they’re used to me.

I am also very comfortable with no one ever talking to me – Germany helped with that one. So I just mind my own business. At lunch I usually just busy myself with eating.

It is polite to say “annyeonghasaeo” to anyone you see in the halls. Students say it and bow to teachers. To me, they usually just say hi and wave. I bow/nod at all the staff members and sometimes say annyeonghaseo. If I see my principal or vice principal I bow low and always say “annyeonghaseo.” At the school dinner, when I introduced myself, the whole school learned I can say at least a few things in Korean. I think that because of this, many have made a larger effort to try to speak English with me. A few have said hello or introduced themselves.

The people I am closest to are the 3rd grade staff. My office is on the second floor – all 3rd grade. The school is laid out so 1st grade is on the top floor, 2nd grade is on the third floor and 3rd grade on the second (administration is the entire ground floor). You get to earn the easier trip up the stairs by grade level (and in my humble opinion the 1st graders need to burn the energy off by trekking up 4 stories). I like the system very much. I also like that I’m on the 3rd grade floor because I like 3rd graders the most. They know the most English and we can communicate better, also they are very comfortable with foreign teachers so they always say hello or talk to me.  It’s nice to be on the same floor as them because it leads to impromptu conversations usually “what are you doing?” and “where are you going?” Not saying I don’t like other grades. I like first grade because they are sweet and like to draw (easy activities).

No one likes 2nd grade middle school students as I believe I’ve mentioned before.

Here is a joke from SNL Korea. It’s a skit about video games and Street Fighter (a popular video game around the world).

snl korea
Even SNL Korea knows about 2nd Grade Middle Schoolers

My office is made up of 10 people – almost all of which are homeroom teachers for 3rd grade on top of teaching their usual subjects. Homeroom teachers do not have it easy, they have to monitor their homeroom completely. They have study halls and monitor discipline, they also serve as a parent and a nurse. They can excuse their students from campus or from activities (like a parent would). Since we don’t have a nurse, the homeroom teacher is usually in charge of giving out medicine or bandaging wounds up. Cuts and scrapes are extremely common among awkward teenage boys that still don’t know how tall they are.

If a class is bad, you can complain to the homeroom teacher who can dole out punishment as he or she sees fit. If an individual breaks a rule, the issue is sent to the homeroom teacher. An incident happened a few weeks ago that a girl had sewn her skirt to be tighter and shorter. One teacher caught her and had her change into her PE uniform. The skirt and student were then punished not by the teacher who caught it but by the homeroom teacher. Which, in this case, the student really lucked out because the teacher who caught her is a battle axe. But her homeroom teacher is quiet. So she was berated very quietly and really didn’t get into trouble at all.

At lunch, the homeroom teachers have to eat quickly or eat late so they can monitor their students. The cafeteria is too small for everyone to eat at once so they rotate which grade can eat first. To prevent cheaters, those who wait all must line up by home room before they can go into the cafeteria. The teacher uses their judgement to decide when their students can eat. If they have been getting complaints, the students wait and watch everyone else go eat. If they’re good they are just sent in. “I’ll need a straighter line than that” is definitely something that has been said and I don’t speak that good of Korean. You can just tell that that is what’s happening.

Since students stay in the room and teachers move, the teachers can’t exactly have a desk in the classroom like they do in the United States. This means we all stay in the staff room. When Chris explained how the US teachers stay in their own classroom to lesson plan, his co-teachers were confused “but how do they collaborate? how do they work together? sounds lonely.” Since we all are in the same room together constantly, they talk about certain students or common problems. They can complain to one another easily about an issue and they also just hang out together. We all give each other gifts – dduk is really the only gift anyone gives.” Just because” gifts – there doesn’t have to be a reason. At the beginning of school, Chris and I were coming home with at least one chunk of dduk  if not more every day. We called it the Ddukpocalypse

This is only half of the Dduk we had. The watch is for scale.

My desk is sandwiched between Andrew and a science teacher. The science teacher speaks very little English but as she gets more comfortable with me she has tried to say a few things.

The whole office has all tried to speak to me or help me out which is very nice of them. Most didn’t speak English at all until they became more comfortable with me. So for 4 weeks no one said anything, then basic sentences began.


“Dinner! Thursday! Okay?!”

Considering I thought they didn’t speak any English this was a huge surprise. Then bigger sentences began.

“2 student come visit me. One had plastic surgery eyes. I did not know who she was.”

“You are from Colorado? I watch Rockies. Baseball. One Korean on team.”

Even the science teacher who didn’t speak any English has surprised me only this week by telling me “too much” when I accidentally put too much water in my coffee mix.

All of them speak English, they just don’t like to show it (they are too scared). I don’t think they are miraculously learning English that quickly week by week but the more they get comfortable with me, the more they will try English.

Even the vice principal decided she could speak English suddenly. She stood in my way in a narrow area so I couldn’t pass and got really close to me. I got scared a little.

“How are you?” she asked authoritatively.

“I’m …. good….??”

“So so?”

“Yes. I’m good.”


And then she let me pass.


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