An Average School Day

We get out of bed around 7 and put the kettle on – Korea has a huge coffee culture but coffee pots/french presses/etc are expensive and not very common. Almost everyone drinks coffee from little pouch-sticks. They are filled with instant coffee, powdered cream, and sugar. It’s very fast but not always satisfying if you don’t want cream and sugar. The ones without cream and sugar “the smallest cafe in the world” they claim, are pretty good but not 100%. The cream and sugar at least disguise how artificial the coffee is/tastes.

We have breakfast sometimes. Then we get dressed and are out the door around 8. Work doesn’t start until 8:30 but everyone should arrive around 8:20 to make an impression (also for us to not appear lazy).

I get to school and change into my school slippers and head upstairs. My office is on the second floor – all 3rd grade. 1st grade is on the top floor, second is on the third floor and third grade on the second. Administration is on the ground floor.

I set my computer up then keep busy until 9:10 when classes start. I almost always have something to do – finishing lesson plans or power points, looking for English youtube videos, checking email, etc.

9:10 – School starts. 3 out of 5 days I have a class this period.

An average class

My laptop is completely broken (the battery is dead – some mystery person was supposed to bring me a new one but who knows) so when you unplug it, it turns off. It takes about 7-10 minutes to get turned on. For this reason I have a strict Boggle-policy. You will play boggle (and you’ll like it) until I can get my computer turned on. They really do like it though.

I walk into the classroom and draw a 3×3 “boggle” square up – I have my own hand picked letters, usually only to prevent a bunch of preteens from making “sex” or “fuck” or anything else they might think of.  They will usually manage to find or create something “inappropriate” but that’s the unsung talent of a 13 year old, now isn’t it?

I really wouldn’t mind them using curses, they can use any English word they can find, but when someone figures out an inappropriate word, I usually lose control of 40+ students – usually boys. It’s easier to give them pre-screened boggles.

Chris is a brave soul (but he teaches mixed boys and girls classes) and will sometimes let his students pick their own letters. My letters would easily be.. well.. you can guess.

Also my “boggle” game is really just some kind of word game masquerading under the name of “boggle.” The letters do not have to be connected. It’s just a board of 9 letters that should be used to make words. 1st graders are even allowed to use the letters twice. But it needed a name, you can’t just shout “alright! Start this word … game, thing!” It’s easier for my co-teacher and I to shout “Boggle!! Do boggle!!!!For the love of god just start the boggle”- that last bit is usually  implied.

I get my computer turned on which also brings boggle up on the screen for a little while. I try to get them to count their words. They protest and they usually get a few more minutes. Then they count the words – whoever has the most gets a blue stamp, runners up get red stamps. Stamps can be collected for … something. No one’s hit enough stamps to get a prize yet.

Also if a class is really bad I’ll take stamps. This has only happened once but I feel really bad about it – I was really low on patience and also just wanted to prove to them that I could take stamps. They were testing and I delivered. The class didn’t care that much, but it was bad for my co-teacher, who, kind of lost face, like it was her fault that she couldn’t control them and that I took stamps.

I stamp the inside pages of their books – students own their books here, not like in America where they use the same books for 10 years because of the budget. So it works really well – if they lose their book they lose the stamps (and are totally screwed because they really really need that book).

I show my classes the information and whatever else on power points. We work out of the book (I have to and I hate it) the book is insane sometimes. Things you would never teach together are together. I have a whole chapter of just health-propaganda.  I don’t see how it is going to make them want to learn English. In fact, it’s boring and even  a little shaming. It would make me absolutely hate English if I had to learn it like this.

Actual dialogue:

A: Minsu, you’re eating a hamburger again.

B: It’s delicious, I really like hamburgers.

A:Well I think fast food is not good for our health. Anyway, how often do you eat hamburgers?

B: Almost every day.

A: Oh no!

They actually have to practice saying this over and over and will be tested on it completely. To make sure they know the exact order and layout of this sentence.

Another from the same chapter:

A: This skirt looks pretty. Do you want to try this on?

B: Well, it looks too small for me. I gained three kilograms last month.

A: Really? That’s not good for your health. You’d better lose some weight.

B: “You’re right. I’m going to walk to school from now on.”

Yeah, because that’s a great dialogue to work with in a room of insecure preteens. The boys laugh…the girls just kind of stare.

The project/game that is at the end of the chapter is the worst:

Step 1: Get into groups of 6. Answer the questions.

(The questions are a health questionnaire about your habits.)

Step 2: Collect questionnaires and pick one at random. Interview group members until you find who wrote that one.

Step 3: Give that person some advice about their health.

I skip this game completely.

In a standard class, we do the book because we have to, then we do a “game” or something to practice the language. Game is in quotation marks because I will call anything a game. Hey, its the pass this stuffed toy around and practice the language game! Go! So fun! (its not).

Classes last 45 minutes. Sometimes I run out of time but some classes are very high levels so we have too much time. I have a folder of English clips and commercials we watch when we finish early. The best is probably “Sinking


Inevitably I have to pee sometime in here – this is worth telling you because the bathroom is awesome and has loud  classical music that is motion activated. So when you walk in the bathroom and the music announces your arrival. It’s funny every time. Also it’s occasionally epic, or even tragic. I’ve listened to the song from the sinking of the Titanic, Somewhere over the rainbow (a tragic song in my opinion), and Die Forelle, a song that haunts me wherever I go.

I’m going to pause this blog to talk a little about Die Forelle. It is a German song about trapping a fish. Most people may know it from the Sherlock Holmes movie (not TV series). Moriarty tortures Sherlock while blasting Die Forelle over the loud speakers. It’s very eerie so I will link it here.

A long while ago we translated our washing machine into English and started our first load of laundry. We were, of course, using fabric softener instead of soap but what else do you expect? Anyway, the load finished and started a little jingle. And it kept jingling. And jingling. And jingling. And so we started smacking at all the buttons trying to stop the damn jingle. The door was locked so we couldn’t open it. We were just doomed to listen to the 2 minute jingle. Which was darn catchy. For the next few weeks we would do laundry and would endure the 2 minute jingle serenade. Then for the rest of the day it would be in our heads. We couldn’t figure out what we were hearing. What song is that?! It sounded so familiar. Chris was smart enough to figure out that it was the song from the torture scene – aka Die Forelle. Which is very strange. A laundry machine jingling about trapping fish.

Then to go into the bathroom and hear Die Forelle. I swear I’ve even heard it as a ringtone. It’s too much.

12:40 – lunchtime.

My science teacher friend mimics eating, so we go. Other times the whole office is standing at the door debating who should ask me. I don’t concern myself with who is going in and out of the door (which I should because I’ve missed the principal’s entrance a couple times) so I don’t notice the whole office is about to go until someone timidly says “Kay-TEE” (which is how my name is pronounced here). Then mimics eating. I do know the word for food and lunch though, so usually I can get going without so much prompting.

We walk as slowly as possible to the cafeteria, we get our trays and I follow everyone else’s cues on how much to take and where to put it on the tray. We eat, more often than not, no one speaks to me. Which is fine, I have to finish eating about the same time as everyone else and this takes careful planning. I usually don’t take that much food because it’s not my favorite. Its growing on me but sometimes it’s bony fish or fish soup or something fishy which I just don’t like. Though the dried baby (infant, teeny tiny) anchovies with sugar and nuts was one thing I really didn’t expect to be able to eat.

I eat slowly or occasionally have to eat quickly. We all have to wait for everyone to finish eating – then someone will motion for all of us to stand at the same time. This is a collectivist thing so no one is left behind.

We stand together and walk to dump our trays. If the person in the front of our little group is feeling it, we might stop to have an after-lunch cup of tea. If they aren’t, usually no one will have tea. Picture a soda fountain that dispenses tea at drinking temperature. You take what is basically a metal jigger and then down the tea as quickly as you can. You put the cup in its spot then grab one (1!) napkin, wipe your face, and then exit the cafeteria. Usually upon exiting push two or three kids out of your way authoritatively. They’re middle school and they need to know their place. Or at least this is what my science friend does so who am I to argue this. Actually I usually just try the American route which is make myself as small as possible and try to fit through 800 students without slamming into anyone. Apologize if you do hit anyone. Get funny looks.

We walk as slowly as possible back to the office. I’m not sure why. I think we’re trying to enjoy the weather as I’ve noticed we walk at a snail’s pace until we go through the door then we speed up. When we get back to the office, sometimes we all go back to work, other times the office might visit with each other. They might have coffee or someone from another office might come to visit  for a while. My office is very good at entertaining. If you come visit us, you’re going to get a coffee. Chris actually came to my office yesterday and my math teacher friend hopped right up and made him a coffee. So we may entertain administrators or each other for a short time.

1:40 Lunch is over. Teach more classes, or not.

4:15 – the last class is over. Head back to the office. Hang out for 15 minutes, lesson planning or youtubing English videos. Kids come in and clean the staff room. The girls wash teacher’s cups, sweep the floor and dust. Boys take out the recycling and trash.

4:30 – The last bell rings. I head downstairs and put outdoor shoes back on. When I walk out of the school I am usually bombarded by “hello!!!” or sometimes kids will walk with me across the street.

Cross the street and wait for Chris at a coffee shop.

4:50 – meet with Chris. Sometimes we decide to go for coffee or a snack. It usually depends on how much lunch we were able to eat.

5:30 – begin the hunt for dinner. If we eat out, we will spend 30 minutes, at least, looking for a good restaurant. It has to have an easy to read menu and can’t be too crowded. If we eat in, we will go to Lotte to shop for food for at least an hour. Common things we cook: “Everything Stew” from a kit we can buy, JjimDalk – a spicy chicken and noodle dish, spaghetti, or meatball sub sandwiches. We don’t cook much or when we do it seems to be the same staples over and over.

7:00 If we went out to eat, we will still go to Lotte for shopping. We go shopping at Lotte basically every single day. It’s too close to home and we pass it so often that whenever we need anything – or think we might need something,  – we will go to Lotte.

7:30 – Get back home. Play video games, watch movies, read or hang out.

10:30 – bedtime.


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