Day in the Life of a Summer School Teacher in Korea

By Whit Altizer

Act I, Scene 1

Student– Teacher! Come on!

Whit Teacher– Come here!

S- Teacher- Come here!

W.T.– Okay..Do you need help, Yoon Min?

S- (Yoon Min grabs Whit Teachers beard and pulls)- Teacher dirty.

The scene- Eight 8 year old students in brightly-colored summer clothes. Some are in their seats, some not. The student next to Yoon Min, the pig-tailed and chubby Ahn Woo, laughs almost to the point of hyperventilating at Yoon Min’s beard-pulling, revealing two missing front teeth. Ahn Woo files the act in her brain to use on the teacher several times over.

Behind the teacher Kyu Seok tiptoes toward the board in a secret mission to chalk another unearned point to his team’s score. But the teacher sees all movements and subtracts a point from Team B for the attempt. Team B groans and makes swiping motions toward Kyu Seok for his failed mission. Kyu Seok sinks in his seat in shame.

As the teacher continues to help the students with their vocabulary exercise he feels the strange but familiar feeling of tiny fingers being rammed up the rear of his pants. Team B’s Na Seol has landed a perfect and well-executed “dong chim” sending the foreign teacher nearly a foot into the air. The class erupts with laughter. The scene repeats itself.

Act II, 
Scene 2

The scene-The teacher arrives with kimchi stains and stray black marks on his pants revealing an active morning with 8-year-old students. He breathes a sigh of relief as he sees the calm and seated students at their desks.

The students range from 18 to 66. Some are shy, most are fluent, all are kind and none will attempt a ”dong chim” tonight or comment on the teacher’s beard. But with good Korean humor they will enjoy teasing their teacher.

After a discussion about countries and nationalities.

Student 1- What do you tell people your nationality is if you are from the United States?

Whit Teacher- American.

Student 1- But what about Canada and Mexico? They are in North America, but they are Canadian and Mexican. Why are you American?

Whit Teacher- (Teacher sighs almost wishing he only had to react to a “dong chim” at this point) Well, I am not sure why, but I guess it goes back to a moment in our history.

Student 2- Huh, you should know! (The class laughs)

————-

This my life these hot summer days, but please don’t misinterpret the tone. Teaching children in the morning and adults in the evening, after a semester of teaching only college students, has actually been a welcome challenge and endlessly entertaining. As most foreign teachers know it pays to be well-prepared for your audience.

Here are some tips I have found useful in keeping the beard-pulling to a minimum.

For the Kids

1. Turn everything into a game. Foreign teachers have to make the classroom fun for young students. It is super effective in getting them to practice English in a fun and carefree environment. Often, out of desperation for fun and a restless class, I make up games on the spot with whatever resources I am using. Try to think like a kid. Remember those days where all you had was a pencil and an eraser, but in your mind they were a fighter jet and an aircraft carrier? Go with it. It also helps to Google “ESL Games” before class. There are endless supplies of games.

2. Check out MES English. My on-line Bible these days is Mes-English. It is a free site with flashcards, worksheets, coloring sheets, songs and many other resources that you could use over several class periods. There are few important words that this site doesn’t cover. For example, I have a theme everyday and print out a set of flashcards that relate to that theme. The first hour we learn the flashcards and learn how to spell each word. The second hour we play games with the flashcards. Either I call out a word and they rush to be the first team to tape it to the board, or I have them race to put the cards in a specific order. It’s simple and the kids love it.

3. Institute a point system. Korean children absolutely love competition. The prize doesn’t matter so much as the winning. Threatening to take a point away can get your students in their seat in a flash. A point given almost always results in high-fives and cheers. I am serious, they LOVE it. You can giveth or taketh away points depending on your rules, they will follow.

For the Adults

1. Debate. This depends on their level, but my upper-level students seem to enjoy this exercise. For homework, they are to prepare themselves for an informal debate on a topic such as, “Love is more important than money.” These topics sometimes just elicit opinions, but as the students get more comfortable with each other they are starting to actually disagree openly with each other. Not only is it good for them but I have found it very fascinating as an observer.

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2. Call on your students. Some people may debate this point, but I have found that calling on your students randomly applies just enough pressure on them to be prepared. I feel that my students come prepared to be called on because they don’t know when it might be their turn.

3. Give homework and have free talk time. One student actually told me that she like the pressure of homework (either written or preparing for a speech or debate) and then having a casual conversation at the beginning or end of class. One friend recommended discussing the latest entertainment news if the class is predominantly women.