Here’s the plain truth: 99.9% of people don’t know what an ESL teacher is, or what they actually do. The shocker? Neither do I sometimes. Some may try deceiving their relatives into thinking they have this huge important job, when really that teacher hasn’t the slightest clue what’s going on. Welcome to my world.
Sigh. Here are a few disclaimers about this post:
a. I’ve never worked in a public school, and I know 90% of their employed foreigners are legitimately putting together lesson plans, learning boards, etc.
b. This is a generalized post about the stories and jokes bounced off of teachers in a social setting. Don’t take this post too seriously.
c. I really do love the randomness of my job. If anything it leads to a very entertaining life.
There is no such thing as a training week when you first start.
If you’re thinking about teaching abroad, you better forget about having to sit and observe for hours of class time before you are able to teach. Odds are you’ll actually be sitting through only one or two classes before you’re thrown to the rambunctious wolves, and that’s if you’re lucky. I’ve walked into a school (first day of class) and was expected to jump right in and teach an hour class with no material. Sometimes you’ll find that even if you do have material, you’re co-teacher just may go ahead and decide to teach your pre-planned work so you’re left to come up with something educational and equally entertaining for the students in less than 5 minutes. Yay.
The kids know you’re new.
These little buggers are smart. You’re not the first new foreign teacher to ever hit their classroom, and they know how to play the system. Most likely your first few days will be something very similar as to what you’d experience in a psych ward (students screaming, students off in their own world, students randomly starting fights out of nothing), except you have no idea what’s going on because they’re all speaking a language that sounds pretty much like gibberish to you.
You’ll learn the rules of conduct (as a teacher) in Korea are not the same as in the US.
The first time my co-teacher came into my class, literally grabbed a trouble student by the shoulders, dragged him out of class, and THEN proceeded to hit him on the legs with a stick, I was floored. Very quickly I began to realize there really isn’t much of a physical barrier/bubble between the students and teachers. Sure there’s crossing the line, but teachers get away with all sorts of stuff here including being able to love on their students.
The first time I had to forcefully pick up and drag a screaming 6 year old out of class to go see the principle, I couldn’t help but think, ” Holy cow, if I lived in the States, I’d get in trouble or be fired for this one.” Just because I laid one finger on the little troublemaker. Maybe it’s not as bad as I’m imagining? I was never a teacher back home.
Your co-teachers love to talk about you (in Korean) in front of your face, but never care to explain to you what they were talking about
This is pretty much the worst thing in the world, but I’ve gotten used to it and can now turn a blind eye. The school I worked at this year was run by 100% Korean speaking ladies. Yes, only women. I only had one co-teacher that spoke English, and I’d go to her for all my questions. There is no mistaking the words ‘me-gook’ (American) and way-gook (foreigner), they’re pretty easy to pick up in a sentence. Yep, you’ll be talked about, anything from your teaching skills, the ‘funny’ clothes you wear, to the way you do your hair. Embrace the attention and love.
School meals are never the right choice for lunch
I’ve given school meals a chance time and time again because not only is it easer just to eat where you’re working, but your school will usually provide a free meal for you. The problem is, 90% of everything on the daily menu would be unrecognizable to the general American public. You can typically find a healthy serving of pickled sparrow eggs, fermented vegetables, and dried minnows. Bon Appétit!
Out of the blue, your students surprise you.
The tasks, challenges, and adventures of being an ESL teacher can be ridiculously daunting and exhausting, not to mention emotionally draining. Not only do you have to face trying to figure out living in a foreign country, you have to pretend to have all your ‘ducks in a row’ as you go day in and day out working your professional job. Almost 100% of the time it feels like you’re teaching to a bunch of rocks: running, dancing, and flitting yourself around just to try and keep them happy (because heaven forbid if you lose a student).
But then a little ray of hope and appreciation appears. You have a student’s mother write you a letter accompanied by the oat precious homemade crafts telling you how much she appreciates you. Your students throw a gigantic surprise birthday for you complete with a personal slice a cake one of your students bought from the bakery down the street. You get bear hugged from your obnoxious 5 year old that ran into you at the grocery store as they loudly proclaim, “I love you, I love you teacher!” You’re able to have a legitimate conversation with your 12 year old class when, at the beginning of the year, they couldn’t even say their own names. It’s in those moments that you know you’ve done a good job.
I’m an ESL teacher. My life is a constant chaotic mess of confusion and unclarity, but I love it.