A Day in the Life
I would have liked to call this post ‘A Day in the Life of the Average EPIK Teacher’, but I have literally no evidence for it being that as I’m not certain what the ‘average’ EPIK teacher is…for a start, the majority of EPIK teachers work in Elementary schools, which immediately makes for a very different schedule than my own. I’m not sure even if there’s any correlation between schools of the same type, for there’s an awful lot of variables to consider; class size, school size, co-teachers, location, Office of Education, to name a few from the top of my head. Basically, the EPIK job varies so, so much that to attempt to describe an average day is pretty ludicrous.
So I shall describe with as much clarity as possible the only thing I can describe with any clarity at all. This is A Day in the Life of ‘Carrie-Teacher’: Middle School, Busan.
I usually wake up at about 6.45, which is too early really but time and experience has taught me how terrible I am at crawling out of bed. I have taken to waking up at 6.15 to turn the heating/water on, then falling back into bed to enjoy those precious minutes before my alarm goes off again. I don’t even know whether the water takes half an hour to heat up but it’s my system, it works and I’m sticking with it. I brave my sadistic shower (sadly unaware of the term ‘temperature regulation’) by alternately hopping in and out until I am the vision of furious cleanliness. By 7.45 I’m ready to leave the house.
I am lucky enough to live 3 minutes walk from a bus stop, from which I can get a shuttle bus directly to school. Unfortunately some of my students get this bus too, but I will discuss this later. My bus takes perhaps 10 terrifying minutes (my school is partially up a mountain and the roads are not of the highest quality) and I am at my desk between 8.05 and 8.10, depending on how much trouble I’ve had with the padlock on the office door. Technically school doesn’t begin until 8.30, and I think my school telling me to be there at 8.15 was a mistake on the first day…but it’s routine now and I can’t bring myself to ask again.
I teach 21 regular classes a week (1st, 2nd and 3rd grade) plus one teacher class and two after-school conversation classes. I was initially worried about the teacher class, but in my case it’s actually awesome…basically me and my five co-teachers sit in a classroom, drink coffee and ask each other questions about stuff. Last week I detailed my horrors about seeing a fish skinned alive at Jagalchi market, the week before they wanted to know about my relationship and the concept of the aristocracy (the two subjects are entirely unconnected), and this week we talked about why David Cameron sat on the front row at the Royal Wedding. They all think he’s a fox, which is weird.
On average I teach 4/5 classes a day, but this manifests as 7 on a Monday, 6 on a Tuesday, 4 on a Wednesday, 3 on a Thursday and 4 on a Friday. This includes the after-school classes, which I dread owing to the absence of a Korean co-teacher (read: translator and law-enforcer). My after-school class is supposed to consist of 15 boys (of mixed ability, aged between 14 and 16), but generally fluctuates between having 4 and 10 attendees and is generally a massive pain in the arse. With the exception of one or two awesome kids, they just can’t be bothered to be there and completely take advantage of the fact that I can’t speak Korean. I can’t blame them to be honest, they’ve just finished an 8 hour school day and the majority of them will soon be attending a private evening school until 10…I’d do the same, the poor buggers. Usually I just attempt to play a game to fill the time and if by the end of the class they’ve all said one sentence each I’m pretty happy, but even that is sometimes beyond possibility. I imagine this is totally my fault as a first-time teacher and I’ll probably get better at teaching these classes, but only time will tell.
My regular (co-taught) classes tend to run a bit more smoothly…most of the time. I have been told to teach the Speaking sections of the text book and am responsible for teaching and planning all lessons myself, as well as for making any materials I need with the school’s limited resources. This part is probably where EPIK teachers differ the most…it seems that most elementary school teachers I know are responsible for a lot less planning than this, and sometimes are only used as pronunciation parrots whilst the co-teacher leads the lessons. Sometimes the Guest English Teachers (us) are only responsible for 5 or 10 minutes of the lesson, and sometimes (ideally and rarely) the lessons are planned and taught 50/50 by the native and guest teachers. I’m honestly not sure which I’d prefer…ask me on a Sunday evening as I’m trying to get everything organised for the following week and I’ll probably swear at you before lamenting my workload, ask me on a Friday at 4.30 and I’ll be so drunk with pride on having completed another week purely on my own hard work that I’ll probably swear at you and tell you where to stick your super easy job. Then on Sunday, I’ll revert back to looking for high things to jump off.
You might be thinking that the vast difference between EPIK jobs in unfair, and in my eyes it totally is. The workload placed onto different teachers at different levels in different school is unbelievably varied, yet the pay scale is based purely on experience; a teacher with a year’s experience in a cushy, no-planning/teaching required position is paid more than an equally qualified teacher with no experience, regardless of the demands placed upon them. The first teacher is obviously not going to give up their cushy deal as they are being handsomely rewarded for (essentially) babysitting, and with every year they stay their reward increases whilst new teachers are being thrown to the dogs in the leftover jobs. I’d like to think I’d have to think twice before swapping to an easier job though, as this is the first time in my life I’ve felt like my employment is actually worth something to somebody. Trust me, you make a class of 40 16 year old boys learn something and you really, truly believe you’ve earned your money for the day. It’s a good feeling and, given my employment history, not one I’m used to.
40 students per class sounds like a lot doesn’t it? Well, it is. That’s all there is to say about it. I have no idea whether that’s the average for a Korean Middle School, but it’s the average for my classes. Teaching so many students is not only a nightmare in the classroom but it’s also tricky logistically when it comes to lesson planning. During my TEFL course I was safe in the knowledge that if something in my lesson went wrong, I could always fall back on a handy worksheet to fill the time. Sometimes entire lessons could be planned around worksheets, and that was pretty awesome. If I try to do that now, I’m using up 900 sheets of paper every single week…and that’s just ridiculous. Just on a Monday I would go through 250 and lugging those from class to class would just make my day worse. My solution was to get awesome at Powerpoint, fast. Now if I’m struggling to fill the time I can just click a game onto the projector and the entire class can be involved. Boom, success.
The Korean school day works slightly differently than in the UK. For a start all classes only last for 45 minutes, which is a teaching godsend. There are 10 minutes between classes, which the students usually fill with yelling, fighting, bombing it in and out of classrooms, shouting ‘hello teacher!!!!’ whenever I walk by or playing obscenely competitive games of ping-pong. Fun Fact: My school has absolutely no english resources available, but has at least 8 full size ping-pong tables littering the hallways. As I walk between classes I am treated like a celebrity. The students are courteous (in that they manage to avoid me as they’re legging it from room to room and generally stop punching each other when I walk by) and seem to get no greater pleasure than by shouting ‘hello Carrie teacher!! Nice to meet you!!!’ and getting an overly chirpy, sing-song ‘hiii!’ in response. Apparently the previous EPIK teacher was unable to differentiate between ‘nice to see you’ and ‘nice to meet you’ and now I’m suffering the consequences on a daily basis. Dick.
I finish school at 4.30, change into my outdoor shoes and get the funk out of there. I get the shuttle bus home again, which is far more unpleasant than in the morning because I’m sharing it with more of my students. I quickly learned that whilst the students are as courteous as can be expected during school hours, all of this is forgotten when it’s time to board the bus home. Korean boys are well known for their hands-on attitude to each other (more on that another time) and this daily ritual is no different. Punches are thrown, bags are yanked and woe betide my tiny Western face if I find myself in the middle of it all. At first I was hugely irritated by this blatant lack of respect, now I merely embrace the fact that I am bigger than all of them and fight my way through the crowd like Moses parting the Red Sea. One gave up his seat for me last week, I think I’m finally getting achieving Bus Respect.
The journey home is fraught with more road-related danger. I’m not a driver myself, but as far as I can tell the Korean style is to drive as quickly as possible until a hazard arises, then slam on the brakes as hard as possible. Repeat until all passengers are nervous, bloodied wrecks. Add this to the fact that my homeward journey descends the mountain and you can see how the daily stresses I suffer build to a stunning crescendo rather than petering out as I would prefer. Upon getting back to my haven of a one-roomapartment I often I reward myself for success and survival with a glass of red wine and some Korean dumplings, sometimes with some light comedy and sometimes with a well-earned nap.
I repeat this procedure until it’s the weekend…that’s how the working week works, apparently.