Thursday, April 2, 2015

Eat. Play. Teach. Blog entry #5: Classroom Jitters by Georgina Selander

Classroom Jitters - by Georgina Selander

“Do you like the stew today?” May asks.

I take another mouthful of the sweet and spicy dish. Today’s lunch is surprisingly good.

“Sure. It’s really tasty!”

My co-teacher giggles. 

“What’s in it?”

“It’s dog”.

Holy f**k – how did this happen? How do I spit this out without looking like an uncultured moron?

“No, May…I…can’t…” I blubber with my hand in front of my mouth.

Let’s be real here. I’ve been waiting for this moment. And considering today is my one-month anniversary in Korea, I’m surprised it hasn’t happened sooner to be honest.

Fast-fast word a couple of minutes and it turns out – to my great relief – that the meal was duck. My co-teacher had simply mispronounced the word. That or my selective hearing needs some serious evaluation.

Cherry blossoms
A month in and it strangely hasn’t sunk in yet that I’m living in a foreign country. I’m still waiting for that ‘a-ha’ moment when everything becomes incredibly real. That moment when I’m walking through a busy intersection and suddenly it hits me that I’m 6000 miles from home…. Or is that a car hitting me?
That all Koreans eat dog is a common misconception (in the ranks of the misbelief that they all listen to K-Pop). In fact, most Koreans I’ve encountered are shocked at the mere idea of it. Needless to say, there is a restaurant opposite my school whose plat-du-jour is in fact man’s tastiest – ahem – best friend.

Anyway, let’s move on shall we? I did promise to get to the teaching part in the last post…

Although my training certainly prepared me well, teaching here is incredibly different to the time I spent teaching in South Africa at The Knowledge Workshop. 

For starters, the level of the students is far lower than I anticipated. During my time at The Knowledge Workshop, I was lucky enough to encounter students of a fairly competent level – to the extent that I was able to bring in complex, but stimulating topics such as world conspiracy theories or the works of great philosophers, writers and artists. 

Lunch time
Here, I consider myself lucky to have a student tell me “Nice to meet you” (despite having had weeks of classes together). 

Classroom behaviour came as another surprise. During one of my first lessons, I asked my students “What are the class rules?” The expected response was, “No eating” or “No talking when the teacher is talking”.  Instead, I got “No perms”. Well that’s certainly a first!

Although I am yet to witness this illusive perm, I have been privy to some other greats, such as sleeping in class (to be fair this is because Korean students spend an ungodly amount of time at school) and spending 90% of the lesson applying make-up, neither of which would go down well in a South African classroom.

Let’s regress to childhood quickly, shall we? I’m sure you all remember that teacher(s) who told you – with a smile on her face – that there’s “No such thing as favourites”. I’m gonna break it down real quick. She lied. 

Occasionally, a teacher is lucky enough to come across that rare gem of a student whose knowledge, enthusiasm and willingness surpasses that of their peers. And though they may be shy, they tend to know most of the answers (I’m not talking about the know-it-all Hermione Grangers of the world). And although we will never admit as much (teaching rule #325) they tend to put a smile on our faces.

That being said, there is unfortunately the flipside – the students who really couldn’t give a damn and who tend to ruin the experience for everyone else. They will have you questioning your ability and reciting “I’ve got this” mantras pre-class. 

So, when one such student walked in to my Tuesday class, I already had my back up. Needless to say, my spidey skills weren’t off – she immediately removed a hand mirror and spent the following 20 minutes applying heavy make-up. Eventually the spectacle moved me to approach the student and seize her mirror. “This is very rude I said,” quite calmly (teaching rule #267: never lose your composure). 

Immediately one of her friends exclaimed, “Teacher! You bad girl!”. I wasn’t sure whether I was more surprised by three consecutive English words or by the rudeness of the remark. A stream of unrepeatable Korean swearwords by the student in question followed. 

There’s a saying along the lines of “Maybe all a monster really needs is a hug”. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not calling this particular student a monster. In fact, I give them all props for handling life as a pubescent teen with raging hormones. 

But, given this thought, I had a change of heart. Ignoring my gut instinct to completely snub her, I instead welcomed her into the game of 30 seconds. And to my surprise, her attitude completely changed. (I was told by my co-teacher after class that most of my students had given up on her – to the extent that she was being considered for suspension).

The moral of the story? Don’t let it get you down. You will likely find that the majority of your students are absolute angels. Most days their excitement significantly perks me up. And most days they will unashamedly tell you how pretty you are (or in my case: “You have such a high nose, Gina teacher. Wow!”)

And if all else fails, type “kittens playing with babies” into Youtube. It never fails to impress. 

Pajeon (green onion Korean pancake)
But anyway, I must sign off. My pajeon (green onion Korean pancake) is starting to burn on the stove. And my glass of red has reached a dangerously low level…

Until we meet again! 

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