Blogs are suppose to capture and share the happy moments with pictures of me smiling and having and an amazing time, so last week I didn’t write much about my first week teaching. I wasn’t ready to share the other-side of my experience. I needed more time to process and didn’t want to regret my words.
I was prepared for my first week of teaching to be hard. I’ve heard warnings from my many education friends and during orientation we were reminded constantly to not allow your first day define your experience. What I wasn’t prepared for, was the realization that I may have to readjust my expectations of what makes a good classroom and a good teacher. Education has always been important to me and I have always been opinionated kid (whether I had information backing me up or not) on how things in classrooms should work. I believed in a community-based education that valued a student-centric approach and thrived from organic curiosity and motivation. However, its been near impossible to foster a student driven classroom when students aren’t fully able to communicate their feelings, thoughts, and ideas. I was really confused at first, accepting that I would have to change my teaching practices (I’m not sure I can say confidently that I have teaching practices, since I have never formally taught before … maybe we can say a life time of shower conversations with myself about teaching).
For my first lesson, I taught question words (Who, What, Where, When, and How) and used these words to play a question game for kids to get to know me better. And then I had them practice the questions by asking each other so I can start to get to know them. Students were excited to get to know me, but that didn’t stop students from talking incessantly and in Korean no less so I had no idea what they were saying. Also, I had several students sleeping or just putting their heads down in a defeated manner (which is common in Korean classrooms). I began using body language to communicate my classroom management, I put my finger to my mouth signaling, be quiet, I pointed to my ears, asking everyone to listen, and made a circle motion with my arms, telling everyone that we all have a job to make each other listen and learn. My efforts were successful at times and ineffective at other times. I realized in teaching sometimes you can’t know what will happen next because each class will react differently to the teaching and material. Nevertheless, I continued forward in the lesson and began to talk about our classroom values. I had planned on telling my classes we had no rules and that I trusted each of them and wanted them to be in control of the class, but I quickly realized this “classroom skit” isn’t going as I had envisioned in my head and may need to rethink that idea. Despite talking slow and being conscious of my word choices, students didn’t understand me or didn’t want to listen to me. I was in a weird position of understanding how they felt as it was only a few weeks ago I was in an immersive Korean class feeling lost and lagging behind my peers. But at the same time this understanding did little for me because I wasn’t sure how to change how they were feeling.
I ended class asking each student to come up and sign their name (in English or Korean) and leave a thumb print on the class values poster I made. The activity ended in students thumb printing not the poster but each other, making a sleeping student look like the Joker from Batman. Everything quickly got out of hand. This was the first story of many more that followed that week. Each night I came home exhausted and emotionally drained. I was confused. I wasn’t fully respected yet and I wasn’t sure how to recreate a new approach for my teaching.
I still don’t have answers to these questions, but I am in much better spirits about my classes and I seem to be connecting with students more. These connections are happening in its own course and own way. Every Tuesday, two hours of class is devoted to club activities – soccer, weights, etc. I went to hangout with students playing pool. I was asked by another teacher to play and we quickly created a two-on-two game. After my first shot, (which wasn’t the best) one of the students asked if the loser would buy ice cream. I agreed. And soon learned that good was a definite understatement for their skill. So as you can imagine I did lose and did buy ice cream. I also treated myself to ice cream because why not. I didn’t mind losing though because it was a good opportunity to talk with the student. Later in the week, I was also asked to arm wrestle a student. No surprise I lost again. Thankfully, this time I didn’t bet anything. I think my favorite instance of student bonding was this past Friday when I had finished my last class for the day and wanted to do anything, but work. So immediately following each class, students have a 10 minute break and in those 10 minutes I think the school completely transforms. Sleeping students became awake and energized, other students run to the computer to play fighting games, and other students sit around and talk. I decided to stay in the class for these 10 minutes instead of going back to the teacher’s workroom. In the back I noticed students playing cards and decided to walk over. I watched a round and then asked if I could join. The students were happy to have me play and the game was pretty simple so I learned quickly. What I didn’t know at first and soon learned was that the loser has to get hit by everyone. I asked if we could have a new punishment, but students wouldn’t budge on the rule. The student next to me turned to everyone and said “No hitting teacher though” so I was safe from the consequences, but still didn’t like the punishment. I stopped paying attention to time until I heard a kinda yell in Korean. I stood up. It was one of the teacher’s, she was reprimanding the students for playing games. Then she saw me. I just laughed afterwards because what she deemed bad was one of the few opportunities I had sleeping students speaking a little English.
All in all, teaching is hard and haven’t fully developed my class goals or my teaching style, but after the ups and downs I feel comfortable taking each day as it comes, knowing that tomorrow will be different.