“Hey Director Im, are you free?”
“Yes, what’s up?”
“We had a bit of a bad word incident today. I didn’t hear it, but apparently during English group work, two of my boys were saying ‘motherf**ker.’”
My director’s eyes widen in surprise while her lips pinch in the corners. I felt the same when I heard about it. We discuss what I need to do in order to address my students’ inappropriate behavior. I hope none of my students repeat the words at home. Welcome to Monday.
I’m one of three 3rd grade English teachers at a private elementary school in Seoul. I have 31 students and I get to teach them in groups of 15 (a half class) or the whole 31. I have a great group of students. They’re smart, funny, and filled with personality – charming, creative, and often rebellious. Teaching them in half classes is usually nice. We stress group work in the 3rd grade, and group work is best in a half class. It’s much easier to keep the attention of 15 than it is to keep the attention of 31. Any little thing can derail my kids from the lesson – a student interruption, a funny video we watch that they can’t get over, a class clown acting out. Whole classes often make me want to jump out of my second story window. Like I said, my students have a lot of personality, and they like to show it. Yet Mondays are usually pretty easy. Here’s an insight into my week.
On Mondays, I teach two half classes of science and one whole class of vocabulary. Many of my students are very science-oriented, and currently they’re learning about the different forms of energy. They’ve enjoyed doing small experiments, creating origami that can move, and occasionally watching Ms. Frizzle whisk her kids away on The Magic School Bus. Vocabulary is usually pretty easy. We go over the homework, review pronunciation, and look at pictures that describe our new words.
A student raises his hand (please note that it is the 20th week of school).
“What does vocab mean?”
“It’s the shortened word for vocabulary.”
“But what does it mean?”
“Vocabulary means words and their definitions.”
“But… what does it mean?”
Did I mention it’s the 20th week of school? It’s definitely a Monday.
On Tuesdays, I teach reading, grammar, and I also duck down to the 1st grade to teach phonics. Grammar can be challenging, but my students are pretty good at asking for help, and occasionally my kiddos think of a way to explain something approximately 10,000 times better than what I would have said. The grammar lessons are usually pretty interactive, and I happily teach the lessons in two half classes, back to back.
By 1:55pm, the work is piling up. My desk has been hit by a hurricane. Grading, lesson plans, materials for lessons, and confiscated items are everywhere and I lament my lack of organization while simultaneously telling my students their cubbies are too messy. I have to make homework questions and read my students’ diaries, but unfortunately it’s time for me to go down to the 1st grade to review short /u/. Teaching the 1st graders brings me back to my kindy days, and I like it, but man, do I need that 40 minutes to just try and get my desk together.
Before I go down to the 1st grade, I write what my students need to have prepared on their desks when I get back. I am often a couple minutes late to the last period on Tuesdays because it takes a while to settle the first graders when they are taught as a whole class. I always wonder what will greet me when I walk through my classroom door. Sometimes the students are ready, sitting in their groups with nothing on their desks but their pencil bags. Other times, they’re eating snacks, running around, screaming and playing games. The countdown begins the moment I walk in… “FIVE… FOUR… THREE… TWO… ONE…”
All but the most rebellious or inattentive of my students are in their seats, sitting nicely, and hoping for some team points.
On Wednesdays, students use their vocabulary in a speaking class. They create skits, plays games, and answer questions. We really do play a lot of games in the 3rd grade. We like the students to work together and the teachers simply monitor and help out when needed. I’ve made a new classroom rule: One, Two, Three, Then Ask Me. There are usually four members per group, so if they have a question they need to ask each other first. I want them to at least try and work out their answers before relying on the teacher. Later in the day after their Korean art class, my students will come back to me for reading. We’re reading an informative non-fiction about a police dog, and the kiddos are enjoying it. On Wednesday, school ends a couple hours early and I joyfully send my students packing. The mountain growing on my desk isn’t going anywhere by itself.
Thursdays are my busiest teaching day, but they’re also the days I enjoy being a teacher the most. I have four half classes and only one whole class. I usually try to save fun reading activities for Thursday so that I can help the students do a craftivity or a reading activity without feeling too frazzled. We also have writing on Thursdays, and for many of my kiddos, this is their favorite class – and most weeks, it’s my favorite, too. We’ve learned about paragraph writing, autobiographies, haikus, and idioms so far. The haikus and idioms were particularly fun. Writing is where I get to see the most of my students’ personalities. Each writing unit ends with a project and the students usually put a lot of effort into them. The final class on Thursdays rotates every week between author study and song. Song might be the class where I can relax the most and just watch them. They really like learning the English songs, and sometimes during Korean quiet work time I’ll hear a student singing “Try Everything” or “Happy” under his or her breath.
Friday, finally. This day is easy. There are two half classes of math, where we focus not so much on teaching math itself but on the language of math. The last class of the week is called Flex Class, where we do whatever we need or want to do. I’ve used this class to do bullying role plays, and activities about the differences between reporting and tattletaling. Sometimes, when we have extra time, we watch fun videos or sing songs. The majority of this class, however, is dedicated to assigning the diary topic for the weekend, going over homework, and reducing that mountain of paperwork on my desk by giving back their assignments. I take my students down the hill, try to say goodbye to them all before they run away, bow to parents that are waiting, and make sure my students cross the street safely. I’ll see you Monday, kiddos.