A Day in the Life of a Public School Teacher

I have decided to choose a random Tuesday in December and write about my school day to illustrate how “dynamic” Busan and teaching English is in Korea.

As I started my journey to school on a bus from Katie’s apartment, I realised that I was very fortunate not to have been killed yet. These buses are ridiculous; they accelerate and break sharply trying desperately to throw everyone onboard over.

I was lucky to arrive a school at 8.10am without any broken bones. I like to get to school early (20 mins before my contract states I need to be in) so I can rush off, guilt free, as soon as I am permitted to leave (4.30pm). I spend the first 5 mins waiting for my computer to load and grab a drink of hot water to warm me up in the freezing common room. I mean, it is seriously cold; I usually keep my gloves on until about 10am, by which time the gas heaters have heated the room up enough.

My school computer loads and my first instinct is to load up Chrome – what a mistake. I had not waited long enough for my computer to boot and I get the blue screen of death and a computer restart is in order. Six minutes later I’m on facebook and dealing with the "First World Problems" I have, such as replying to posts, checking emails, and my bank balance.

I then decide to look over some camp materials I have previously prepared ( / downloaded from a teaching website) to make sure everything is in order. I knew I was doing this journal today and it has inspired me to get on with some work – nothing to do with the fact that camp is in 6 days.

My first lesson is at 9am and at 8:55am I am told that all lessons will be 5 minutes shorter than normal today. Why? Nobody knows at this point. Also I will not have my lesson during period 6. Why? Nobody knows at this point. Great, my teaching time has been cut from 3 hours to 2 hours. More time preparing camp materials / procrastinating.

My co-teacher tells me she will be five minutes late to our class today. This is fine because we have finished the book so I was planning on either playing a Christmas game or just watching YouTube clips depending on the children’s preference. I tell my pregnant co-teacher to “take a rest” and I will do the lesson on my own. By do the lesson, I mean watch Zidane, Henry and Bergkamp score goals while the kids cheer at the football geniuses (and lack of work).

After the chore of watching football videos for 40 minutes, I have a 50 minute break until my next class. I use this time productively to start this blog entry and read about the football games on last night, as well as check my favourite blogs and news websites.

My next class is with a co-teacher I really like and she is also the head of English. She is smart, flexible and very accommodating considering she is a fair bit older than myself (which is a HUGE deal in Korea). She is busy and tells me she will be five minutes late – no problem of course. I get to the classroom and try to plug in the RGB cable to connect my laptop to the TV and one of the pins is bent. It takes about five minutes to straighten it out thanks to a student’s fingernails. Note: I really need to stop biting my fingernails so I can do it myself.

As I get the TV working, my co-teacher comes in and tells me I need to finish my section of the book. Well I now have 35 minutes to teach 5 pages of the book consisting of speaking, listening and writing for an entire chapter – I normally spend 3 weeks on a chapter. I tell her this is impossible and instead I will do a lesson teaching all the vocabulary and key phrases from the book off the top of my head. I love adlibbing a class, especially on an interesting subject such as recycling and the environment. The class goes really well and my co-teacher and I agree that this lesson was much better than repeating phrases from a poorly constructed book. This is the only part of the day when I feel satisfied I have done something worthwhile.

I finish that class at 11.20am and have ten minutes before my next class. When the bell goes and I go upstairs, my co-teacher and I discover that the class has been cancelled for an impromptu PE lesson. My day of teaching is now over and it isn’t even 11.30 yet.

I go downstairs and one of the teachers lets me in on the secret as to why classes are shortened – the kids are cleaning the classrooms for the final two periods of school. I love Korean logic: Why hire professional cleaners when you have a load of students who are capable of cleaning the schools? Everyday you see students mopping, sweeping and wiping the floor – the one official cleaner only does the bathrooms.

I have my lunch, which consists of dumpling stew, squid and fish cake… yum yum yum.
I then play footy at lunchtime to break up some of the monotony of my day and to get me away from a computer. The kids have fun but I have even more fun! The rest of the day I now have to myself and this is when I can either go on the internet, write, lesson plan, sleep or read. I go home at 4.30pm with a smile on my face.

Today has been a pretty average day – most days there is a schedule change and at least one cancelled class. It is end of term though so that means my lessons generally consist of watching a film - my co-teachers ask me to do this! And this is the reason, ladies and gentlemen, that I am not staying for a second year. I do not have enough work and I don’t feel like I am helping these kids as much as I could be. Believe it or not, I am looking forward to the day when I am so busy that I don’t have time to check my facebook.