Teaching Students in Korea

Teaching Students in Korea

I teach English to 5th and 6th graders at a public elementary school. Students are curious about the Asian American foreigner and get confused about how I look so much like them but only speak English. Most of them say hello and bow, which is nice because I feel a little respected, and the few that talk to me make me smile with their words. For today’s post I’ll just randomly talk about those memorable students.

Many of the 6th graders are too cool to be singing and dancing English songs, but there is one energetic boy that calls himself a genius. There are more quiet but knowledgable students, and his pronunciation is not great, but he never hesitates when he shouts out English sentences that he builds as he goes. I wish I had his confidence, so I could get more hands-on practice with speaking Korean.

When I walk to school in the morning, I try to catch my students off guard and strike up a conversation in Korean. My first try was successful, because I remembered that the girl liked the k-pop group “Shinee,” and we were able to talk about our favorite songs and member. It’s essential to know K-pop idols to bond with the students, so I really need to brush up on my K-pop knowledge. On my second try, the student was quite shy, so it was difficult to get words out from her. Maybe I can talk about K-pop idols to her next time.

A pair of 5th graders were kind enough to come to my office and introduce themselves. I tried pronouncing their names, but they were like “No~ no,” and tried to improve my pronunciation. After several tries they gave up, and I felt sorry for themโ€ฆ but at least I remember how their names kind of sound like! It’s great when they come to me individually because that gives me an opportunity to know their names. Without that it would be too difficult to memorize 400 names and faces that look so similar.

There is one 5th grader boy that always tells me with a big smile, “My friendsโ€ฆ hit me!!” and he gets slapped by his friend for lying. My co-teacher explained to me that slapping or hitting each other is a way students at this age show their affection. It’s interesting to see how the girls punch the boys pretty hard, but boys are not allowed to hit as hard as them.

Last week, a 5th grader girl randomly yelled out to me, “Teacher~ you’re pretty!” It’s always nice to hear that for a self-esteem boost. But when you read “teacher” try re-reading it as “tee-cheo” because that’s how most of the students call me! Maybe I should be fixing their pronunciation but it sounds so cute.

In the 4th grade, there is a girl that lived in Maryland for several years, so she is dying to find opportunities to use her English. Fourth grade English in Korea is too easy for her. I don’t have a class with her, but she stops by the office once a week to talk about random stuff. Today, she talked about how she had rabbits, kittens, hamsters, gerbils, and goldfishes when she lived in the states, but she had to give them up when she moved to Korea. Hopefully she stays interested in English even as an adult, because I know many friends who were once bilingual, but forgot English when they moved back to Asia.

My goal is to get closer to my students in the upcoming months.


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