“It Was the Best of Classes, It Was the Worst of Classes”: My First Teaching Experiences

It was the best of classes, it was the worst of classes, it was the age of maturity, it was the age of middle school monsters, it was one class of hope, it was one class of despair. Such were my first two teaching experiences.

Over the last week, I had my first experiences as a teacher through the Fulbright English Program. For two weeks during our orientation, students ranging from elementary school to high school came to Jungwon University for a full-immersion English program, led by renewing Fulbrighters. As a new ETA, I was assigned two class periods during the program so I could practice teaching and receive feedback from the renewees. Although I had a lot of tutoring experience and had also worked with English language learners before, it was my first time in front of a classroom.

The theme for the English program was “Stories to Tell, Stories to Live.” Each day, we had a different topic related to storytelling and writing. My two topics were “Once Upon a Time” and “Happily Ever After.” I went through the process of creating a lesson plan and materials and then teaching each class. First, I taught a beginner class with middle school students, and then I taught an intermediate class with students from elementary to high school. The differences were like night and day.

When I introduced myself to the class of 12 middle school students, they decided to play a prank on me. I asked each student his/her name and repeated it back to them so I could learn it. One girl, Ga Eun, insisted I was mispronouncing her name.

“Ga EUUUUUUUUN!” she emphasized.

“Ga EUUUUUUUUN!” I repeated, while the rest of the class laughed hysterically.

I learned later that “Euuuuuuuun” is what young Korean children say when they are straining on the toilet. Oops.

After the “let me learn your names!” debacle, I started the lesson about “Once Upon a Time.” The crux of my lesson was how adjectives and descriptions can make a story come alive. I showed the prologue to Disney’s Beauty and the Beast and taught the adjectives that were in the story. Most of the students talked to each other or slept during the lesson, despite my efforts to keep them quiet and paying attention. At the end of the class, the students completed a Mad Libs style worksheet, in which they filled in adjectives for popular fairy tales like Snow White and Sleeping Beauty. During their worksheet time, a few students asked for clarification of the grammatical point (adjectives/descriptions) and understood when I explained again. However, I had to think of different ways to define descriptions that would be more appropriate for their level. While three or four of the students were engaged and learned something, the others were restless or apathetic. I was disappointed in my performance, but I received surprisingly positive feedback from the renewing ETA who observed me, as well as the students who filled out their comment sheets. I suppose it wasn’t as bad as I thought!

Compared to the first lesson, my second lesson, “Happily Ever After,” was like a dream. The intermediate class I taught was respectful and engaged, and they genuinely enjoyed the activity I created. Because it was the final day of the English program, I taught a lesson about yearbooks, including points such as how to address and sign a letter and how to write compliments using similes. The students participated enthusiastically in creating similes as a class. For most of the class period, students created their own mini-yearbooks and asked each other to write messages and compliments using similes. Even after the class, I saw these students asking other friends and teachers to write in their Fulbright yearbooks. This definitely restored some of my confidence after teaching the middle school students!

Overall, I learned that some lessons and classes will be wildly successful and others will fail miserably. And that’s okay! I have to take each class and each lesson as a learning experience and work toward improving as a teacher. It will also be much easier when I have my own classes and can develop relationships with the students. Only two more weeks until I arrive at my placement!

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