Back to School

New office, new co-teacher, new students. It’s back to school at Gimhae Jeil!

There are so many changes this year, it seems almost like I’m starting my grant year over again. But walking into the first day of school, I didn’t have the same jitters I’d had back in August. I’m getting the hang of it!

Here’s a quick rundown of how this semester will be different:

  1. Office – Last semester, when I wasn’t teaching in the English classroom, I spent most of my time in the adjacent English teachers’ office. But this year, our principal decided that he wanted all the non-homeroom teachers together in the main office. Now I have a new desk in a room with 24 of my new closest friends. There are two English teachers next to me, so that helps a lot!
  2. Fulbright co-teacher – Because Mr. Hong switched schools at the end of last semester, I have a new Fulbright co-teacher, Mrs. Yi. Mrs. Yi is the new head teacher of the English department, and I am excited to get to know her better. She will teach many of the new first grade classes with me. This semester, I will co-teach with some different teachers, including Mrs. Yi, as well as a few of the same from last year.
  3. Students –  It’s a new school year, so my former second graders are now in third grade, my former first graders are now in second grade, and I have 300 new first graders to teach. I have so many names and faces to learn! The new year also means that the new students are calling me “pretty” and trying to touch my hair. I think next week’s vocab word will be “petting zoo,” with the example sentence: “Janine Teacher is not part of a petting zoo.”
  4. Workload – My workload has changed a lot, too. Last semester, I taught all nine second grade classes once a week, four or five first grade classes per week (I saw each of the nine classes every other week), two special speaking/writing classes once a week, and one or two teachers’ classes per week. This year, I will not teach the speaking and writing class, but I will teach first grade classes every week. I will also have an after-school class twice a week–which 65 students expressed interest in attending! Though the class will be capped at 15, I’m glad that so many students wanted to have an extra class with me. I have a lot of work ahead of me this year.
  5. Curriculum – The best news this week is about my curriculum. I will be the writing teacher (YAY!!!), and I don’t have to use a textbook anymore! My co-teachers from last semester agreed that it was too boring, and my students liked my own lessons much more. They said I had a “fun” class, so the students were more likely to learn. I don’t know who decided to shift away from the textbook, which all the previous native English teachers in my school also had to use, but I hope I played some small part in it.  Throughout last semester, I gradually used fewer and fewer exercises from the book, either replacing it with similar, “native” material or tweaking the week’s theme. By the end of the semester, I was designing most of my second grade lessons around the skill that the textbook wanted to teach rather than the specific topic, so my lessons were almost entirely different. The lessons weren’t perfect and often relied heavily on group work, but at least the students used critical thinking skills and creativity. I think I took a few risks and proved that my material could be different and effective. Or maybe my co-teachers are also fed up with the textbook and just want to do something fun in my class. The world may never know.

For the first week, I taught an intro lesson for the first grade students and the United States bingo lesson for the second grade students, easing them into the semester. At the end of one of my second grade classes, Mrs. Jung, the former head of the English departmen, complimented my lesson. It was her first time teaching with me, and she told me she thought my class was fun. She was glad that she would be teaching with me this year. During a teachers’ dinner a few days later, another co-teacher picked up a potato with his chopsticks and said in Korean to another teacher, “I learned in Janine’s class that Idaho is known for potatoes!”

These small moments were definitely a confidence boost that I needed after so many weeks of vacation and the end-of-year “lessons” that involved watching movies or letting students self-study. I think these changes will be for the better. I’m optimistic about the start of the new year!

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