So yesterday was my first day, and it was a 13 hour one. Luckily I was paid overtime, but it started with the worst class I could imagine, and ended with an annual English Competition consisting of skits, tongue twisters, and laughter. Here’s how it went:
In the first couple classes, the students were yelling, talking, sleeping, and not paying attention at all to my coteacher Nora and me (each of us English teachers have a Korean English teacher in the classroom assisting us. Her name is written노라 in Korean). The activity was for them to choose foods related to the upcoming holiday, Korean Thanksgiving, and act out the cooking process in front of the class. Needless to say, they tried harder to not do anything, than they did on their project.
After lunch, I felt like I was not going to make it through this year. I wanted to cry. I kept thinking about how awesome I had hoped this experience would be, and about how much of a let down these kids were. I’d hit a wall.
Then… Without knowing what I was going to do, I walked into the next class, asked Nora to translate (these students’ English ability is much lower than average), and spoke my mind. I asked them, “Why am I here? Why did I fly all the way to the other side of the world to a country where I knew no one and didn’t speak the language?” Then, I asked them, “Why do you want to learn English?” The response was a step in the right direction. They started trying to communicate as best they could. I was getting somewhere.
There was one boy in the back of the class with a smug look on his face and a 45 degree slouch, doing nothing. We passed out the worksheet, a dialogue about what they did over the weekend, and asked them to practice a dialogue with their partners. I saw that that boy didn’t have a partner, so I walked back there, sat next to him and told him that I would be his partner for the day. He tried telling me his name, but I couldn’t understand it, so I asked him, “Can I call you Cool Guy instead?” His face lit up. In working with him I found out his favorite sport was cycling (big here in Korea) and that that’s what he did over the weekend. Then, he and I acted out our dialogue first in front of the class, the conclusion of which was a thunderous applause. The next groups that went up started trying to make their conversations funny! My favorite went, “Hello! How was your weekend? — It went quite well! — Really? What did you do? — Yes! I went out with your girlfriend!” Much laughter followed…
After the class, Nora came to me and said, “That boy… in the back of the class… He never does anything. Other teachers have tried to get him to do something… but he always has blank face.” Her English is very good, but fragmented sometimes. She continued, “Before today, I didn’t know if I wanted to work here anymore. I think you inspired me.”
Honestly, when the day started, I didn’t think I could make it. I wanted to go home. When it ended, I’d learned one of the most important lessons of my life thus far: When life gives you lemons, make some DAMN good lemonade.