Korean Elementary School Life in Korea 한국 Teaching in Korea

Inadequate teacher

You are inadequate. It resounds in my head today.

Inadequate. Outta Control. Volume explosion. Silence amiss.


My third grade elementary class has made me feel inadequate. In every sense of the word. My class arrives 10 minutes late every time we meet. Today I spent the next 15 minutes trying to get them to just pay attention to me and the screen. I sat in silence for a few minutes. I stared them down. I  yelled be quiet. Shhhhhhh!

‘삼학년!’ ‘Grade 3’ I yelled and they did their chant to pay attention to me. The kids tell me do that, it works, it doesn’t. Only half the class redirects their attention to me.

Another child yelled over the noise ‘손 머리’ ‘hands on head’ So I tried that and once again 2/3 did this, but continued talking. I had children running around, sitting on their legs, putting others in a headlock and hiding under the table. Grabbing each and everyone is tiring. It’s even more tiring when you realize you can’t communicate. The fact I have to use my broken Korean to yell over them ‘왜, 계속 말해요?’ ‘Why do you continue to talk?’  Trying to put Korean words together when I am unsure of the verb conjugation or what to say or what to ask.

And I get stares. Some think it is funny. Some talk over me in Korean. ‘영어 못해요.’ ‘ I can’t do English.’  Others apologize in Korean for making the other students talk so much. And as the frustration builds in me and I slam my hand on one desk. The other students are frustrated because they want to learn.

One thought comes to mind. Inadequate teacher. I want to run out of this classroom. I like my students, a lot. They are really cute and loveable. But, the language barrier kills me. I’m on the threshold of being able to communicate without being understood or understanding. My vocabulary is lacking.

Class resumes for about 7 minutes of teaching. The last 5 minutes we watched a video of ‘How animals eat their food.’ Funny, how every student watched the video though they were hardly quiet.

As class ended and they left to go to lunch one boy was crying another had grabbed him by the shirt. I had to ask in Korean what happened. I didn’t know what the one boy said, but I asked if the other had hit him. He said yes, so I asked why. He said he didn’t know so I made him apologize. At first no words, and then he repeated after me, ‘미안해…’ ‘I’m sorry…’ They left and went to lunch.

And it must have been the crying boy who brought my frustration to the forefront since I began to tear up after. Inadequate teacher. That’s what I felt, my frustration so high I could barely focus. I had no motivation to eat but realized I had to show up to lunch. Wiped my tears away and just sat by myself.

At the end of lunch as I grabbed a cup of water, one girl from my third grade class told me to say ‘조용히 해라’  ‘Be quiet,’ next time and it should work. I appreciate her making an effort.  It made me feel at least a few want to learn English.

I’m frustrated at myself. I’m frustrated at the home room teachers who should show up to class and help translate. I’m frustrated with the fact I have no co-teacher at the elementary school. Well, I do but she teaches on Fridays only. So, I have never seen her.

And then the realization hits. I can’t be upset with anyone but myself. I can’t control everyone else and I can’t expect them to help me. So I’m frustrated with myself alone for being inadequate. For not knowing enough vocabulary and grammar to communicate effectively. For not knowing how to discipline in Korean, because English just doesn’t work.

When I reflect on this I realize, I would never be that teacher. If I had a class and someone who wasn’t fluent in the other langauge was teaching I would be there every class. Because it isn’t in me to leave others sinking.

But that is life. You either sink or you swim. I will be swimming, someway, somehow, this bitch will stay afloat. Just you wait and see.

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