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.

12 comments / Add your comment below

  1. Ah, Nina, horrid day. Good conclusions to draw though. I so needed to read this today. I had great classes (though my steaming middle and high school students sound like their about the same as your students usually) but was told by my coteacher that some days my dress/skirt length is too short cut for the boys and then my other coteacher told me later that my exam questions weren’t used because they were not in the proper format (which uses a special program for formatting that is entirely in Korean. I would even know where on the computer this program is let alone how to use it once I found it!). So, I totally feel you. The communication with both students and teachers can be hugely disheartening and sometimes makes you feel like you can’t do anything right. But have no fear, tomorrow marks the middle of the week! 😉

    1. Thanks Abbey! Yes, I love both of my middle schools so much. And there are still communication issues there. But elementary just makes me feel overwhelmed and I love little kids. It’s the language barrier completely. And thankfully the middle of the week is tomorrow! 🙂

  2. I am surprised that a Korean teacher does not help you. You were hired based on your English skills….not Korean skills. ” let me have your
    attention” then start teaching…make it a game. Head..touch your head. Knees…touch your knees. Pen…show the pen. Shells…bring a couple to school. Super easy as you have no help. Just keep going on that path. Do not show them your frustration..hitting the desk. They are children and will take advantage of you! I’m sorry your day was so frustrating.

    1. Actually the grade 6 teachers come to class. Grade 3,4, and 5 no one comes. My co-teachers in both middle schools are always present. It just seems for the youngest kids who just learned English, it seems unfair for their teacher to not show up. Next time I will try something like that. They show up 10 mins late every class, and I only have 30 minutes to teach two pages, in which I made it a third of a way through one page today. So my curriculum is behind more than it should be. And I can’t get them to focus, they just want to play and ignore me. Thanks for the advice, mom.

  3. Can you ask the principal why you don’t have help? Also why they are coming to class late every time?

    1. I’m not opening that can of worms. If I can manage the other two classes without help. I will learn to manage this last one. If they don’t learn as much English as they should, the blame falls back on the school not me. The teachers know they ability of their own students. Every teacher came except the 4th grade teacher the first two weeks. After that they dropped off the radar. I don’t need a bad relationship with the school and I think if I say something that is what is going to happen. I’d rather figure it out on my own, it’s a character building mechanism, I suppose.

  4. Hey Nina don’t worry there are plenty of us in the same boat. I had an ‘inadequate teacher’ moment on Friday in front of an unsuspecting taxi driver whose misfortune it was to alight on me. When I failed to communicate where I wanted to go I inexplicably burst into tears, the poor man! I’d had a very trying week at school and I think I just couldn’t handle yet another instance of not being able to make myself understood. You’re not alone!

  5. I’m in the same situation so I know exactly how you feel. It’s seem like every thing you try to do to make it better only makes it worse-I think they might not be paying attention because the work is too hard so then I make easier worksheets and they still turn it in blank or won’t stop talking long enough for me to explain. Tried incorporating games and videos so they won’t be bored and literally-hell breaks out- last time kids were actually sleeping on desks! I too don’t have a co-teacher and some of the other teachers tried to help but as soon as they’re out the room the kids go crazy again. I wish I could offer suggestions for us both– I guess we just have to bear it and focus on the kids who do want to learn. Good luck 🙂

  6. I too have felt like an inadequate teacher. I have had two fights in my classes ( I teach middle school), which leads me to believe something is not going right. But then I had a Korean teacher tell me she wanted to cry because there was a fight in her class and a kid threw the trash can. … Then the gym teacher told me he was having a bad day because students were fighting, and my co-teacher told me there was a fight in her own class. So I am trying to remember that teaching is hard in any language, and we are learning something every day. Try to look at the things that go right and work on those things. If something doesn’t work, try something new. (This is the motto I am telling myself every day!)

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