A Week in the Life- Rural edition

Main School- 4 times a week

Every morning from Monday through Friday I got up around 7:30am and set about getting ready for the day. I would eat breakfast, usually cereal and milk, and boil some water.

For Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday school began at 8:40am. Since I lived next to my school I could leave at 8:30am. Sometimes there would be students in the parking lot so I’d stop and say hello for a bit before heading towards my shoe cabinet to swap out my shoes. In Korea you often have to take off your shoes, for schools you should have a pair that you leave at school and only wear at there. I have a pair of black ballet flats that stay at school. Some of my coworkers have a variety of other shoes they wear at school. Like a winter pair that are warmer and a summer pair. I bought a cheap pair of winter waterproof shoes with a warmer lining for this winter and it was the best, since my feet are always freezing in the winter. They are not cute though, but the warmth was very welcome while deskwarming.

After switching my shoes I either head to the teachers room or up to my classroom. My first year it was common for everyone to arrive early and then head to the teacher’s room to grab a cup of coffee or tea and just mentally prepare for the day, but over the years it became less common. So usually I head up to my classroom. (Unless I have something I want to drop off like cookies I’d made or something I wanted to share.)

I had my own classroom, so I was responsible for it. This meant locking it every evening when I went home and thus starting my morning unlocking the doors and turning on the lights and the heat or air conditioning if needed.  I always tried to keep an eye out for anything that might not have belonged. Twice this meant finding a bat on the floor that had gotten in somehow, or in late summer clearing the wasps out. If it had rained this meant looking around and listening for anywhere where the roof was leaking so I could put something under it to collect the water and then head down to the office to let them know so that maintenance could be called.

If nothing needed my immediate attention then I’d turn on my computer. If I had brought hot water from home in my thermos then I’d pull my mug out of the cupboard and make myself a cup of tea or a mocha out of a packet. If I’d forgotten then I’d grab my mug and head down to the teachers lounge, kicking myself because most likely the thermos was on my kitchen counter and I’d just not grabbed it on my way out.

With a cup of tea next to my computer then I’d set about prepping for the day. My schedule vastly changed depending on the day, however classes didn’t begin (all days but Thursday) until 9:10, and for me my students never came until 2nd period. There were the occasional surprise schedule changes where they did come at 9:10, but usually not.

This always gave me about an hour to prepare for my classes and organize myself. I taught all the English classes at my main school and in general taught less than my twenty-two hours. (For public school twenty-two hours is the baseline of classes you’re suppose to teach, any more than that you should be paid over time). Each of my classes was 40 minutes with a ten minute break between them. I taught my fifth and sixth graders three times a week and my third and fourth graders twice a week. My schedule changed depending on the year and what the home room teachers, school and my coteacher wanted. My final year this meant I taught the fifth and sixth usually Monday, Tuesday and Friday and then the fourth and third on Monday and Tuesday. This meant three classes before lunch and one after.

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books the librarian ordered for me so I could read to them to the classes or they could borrow and read themselves if they wanted a challenge. (Except ‘Chalk’ which I hadn’t known didn’t have any words in it)

With my hour before classes started I would look over the books, pull up the book software I had saved to the computer and make sure it was on the correct page and then gather any supplies needed for games or projects. If there was a topic I knew I could easily find songs for or if I knew my students were struggling with a topic (like counting or their abcs) then I’d prepare extra games, worksheets or songs so we could review. If we were in a section that included reading I’d pick out some stamps or stickers for my students. Then I’d make sure everything was ready and I knew what the plan for my classes were and would start waiting for my students from 10-15 minutes before classes started. 

In general my students usually came early. (Except younger students after lunch, the classes after lunch were notoriously late coming back from recess.) Not all of them, but usually a good chunk. For my older students they wanted to watch Youtube videos, running in a group to beat out other groups of students to put in their request. This turned into a boys versus girls race to my classroom so they could watch or listen to their favorite songs from their favorite group.

For the younger students I’d get stuck at my desk, completely overrun. Some wanted candy, they knew where I kept it, so I always had to keep the cabinet locked. Some wanted to talk to me, and if it was beyond our mutual language abilities (my poor Korean and their budding English) then they’d ask for a language translator, my go-to is Papago. Sometimes this was necessary, they needed to explain that they had to leave early, couldn’t talk during the class due to a recent surgery, weren’t feeling well and wanted to go the nurse, needed to call their Mom and wanted to borrow my phone, or wanted to tell me that a classmate was absent. Then there were less necessary things where they’d just type out “Hello, teacher” or “I love you teacher” which was a lot of suspense for something I understood with our mutual language abilities though still sweet. Sometimes they also wanted to show me their newest favorite thing, be it stickers, cards, toys or anything else they brought with them. Sometimes it was to tell me they liked some new baseball team or movie they saw recently. Add to all of this simultaneous swarm of students all wanting attention a couple that only wanted to play with my hair or give me a hug and it meant dislodging myself and getting them into their seats by the time class started a little difficult. Sometimes we were a couple minutes late, sometimes we were on time, sometimes I had to send out an S.O.S signal to my co-teacher whenever they arrived.

Lunch time happened between 12:10-12:20 on Monday, Tuesday or Friday. It depended on where we were in our lesson, how hungry the students were and whether their home room teachers had requested we let them out early. On Wednesday’s I ate earlier, our cafeteria started serving lunch at 11am and would stop around 1pm. This was because it was a combination school. The nearest middle school was attached so we all ate together, along with the kindergarten. Everyone came in a rotation. Staff and free middle school teachers usually ate first in the morning, then the kindergarten would arrive, then elementary, and finally middle school students. I usually headed down around noon on Wednesdays and Fridays and found the cafeteria empty. Those days I ate by myself, some days I ate earlier with the free middle school teachers and staff.

Lunch varied greatly depending on the day. Some days if I was before the kindergarten or elementary had arrived I could help myself. Otherwise it was too busy and the cafeteria staff would fill my tray. Sometimes this was sweet and I’d end up with a tower of something I loved, sometimes this made me sad because I’d end up with more of something I didn’t like or couldn’t eat that I didn’t know how to tell them I didn’t want. They knew I couldn’t handle spicy food but I still always ended up with a little. On spicy days there was less that I could eat.  I would sit and eat, drink some water and then put everything away. Everything had it’s own special spot and it was easy to follow student and do what they did.

After lunch I’d return to my classroom and grab my empty mug and head down to the teacher’s room. Once there I’d hover while teacher’s chatted, wait for a break to ask how my coworkers were or how their weekends were or if they had any upcoming plans for the weekend or vacations and fill my mug with water or hot water for another cup of tea. I’d also grab any folders I needed for after school and my milk from the office fridge. (I got milk every day like the kids, though once a week this meant drinking yogurt.) If it was Wednesday I’d also sign my away paperwork for Thursdays when I’d go to my second school and wait for the appropriate higher ups to filter through to collect their signatures as well before putting it away.

Then with a mug of usually hot water in one hand, a cartoon of milk in the other and my after school folder I’d very carefully return to my classroom to relax, clean up and prep more for the upcoming class/after school.

After school changed every year. My first couple of years I taught a care class with the first and second grade which was a lot of fun but also a lot of work, I taught advanced and beginner after classes and all of these required me to come up with my own decisions and plans for those classes. I was constantly making new things and trying to figure out what the students liked and didn’t. My final year they’d gotten rid of the care class courses and no fifth or sixth graders had signed up for after school. So instead I had three classes. One for the fourth grade, one for the third grade and a Fun English class.

For the fourth and third grade after school I had a textbook that worked rather well but I’d create power points and find songs and other content to go with it because the book was very small. With the Fun English class I spent hours with an English to Korean dictionary typing out the lyrics of English songs the students had requested to learn in a way they could read since they were all lower level/beginners. About halfway through the year I was able to request more games and we would play English go fish games when they got tired of practicing songs. As always they arrived early and when class time began I’d have them put their phones in a basket on my desk and would take attendance in my after school folder. When class was over they’d get their phones back (or I’d have to chase students down the stairs calling their names asking who’d forgotten their phone) and return my after school folder to the office.

This was usually around when, if I had a care package from home the staff would tell me so I could pick it up and carry it back to my classroom. Either way after returning my folder I’d head back up and sort of collapse into my chair for a moment before prepping for the next day. If I had power points to make this is when I’d do them, or figure out how to play a game for the following day. If I was all caught up and I didn’t need to start thinking about winter or summer camp then I’d pull out a book and read.

At 4:40 I’d turn everything off, lock the door and head downstairs, I’d switch my shoes back to what I was wearing and head home.

On Monday’s I’d change into somewhat comfier clothes, leave my work bag in my apartment and instead grab a backpack and my wallet. I’d head over the bridge and into town to go to the tiny grocery store to buy whatever necessities I needed. It usually took about an hour or less, there wasn’t much to look at and depending on the time of year the store wasn’t usually too packed on Mondays. (Summers on the weekend or Summers on a Friday were a whole other monster). With my backpack full of groceries, so I wouldn’t have to buy a bag, I’d walk home. Sometimes say hi to students heading home, usually my old students who were going to middle school.

Once home I’d change into comfier comfy clothes, make dinner, watch something, clean up and then head to bed. Maybe I’d fit some writing in there, play a game or bake cookies.

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Wednesdays we play badminton.

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Sometimes after school I’d hang out with my coworkers. Sometimes we went to dinner, once we went bowling and my first year every Wednesdays we’d meet at the school gym to play badminton. Some evenings a friend would come pick me up and I’d have dinner with her and sometimes her husband. This last year though usually found me just heading home. Occasionally I’d meet the other English teacher to get a mini Korean lesson.

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A strawberry latte to enjoy while bowling.

*Friday nights were laundry nights and the nights I’d let myself stay up late. Usually I tried to be in bed by 10pm Sunday-Thursday so I wasn’t a zombie when dealing with my students. Friday’s meant watching movies on Netflix and going to bed very very late.

Second School- Once a week

Thursdays were my commute days. No matter the year Thursdays never were normal and were always exhausting. (Though I always had a good time while there, it was just my busiest day) My first couple of years I carpooled with coworkers which meant I had to get up earlier (7am….I like my sleep) or catch the bus. When I carpooled I taught from 9am until 4:10pm. Depending on what students there were and in which grades, changed my schedule. In general I had the 6th graders twice, and the 5th graders twice. Always back to back. And then if there weren’t any of the third or the fourth graders than there’d be three of each of those. The third and fourth got either 2 classes with me or one.

This last year when I took the bus I’d sleep in a bit, make my self a tumblr of hot water to take with me and then go to the bus stop to catch the 9am bus. I’d arrive around 9:40/9:50am and head to school. I borrowed guest shoes and switched my shoes and then would drink some water and catch my breath because the school was a bit of a hike from the bus stop before heading to class. Because I arrived late I didn’t have time to prep for my classes and would just quickly make myself a cup of tea out of the milk tea the school had sweetly bought specifically for me and put in my classroom and then dive right in. The schedule was also about ten minutes or so different from my main school so I found myself tripping over that quite often. They also had a schedule 20 minute break in the day where the teachers would all come to my classroom for a meeting/tea time.

Lunch was a bit later or earlier depending on the year and we all ate together in a much homier and smaller cafeteria. Since there was less staff I helped myself and thus wasted a lot less food. Except soup. Soup was out of my hands.

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A day where I only picked one piece of kimchi

After lunch I’d return to my classroom to  relax before the next block of classes. I usually had at least three more main classes and then would finish the day with an after school class or two which was every kid in the entire school. For two years we would learn and practice Annie so they could perform it at the school talent show, the other two years was up to me. My final year I had them do the same books the main school did which was a lot easier, though also a bit hectic since the different grades got different books.

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A pretty spot to read “What Should Be Wild” by Julia Fine.

After class was over I’d still have about thirty minutes until I could go home. There wasn’t much I could do because all of my materials were at my other school. So instead I’d read and prepare to leave. Sometimes I’d pop down to visit the care classroom where all of my students usually went and hang out with them or their teachers. When 4:40 rolled around I’d make my way to the bus stop and ride it home.  Sometimes my students would come and wait with me and keep me company.

I would get off the bus in town and head to the town’s cafe.  I’d always take a book, order their mint choco and relax.

If the other English teacher in town was free she’d come join me and we’d catch up for awhile before walking home.

The walks were always lovely, no matter the weather

 

Once home I’d make dinner, watch something short like a TV episode, clean up and then go to bed.

Weekends-

Saturday

On Saturdays I’d get up early so I could catch the bus so I could make it to the ITX train I’d booked in order to meet up with friends in Seoul. I’d usually try to eat before I left but if I ran out of time I’d pick something up at the station in Seoul, either at Yongsan or Cheongnyangni before transferring to whatever train I needed to take. Whenever my fun for the day was over I’d try to pop into an E-mart at the train station before heading home. I’d buy things I couldn’t buy at my local store and something for breakfast on Sunday. Usually I’d be out until late and I’d have to take a taxi back. Which would be the perfect time to call home because if I had to take a taxi home then my parents were for sure awake. Sometimes I’d also take this time when it was dark and there weren’t teachers and students milling around to take out my trash.

If I didn’t have plans for Saturday then I’d video chat with friends and family.

Sunday

On Sunday’s I’d sleep in. I made it a pretty stern habit to try and not go out on Sundays. I wanted to veg. I needed a chance to sleep in as long as I could and then just roll around in my bed watching something on my computer or listening to music until I was too hungry to stay in bed. I’d eat something I picked up while out the day before. I’d clean and see if my clothes I’d washed on Friday were dry and if so I’d put them away and just prepare myself for the week.

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