The first week teaching english to students at Jiguchon International School (지구촌학교) has done done me and you bet I felt it.*
The First Day
Five of us DESKers were tasked with teaching 6th graders, while the other three taught 5th graders for the week. When I first stepped into the classroom, I was greeted with 13 pairs of bright and hungry eyes. I could feel the energy of the kids vibrating through their bodies and resonating throughout the classroom. It was nerve-racking: how will a small group of students fresh out of the U.S. teach English to a room full of kids who don’t speak the same language?
Our group made it a point to use as much English as possible in order to encourage them to speak more English and apply what they learn. So, although I spoke Korean, I gave it my best-est to communicate slowly in English. Thankfully, most of the students could understand a vast majority of what I and the other DESKers said, even surprising us with their proficiency. However, we quickly realized that there was a rather large knowledge gap between the majority of the class and a small group of students in particular.
Three young boys appeared to be significantly behind in English language proficiency, but all could speak Korean. I was tasked with helping them understand material being presented, but found the task to be much more daunting than anticipated. Two boys (Jake and Jack**), would continue to distract each other, while the third boy, Pavel, was very shy about his English ability. It was very difficult to keep the three on task, much less get them to repeat after me. I could have been more strict and tried working against them, but I reckon it’s again my turn to win some or learn some.
As the day went on, I was able to ease them into doing very basic tasks, like repeating my words, or even reading what was written on the board. Although our initial intent was to teach English, I made it my goal to help these kids feel more comfortable with their own abilities and help them feel included in class. At the end of the day, as we were asking kids for feedback, I knelt down next to Pavel and asked him what his favorite part of the day was:
We Are Just One Big Family
As the week continued, we became more comfortable with the kids and vice versa. The three boys who previously appeared to be excluded from the class were well integrated in the interactive activities we had planned. But, the credits can’t all go to us teachers. Students are very willing to assist their peers and explain instructions or concepts we have given, and some students in particular are experts at getting their peers to be quiet and pay attention (thanks Angel).
In just the short span of time we had with these kids, we got to know them very quickly. Andrew is an impressive soccer player, Jasmine is a spectacular artist, Selena loves dancing, and Roy is a blossoming intellectual. The kids have such vibrant personalities, so it is impossible not to get sucked into their world. Not only are we serving as their English teachers; we are also getting to know them as friends.
Even better, the students seem to like us too. At the beginning of class, Ryan gave each of the DESKers two lollipops. Jasmine loves grabbing my arms and dragging me over to be with the other students in the music video we are making. Katherine loves hugging us, the girls in general seem to love Brock, and James is seen as a cutie by girls and guys alike (“Teacher is cute”). I perceive all of these as good signs that maybe, just maybe, we might actually be remembered by these students in years to come.
What We Aim To Do
Jiguchon knows us as English teachers, but the kids came to know us as entertainers and friends. Although our games and activities were disguised to be educational, when I listened to the music of the moment, kids danced and sung. There were screams of joy, and there were impromptu BLACKPINK dance cover performances amidst our lessons. As a break from the vocabulary lessons and english conversations, we also spent the end of every day preparing a music video for the song I’m Yours by Jason Mraz. Balancing english lessons with our music video project was a bit of a challenge, and it emphasized that our time is short. However, the kids seemed to have fun with it, and I can’t wait to see their reactions to seeing themselves on screen.
Our DESK group ultimately came to the conclusion that we aren’t meant to be english teachers. It’s impossible to teach english in less than a week. But, it is possible to earn a student’s affection and create lasting memories with them in just a few days. This is our fate. Before moving on to teaching 3rd and 4th graders, I would like to send my 6th graders a little message:
*I made 8 lyrical references to “I’m Yours” by Jason Mraz. Find them all!
**All of the kids chose English names for the purpose of this English camp.