A Day in the Life: Teaching in Korea

Being a teacher is entertaining to say the least. My friends who teach in middle schools have much more active (and by active I mean violent) stories to tell out of class, but my students have not quite hit that puberty stage where they feel the need to throw and/or destroy everything they touch. Here are some highlights from a usual day at my elementary school.

1st period: Grade 6 class 3

There is one boy who can’t speak English very well but really seems to like me and insists on attempting communication. This usually consists of him running up to me with his friends yelling, “Hello teacher!” Then asking his friends how to say what he wants to say in English. I usually stand there guessing, grasping at the Korean I know and searching his rapid Korean questions for something I recognize. Then we resort to body language, which often fails us, and so he waves his hands and says, “Teacher no” and runs away.

On this morning, I walked into class to find him sitting in an office chair, spinning himself around and around, enjoying the breeze from the fan. As soon as he saw me he was ready.

Him: “Teacher, pipa.”

Me: “Pipa? What is pipa?”

Him: (shouting now) “Pipa! Pipa!”

A friend: “Soccer!”

Me: “Aaaahhh. FIFA! Yes, FIFA.”

Him: “World cup.”

Me: “Yes, world cup. Soccer. Do you like soccer?”

Him: A pause to calculate meaning, then… “Yes.”

Me: “Good job. Now go to your seat.”

Courtesy of dixiesunnews.com.

That was exhausting but I’m proud of him and I can see that took a lot out of him too. I wish I could help him out more but my Korean isn’t strong enough and same goes for his English. Such is life when you’re a public school teacher. In a class of 30, many are left wanting – teachers included.

3rd period: Grade 6 class 5

The kids are doing a survey game where they have to ask other students what they want to do this summer. They must use sentences like “I want to see…I want to go to…I want to play…” A couple of girls have changed the sentence “I want to see a play” into “I want to see an EXO concert” (a very popular Korean pop group). I applaud their ingenuity and tell them to continue. A minute later, one of the girls comes up to me and says, “Teacher, do you know EXO?” Her eyes are wide with wonder at how I could possibly know of this underground phenomenon known as K-pop music.

I tell her yes, I know EXO.

She runs full-tilt into her group of friends, slamming them all on the back with her hands, exclaiming that the teacher knows about EXO. I’m not sure if they are planning a mutiny because I’ve infringed on their collective love interests so I grab my board marker in case I need to swat anyone on the head to maintain sanity. If you doubt that last sentence, you’ve never seen a crazed K-pop fan. They are lethal when threatened.


Another member of the tribe with decent English comes over, eyeing me cautiously.

Her: “Teacher, you know EXO?”

Me: “Yes.”

Her: Turns around to holler back at her crew that it has been confirmed that I understood the question. Then: “Do you like EXO?”

Me: “Yes, I like EXO. I like ‘growl’ and ‘wolf’ too.”

Her: “WHOAAA!” She sprints back to the tribe, screaming that I not only know, but also like EXO and named the songs mentioned.

The entire group squeals until they turn into a mass of flailing arms and flying hair. I am laughing and telling them to focus, that there is only a minute left in the survey game. Eventually they all calm down, no board marker needed. A third from the group looks at me with a huge smile and gives me a thumbs up. “Teacher, good!” She says.

Yes. I’m in the cool club. Nailed it.

4th period: Grade 6 class 2

The period before lunch is often the hardest to control. They are hungry, agitated and physically unable to focus on anything for more than 1.5 minutes. That is when I am most animated and expressive, determined to keep them with me at least until the textbook portion of the class is over.

I’ve got the door to my right open for the breeze, which often leads to walk-bys of students peeking in to wave hello or see what we’re doing. As distracting as that can be, I think it’s sweet that the kiddies want to stop by to say “hi” and after all the work I’ve done to make them feel comfortable speaking English with me, I’m not about to shoo them away from the door when they are curious. So, the PowerPoint presentation is running and we are about to wrap it up and play a team game.

I’m about to launch into the part about closing their books and starting the game when I see a yellow blur out of the corner of my eye. A student passes by in a yellow t-shirt. Fine. Then the t-shirt blur re-emerges in a slow and shoddy moonwalk and the boy freezes at the door. He was one of my grade 4 kids. I wave a quick hello and he takes off down the hall. Fine.


As the game rules are being disbursed to my class, the yellow blur comes back again and this time, I’m slightly turned away and he thinks I can’t see him. He throws his hands up behind his head, bends his knees and starts doing some kind of pelvic thrusting-Night-at-the-Roxbury dance.


Sensing the spasmodic rhythms emanating from the yellow t-shirt blur, I spin around and give him some wicked cut-eye, while releasing my best low growl of a “YA!” (“Ya” is Korean for “hey,” as in “hey, what are you doing?” Or, “hey! Stop that!”)

His eyes bulge and he dashes off in fear. He’s lucky I fought down the demon that told me chase his ass down. Punk. After that the yellow t-shirted degenerate has ambled back to his room, life goes on inside the classroom.

Soon after it’s time for lunch, then some deskwork as my classes are done for the day. All in all, it was another successful Friday. No one threw a chair, no one cried or got a nosebleed and I had a laugh in almost every class. At some point, I think some kids may have even learned some English. Until Monday! Be well Dear Readers :)

2 thoughts on “A Day in the Life: Teaching in Korea

  1. Karluch:
    Another good one of a day in the life of a very busy teacher in South Korea.
    Seems you are making a lot of headway with the little ones with the English language. Seems your Korean is coming along as well.
    Don’t take no wooden nickels and I’m sending this piece to Boo.
    love youse,
    nana and gramp xxoooooooo

  2. Ok the EXO story was ridiculously cute and my fav. I wish you had chased that guy he would have flipped out. Ha

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