8 Ways To Start Well At Your New School (Part Two)
Dear Future EPIK Teacher, I understand the nerves you must be feeling right now. Believe me, I do. To add a new country, language, and culture onto your list of changes to come soon, you also have to add a brand new work environment. Hopefully you read part one of the 8 Ways To Start Well At Your New School. Get your printer ready to print off my second half of awesome tips!
5. Be Prepared For Your First Day Of School
I’m sure this goes without saying, but stick with me. I swear I have some new information to lend. You might be dragged to you first day of lessons and new faces the same day which your new co-teacher picks you up from orientation, or you might be asked to start work a few days after your move to your new city. This will depend on your principal. Some schools like to give their teachers a rest after move in day, but some schools waste no time in throwing their teachers to the wolves and will expect a full day of teaching out of you on day one. It’s best to have a USB with an introduction lesson plan in your pocket. My first day of introductions was the day after I moved into Sejong City. I gave a short power-point lesson on where I was from and my family. After reading countless articles before I moved to South Korea about how excited Korean students are to have a foreigner in their school, I left way too much open time for a discussion.
For the love of Nutella, don’t make my mistake. Korean students have had foreigner teachers since pre-school. You’re nothing new nor are you a novelty anymore (unless you live out in the sticks). They’ve already heard all about the western world for years now. Some students have even lived abroad. Don’t assume your students will be curious about you enough to pin all your lesson on “ask the teacher anything” time. It’s best to open the room for personal questions for just a few minutes. Definitely don’t expect your entire introduction lesson to rest on that time. Forgive the saying, but you should definitely go all “boy scout” on your first day of school and be prepared!
6. Mimic The Behavior Of Your Co-Teachers Around Your Principal
Social hierarchy is ever present in the Korean workplace, and, of course, at the top of that pyramid is your school principal. There are a few customs you might have to learn and practice to show respect to your principal. In my experience, it’s best to mirror the actions of the teachers around you. Once at lunch, for example, myself and a few of the other teachers were already seated and enjoying our rice when our principal walked in the doors. In unison, all of my Korean counterparts jumped to their feet and bowed to the principal. Everyone had shifted so quickly that I didn’t have time to react. I sat there, chopsticks still in hand, and cocked my head to the side in confusion.
It wasn’t until I felt the worried eyes of my co-teacher fall onto me that I realized, “Hey, I should be standing too!” I clumsily stood to my feet still clutching my chopsticks and bowed. To my relief, my principal smiled at me letting me know I had done the right thing. This standing and bowing rule isn’t set in stone, however. Some days the teachers stand when our principal walks into a room and others they don’t. I’m not exactly sure when the formality is called for, but I’ve learned to just mirror my co-teachers’ actions when in doubt.
7. Take A Tooth Brush On Day One
Dental hygiene is taken seriously in Korea. Everyday after lunch, all of the students and teachers grab their toothbrushes and race to get a good spot in front of a bathroom sink to brush their pearly whites. I was completely unaware of this since I’d never seen such attention paid for after lunch brushing in America, so on my first day all I took to school was my trusty USB and a coffee mug. No toothbrush, no toothpaste. Thinking back on lunchtime on my first day still makes me blush. We had a delicious lunch of good South Korean food; seaweed soup, kimchi, rice, and squid soaked in fish sauce.
After lunch, my co-teacher took her toothbrush and toothpaste and asked if I was ready to go brush my teeth. “Um, I didn’t bring a toothbrush,” I whispered. I swear I saw a “what a gross foreigner” look flash across her face. I can’t exactly blame her. After all, I had just had the most fermented and fishy meal at lunch, and I had to wait until I got home to scrub my teeth clean. “Maybe you should bring one tomorrow,” she said. Lesson learned. Now, I brush my teeth everyday after lunch just like my students and teachers. Save yourself the awkwardness and take a toothbrush and toothpaste on day one. You’ll not only impress your co-teacher, you’ll also have clean, non-fishy breath all day.
8. Try To Learn As Many Names As Possible
This was my Achilles heel when I first started working at the school. I’m bad with names as it is. I know most people say that, but I actually mean it. I swear I’ve read article after article trying to learn how to improve my name game, but nothing seems to work. The Korean way of saying full names, with the surname said first, is an even more difficult prospect for me. Even more discouraging, sometimes Koreans giggle at my pronunciation. All of that, and I still try my best to learn as many names as I can.
Personally, I’m against the idea of assigning “western names” to Korean students. I think the best route to go is have an activity for the students to make name cards with their names in romanized letters. Then, keep those name cards in organized folders by class to hand out to students at the beginning of each class. Soon, you’ll be able to recall faces and names much easier. Even myself, with my fading memory and countless Kim Lees in my school, have begun to learn and remember names. If I can do it, so can you!
If you’re a current EPIK teacher in Korea, feel free to share your tips in a comment below. And for even more awesome Korean office tips, check out my detailed article on ChasingGlitter Surviving The Korean Office: The Top 5 Dont’s.