Vast Visions

a year abroad in south korea

Tuned Out

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Ahh, middle school. Such an awkward phase, where we come up with gimmicks to make ourselves cool. We are at the stage of forming an identity – one that will carry us though the travails of puberty. Some are drawn to the “class clown” identity. For me, I remember having a single strand of hair on one side of my face because I thought it was hella cool. I also said “ya’ll” a lot. Anyway…after my first day of teaching middle schoolers I am keenly reminded of the phase, but this time I’m on the other side of the podium.

So I actually surprised myself when I taught today. I tend to get anxious delivering presentations to my peers but I was really at ease in the classroom. I projected well, didn’t stumble over words, planned well, and generally enjoyed my time teaching today. That being said, the first class of the day that I taught was pretty rough.

The first class was small, which made me relieved. However, it worked against me. It was a class of about 10 boys and only 3 girls. The girls were distant and didn’t engage in the class. Two boys were really outspoken, but in the “class clown” kind of way. Three of the boys were in the back of the room being big shots and throwing around each others’ pencilcases. The other five were talking in Korean about LoL. Meanwhile, I’m delivering an easy lesson about expressing opinions by introducing myself via “two truths and a lie”. Once in a while I caught their interest but they were all basically “tuned out.”

Truthfully, I would be too. When you don’t understand 80% of what the instructor is saying, it gets tiring. That being said, I used the simplest terms and slowest speech I could. They are simply not ready for a class led entirely in English.

My second class was a little better than the first despite some technical difficulties in the beginning. I had a list of riddles which were invaluable for my classes because I breezed through the powerpoint every time when I was sure I was going to spend too long on it. Backup activities are Godsends. My co-teacher for this class was on the quieter side, kinda lurking around and ethereally present…is she here? Not here? Thankfully it didn’t make too much of a difference.

Third class was the best. This group was the high-level English class. They were obedient, engaged, and willing to participate. It was a nicer atmosphere to work in. The co-teacher chimed in once in a while which was also nice. One girl came up to me at the end of class and told me that I was a “very kind and good teacher” which was gratifying and so, so cute :3

My last class of the day was pretty good, the co-teacher for this class was the most vocal throughout the lesson which sped things along. There wasn’t any hand-holding as far as waiting for the co-teacher to translate, but somehow after she said the directions in English everyone suddenly understood? Ok cool?

At one point during the day, one of my co-teachers was like “Why middle school? You should be teaching little kids, elementary…” as if apologizing for the behavior of middle schoolers. I am actually still glad it’s middle schoolers. Singing and dancing isn’t really my thang. And I feel like these students still need to get to know me as a teacher. Hopefully we can have some fun and learn a lot in my classes. I want to make English something that they like, not something that they are forced to do. It will take some time but with some more engaging activities I think things will get better. Can I keep all of my students from being tuned out? Maybe not, but I want to at least make it helpful for the ones that are tuned in.

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Author: Natasha

26, student of law but still a dreamer. currently living in chicago.

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