Day in the Life of an Elementary School Teacher in Korea

6.00am Alarm goes off. Press snooze.

6.05am Alarm goes off again. Groan as Jod turns the bedside light on. Get out of bed, turn the hot water on and walk to the kitchen, grabbing the washing basket on the way. Dump everything in for a quick wash then fill the kettle and turn on the hob (our apartment came with a stove-top kettle and I actually really like it now). Put away the dishes from the night before. Go to the bathroom and brush my teeth.

6.10am Kettle boils. Make 2 cups of strong black coffee (large for me, small for Jod) and take these into the bedroom. Go back to the bathroom and have a very hot shower until I feel alive.

6.20am Morning skincare routine. Oil cleanse, caffiene eye gel, hyaluronic acid serum, moisturiser.

6.25am Dry off and go back to the kitchen. Put the washing on “dehydrate” for ten minutes. Go back to the bedroom and drink some coffee. Start nagging Jod to get up and drink his coffee and shower. Scroll through Instagram. Remember that I watched a video last week about how apps with “endless scrolling” are really bad for your concentration but my mind drifts away before I can finish the thought…

6.40am Jod gets up and puts the washing on “dyhydrate” for another ten minutes, then has a shower. I make the bed then blow dry my hair and do my makeup.

7.00am Jod gets out the shower and irons anything we’re going to wear that day while I hang the washing up on the drying rack in the kitchen. I am crap at ironing and Jod is crap at hanging stuff up so it’s definitely better do to it this way round.

7.05am We both get dressed and I get breakfast ready. Porridge and cinnamon stewed apples that I made a few days ago for me, and buttered toast for Jod.

7.15am Breakfast time. We eat meals at the table together which is really nice because we never used to in the UK, but then again in the UK we had a lovely comfy sofa to sit on. My porridge is yummy but the bread we bought from the bakery last night turns out to be brioche so Jod essentially eats half a slice of buttered cake before he can’t manage any more.

7.25am I do the dishes and set them out to drain while Jod makes a cup of tea in his flask to bring to school with us. Like the old man he is.

7.30am Time to leave for school. I put my shoes on while Jod fannies about for another five minutes.

7.35am We leave and take a bag of rubbish out with us to leave on the curb next to our apartment building. It will magically be gone by the time we get home tonight. The weather today is really grey and cloudy and I wonder if we should have brought umbreallas. Feel glad that I didn’t pack my big winter coat away the other day when it got to 23 degrees Celsius.

7.40am Stop at a convenience store on the way to school to pick up sweets to use as prizes in our last lesson today.

8.00am Curse the fact that our school is on top of a hill and think, once again, that I really need to get in shape by summer or I’ll be dead before the year is out.

8.05am Arrive at school, put our outdoor shoes into lockers and put on our teaching slippers. Feel hella cool in my starry pool slides. Get to my classroom and turn on the computer. Spend the next twenty minutes finalising stuff for my classes today. Print a load of questions for a game based on frog and butterfly lifecycles, package up sweets into little parcels for the prizes later and double check my schedule for the day.

8.25am Meet back up with Jod and go downstairs together for our morning classes. I have ten students aged 7-8 (I think, Korean ages are confusing!) that I see for 50 minutes four times a week. I teach them Science in English and today we’re scheduled to complete our first unit on “Living Things”.

8.30am Morning class starts and the kids are super cute today but full of energy and obviously ready for the weekend. I try to play more games than usual on a Friday so that they can burn some of it off, and a couple of them take longer than I had planned so we only end up doing one page of book work. Decide to finish the unit on Monday instead rather than rushing through it, and do a final competition quiz to assess their understanding of the topic so far.

9.20am Morning class ends. At the end of the lesson the hardest working students get stickers that they can swap for prizes at the end of the semester. They REALLY like these stickers. I meet back up with Jod and we head back upstairs to our own classrooms.

09.30am The bell rings for the first lesson but we have periods 1 and 2 free today. Two Korean co-teachers drop off some of the students’ English Diaries for correcting. These can be hilarious and heartbreaking in equal quantities. Korean kids work really, really hard and some of them write about how tired they are because of going to academies for extra tuition after school and how they wish they had some time to play. We teach nine year olds who aren’t eating dinner until ten o’clock at night because they’re doing so many extra lessons, and then they’re worried about not having enough time to do homework… so sad. Lots of the diaries are funny too though because they write about us. I’m about 70% sure they don’t know it’s us who reads them as they hand them in to their Korean teachers. I correct the newest batch and then give them back.

10.15am Set up my classroom for the next lesson. It’s a creative thinking module where the kids work in teams to solve a mission using materials provided within a time frame. I move the desks around so that there are three clear teams. I write the name of the mission and the team names on the board.

10.25am Go to Jod’s room to make a coffee.

10.30am Get an instant message from one of our Korean co-teachers asking if I can cover the next class alone as another teacher is not at school today. I say yes, of course! I teach almost all of my lessons alone (which I love!) but the creative thinking lessons are usually taught with a co-teacher as it can be really difficult for the students to understand everything being asked of them in English, particularly for the lower levels. This is a middle-ability group andย most of the lesson is “taught” via a video so a lot of it is just keeping the kids on task and trying to make them speak English as much as possible, so it should be fine.

10.45am Go to the co-teachers room to collect the mission materials and the USB with the video on. Quickly prepare a vocabulary game to play in case there is time left over at the rest of the lesson. Finish my coffee then browse asos because I have a voucher.

11.10 Period 3 starts and the students swarm in. I have their name tags ready in their seats so that there won’t be any fighting over who is on which team. I explain the concept of the lesson and then go to play the video when suddenly the computer freezes. I spend the next ten minutes trying to fix it before going next door to get Jod who manages to get it working almost straight away. Feel really glad that I prepared the vocabulary game as they end up playing that while we sort out the technical difficulties. The rest of the lesson goes really well and the class speaks tons of English, result! The only problem comes when the bell goes before we have time to properly test their creations thanks to the delay at the start. I decide that everyone is the winner and they seem happy enough with that. Everybody lines up, I thank them for being such a lovely class and send them on their way.

11.55 Find Jod and walk to the cafeteria together. On Tuesdays and Fridays we don’t teach during fourth period so we eat early, yay!

12.00 Lunchtime. Today we have rice, budae jjigae (spicy stew with all sorts in), chicken wings, squid and vegetable pancakes, some kind of leafy kimchi and a packet of dried seaweed. Once again I am defeated and can’t manage all the rice or the seaweed. They definitely feed us well here! We eat lunch at long tables with the students and spend a lot of the meal waving at the little ones when they stare at us.

12.20 As we walk out of the lunch room one of my third grade students runs up to me and gives me a huge bear hug around the waist shouting “Sarah Teacher!!”. I have my hair in pigtails today and a group of girls starts chanting “Sarah Teacher so cute! Sarah Teacher so cute!”. My heart feels like it might burst with how adorable they are.

12.25 We get back to our classrooms and chill out as we have period 5 free as well as the extra long lunch. I make another cup of coffee before planning my last class of the week. I have a different fifth grade home room class each week for 40 minutes and with 30 students it’s by far my biggest class (all my others have between 9-14 students). Last week I trialed a drama lesson where I split them into four groups and gave them each 15 minutes to write and practice a short play in English with a title provided by me. They then performed and voted on the best play with the winning team getting prizes. It went down really well so I decide to do the same with this week’s students but change the play titles. Last week they were “Aliens land in Korea”, “A Kpop group are really secret agents”, “Students locked in a zoo” and “Hunting for hidden treasure”. This week I decide on “Exploring the jungle”, “If students ruled the world”, “The Queen of England visits Gwangju” and “Mission to Mars”.

1.00pm I take a look at my timetable for next week and try to figure out where in the textbook the students will be up to, then take a photo of the relevant pages so that I can plan ahead. We teach from the same textbooks as our Korean co-teachers but they see the students more frequently than us, so it’s not always easy to keep track. I try to think of some interesting activities so that the book work isn’t too dry.

1.04pm Get distracted almost instantly by more asos, Refinery29 and Spotify. Text a friend to arrange to do something tomorrow (St Patrick’s Day).Listen to the new Years & Years song on repeat. sloooowly drink coffee. procrastinate. For over an hour…

2.25pm Find Jod then head downstairs to the right fifth grade homeroom as my classroom isn’t big enough to fit all the students in. Spend the last five minutes before class watching a group of girls sing, dance and do the splits. They’re actually really quite impressive.

2.30pm Period 6 starts. The drama activity goes down really well again and the plays are even better than last week, but the kids are LOUD. I’m happy to hear them speaking in English so much but I feel really bad for the poor home room teacher sat at her desk in the corner trying to grade journals while chaos reigns all around her.

3.10pm School is over, hooray! For the students, anyway. We’re contracted to stay in School until 4.30 so we go and hang out in Jod’s classroom. He plays video games on his laptop while I do more general interenet browsing on the computer. Lots of kids have violin lessons in most of the English rooms (including mine) for an hour after school. They keep all the doors open so it’s like listening to some kind of frenzied symphony. I don’t know how they concentrate! We talk about what went well in the drama lesson and what we might do differently next time, and agree that today has been a good day.

4.25pm I asked Jod if we’ll be leaving on time today and he says yes, definitely.

4.30pm I stand up to leave and Jod suddenly remembers about ten more things he needs to do before we can leave. I sit down again.

4.35pm We leave and walk home through the neighbourhood. The sun has come out and everything is warm and sunny and lovely because it’s the weekend and YES!

4.55pm We stop off at the 7/11 closest to our apartment to buy beer, soju and snacks.

5.03pm Arrive home, put the washing and dishes away while Jod pours us each a shot of soju. We toast to the end of another great week! In Korea you never drink without eating ‘anju’ (drinking snacks) too, so I accidentally eat a sharing sized bag of pizza flavoured crisps all by myself over the next hour or so. Oops. Remember that I’m supposed to be getting in shape for summer but then reconcile that with the fact that it’s the weekend and you only live once and all that.We catch up on our YouTube subscriptions and I reply to a text from my dad. Almost text my mum but then remember it’s still early Friday morning in the UK (her day off) and she’ll hopefully still be asleep in bed so stop myself.

7.00pm Jod gets his guitar out and starts playing a fabulous collection of songs from Taylor Swift and the Red Hot Chilli Peppers. I sing along and the beer and soju make my voice sound AMAZING. Maybe. Our poor neighbours.

8.00pm The singalong somehow turns into Jod trying to teach me how to play the guitar. Just one short hour later I’ve (sort of) learned a chord. If you can believe it I’m actually not that bad and can now play something close to Wonderwall if you squint your ears. If that’s even possible.

I can’t take any credit for it though, Jod’s just an excellentย  teacher. I send some videos of me playing to my mum and dad, fishing for compliments as always.

9.30pm All plans to go out for dinner are now out of the window as neither of us can be bothered to leave the warm and cosy apartment and speak to other humans. Instead Jod goes back to the 7/11 to pick up some ramen which we eat in bed like the slobs we are while watching 8 Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown. We are living that crazy party life, for sure.

10.00pm I hit publish on this post and slip gently into unconsciousness…

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