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Even teachers get butterfliesA first-hand account of one Korean educator’s experience of the first day of a new semester
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승인 2011.03.11  19:04:57
트위터 페이스북 미투데이 요즘 네이버 구글 msn

▲ It may be hard to believe but teachers are just as nervous and enthusiastic on the first day of school. Photo by Darryl Coote

Lee Min Hee is a teacher at a girls’ middle school in Jeju City. - Ed.

Here are a couple of common scenes from the first day of school in Korea.

First: New students are wearing freshly pressed and cleaned school uniforms, chatting with each other and sitting excitedly, waiting for their new teachers. Second: All teachers (experienced or not) have arrived dressed up in suits and are arranging their students’ elementary school records.

Many students may not believe that teachers are as nervous and excited as they are on the first day of school, but we are (or at least I am). Usually, the first class is quite peaceful, but without question it can be awkward. Because I do not know who the students are it is required that I break the ice. However, my new students have a special expectation of me, which is that I remember their names perfectly!

No matter how much I have studied, I still suffer from a poor memory and I might call all the new students by names from the wrong class, to their great disappointment. Occasionally on that first day when the students run into me in the corridor, they will test me by covering their name tags saying “Teacher, what is my name?”

That’s one of the most embarrassing situations for me. For this reason, the first class will be my last chance to match students’ names to their appearances. So, my new lovely students’ eyes looking up at me increases the pressure.

To avoid this tension, the first class should be fast. Upon entering the classroom, I quickly do roll call, say hello to the students, give them a handout called “How to introduce myself” with several sample sentences, and ask some common questions.

While the innocent students try to concentrate on the questions, I should make an assessment of their English. I pretend to be a strict teacher and carefully observe what they do. It is the right time to see each and every one’s starting point.

As I mainly teach basic-level students, some of them are confused between reading and writing “p” and “q,” others are able to read several English words while still others are capable of reading a couple of sentences. This means that each student will achieve a various range of improvements based on their ability. I am very excited to see how they change over one semester. Of course sometimes I make them do extra work during lunch or read the English textbook out loud to better their comprehension.

After a while, they become sick and tired of memorizing new words and taking quizzes everyday. However, I know that they will agree to do it because of the chocolate that I give as a reward. As time goes by, one or two students will suddenly come to me saying “Teacher, the heads of ‘p’ and ‘q’ have different directions” or “Now I can read the English textbook. By the way I don’t know the meaning of the sentences in Korean.”

No one knows how long it will take for the students to show improvement. Sometimes they might have difficulties in understanding grammar or writing. However, one thing I know is that we are on the same path and have the same goal: to enjoy our time learning English. Only a few people in society are allowed to share their time with students and luckily I am one of them.

Now I am ready to jump into the new semester. I do not know what will happen during the next six months, but I will try to remember the first day’s excitement and nervousness. These feelings will help me to encourage my new students. It’s just the beginning.

ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (
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