Life always changes. Nothing is permanent. However, in Korea, that flux feels just a bit faster.
This semester I’ve slowly adjusted to a new schedule – my walk-in-the-park 16-class load expanded to 20. However, despite initial growing pains, I’ve found several positives in this new work routine.
Initially, I taught 8 classes in the first grade (high school) and 8 classes in the second grade. Each class had 26-30 students of varying English levels.
While I appreciated a relatively light class load, the volume of students and variation of English abilities made class management more difficult at times.
For example, when groups present their work, it is difficult to quell the idle chatter of 5 groups spread across the whole width of the classroom. One group in the corner will always be talking. My co-teachers are extremely helpful, but we can only do so much.
I don’t take this too personally. They’re teenagers. While the phrase “teenage impulsivity” and research into underdeveloped adolescent prefrontal cortices often suggest “risk-taking” behaviors like drinking, smoking, dangerous driving, and reckless sex, it also applies to more mundane activities (like not sitting quietly.)
However, biology is not destiny. Teenage students are capable of listening. Sometimes they just need continual reminders.
This is still an ongoing issue in my second-grade classes. However, consistent positive reinforcement (“great job listening, keep up the good work”) and strategic classroom movement tend to keep such distractions under control.
However, this semester’s scheduling change only affects first-grade classes. In lieu of teaching whole homeroom classes, teachers divided students by their English exam performance.
Two classes (1 and 2, 3 and 4, 5 and 6, and 7 and 8) combined together before splitting into English levels A, B, and C. Four combined classes times three levels equals 12 first-grade classes.
For Korean English teachers, this system allows them to challenge higher-level students while providing more focused support to lower-level students. For me, it provides other benefits.
Classes are smaller (16-20 students). That means only 15 students are eligible for disruptive chatter during presentations (as opposed to 25).
Moreover, I divide the students into four groups as opposed to six. This effectively cuts the classroom dimensions by 33%. With less ground to cover, I can monitor activities with much ease and monitor the chatter from one centralized place (the groups are arranged like the four on a die).
Another benefit is the ability to grade my content difficulty. In a whole-class lesson, I ultimately bored some higher-level students and overwhelmed some lower-level ones. In this new system, A-level students can complete more challenging assignments while C-level students can engage with easier versions of the same activities.
Initially, I worried that my lesson planning efforts would triple as a result. However, I’ve found it surprisingly easy to design difficult lessons, label them “A”, and then cut down some features or language for “B” and “C”.
So a smaller, more ability-specific class makes teaching easier in some ways.
However, each lesson is still 50 minutes. That’s an extra 200 minutes of time in the classroom per week – time once spent at my desk. I have five classes in one day for the first time. My average number of classes per day increased from three to four.
To be fair, this is not a complaint. 20 teaching hours is still 2 hours shy of my contract’s 22-hour limit. This increase in classroom time has not tipped the scale from underworked to overworked.
However, the first month did take some getting used to. I noticed myself feeling more tired after work, engaging in fewer evening activities, and sleeping at earlier hours.
But the human body is an amazing organic machine. As September turned to October, my schedule has become second-nature – a new normal.
I even count small benefits like increased iPhone steps, feeling less hungry as a result of the increased mandatory mindful engagement, and more productive in non-classroom hours (via Parkinson’s Law). Essentially, we tend to work more efficiently when we allot less time to accomplish tasks.
Change is inevitable. The best thing we can do for ourselves is to adopt the mindsets and habits that allow us to deal with change as it arises.
I’ve found meditation, daily journaling, and regular exercise instrumental for stress management.
In addition, I also enjoy just being honest about my emotions and outlook.
“I feel tired right now.”
“Oh man, five classes? This might be tough at first.”
The key is to create a light at the end of your tunnel by generating an optimistic outlook.
“This will be difficult at first. I’ll probably be very tired. I’ll also have less free time during work hours. But if I push through this initial fatigue and discomfort, I know I will be fine. Look at the bright side. You could be back in America substitute teaching kids you don’t know and spending hours in traffic.”
Our life circumstances may be impermanent, but so it the stress that comes with managing that impermanence.
So appreciate change. Take it as an opportunity to become a stronger, more resilient person.
And remember. Like a rear-view mirror, normalcy is closer than it may appear.