After an initial workweek drenched in mixed emotions, I punched in my office for code Monday morning. My posture stretched skyward with optimism.
My predecessor was gone. The current class of six-month trainees returned to their schools. I felt like a full-fledged, albeit green, part of the team. I buzzed with a bit of a chip on my shoulder as an inexperienced instructor ready to stamp my mark on my classroom, my lessons, and my office.
My mornings began with a pot of coffee. After two years of nothing but instant-crystal dregs and overpriced café Americanos, I relished in the homeland nostalgia of boiling water cascading down a loose bed of coffee grounds, pooling into a reservoir of black gold below.
Despite having no classes or pressing duties, my mission of clear and overwhelming.
A new class of Korean teachers will arrive the following Monday. A principal/vice-principal workshop sits at the end of September. I will present lesson planning skills to a small group of new native teachers in the middle of the month. Middle school camps will resume in three weeks. Despite nothing but free time from 9:00 to 6:00, I initially froze with overwhelm.
I knew I had to make the most of my time. My predecessor was clear from the jump. Prep time evaporates once programs get into full swing. Swim for your life or sink beneath the waves.
For many workshops and camps, these plans flowed from my fingers unto the keyboard, mouse, and screen with ease. I had past resources and manuals to guide my way – a reference point and foundation to either build on or alter. Moreover, my native-teacher coordinator proved instrumental as she dropped subtle hints toward effective materials.
“This past lesson was a bit dry. It didn’t really engage visual learners.”
“It’s important to plan for mixed levels of English ability and class engagement. Some principals will leave your class partway through to take phone calls. Be ready.”
“Plan with the end in mind.”
That latter piece of advice has stuck with me. I already anticipate this wisdom serving as a guiding light as I whittle my lesson planning skills into a sharp-tipped art.
However, my plans for the six-month trainee lessons were up to me. My curriculum afforded great autonomy with little constraints.
Work to develop trainees’ listening and speaking skills.
Work to develop trainees’ teaching of listening and speaking skills.
How I accomplished these directives was up to me. And I was pissing myself with possibility overload. It didn’t help that one of my co-workers hinted that she rarely used slideshows and other media in her lessons while another colleague showed me his elaborate PowerPoints.
What do I do? Where do I start?
The answer is simple. Start somewhere.
At Namak High, I skated by with PowerPoints and handouts. Formal lesson plans were neither required nor necessary for me to do my job.
In week two, I gained a newfound appreciation for formal lesson plans. I could plan the dirty details of how I could conduct a class.
What should I write on the board?
What are the lesson objectives?
Should I ask trainees to discuss this question in partners or groups?
How can I break up this video analysis with discussion and trainee participation?
Like a ball of ice careening and accumulating down a hill not-so-fresh snow, I found momentum in my lessons. By Friday, I had two-and-a-half classes worth of plans and materials ready to go. I don’t know if it will be effective. But I will walk into class next week with far more than nothing.
When one begins with a limited foundation, one can build the foundation themselves – stone-by-stone. If my first lessons go well, that’s amazing! I will have valuable insight into how to plan future classes. If the lessons are complete bombs, that’s not amazing. But I’ll still have valuable insight into how to plan future classes. By staying present and aware during class, I will receive all the feedback I need.
My second week was not all prep and stress, however. I also rediscovered the art of office small talk. For example, my coordinator taught me a new verb.
Co: The conversation started off okay, but then he started Korean-ing at me and I was like ‘whoa, slow down.’
Co: Yeah! Like when someone starts speaking to you in Korean in fast and long sentences and you have no idea what they’re talking about.
I: I thought you said careening…like when a truck loses control and barrels toward you.
Co: I guess it’s kind of similar.
Despite all the love I received from my co-teachers and co-workers at Namak High, I could never replicate such wordplay or expat empathy and commiseration. The newfound effortlessness of conversing with native-speaking co-workers has proven refreshing.
My preparation went well enough. I accomplished plenty but could have done more. But by Thursday night, I was a bit burnt and ready to get back in the classroom.
My co-worker disagreed with my desire. His reasons made sense.
I: It’s been nice to have a break, but I’m ready to get to work, you know?
Co: These moments of downtime are so rare. Appreciate it now. In three weeks you’ll miss it.
I: I know. You’re right. I guess being new makes me eager to get started. But if I had more experience like yourself, I’d likely feel differently.
He makes a good point. This job is demanding. Everyone tells me so. And I’m grateful for the timing I arrived, with ample time to ease myself into my new role.
But I’m ready for reps. I’m tired of understanding the rigors of this job in only theoretical terms. I’m ready to understand the demands in real terms – for better or for worse.
If I come to understand the difficulties for worse, at least I can develop effective habits, strategies, and routines to cope. I can understand the scope of the challenge through evidence, not speculation.
Many say that the anticipation of pain causes us more anguish than the pain itself. I’m not sure I agree in all circumstances, but those disconfirming circumstances would likely be more dire and dreadful than the life of an overworked instructor.
I’m ready to engage with the rigors of work while practicing disengaging with negative mental impressions of those rigors.
I’ll get my wish soon enough. I have one weekend of rest left. I’ll probably eat my words soon enough. But I have to start somewhere and somehow. Might as well be now.