Round 2 of Teacher Training

After weathering some lazy bouts of writer’s block, my best course of action is to write my mind – and lately my second round of six-month teacher-training has dominated that head space.

Today, just as most native teachers regain the pleasure (or curse) of teaching students in-person once again, our in-person classes with Korean teacher-trainees (KETTs) go on hiatus as they depart to Jeju Island for two weeks of supplemental training. Now we instructors stare down two weeks of no classes, no camps, no nothing. “Prep time” they call it.

Or “reflective time” if you have the mind for it. I mean I don’t, but I can try.

During my first go-around with KETTs, my head swam as I struggled to cobble together any semblance of a class. What do I want to teach? How do I want to teach it? Listening and Speaking skills? Sure. But how? How will lessons fit together to make a cohesive whole or build up to a final assessment project? I answered those questions flying by the seat of my pants through a wind tunnel of uncertainty. My first six months at JIEI was an exercise in controlled mental and emotional chaos.

I went through a whole gauntlet of emotions those first months at JIEI. This time around, the trainees drew their own emoticons as part of another trainee’s activity demonstration.

And yet when February rolled around, the hugs and tears shared by trainees and instructors made me realize that my slapdash curriculum somehow made an impact. That despite self-criticism and doubt rubbing my nerves raw, I still did something meaningful. It was an instant shot of confidence to the arm as I prepared for the next program.

After briefly meeting my family in Hawaii (in late-February so not a minute too late), I returned to Yeosu to meet a brand new class of trainees. And from Day 1, each moment highlighted a juxtaposition of confidence and uncertainty that provided me unambiguous insight into my own personal growth.

Now every event on the schedule couples with a point of comparison dating back six months. How did I feel doing initial trainee interviews six months ago? Now do I feel now? In-person interviews, group interviews, welcome night, opening class sessions. Each event highlighted the instructor I am today against a backdrop of an instructor who was once drowned in self-doubt and impostor syndrome. The instructor who once looked around like a dog dropped into a foreign land waiting to follow the lead of others is now himself a competent, independent agent.

At my supervisor’s suggestion, I designed a Dolsan scavenger hunt for them one day. Despite one team cheating and jumping into a car, these two still came out on top.

I met up with a trainee from the last group back in March to explore fields of plum blossoms and grab a meal. As we reminisced, I spoke with a tinge of guilt about this. Although it was no fault of my own, I now believe that this current group of trainees receives much better quality lessons from me. While the previous group received an instructor completely unsure of himself or the content of his lessons, this current group receives the fruits of mistakes made, lessons learned, and confidence earned.

She listened patiently and said I worried too much.

As a first-year instructor at JIEI, I always heard my veteran co-workers make comparisons between past trainee groups. This group was more studious. That group was more serious. This group is easier to work with. The criteria is endless.

Now, as my second program rolls onward, I too can form comparisons. Now I have a point of reference around which I can construct my views of this current group. I’ve come to learn that this current group of trainees skews younger than my first group. They seem more physically active, more fluent in English, and more likely to include instructors in their extracurricular activities.

Before the second program began, I had no such point of comparison. I knew no better nor no worse than the group I had in front of me.

Singing is one of this group’s favorite activities for sure!

Similar to my second year at Namak High School, I’ve also been able to re-organize my jury-rigged, cobbled mess of a curriculum into a smooth-flowing series of lessons that culminate in several final projects.

Time has afforded me the opportunity to plan with the end in mind.

The project a podcast interview?

Let’s prepare some lessons on active listening skills, open vs. closed-ended questions, follow-up questions, and conversational cycles.

Is the project a TED Talk summary speech?

How about some lessons on filler words, gesture, presence, and using pauses while public speaking?

How much in-time class should I allot to prepare for these assessments? Last program, there was not enough time. We’d better allow two full class periods of prep time.

Maybe trainees would respond better to flipped lecture videos on YouTube than to in-class lecturing. Let’s give it a go!

By virtue of going through one program, I now have some accrued experience to discern what worked well and what requires revision. I can implicitly reflect.

I can also reflect on how I found a new group of friends after moving to a new city.

While I do see a strange novelty in starting again, I can feel the newness waning as we cruise into the halfway point of the program. Nine months into my first JIEI contract, I finally feel settled into my position and new lifestyle in this little city village on Dolsan Island,

The former challenge of adapting to new work responsibilities and soothing my impostor syndrome silently molted into the challenge of keeping work interesting – thinking of new lesson ideas to implement, developing more comprehensive or helpful methods of assessment, or just finding new ideas to make the program fun (for both myself and the trainees).

I suppose neither problem is better or worse. One problem sacrifices familiarity and comfort for the thrill of novelty – while the opposite dichotomy emerges for me today.

Regardless, I still find the wherewithal to step back within certain moments and appreciate memories as they form in real-time. Sometimes it blows my mind – experiences I’ll remember for years (until dementia or death snatches my soul).

“Remember how you implemented “walking discussions” during class time when the weather turned nice?

“Remember shooting pocketball at Jungang Market?”

“Remember cooking ramen in the park?”

“Remember how one trainee who often doubted her own confidence in public speaking gave a showstopping speech on colorism in the U.S.?”

I’m grateful for the memories I’ve forged on this journey through Korea. And as I enter the final lap of this tour, I hope to make just a few more.

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