A day in the life of ... Kathleen Gray

24th January 2014 at 00:00
Enthusiastic students, a close-knit community and Scottish dancing until the small hours make Seoul, the capital of South Korea, a rewarding place to work for this English teacher

I have a magical start to my day. My husband Tim and I stare in wonder at the beautiful, starry sky. It's 5.45am and we're off to do some exercise - Tim goes to the gym and I walk for an hour. But this morning, we have to stop and just gaze at the constellations, a rare sight in the heavily populated and light-polluted city of Seoul.

On returning home, it's a quick shower and breakfast, then off to school. Along with the majority of teaching staff, I live on the school campus, so there are no traffic jams to face. We have a very special community here; it's like living in a village. We all look out for and help each other.

I work at the British School, which is part of Seoul Foreign School. Families can choose between an American elementary and middle school or a British primary and middle school. Both systems feed into the high school, where students take IGCSEs and then the International Baccalaureate Diploma. It's a unique system, but it works well for our 1,500 students who hail from 45 different countries.

I coordinate support for and teach students who speak English as a second language (ESL), or have areas of weakness in literacy or numeracy. After climbing the stairs to my fourth-floor classroom, I check my emails and put out food for the birds. My first student arrives at 7.40am. The department's support staff help students with reading before school starts - it's wonderful to have extra time for one-to-one teaching.

Then lessons begin. I love the variety of my day: my ESL students in Year 9 (aged 13-14) are looking at ways to present information about healthy living; Year 8 are writing essays about whether the English peasants in the Revolt of 1381 were heroes or villains; Year 6 are completing a diary entry for Lady Macbeth; and Year 4 are learning about speech marks. In addition, I have a Year 1 phonics session and a Year 5 lesson on percentages. I feel blessed to have such incredible students who really want to learn.

The temperature has dropped this week (fortunately, I don't have lunchtime duty today) and we had the first snowfall. It was beautiful but didn't last, as a few minutes later there was a clear blue sky and bright sunshine. I nip across to the school cafeteria to meet up with friends and colleagues from the other divisions. There are "Western" and Korean set menus - I decide on bulgogi (a gently spiced pork dish) with rice, which is perfect for this cold day.

After school, a visitor attends our staff meeting. Dr Virginia Rojas, an ESL and differentiation expert, is spending the week at the school running training sessions for teachers. This weekend she is leading a workshop, and teachers from all over Asia are coming to join us. Experts often visit the school to keep us up to date with the latest educational research.

Then it's time to go home, get changed and head down to the British Embassy club for two hours of Scottish dancing practice. We are preparing for the St Andrew's Ball, which is my favourite dance of the year. About 200 adults will enjoy food and drink followed by 20 or so different dance routines. The ball will finish at 4am with breakfast, a tradition that dates back to when there was a curfew in Seoul and people were not allowed on the streets between 11pm and 5am.

Our Year 5 and 6 students are also practising Scottish dancing during their physical education lessons. They will have their own ball, complete with a bagpipe player and haggis.

Before bed, I try to watch an episode of Downton Abbey. As soon as my head hits the pillow, I am sound asleep.


Do you want to tell the world's teachers about your working day, the unique circumstances in which you teach or the brilliance of your class? If so, email richard.vaughan@tes.co.uk

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