I’m a teacher, but I don’t work in a traditional school. Instead, I work at Chungcheongbuk-do International Education Institute Buk Bu Center, a government-owned language centre in South Korea. Children attend programmes that can range from a couple of hours to five days in length, with some spending nights at the centre. We have eight teachers – four Korean, and four native English speakers – and most classes have fewer than 40 students. The emphasis of “camps” is firmly on fun, engagement and getting the children to communicate well in English. As teachers, we do no marking, and we use no textbooks.
Today is Thursday and we’re on the third day of the fifth grade (Year 6 in the UK) camp. I arrive at work at 9am and at 10am, it’s time for my first class, cooking, which I’ll be teaching three times throughout the day. I show the children pictures of US and English breakfasts and we talk about what is in them and if they are like Korean breakfasts. For some of the students, their engagement is limited to saying some of the items they know words for, but others can make some comments or basic comparisons.
Then I reveal the big secret… we’ll be making pancakes. We run through some basic vocabulary and watch a video of how to make them, then we put our chef hats on and it’s off to the kitchen. My Korean co-teacher is already there and the ingredients are set up at the workstations, so after washing hands, dividing into groups and many warnings about hot stoves, it’s time to start cooking.
I go through step-by-step, encouraging the children to use the vocabulary we learned. Once they start getting the pancakes in the pan I move among the groups, taking photos for the end of week video. The Korean teacher takes care of the washing up and I take the children back to the classroom for summing up and dismissal, then it’s back to the kitchen to get it ready for the next group. That’s repeated before lunch and once more immediately after.
I have a spare hour before my next class to do some planning for the next camps. I’m really fortunate to have loads of planning time and I’ve never had to take work home. Others complain about getting bored, but I just remember those long days teaching in England and feel grateful for every minute.
Unlike the UK, the day for pupils doesn’t finish at 3pm. They eat dinner together with the staff, and then it’s time for the evening activity. Today, it’s an auction. The children are asked to bring something with them to sell and given some of our own currency, the amount of which is based on the number of reward stamps they have earned during the week. I play the auctioneer and thoroughly enjoy myself making up rubbish about the items for sale and cracking silly jokes, although most of them are lost on the students.
The Korean teacher will send the children to bed so after handing them over it’s time to go home at the end of a 12-hour day. We do work some long days, and because the camps are always high energy, I can often come home feeling pretty exhausted. However, I really love my job and realise I’m privileged to work in this setting. We have a great budget, no marking and plenty of time to do all our preparation at work. But most of all, I get to enjoy the classes and can actually be a teacher without any curriculum restrictions or pressure to show progress. It’s a rare day that I don’t make the walk home smiling.
Daniel Wichmann is a Native English Teacher at Chungcheongbuk-do International Education Institute Buk Bu Center, South Korea