Week 3: When the Honeymoon Phase Ends

This second week of teaching, the classes seemed to become much more manageable than the first week. We got to know the students better, and became more strategic when we did lesson planning and taught the classes. Even more helpful was that Prof. Hae Young Kim came in and taught each of the more difficult classes as a demonstration, which was really inspiring. In my class, level B, she actively engaged the most disruptive students, who usually pay very little attention, and got them everyone to participate in the in class activities, resulting in a much quieter and more fruitful class. For example, when teaching them verbs and verb phrases such as “run, ride a bicycle, read books, play badminton, play soccer, read comics,” she asked two boys who had trouble concentrating to class materials to go to the front of the classroom and mime the actions. The boys had a hard time paying attention to class mostly because they were so energetic and while in class, they had to just sit there and listen to the teacher, and they could not release/fully use up their energy. They were happy and excited to do so, and we were happy too, because when they were miming the actions, they were learning unconsciously.

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For those students who are quiet and do not engage in class, I found that there are two different kinds of quiet students in the classroom. The first find the class boring so they do their own things instead. For them, a useful method is to have one teacher lead the class, while the other teacher sits beside the students and softly talk to them (in case he/she draws other students’ attention) to make them concentrate more. The second are actually usually just worrying about things – they might have been bullied, they might not feel well, etc. A Chinese boy in my class was silently crying during class and when I asked him what’s wrong, he told me that his desk-mate spit on his drawings. On another day, another kid was “taking a nap” during class, so I went beside him and asked what was happening and if he was really tired or just bored. Of course, he looked up and did not seem to be tired or bored at all. He was about to cry. I asked him what was wrong, and he said his friend told him that he was ugly, and he couldn’t help thinking about it. So, in this case, teachers need to be more attentive to the kids’ behavior instead of treating all the kids in the same way.

Besides teaching, this week also is a week of …sickness. Five of us were sick at the beginning of the week, and three of us then turned out to have had tonsillitis, most likely caused by strep. I didn’t go to the hospital with Leigh and Annie, but then I had some stomachache and had to go to the hospital on Thursday. It was only a minor thing and I felt better very soon. The trip to Yonsei hospital was interesting though. It’s somewhat similar to the hospitals in the US, but also different in that it had a more impressive interior (a very bright, modern, spacious interior, with many decorations as well), there were many translators for people from other countries, and it had a food court, which was great. I had a lot of porridges this week, and hopefully we will all be healthy for the rest two weeks in this lovely country.

– Michelle Xu



Despite the fact that we are becoming much more acclimated to the interacting with the kids, lesson planning strategy, and controlling a classroom (not to mention the kids becoming acclimated to us), the beginning of this week was quite a challenge for the group as a whole. Of the five members that fell ill over the weekend, three were unable to go to class until Wednesday or later. Poor Michelle was only able to teach on Wednesday!

Thankfully, my English class partner Ana and I were able to remain healthy, and given our well-behaved students had little trouble for most of the week. That being said, it was not perfect. On Thursday, we ran into some trouble with vocabulary surrounding time. The students had much less prior knowledge in that particular area than we expected, and we found that expressing the complex and intangible concepts to be more difficult than anything we had attempted this far. The most difficult thing about it was that many of the words and grammatical constructions we were trying to teach just don’t exist in Korean. This was a bit difficult for me to work around because I’ve only ever worked with Romance or Germanic languages in the past, which all have some sort of equivalent for most concepts, even if the construction is very different. For example, the words “in, at, and on” do not exist in Korean, and trying to describe first why you have to put a random two letter word in front of the hour or day designated for a particular thing, and then what the differences where between in two hours, in the morning, on Monday, at night, at five, etc., is quite a conundrum, as was describing the difference between before and ago. We found ourselves very thankful for the advice to plan for flexibility given by past Duke engagers, and when the kids began to get discouraged, we were easily able to slow down and shift the week’s schedule.


The biggest problem we faced this week, however, only surfaced on Friday. Upon calling on a student who had been moved up from a lower level, she burst into tears. Upon sitting down in the hallway with the student and the coordinator, Ana learned that the student had been being bullied by the older boys in the class for being behind the rest of the class in English skills. This was some kind of difficult news for me, because in every other teaching environment I’ve been in I’ve been proud to be able to notice and address bullying fairly quickly and efficiently. The fact that some of the students were able to tease others in front of the teachers so easily was kind of demoralizing for me. So far in the trip, we had been able to work around the language barrier fairly effectively, and there had been no serious consequences of it up until this one, large, very visible event of personal significance to us as teachers and to the students. That being said, I was able to talk to them briefly about bullying and our expectations, and the coordinator came in and gave them a very serious talking to, which left a few looking quite remorseful. At the end of the day, I think the student will be happier in a class where she is not struggling to keep up, and we made sure she knew how proud we were of how hard she worked and how quickly she was able to learn in our class, and that we understood her decision to move back down both for content and classmate reasons.

The music class, on the other hand, which does not have such well-behaved kids, and this week only had one teacher (yours truly), was a bit more of a challenge on a day-to-day basis, although I did have some help on a few days from other group members and even one of the volunteers from Germany who’ve been working at the school for quite a while (sadly this was their last week). On Friday, however, I made the wonderful discovery that the disruptive kids in the class all enjoy Frozen, and for a glorious 10 minutes at the end of that class, every single student was attentively learning and participating at the same time.

– Cole



3 thoughts on “Week 3: When the Honeymoon Phase Ends

  1. It’s been great reading your blog so far, and learning about the different challenges you have had to work around. The flexibility thing is incredibly important, and will be an essential skill you take back to Duke and beyond.

    I found it interesting that you titled the post as ‘Honeymoon phase’, but didn’t really touch upon your emotions. Was it in reference to the fact that you have settled into more of a schedule, or in reference to the sicknesses the group felt?

    In either case, I hope everyone keeps their health up for the remainder of the trip. Good luck!


  2. Michelle and Cole-

    I am new to your blog, so I am just catching up on your adventures! You and your peers are truly remarkable in your desire to explore and learn. It sounds like you are having an incredible experience…which, I must point out, would not be nearly as valuable without the trials and tribulations that you have described. 🙂

    I teach under-prepared college students, so I can certainly relate to your pedagogical challenges. I wish that I had a magic solution to offer you, but it seems that you are well on your way to discovering your own solutions. If I were to offer you any words of teaching wisdom it would be to keep things lively, ‘chunk’ out your lessons into little sessions that are 10-15 minutes long and have a definitive start and finish, and try to have fun! If you are having fun, then your students will be having fun too! Last, but not least, remember that probably the most important thing that you are teaching your students, you are accomplishing by simply being YOU — a good role model! You are teaching them to love learning, to respect others, to embrace other cultures, and a whole host of other important life lessons. Keep up the hard work!


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