My School, Teaching English

The only thing to fear is change itself…. Wait…

It was only temporary…but…last week, in the immortal words of the Fresh Prince of Bel Air, my new Korean life got totally flip-turned-upside-down. Now-I’d-like-to-take-a-minute, just-sit-right-there-and-I’ll-tell-you-how-I….how my…forget it. How things changed.

Long story short, part of my Winter Camp involved me teaching at an elementary school reading camp for a few days before going back to teach at my regular middle/high school. Sidenote for those not in-the-know: a winter camp is a  two-three week period between regular semesters where kids come to school anyway to study more. The camps vary in theme and content, sometimes being determined by the school and other times by the Native English teachers. Generally speaking they’re supposed to be lighter and more “fun,” but in the end the kids are still there to study and learn English.

When my co-teacher first told me that I had been summoned by the EPIK Powers That Be, I was less than thrilled. I didn’t even get to volunteer as tribute. My name had been drawn and my fate, set. ‘Why meeee?’ I moaned in my head, conducting the choir at my own private pity party. ‘I don’t care if it’s only for three days. I don’t want to go to a different school, work with different students and different co-teachers in a different classroom where everything’s different. Wahhhhh.’

In my defense, my apprehensions weren’t completely invalid. As expats working abroad, I think it’s fair to say that any of us would be disgruntled to give up the routine and sense of familiarity we work so hard to establish in the early days,  even just for a brief while. In my case, I’d spent 4 months teaching middle schoolers and high schoolers, and had grown accustomed to the classroom dynamic and the flow of the lessons. I knew what kinds of topics they liked and what activities they found boring. But for this camp, I was back at square one.

In an attempt to thwart potential mutinies from the little pirates and ensure a successful voyage through the uncharted waters of elementary school, I over-prepared like crazy. My lesson plans were so detailed and explicit that a monkey could’ve followed them. I had enough back-up activities to last me three lifetimes, and a separate list of games a mile long.

The morning of day one, I gave myself a harty pep-talk on the bus, ‘You can do this, Nathan. You can do this. They’re just little kids. Little tiny humans who like to laugh and play, sing songs, and repeat anything you say. Just keep them busy and engaged, and everything will be fine. And even if it feels like things are unraveling or derailing, smile and find a way to get back on track without losing your shit. They might be little and they might not speak much English, but they can smell fear and spot an opportunity to go nuts in a heartbeat. You got this. You got this.’

Replace “huns” with “children.” …And “defeat” to “teach,” I guess.

So, how did it all work out? Just fine, actually! It was great! I had a really fun time with the itty-bitty first-graders who barely came up to my waist and could hardly say hello. They’re so frickin cute! And the 4th, 5th, and 6th graders that I taught were all actually very high level, so working with them was a breeze. Thanks to my over-preparedness it was easy to adapt when something didn’t go as planned or swap one activity out for another. My co-teachers were all very helpful and had excellent English skills, fortunately, and I never encountered any serious behavioral problems with the students.

The moral of the story then, I guess, is that it’s okay to fear change and tread lightly into the unknown, just so long as you can let go of that fear and ultimately walk with more confidence before you rob yourself of the possibility that you could be headed towards something great. Don’t ruin something for yourself before you have a chance to experience it. In the face of change, feelings of reluctancy and insecurity are normal. But if you lay the proper groundwork, you can set yourself up to succeed and enjoy the ride, no matter what kind of twists and turns you experience along the way.

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