I came to Korea in the spring of 1995 to try my hand at teaching EFL for a year. I had no teaching qualifications and no teaching experience except for a semester at university of helping a Malaysian engineering student with culture and language questions. He failed out of university the next semester, but I don’t think that was anything to do with me . . . .

I can still remember my first English class at the English language institute in Daegu that hired me. I helped a group of very young students with their pronunciation of the ABCs and a few simple phrases. It wasn’t much, but helping people develop a skill gave me a sense of accomplishment. Not all of my classes were as successful, of course. I taught an adult class for a month and none of them signed up for the next session. I was still very shy and reserved around people I didn’t know at the time. Not much good in a conversation classroom. I was much better at teaching primary school children because it was a performance of sorts and I could clown around with them. I became better at teaching adults later, but it took a few months to overcome my timidity.

I don’t know if the following photos were all made on the same day or if I brought the camera to school a number of times. I didn’t make many photos at that time in my life. I usually only brought the camera somewhere when I thought that something should be preserved for future memories. So it’s possible I made these photos near the end of my first year teaching.
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Even though it’s been twenty-five(!) years since I’ve seen them, I remember a few names and their characters. The handsome boy in front was called Paul. Doesn’t sound very Korean, does it? The institute insisted that we give all new students English names to create a more immersive classroom environment. I was pretty boring about giving names. Paul, Tom, Mary, etc. Just names of people I knew back in Canada. One of my coworkers named all this students after CNN reporters and the royal family. The girl near the back with her cheeks puffed out was called Lily or Lori or something similar. Kind of an odd girl, but likeable. The girl in green was a model student. I think the girl on the far left was named Susan. Another model student.
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I don’t remember any of these students’ names, but I remember the two girls in front were very diligent. I also remember the boy on the left. He didn’t do much in the way of English but he was funny and good-natured. Only eight students in this class. There was a maximum of twelve students per class, and that made the institute quite expensive.
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This was one of my favourite classes. Kim Jieun on the right (can’t remember her English name), Mary with the red hat, the wonderful student in the denim vest (Jennifer?), the pleasant fellow behind her, and the children of Satan against the wall. Those two were just rotten. No class is perfect, I guess.
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I had plenty of complaints about the job at the time, but it wasn’t that bad in hindsight. The nice thing about teaching is that no matter how awful management is, you’ll always meet some great students as a consolation.
Somewhat amazingly, I’m still in touch with one of the students from that year. She was in grade five at the time and just before I left the school she asked me for my address in Canada. So we exchanged some letters and when I returned to Korea I visited her and her family now and then. Now we mostly communicate by text because she lives in Hawaii. My oldest friend in Korea!

3 thoughts on “Classrooms, 1995

  1. It’s good to keep in contact with the people and friends from your past, especially friends. There’s a saying, ” you can’t make old friends”, so keep in touch.

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  2. It’s great you’ve a couple of photos of your first classes. Nice memories (for the most part). You did well to just dive in and get on with it – I’m sure the small classes helped. I did a post-graduate teaching certificate after my first degree and it was invaluable. I learnt so much about the performance element of standing up in front of a group of students – some, of course, with the sole aim of taking you down lol.

    But you are right about teaching – the best part is always the interaction with the students, which helps balance the crap you get outside the classroom.

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