A Winter Camp

Long vacations are definitely a huge benefit to being a teacher. Even better to be the foreign English teacher who doesn’t need to be in school as much as the other teachers. As you might have guessed, it’s winter break here. Still.

Last year I was almost completely free from Christmas until March – with the exception of a random week in February and graduation. This year I have a similar schedule, and was also required to teach a two-week winter camp. Fortunately, I was able to choose the dates and so we began right after school ended, from the last week of December through the first week of January.

I taught eight students for eight days, Monday through Thursday. We met for two hours every afternoon; I could get used of starting work at noon. Most of my coteachers and office mates seemed to finish up their classes in the morning – if they had classes at all. I taught my entire camp alone and was sometimes the only person in my office to come in. In an office that normally has eight people, it was a bit eerie. But true to our office’s MO, there was always something there for me to snack on.

It was also wonderful to have a such a small class. I’d capped the class at twelve students, but I suppose not many students were eager to take on an extra class during their “winter break.” For the first two weeks of their “break,” most of my winter camp students had regular classes in the morning, my winter camp after lunch, and then self-study time or cram school afterwards.

During the entirety of the camp, only one student missed class. The next day, when I asked her why she’d been absent, she boldly admitted that she’d skipped school that day, in her words, “escaped with friends.” I tried to feign an appropriate amount of indignation, but couldn’t really be mad; my students never seem to get time to themselves. Instead I taught her the expression “skip school,” although “escape” isn’t entirely inaccurate.

The topic of my winter camp was happiness, or officially “Let’s Talk about Happiness!: English Conversations about Daily Life Strategies.” This was the same topic I taught for my evening classes last spring using the “Happy Gyoshil” curriculum. I adapted the materials further this time, since I only had eight classes to cover the material and wanted to focus even more on activities and English practice, rather than research and theory.

Some observations from teaching this time around:

  1. My students at Yeongdo Girls are a lot more positive.

And seemingly happier. This is great for them, but changed the dynamic for a class on happiness. In my class at Gimhae, students seemed to feel the material was really applicable and bought into it quickly (from what I could tell). This time talking about happiness seemed unnecessary, like at times I was forcing this material on them. Still, they showed interest and were good sports about the class in general.

  1. One loud and/or popular student can really set the tone of the class.

Yes, I had a student like this. She was constantly trying to get us to finish class early, which made closing activities difficult. At Gimhae I would always try to end class (the last 5-10 minutes) with a short game or easy activity. This could also serve as a reward if students finished all their class work early. That didn’t work in my winter camp. I already agreed to let the class get out 10 minutes early instead of taking a break, and if the end of class happened to be an activity, that one student would push everyone to finish faster. In retrospect I could’ve addressed her directly. Instead I filled up all our class time with only relevant activities; we only played a filler game once.

  1. There’s a lot that my students aren’t used of doing. Speaking up in class is one of them.

Don’t get me wrong, they weren’t silent. Throughout the class, a couple of class clowns usually chimed in with their limited English – and I’m really glad they did! However most students only spoke a lot about the subject in Korean or to me individually (and had great things to say!), but they were awkward and uncomfortable when sharing with the whole class – even a tiny class of eight! I’d hoped to get them all comfortable speaking English in front of each other by the end of class, but in the end I felt I didn’t give them enough time/practice.

  1. A Confession.

I kind of lost control on the last day of camp.

In my defense, there were other factors that led to this. Since it was my last day of camp and the last day I’d be at school until February, my coteachers wanted to go out to lunch together. We got back to school late – they’d finished their classes in the morning so they weren’t late – and I rushed to unlock the classroom door for my students. We were already planning on having a “goodbye party” since it would be our last class, so I encountered my students in the hallway with armfuls of snacks. “Teacher! Six minutes late!”

“I’m sorry! The other teachers took me away for lunch!” I gave as my excuse. “Set up the tables so we can all sit together, okay?” I instructed, before rushing off to get my supplies and the snacks I’d brought.

When I said we’d have a “party” the last day, I didn’t mean we’d do nothing but eat snacks for two hours. That may have been what we did.

I returned to the classroom to find my students seated around a middle row of desks, snacks all opened and some preliminary munching already underway. I dubiously set up my powerpoint, but they were already gone, too excited about snacks. I too was impressed with how much they brought. So I whittled the day’s activities down to “rolling paper” – where students write notes to each other in yearbook fashion – requiring them to write to every classmate in English. That one student (see observation #2) commented to a friend that class wouldn’t last two hours today, probably 1 hour, or maybe even 30 minutes. However I was surprised to find that even after everyone was too full for more snacks and had finished their rolling papers, she was the one still writing. After cleanup, we finished class right on time.

And that was the conclusion of my first and only winter camp.

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