If you’re new to the Korean teaching scene then there is something you may not have heard of yet, but you’ve definitely experienced it, desk warming. Desk warming is best described as that feeling of desperate, mind numbing, butt flattening boredom you have when waiting for the bell to ring, for school to end, and for freedom to be yours again at last. It’s a time honored tradition in Korean schools, English teachers do it, the Korean teachers do it, and it doesn’t seem to serve any real purpose other than making education officials feel good. “Our teachers are at school 24/7, I say! That’s dedication!” No, maybe the first two weeks of straight desk warming were dedicated and productive, but now we’re all painting our nails and watching Netflix.
Let me back up, desk warming occurs daily in my experience, but it might not in yours. Desk warming are the long hours where you sit at your desk with very little to do, for hours at a time. Its massive stretches of time that can really make you question a lot about your purpose and value to the education system, and also its effectiveness (who wants to pay someone to just laze around?). In my experience, I have a shared office with the Vice-Principal sitting behind me and one of my co-teachers sitting across from me. Unlike other, less supervised NETs (that’s native English teachers), I can’t go on quick excursions into the mountains around my school, so I have no physical escape from this torture. At least, that was my attitude initially, after about two months of 8 hour days desk warming during Winter Vacation, I have learned to value desk warming and I want to share how.
I tried filling my time with schoolwork by working on an online Masters (actually working on two) and in the end all I got was a headache and an anxiety disorder. You try converting a 14 hr. time difference into work, school, and a social life. Let me know if you figure it out. Instead of trying to conquer my future, I decided cut back and take a break and focus on the present.
Step 1: Lesson Plan
So I planned ahead making power points to introduce new vocabulary, grammar points, and activities for class. If I had more resources in my particular office (or if I knew where they were), I would do more interactive lessons. Frankly, I have 40 minutes to cover the asinine textbook material and whatever cultural or grammar corrections that each lesson needs. It may make me a bad teacher in the eyes of some, but I’d rather see my students smile and attempt an English phrase in a classroom activity then smother them with more worksheets. It’s important that us Westerners remember that the pressures for students here are similar to what we experienced as kids, but way more intense. Korean culture has had a thing for studying for centuries. Your students are stressed out, and say this because it’s the one thing all native English speaker teachers share. Our students are tired and “researchers found more than half the Koreans age 11 to 15 reported high levels of stress in their daily lives. That’s a higher percentage of stressed out kids than in any of the 30 other developed nations that are part of the OECD, or Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development” (Hu NPR). I’m not saying lesson plan, but don’t do your job. I’m just advising future teachers or even present teachers in South Korea to keep this little fact in mind. Instead of making English class another stressor, try to create lessons that encourage a low-stakes and comfortable learning environment.
Step 2: Start a Language Club
You’ll probably be asked, if you work in a public school, to host a conversation club for the teachers. Say yes, pick a time and date that works for you, try and get it during your desk warming in the afternoon, and have fun. My English Club meets irregularly on Mondays during the last hour of the work day. A few of the older teachers showed up at first and asked me questions about word usage, but broke off as we got further into the school year. By the end I only had the younger teachers, but we had more fun discussing things like dating culture and Pokémon. Oh and gossiping about our students, turns out that’s a thing no matter where you go. 😉
Step 3: Take breaks
It’s completely acceptable to take a walk around the campus after lunch at my school. I try to take advantage of it whenever the weather is nice. There are student gardens that are right outside the teachers office, so I also will go for a quick jaunt around there (call my Mom at home sometimes too) just to clear my head when I need. After school the chance of meeting kids is higher, but it really helps break the monotony on the slow days.
Hu, Elise. “The All-Work, No-Play Culture Of South Korean Education.” NPR. NPR, 15 Apr. 2015. Web. 12 Feb. 2017.