Lost in Korea: 5 Things I’ve Learned By Teaching Kindergarteners

Solo Travel, south korea, Working Abroad — By on February 28, 2012 at 12:00 pm

by Kissairis Munoz

Because the Korean school year runs from March through February, my two kindergarten classes graduated up to elementary school last week. Watching them across the stage in their little graduation gowns to get their diplomas, I have to admit that I was misty eyed. After spending every weekday with them for eight months, my babies were moving on.

While I’ll be teaching only elementary school kids for my last four months in Korea, kindergarteners have a special place in my heart. Teaching kindergarten here in Korea is different than teaching the older kids. At my school, I spent about two hours a day, Monday through Friday, with each of my kindergarten classes, far more time than I spend weekly with any of the older kids. And with kindergarten comes a lot of extras — holiday projects, bad field trips, writing and practicing a play complete with two songs and dances that they’ll perform for their parents.

That said, as someone who’s the youngest child by quite a few years and, aside from a handful of babysitting jobs and tutoring gigs in college had never really been exposed to kids too much, it was also such a fun experience. So, as someone with no formal teaching experience, without further adieu:

5 Things I’ve Learned by Teaching Kindergarteners

1. Younger kids don’t care that they can’t speak English. No verbs? No vocab? No problem. You can engage kindergarteners in conversation just by asking them silly questions. They love telling you about their weekend or what movie they saw or the pizza they made with their parents. They don’t care if they don’t know the words — they will figure out how to tell you what they need to say, whether it’s through hand motions or drawing you a picture.

2. Kindergarteners are less shy than their older siblings. I’m no expert but Korean kids seem a lot more shy to me than other children I’ve worked or met. I don’t doubt that the language and cultural differences play a large role in this. In my classes with older students, the kids are a lot more timid. They get shy about letting you know if they don’t understand something, they often clam up if they can’t think of the correct word for something or will pretend they know what’s going on when they clearly have no clue.

That’s definitely not the case with the kindergarteners. A few of their favorite lines are “Teacher, help!”, “Teacher, slower!” and “Teacher, I don’t know.” Sometimes it’s because they are lazy and just want the answers but most times they actually do want your help or want to understand how to do work through something. It’s really refreshing to be asked for help rather than trying to guess.

3. Stickers are a way of life.

I wish the sticker system could be instituted in life past kindergarten everywhere. If a kid is acting up, you take stickers away. If they’re behaving well or being extra helpful to their classmates, they get stickers. Every few weeks, they redeem their sticker charts for prizes that they select. It’s simple, efficient and genius. Everyone knows where he stands. Wouldn’t this be great to have at jobs?

proud graduate!

4. I know (almost) everything I need to teach them.  While I might struggle explaining how the past perfect tense works to a classroom full of 11 year olds, I have mastered rhyming words and books like “Picky Nicky” and “Bear Rides a Bike” quite well. And I can still do basic addition and subtraction! There’s something to be said for the ego boost of having all the answers to questions. Well, most of the time. My kids seem to know an awful lot about dinosaurs and have corrected me on plant eaters vs. meat eaters once or twice.

5. They’re just more fun. I have no idea when I stopped reading picture books, when coloring pages weren’t as exciting or when a field trip to the farm was the greatest day ever. It’s so fun getting to do these things again. When I’m having a bad morning, it’s my kids can sense it and will hug me or try to make me laugh. And just when I am ready to kill them all, one of them bursts into song or does a funny dance and I want to squeeze them and take pictures. Not too many jobs come with this sort of free entertainment.

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