Category Archives: Teaching Kindergarten

Team Building

Being a head teacher now it’s become my responsibility to lead most of our faculty meetings and to try and improve relations between foreign teachers and the school.  One of the best ways to improve a work environment is to improve the relationships between coworkers– and one of the biggest problems at our school is the physical and cultural divide between faculty members.  Our building is actually split down the middle between the 4-5-year-old classes and the 6-7-year-old classes, and of course our staff is made up of both Koreans and westerners.

Today was our monthly long meeting for September and I was in charge of planning it once again.  If you remember, last month we did a Teachers Workshop and it was mostly a disaster– nobody wanted to be there and half the staff was griping and grumbling throughout.  I decided we needed to do something goofy to get everyone on their feet and interacting with each other in a friendlier way, so I picked the theme of team building!  I have fond memories of summer camp that gave me the idea.  It’s been a busy week so I didn’t actually get to plan or prepare anything until the last minute, but it actually went over really well.  I am really pleased tonight.

To start out, we did an ice-breaker where everyone had to fill out a survey with questions such as:

  • Have you ever gone bungee jumping?
  • Were you born after 1987?
  • Do you speak more than 2 languages?

We had to find someone who could answer “yes” to each question, but we couldn’t list the same person more than once.  When I passed out the paper everyone looked at it with a scowl but once we stood up and started asking each other (and it was announced there would be prizes), everyone eagerly talked to one another– and I met some people I’ve seen around the building but never talked to before.  Everyone was in a good mood after that activity, so I was really pleased!

After that we played Two Truths and a Lie.  Everyone split up into teams by their age group and I pulled names from a hat.  If your name got pulled you had to say two truths and a lie about yourself, while each team tried to figure out the lie.  Lies correctly guessed got the team a point, and everyone on the winning team received a prize.  Again everyone was skeptical at first but we learned some unique facts about our co-workers and it went really well in the end.

Last we split up into even smaller groups and played the human-knot game.  Everyone was skeptical (always skeptical!) but once they understood the concept they all tried it.  I was so pleased to see everyone was enthusiastic and cheerful.  Generally long-meeting days are a drag and everyone leaves pretty resentful about having had to stay late.

Most of the time I don’t, but today I felt like a good leader that could actually help make our school community a friendlier place.

How the Haircut Went Over

I am really excited about my new haircut for myself.  If you don’t know, I just went from hair down my back to about an inch in length.  Almost everyone who knows me well says it suits me and was excited that I went for it, but in Korea it’s a different matter– and in fact that’s why it took me so long to decide to cut it all off.  I’m not exactly that blonde beautiful barbie look that hagwons want for their kindergarten teachers.

When I got to school today all of the American and Canadian teachers were really excited and said they love it.  Some of the Korean teachers gave good responses too, though most just gave a polite smile and made really neutral comments like, “you cut your hair! wow!”

That’s the kind of thing I say to my kids when they are looking for compliments about their looks.

“Teacher, look at my dress!”

“Wow, it’s a purple dress!”

Anyway, the students don’t hold anything back.  A few students were really sweet and knew what they were supposed to say. “Teacher is beautiful!” but most of them just said, “Teacher, why??” and, “What happened??” The biggest effect that I noticed today was that nobody would listen to me in class today because they were so riled up about my haircut.  I really hope that dies down because it was impossible to get through a lesson!

Before and After:

Books about Kindergarten

I just started reading a book called Kindergarten: A Teacher, Her Students, and a Year of Learning by Julie Diamond. Occasionally I feel inspired to buy new books about teaching because I tend to feel insecure and a bit lost at times at my job.  I’m here trying to be a legitimate teacher but I have no actual training and nobody to talk to except others in the same boat as me.

Half of my experience here seems to be dealing with living in another country and teaching students a new language, and the other half is just teaching about life.  I feel that I’ve got the English teaching part down– my students continue to learn and improve their English and I feel pretty satisfied with that progress.

The kindergarten teacher part is what needs work.  Everything I read, of course, is written by teachers or ‘experts’ from western countries, and it’s difficult not to feel like everything I am doing at my job, mostly due to the narrow confines my school has permitted me to teach in, is completely wrong.  Reading this book I am starting to think we should just chuck all of our curriculum out of the window, make larger classrooms filled with art supplies, tinker toys, bits of nature and and a whole lot of picture books and just let the kids have at it all day.  I would certainly feel more comfortable with that anyway because I went to a Montessori school for all of my early education.

An English hagwon in Korea couldn’t be more different than what this book describes.  Our days are scheduled down to the tiniest details.  We can never veer off schedule, there is never time for student discussion or student-guided exploration of a topic.  We spend 90% of class time at a desk with students listening to a teacher, repeating, and completing work.  And they’re 5 years old by western age, remember.  Even our art lessons aim for students to create exactly what the teacher’s sample looks like.  There is no room for creativity, to say the least, and there is no room for exploration.  This is not the first time I’ve felt this way– basically, I feel like our school is missing the point.

At the same time it’s hard to argue with the results.  Our students can read at an absurdly early age– and they can read in two languages!  They can write, they can do math far beyond what kids in the states are doing.  It is also true that I am just seeing these exciting results without seeing what lies down the road for them developmentally.  The sad truth is that by age 6 they will be at school 2x longer than American kids, and within a couple of years they won’t see the sun again except out of the window of a classroom.

How can I help my students have more of a rich experience?  I regret now all of the lunch breaks I’ve spent going out instead of taking advantage of their only unscheduled time by showing them new, unscheduled things.  I wish we could take nature walks.  I wish our room wasn’t the size of a cubicle so we could actually have stations around the room with things for them do peruse and discover.  I wish our library wasn’t just a pile of unwanted, donated book remnants.  As soon as I feel like I’m getting a hang of things I end up feeling like the job we’re doing is just barely enough.  There’s only so much I can do inside of this education system though, as an outsider, so I’m looking forward to going home and seeing how different things can be there.

The longer I teach the more appreciation I have for its importance, and the more enthusiasm I have for trying again the next year.

Some other books I’ve read since starting teaching that I found helpful:

  • Playful Parenting by Lawrence J. Cohen
  • Setting Limits with your Strong-Willed Child: Eliminating Conflict by Establishing CLEAR, Firm, and Respectful Boundaries by Robert J. Mackenzie
  • Kindergarten: Tattle-Tales, Tools, Tactics, Triumphs and Tasty Treats for Teachers and Parents by Susan Case
  • The First-Year Teacher’s Survival Guide: Ready-To-Use Strategies, Tools & Activities for Meeting the Challenges of Each School Day by Julia G. Thompson
  • What Kindergarten Teachers Know: Practical and Playful Ways for Parents to Help Children Listen, Learn, and Cooperate at Home by Holewa, Lisa, Rice, Joan
I would really love some recommendations.  Some of the parenting books listed above really improved my ability to discipline effectively and general classroom management/keeping kids engaged and enthusiastic.  I could always use some more tips that are kindergarten specific though!