Today, March 2, is the first day of the new school year here in Korea.
The Korean school year runs nearly opposite of what it does in the West. School begins at the beginning of March and goes until late December, or sometimes early January. (Christmas and New Years aren’t big deals here, so at public schools we only get the day of off. However, there’s always lunar New Year, which normally consists of a three day mini-vacation!)
You might thus be wondering what exactly we teachers have been doing for the past two months while there were no classes. Lying on a beach in Thailand? Snorkeling in the Philippines?
As part of the public school contract, most teachers have roughly 18-20 vacation days per year, which means that you only have roughly two weeks out of those two months during the winter free to do as you wish. The rest of the time is split between “English camps” and desk warming.
English camps are generally not as exciting as they sound, as there is no actual camping. Generally, the teacher(s) – in this case, me and my Korean co-teacher – plan roughly 3-5 days of fun English activities, normally set to a theme. Because I have never quite gotten over the time in third grade when I dressed up like Harry Potter for Halloween but nobody knew who I was because the first movie wasn’t out yet, my theme this year was “Welcome to Hogwarts.” My students were “Sorted” into different houses and played Quidditch and essentially got to live out all the geeky dreams of my childhood.
I taught two English camps which were virtually identical, just the grade levels were different. One was for third graders and the other (pictured above) was for fourth graders. Each camp lasted one week.
If you’ve been keeping up, that’s only two weeks out of two months, and I had two weeks of vacation, during which time I went to a tiny house in Pyeongchang and watched the Olympics. I thus spent an entire month desk warming.
A lot of people think the idea of desk warming is great – you get paid to do nothing all day! – but the hard truth is that it gets boring pretty darn quick. During desk warming, I sat at my desk from 8:40 to 16:40 every day and did my best to kill time. Sometimes, I was productive. More often than I’d like to admit, I spent eight hours stalking people I went to middle school with on Facebook. The highlight of my day was easily lunch. (I imagine sometimes that desk warming in Korea is exactly what having an office job stuck in a cubicle is like.)
The thing that really, utterly sucks about desk warming is that there are very few people present at school. There are some administrative people, and occasionally another teacher or two, but for the most part, it’s empty as students (and most of the Korean teachers) are all on vacation.
Legend has it that long ago, the foreign teachers had the same vacation as the Korean teachers, which was however long their schools were on vacation. Unfortunately, some people
bitched complained that it was unfair that some schools had more time off than others. As a result of this bitching criticism, the government generally decided it was best if all foreign teachers had the same amount of time off across the board.
This is a prime example of a few people ruining everything for the majority.
I’m thus pretty excited for the new school year to be starting. I’ll have much more productive things to do, and I’m one of those people who likes to feel like a useful human.
Do you have any experience desk warming or teaching camps? What did you do during them? Let me know in the comments!