A Month Has Passed


It’s been just over a month since I began my career as an ESL teacher and this week was the first time I taught some classes alone. A month ago, being faced with such a task would have terrified me but now, I just take it in my stride. In fact, some classes turned out better than when I have a co teacher with me.

One thing I have noticed is how much busier I have gotten since I began work. At first, the other teachers just went about their merry business without involving me unless it was absolutely necessary. Now I find them asking me for help, involving me in certain tasks and even asking me to take over some tasks. Initially I was eager to lend a hand since I had so much time to kill…. Now I find myself occasionally avoiding a certain vice principal because it seems like she always has more to ask from me.

Pondering on this drastic change in workload and free time, I decided to go back, and try to figure out where it all changed. In doing so, I came across this entry from my journal (a journal I no longer keep due to having no free time!):

“Monday, 14 May 2012:

The day started off dull and gloomy, with the crisp island air holding that faint smell of rain still to come.

I got to school at 8:30 and prepared myself for my first period, only to find that I had no lesson, instead the grade 3’s were writing a test in which I need to supervise. Well I guess I could hold out for one more lesson. By now it’s been two weeks and I had yet to formally teach a class. What started out as anxiousness has now turned into frustration; I just want to get it started so I could get a feel for this teaching thing. I decided to take this time to address some admin issues I had with the school. I had not yet received my settlement money and my funds were dwindling; I also needed a year schedule and a bed. These were all ongoing issues that I have been trying to sort out since my arrival. Little did I know that this would lead to quite a busy day for me, and all other parties involved.


First period seemed to drag on forever, standing at the back of the class I felt more like a student being punished than a teacher on duty. The class was dead quiet as they took their test. This made the 45 minute lesson seem painfully long. Even my co teacher Mr. Yoon had to sit down and space out for a while. I think we both simultaneously breathed a sigh of relief when the end of class music played. Immediately afterward, I had second grade with Kim Rami. We hurried to class because she still needed to show me where the projector controls were. Finally, I got my official first attempt at teaching. I had a Grade 2 class so opted to simply go with one of Joseph’s (the previous co-teacher) lessons, making my preparation fairly straight forward. Kim Rami started the lesson by getting the students in order and making some announcements. This took about 10 minutes, which affected my lesson plan since I had planned to use the entire lesson. I figured I would just go on until the time was over, rather have more material than time, or so I’ve read. The lesson itself went well, even the game I played started off with full participation, but after a while, I realised my first mistake, I made the groups too big! I ended up only teaching the front half of the class because they were the only ones actually participating. Well at least I have one point to improve on already. For the most part, the lesson went by really well, those that were interested, participated well. I only had a few problem kids with whom Kim Rami took measures to discipline.

I had a few free periods to catch up on some emails, have lunch, check my facebook account and check up on the blog. This was however disrupted by Kim Rami explaining to me why they weren’t able to pay me my settlement allowance yet. To be honest, even she didn’t seem to understand what was going on. This announcement was followed by me running to the finance office a few times, then being asked to run home to fetch my passport so that they can try and rectify things. I guess my change of tone really got them in gear. It also got me running around trying to get them the correct information. I had a class after lunch and cut it very close with my passport issues. I actually had to run home, get soaked in the steady rain and run back to school, copy my passport and then grab my stuff and head to class, all in the space of 7minutes. I did make it, and thankfully, due to my new found island life fitness, was not nearly as out of breath as I had expected to be.

Then it was my last class for the day, class 1-1. From what I gather, 1-1 is the best first grade class, just as 2-1 and 3-1 are the best in their grades. This class is well motivated and almost all the kids are willing to participate and help the lesson go forward, how I wish all my classes were this good. During this class, I started off with some drills, then taught them a few words, and introduced a game. Learning from my last class, I ensured that the teams were small enough to manage, and to allow everyone in the class to participate.  This class worked out really well and I even got a high-five from Kim Rami afterward.

I was feeling good. “I can do this” I thought to myself as I locked up the classroom for the day. When I got to the teachers office however, I was met with some surprising news. I was to meet the principal in his office…. Damn, what did I do now?

With Kim Rami at my side as interpreter, we sat anxiously in the principal’s office as he put on his coat, sat down at the head of the table, and opened up his diary. I wondered what this was all about while the principal rattled off to my co teacher in a very calm, almost mellow voice. They discussed and discussed, not pausing much, until eventually Kim Rami explained, “The school master wants to know how many hours you work every week.” I then briefly discussed my hours with Rami and she went back to conversing with the principal. After more discussion, she tells me that the principal wants to maximise my working hours since I am supposed to be working 21 periods a week, and currently, I am not. I thought to myself, “Damn, this is because I’ve been riding them about my bed and money!!” Turns out, I now have 4 more classes in a week, every morning before official start of school. 2 Advanced English with a mixed group of the best English students in the school, and 2 lessons of private English tuition with the principal himself, after he sits in on some of my classes. Eish, talk about pressure! He is also apparently going to come to my home to pay me a visit (no idea why). On top of all this, I also need to create weekly worksheets for each grade, to ensure they are progressing. I suppose there will be no more desk warming for me. On a positive note, this should prove to be quite an interesting and rewarding experience where I actually get to give back to the school that removed me from the doldrums of the Johannesburg rat race. Oh, and my bed is being ordered 🙂

After that small shock to the system, and realizing that this is work and no longer a holiday, I got down to doing some research to see if I could find some worksheets to adapt for my cause. Turns out there are, although I will have to alter my perceptions of this job a bit, and get more serious about it.

To end off the day, I got news that I will not have school tomorrow since it was Teachers Day, and then I got whisked away from my desk by one of the male teachers (who had taken it upon himself to call us friends), to enjoy some rice cakes given to the teachers as a treat from one of the parents. It seems like getting gifts from parents is an almost daily occurrence at this school!”

Since then, I have been constantly busy at school, if not teaching, I am testing students, when I am not doing that, I have worksheets, admin and other random tasks that occupy almost all of my time. No wonder I don’t post as often as my better half!

Even though this new career has proved to be a decent amount of effort, I consider myself to be in a far better position than at my previous place of employment.

That place where I slaved away, like a robot, churning out drawings that I had no input on and with designs that I didn’t always like, in what could only be described as a back room sweat shop. Woe to the life of a desperate young architect in South Africa.

Bad experiences aside, I find myself missing my profession. I guess I will always be an architect at heart 🙂


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