Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Korean Elementary Schools, what they're made of

Unlike American elementary schools, Korean schools have a distinct look. "Korean school spotted," is on of my favorite in-my-head catch phrases when exploring a Korean city. It's an insanely easy and comforting game haha. 

A massive, dirt playground is a key feature. Doubling as a soccer field, a track, a performance-dance space, a bus drop-off and pick-up area, and a parking lot for parents on special days, all the Korean elementary schools have one. Bordering its outside edges are monkey bars, slides, swings, and other playground equipment. Doam and Doji also have basketball courts. Trees and statues of various Korean figures, such as King Sejong, line the side of the dirt playground that the main school building sits on.

Doam Elementary School 

A roofed pavilion or stage distinguishes the prairie-style main school building's front side and is used during special events like Sports Day and the first day of school ceremony for announcements and MC-ing. The building structure itself is pretty plain but has large windows to let in lots of sunshine when the smog is willing. Permanent and colorful posters name the school and inspire with sayings like, "Choosing what is right and good instead of living by my feelings." 

Walk inside the main entrance and the trophy cases displaying the school's various accomplishments - soccer wins and academic awards - greet you. The teacher and visitor shoe lockers are close by. Every morning I change from my outdoor shoes into my indoor ones. The teachers' room is the heart of the school; at Doam and Doji, the vice principal and two or three staff that I think of as secretaries work here. This is where school guests are welcomed and staff meetings take place. It also serves as a staff lounge area with free coffee and tea available all day.  

Student Indoor Shoe Rack
Teacher Indoor Shoe Rack

Moving into the school's hallways, shelves for the students' outdoor shoes are built into the walls outside each classroom. The classrooms at Doam and Doji have two doors, one at the front of the classroom and one at the back. Sliding chalkboards or big white boards are customary. All the classrooms at Doam also have flatscreens that can project powerpoints, youtube videos, and other media. The desks are very unsatisfactory to me. Growing up, I saw it as punishment to have a desk whose lid didn't open but was instead a dark shelf one had to slide notebooks and books out of. An organizational nightmare, these are Korean desks. The desk chairs are separate entities with adjustable backs that are quite comfortable. 

The lunchrooms at Doam and Doji are their own buildings. Strangely, we don't have to change into our outdoor shoes to walk to lunch; I guess that patch of "outside" is kept extra clean. There are no lunch tickets or lunch numbers (my lunch is automatically deducted from my salary), but like in America, there are lunch trays and lunch ladies that dish out the day's food. We all sit at cafeteria-style tables that can easily be folded up for storage. Except for the occasional yogurt drink, no beverage is served with lunch. There are drinking fountains at Doam and water coolers at Doji if one is thirsty after the spicy-salty goodness of Korean eats.

The lunchroom routine is probably the most efficient and consistent aspect of Korean school management, and I very much appreciate that stability (something I realized when us teachers ate out almost every day the week before classes started -- it got really tiring with plans changing and trying to decide who should drive me, etc.). The metal lunch trays, chopsticks, and spoons are washed daily and all the food waste is put into a massive, food-only plastic tub to be composted. There are no napkins, just "toilet paper" dispensers located by the doors that people use to wipe their faces when they're finished. Doji even has mirrors by theirs. It's a good system with very little material waste. 

Metal on metal on metal
As far as the school day goes, I'm still confused about how it all works. At Doam, the students' days start in their homeroom at 8:30AM, where they learn all the basic subjects. English and science are the two main subjects that I know of that are taught in classrooms outside the homerooms. Music and other special classes take place after lunch. I heard that Doam is very lucky to have a music program; it's not common for public schools to offer music, and students would normally have to go to a music hagwon for lessons. Around 2:30PM is when "normal" school is over (I learned about this because I share a printer with the 5-2 class and I'm supposed to wait until after school to print). Students either go to hagwons or stay at Doam for extra classes, like my after school English class. 

The "babysitting" program at Doam is fascinating to me. The babysitting teachers have their own classrooms, which are really like small apartments. The classrooms have a resting area with small beds, a living room area with books, games, and a TV, and an eating area with a working kitchen. Some parents work late so Doam has this program in place. I was so confused the first time I was forcibly invited to eat dinner at school, because that just wouldn't happen in America. I enjoy every opportunity I have to talk and eat with the babysitting teachers and the kids. 

That is the basic structure, inside and out, of the Korean schools I work in and have visited. I like that the elementary schools are cookie-cutter type of buildings -- it's like seeing a Starbuck's or a McDonald's. I'm not exactly sure why the familiarity elicits such glee from me. Maybe it's the thought that I'd know exactly how to draw a Korean elementary school should it ever come up in Pictionary -- yeah, that's pretty much it. 

1 comment:

  1. This is a great post Abby - I'll have to link to it when I add more Teaching in Korea 101 stuff to my blog. I was just in a daycare classroom for the very first time last week when I had to go there to teach my after school English class (they normally come to the English room). Yeah, I couldn't believe there was a bed (and a kid sprawled out, sleeping face down on there during the whole class!). And the sink/fridge for snacks - very handy!