Last Friday was a very good day for me: it was the last day of Winter Camp at school, and the start of a 5 week holiday. So it’s not surprising that I was in a pretty good mood. But, distracting me from my happiness was the horrible feeling of an entirely achey body, eyes which would barely stay open, and a general ill-feeling. Why? Because after 10 days of Winter Camp, I was exhausted.
I know that Winter Camp will be different for all teachers, depending on where you teach, the camp’s programme, and what age group you’re teaching. For the teachers at my school, it’s quite a tough schedule: 5 classes back-to-back, teaching hyperactive and eager students who have just finished their final year at elementary school and are going to join the middle school in March. And the lessons are active: cooking, sports, arts and crafts, games. So despite teaching the same amount of hours in one week as we would during the regular school year, camp is decidedly more hectic and tiring. Oh, and there’s the fact that it’s a huge deal at the school, with an exceedingly long build-up and sole focus on the foreign teachers. No pressure then.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s fun. I love seeing the fresh, excited new faces. There’s the awkward silence on the first day when none of the students know each other and are too shy to speak. Us foreign teachers are greeted with the same cautious, shy glances that we experienced during the first week of the semester way back in March, as if the students have never seen a Westerner before. But this timidness doesn’t last long, and by the end of the second week (or the second day, in some cases) it has gradually descended into noisy chaos. Which is actually better than the silence, in my opinion.
Last year, I underestimated how demanding the camp schedule was, despite being warned by my Korean co-teachers. So stupidly, I chose to teach cooking. On the bright side, it was a success: delicious food (well, by the students standards, in which cheese/sugar = heaven), no accidents or fire alarms being set off, and happy students. But it was also messy, stressful, and pure chaos. Students love food, and it was great that they consequently loved my class. However, food brings out the spoilt, whiny side of children like I’ve never seen. “Teacher, my turn.” “Teacher, more cheese.” “Teacher, drink.” “Teacher, now.” Seriously. My classroom was amass with rubbish, dirty plates and cutlery, and leftover food, and I never had time to clean as there was never a break. Needless to say by the end of camp I wanted to go to bed and stay there for the whole winter break.
So this year, cooking was off the cards. Instead, I chose art and crafts. Never mind the fact that I’m hopeless at art myself; it would be fun, but hopefully (slightly) less rigorous than cooking. And luckily, it was. There were days when the desks in my classroom were dirty with glue smears, sweeping became an hourly requirement, and I went home everyday with stained clothes. But it was largely successful: nice works of art to display at the end of camp, no-one ate the pasta meant for pasta art (although they did attempt to), and best of all, no-one stabbed themselves during my sewing class (apart from me, actually). Most importantly, the students had fun.
The thing which made me most happy? The fact that my students seemed to love being creative. It’s a well-known fact that Korean students are often taught with the purpose of passing exams, rather than encouraging independent thinking. So it was nice to see them use their imaginations for once. And wow, were they painstakingly careful and considerate when making their art, so much so that my lessons almost always ran late because they hadn’t finished. Plus, something I didn’t know before: Korean children are pretty amazing at art. Sure, there were a few whose work was pretty dreadful (one student was upset when his Pop Art picture of Harry Potter came out looking like Gandhi), but the majority of students were way more talented than I expected.
All in all, it was a good two weeks, but I have to admit that I’m glad it’s over now. It’s something which we teachers don’t exactly look forward to, but feel proud at the end of. When we have the closing ceremony, and watch the obligatory photo-diary of camp, it makes you see the whole experience through rose-tinted spectacles: you forget about the naughty kid who irritated you the entire time, the hours spent organising your lessons, the stress of buying all your materials, and the general effort of being so overly positive and energetic all the time (because ‘camp isn’t proper school, so we can’t be as strict or expect the kids to be as well behaved as they would be in school’).
I even find myself feeling a little nostalgic about the fact I won’t see the students again for a while; they were so sweet when saying ‘goodbye’ and ‘thank you’ that it fills you with warmth, and almost makes you sad that camp is over. Almost…