Winter Camps, Day 1: Herbology

One of the things that comes with the territory of ESL teaching is winter camps.

I’d been hearing about these since before I’d left, but only really started finding out about them a month after arriving – during my EPIK Orientation. What they are, essentially, are week-long “camp” style daycares during the holidays that the kids can (optionally) sign up for. Though the EPIK guest speakers lectured on these for well over two hours, I shall sum up their purpose in four words: KEEP THE KIDS OCCUPIED.

The how of this is, of course, the tricky part. Which is why most foreign teachers look on them with dread.

winter camps are coming

Lots of themes are suggested on the teacher forums: Disney, Western holidays, sports (for the active teachers) – some even do “travel” and make mini passports for the kids to stamp where they’ve gone (ie. what they’ve learned about) each day. Andrea ironically made her winter camp winter themed! (Which she should post about. Ahehem…)

Having had to be a strict follower of our textbooks throughout the semester, I was simultaneously thrilled and terrified about getting the chance to make my own lesson plans. Originally I wanted to do book making. In grade 6, my mom did a workshop at my school in the same fashion and I remember it being so much fun. What kid doesn’t like illustrating their own story and then seeing it bound for them?

Brimming with excitement, I told my co-teacher what I had planned.

“Ahh…..” she said. “I think they will not find that very fun.”

“Oh…really?” I asked, skeptical in my deflated enthusiasm. (The writer in me was balking: who wouldn’t like writing a book?!)

“Yeah, DA” (the teacher before me) “tried something like that and they were…” she seemed too polite to say it.

“…bored?” I offered.

She nodded and I sighed. Back to the cutting board.

So I figured I’d go with travel for the grade 5/6’s and Harry Potter for the 3/4’s. I kept two Word documents open to write lesson plans as the ideas came, and quite quickly the Harry Potter one filled out. The travel one stayed blank. I ran it by my co-teacher again and asked if she thought the 5/6’s would be into a HP theme and she shrugged, seeming less skeptical than about book-making, but not entirely confident either.

“It’s entirely up to you.” Her hands were up in the air: this was my job to cover while she got the end-of-semester stuff together. That’s a green light to me!

The next while was dedicated to gathering supplies, working out the kinks, and coming up with the powerpoints. Conveniently (edit: sarcasm) I forgot my computer charger in Wonju and had to have Andrea mail it to me, much to my panic and distress. But in all, they got done – albeit sometimes with only a day in advance.

But now, you’ve seen the word “Herbology” in the post title, and where is the Herbology I promised to deliver?? Cool your jets, sheesh, so impatient, it’s not like I’m trying to torture you with anticipation or anything…or am I?

So by this time I’m posting, I only have 2 days of winter camp left in my second week, meaning this is all in retrospect. It’ll be the same for the other days, but the advantage of that is having pictures from both 5/6’s and 3/4’s! And I can kill two birds with one stone by talking about the comparison between each day. (Oh god, I’m turning this into an academic paper aren’t I?)

ANYWAY Herbology: Day 1. I’m nervous. I haven’t had any classes for 2 weeks and my confidence in front of the classroom has waned. My comfort around kids has once again decreased. Also it’s my first time spending time with them without a co-teacher to translate. These are grade 5’s and one grade 6er (for 7 in total…they’re less keen than the 15 registered 3/4’s), which means that they’re also more difficult to impress and entertain. Plus this lesson might be really childish for them. Plus I’m nervous. Have I mentioned I’m nervous?

But they arrive, and I have it all set up. I know what I’m doing, which is a good thing.

First, we do the whole celery-in-coloured-water trick so we can watch it change over the week. Except I’m using nappa cabbage instead of celery, because Asia.


The pretty colours!

Then we’re planting seeds. I’m really excited about letting them play with dirt, I feel it’ll be a nice change for them.


The pretty plants with the pretty colours!!

After that I have the first Harry Potter for them to watch!

We get started, except I’ve made one vital error: complete miscalculation of time. Within half an hour I’ve run through everything I meant for them to do in two hours. I’d only planned on starting the movie at 11:00 and it’s barely half past nine. Class is over at 12:10.

To make it worse, the kids are all completely disappointed by the fact that none of the activities have had any instant payoff. Nothing kills the mood more than a lesson in patience.

I feel guilty about starting the movie so soon, so I give them an extended break and figure I’ll play the movie at the end of it. Of course when it gets to that point….I realize that I have the Korean subtitles but not the movie itself.

My utter defeat and panic likely sent off a pheromone that only co-teachers are equipped with senses to detect, because at that perfectly timed moment my co-teacher arrived.

distress(Disclaimer, I’m going to be using a few Hyperbole and a Half pictures; check out her blog, she’s awesome)

“I’ve run out of material,” I tell her. “And the movie’s not working.”

“What’s wrong with it?” she asks.

“It’s absent,” I say.

“Oh,” she replies.

“Help,” I plead.

A pause. “What about your powerpoint games?”

The powerpoint games are from class – which I abhor using because it’s like being in English class. She sees the hesitation in my eyes.

“It’s better to do something than nothing.” She is wise, and right, and I sigh.

Powerpoint games it is.

The whole time, the kids are giving me looks like I’ve personally hired the typhoon to rain on their parade:

I’ve broken their trust – the promise that was made by their homeroom teachers that “English Camp is going to be awesome this year because Marta Teacher is hosting it”! I’m completely terrified that they’re going to pounce on me like wolves.





(More Hyperbole and a half, from one of my favourite posts, “Wolves“.)

I even try showing them The Mysterious Ticking Noise as a slight interlude, but they are not amused.

We play Categories and Connect 4 for an hour.

Do you realize how long an hour is?

It’s long.

The clock has to tick sixty times – SIXTY – before ONE minute is over. The clock ticks, audibly, three-THOUSAND six-HUNDRED times in ONE hour. And the kids make a move in their game every, on average, five seconds. That’s seven-hundred-and-twenty moves, or three-hundred-and-sixty moves per team. In a game that averages about twenty moves before it’s over.




At 12:05, I let them all go. They push out their chairs and drag their listless bodies beyond the confines of the classroom. All except one girl who stays to give me that look. You know the one. It’s filled with so much – disappointment, apathy, fuck-off – that there is no one word to describe it. Or maybe that’s because in truth the emotion has so far surpassed any of the aforementioned words that there isn’t anything there at all to warrant nomenclature. All emotions are dead and gone.

It’s so bad I’ve killed my kids’ feelings.

Disappointed, fed up, exhausted, and generally feeling like I could happily flip some tables myself,

I make it home and fall asleep to the dread that is knowing another 9 days of this are coming.

BUUUUUUUUUUUT it gets better!


Because of my traumatic experience of the prior week’s Herbology lesson, I made a few adjustments: I included balloons (because giving balloons makes you God in elementary school – more on this later), made sure I had the movie, and all was saved.

That’s all for Herbology. Stay tuned for Winter Camps, Day 2: Potions!

In the meantime, I pose this question: have you ever made kids hate you?

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