CAMP GEORGE, South Korea -- Being a Department of Defense Education Activity teacher isn’t easy. Admission to the teaching program could take up to two years to finalize.
With relatively smaller school sizes, it’s advantageous to be certified in more than one field of education. Multiple recommendations from colleagues are a necessity as well.
Such qualifications and pressure could be mounted on a teacher with a family and prove just too high of a barrier for some.
Britta Jensen, Daegu American School teacher, lived in a small apartment in New York City when she was offered to teach in South Korea.
“I was lucky. I’m single and I didn’t have a whole lot of stuff,” said Jensen. She was able to leave without much hassle.
Jensen has been teaching for seven years, with three at DAS. She remembered a time when she did not aspire to be a teacher and how she found her niche in teaching others.
“I went to Fordham University for acting performance and directing theater. Originally my plan was being a performer, theater director, and playwright,” Jensen said.
“After September 11, when I was a senior at Fordham, the jobs very much dried up in the arts. So, I got a job as a drama therapist and I worked in the research unit for post traumatic stress disorder at Columbia.”
Her new job at Columbia University allowed her to receive free tuition credit, pushing her to consider the field of teaching while also holding on to her theater roots. Eventually a plan was set, she would teach during the day and direct plays at night.
“I kind of looked at teaching as more of a day job, and that changed quickly,” said Jensen. “I kind of got into it. I really enjoyed the kids I worked with.”
These kids were part of the inner New York City system and it didn’t make life easy.
“I got some tough, tough, tough kids,” Jensen said. “I had kids who were violent, not well behaved, but I still enjoyed myself.”
Working in the New York system for four years, Jensen felt it was time for a change.
“I wanted to be in a different teaching environment. I wanted to be back overseas.”
Jensen preferred overseas because she herself is a product of the Department of Defense Dependents School system. She graduated in Yokonika, Japan, from Kinnick High School.
For Jensen, DoDDS also gave an ideal teaching environment. In DAS, classes are rarely large. With a smaller size, she believes it gives teachers more time to help each student.
Now with several years under her belt at Daegu, her average day is busy. Every morning she wakes up at six and checks her e-mail.
When she comes to school, Jensen parks her car right next to her classroom, a long, slender temporary building which is isolated from the rest of the main school facilities. As of now, her classroom is nearly surrounded by an ongoing construction site.
Inside the classroom, a Fordham banner hangs near her desk. In the back, there are usually several freshly painted pickets and backdrops made by her Drama class for the afterschool musical she directed called “Newsies.”
Besides teaching several classes, Jensen is also the junior class sponsor.
This gives her responsibility over the school’s prom, which by tradition is organized by the junior class.
The biggest hurdles for her every day is what most teachers have to face, no matter where they are in the world.
“I think some challenges are getting students motivated about the things you know they need, because most of them are interested in playing videos or getting on Facebook,” Jensen said.
“Being the king of Facebook is not going to give you a great job, unless you want to go work for Facebook,” Jensen said.
“And you kind of have to have more knowledge than making really great posts.”
Jensen feels that the greatest hurdle Daegu students have to face is not becoming despondent.
“Because you move around a lot so you already think that you are at a great disadvantage, so the grades does not really matter,” Jensen said.
“I notice a lot of apathy, really nice students who were really not interested in going for the gold,” Jensen said.
She believes a good job requires good grades, “Grades are number one.”
In spite of all this hard work and time, Jensen finds her teaching career very rewarding.
“There are moments where you see a student make a breakthrough and that’s when it’s worth it.” Mentioning a recent incident that inspired her, “Ten or 15 students came in to see me for tutoring and all of them were here because they wanted to be here.
They weren’t here because I made them; they weren’t here for the extra credit. They were here because they wanted to learn something.”
Jensen’s plans for the future are not set in stone.
“I think my plan is to make it a lifetime employment. But I think that might change because I really would like to be a published novelist.”
For the time being, Jensen tells us that she is content working alongside the dedicated group of DODDS teachers at the Daegu American Highschool.