Tuesday, March 9, 2010

[you're walking cross the campus // cruel professor, studying romances]

(List style, because my personal rule is I don't have to deal with transitions until I can sleep past five in the morning.)

-- Last Tuesday was my first day of work and it was about as awkward as I though it was going to be. Last year my co-teacher met me before work my first day, but since Nicole doesn't live in Seongnam, I made my own way to work and stood in the parking lot looking foreign until someone took pity on me and showed me to the vice principal's office, where I sat awkwardly, surreptitiously tried to fix my hair and chatted in broken English/Korean with one of the soldiers* who serves as the general handyman for the school. I was eventually taken to meet the principal and introduced along with the other new teachers over the school broadcast system. Then Nicole showed me the English Zone and my office, where I sat until the faculty meeting that afternoon. I've always through faculty meetings were a waste of time and apparently I didn't hide my boredom quite well enough because after fifteen minutes, the head teacher told me I could go back upstairs of my office. I would feel guilty, only I'm not. I couldn't understand a word being said and they're lucky all they got were glazed looks and yawns into the back of my hand.

-- Last year I took the bus to school, but this year I'm close enough to walk. Unfortunately, my school is towards the top of a steep hill overlooking Seongnam. (I'd have a great view if only Korean cities weren't so god-awful ugly.) The walk to school is a bit awful. The weather is hovering around freezing when I leave in the morning and I'm still a touch sweaty when I get to my office. It's going to be killer this summer. I suspect I can catch a bus at least part of the way up, though. I'll have to investigate more when the weather warms up.

An Office With a View
View to the left: out across Seongnam

An Office With a View
View to the right: main gates and playground, with bonus White Skies of Seoul!

-- My classroom is so fancy! My classroom last year was not so fancy. And by not so fancy, I mean I had to jury rig my computer with a paper clip and a pair of pliers to get the CD-ROM drive open. This year, I have a giant touch screen, an interactive white board and a magical lectern that has to be turned on in at least three different places. I keep forgetting I have a touch screen and activating videos or flipping to the next slide in my presentation when all I want to do is point to something. I also have a separate English Zone, which means I won't have to compete over the noise from the music class across the hall. (I'm going to miss that, actually. The music teacher and I both enjoyed trying to see whose class could be louder.) There are actually enough seats for all the students and in the back of the classroom, there are two smaller rooms called Dream Zone and Happy Zone. They each have a TV, computer and couch, and I have no idea what they're for.

My Classroom
o hi thar, Minsu. icu thar, lurkin on mah smartboard

-- My office, which I share with Nicole, is attached to the classroom. (I have two other co-teachers, but I'm not sure what their exact positions are. Nicole is the head of the English department, though, and I am her problem.) It's much smaller than my office last year, but this office actually has heat**, which evens things out. I do feel guilty sharing an office though, since the Korean teachers are super swamped with paperwork and I always end up with a lot of free time. I have have a couple hours of prep time in the afternoon, and one forty minute lesson (that I've already taught once last year) just doesn't take that much time to plan, but I don't want to goof off too obviously, at least during my first month.

My Office
My office. Pro: has heat. Con: has someone besides me in it. Pro: did I mention there is heat. Con: the curtains helpfully label things commonly found in a city (smokestacks, bench, street tree), which reminds me of kindergarten.

-- One of the legitimate uses of my free time is going through all the teaching materials that the former native teacher left behind, deciding what I think is good enough to reuse and adding the good stuff in my admittedly overly complex filing and naming system. Since all the public schools have the same curriculum and a projector for the computer, there's plenty file sharing between teachers. Teacher upload their files online and other teachers can browse through the archives for each lesson. I downloaded tons of materials last year, so when I made something I thought was decent, I always uploaded it. As I'm going through the files my predecessor left behind, I keep finding things I made last year, which is hilarious and meta and also really flattering. I worked really hard on some of those, and it's nice to know that other people thought they were decent too.

-- I went into Seoul to meet Siobhain for dinner Thursday***. I was on the train, watching the lights reflect on the Han and biting my lip as I giggled along to a Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me! podcast, and I was hit by this feeling of homecoming. I must have been in the exact same position dozens of times last year, heading into Seoul for the afternoon and trying not to make a fool of myself by laughing out loud on the subway. Being back in Korea is familiar, but not. The lights and the language and crowds are the same, and I remember what it's like to attract attention walking down the street just because I look different, but the neighborhood and the school and the students are all new. I'm remembering how hard earned my familiarity of Ansan was. I'm realizing that I'm going to have to start all over again, and in the midst of all the new, it was nice to be reminded that somethings haven't changed and I will always be that weird 외국인 who can't stop laughing on the train.

-- I spent last week observing English class. Turns out, the only thing more boring than teaching five identical classes in a row is watching someone else teach five identical classes in a row. I started actually teaching yesterday, which made the day go much faster, although teaching five versions of a lesson "How Are You?" is still pretty mind numbing. (Turns out, every single one of my students is either fine or so-so, except for the one kid who was very angry he missed lunch.) I have three co-teachers: Nicole who teachers third and fourth grade, Yong Eun who teaches sixth grade and a fifth grade teacher who no one formally introduced me to, despite the fact that we taught five classes together yesterday. Yong Eun and the fifth grade teacher spent a lot of the class translating into Korean, which I am not a fan of, but I hoping that after the first few classes, they back off and let me teach. We'll see what happens.

*Korea has a two year mandatory military service for all men over the age of eighteen, but not all conscripts end up as soldiers. Some men end up in what's called "Public Service Agents" positions and are assigned to schools or other government agencies. My school has two soldiers working here.

**By heat, I mean that my office isn't *actually* freezing, not that it's warm. Koreans just don't heat schools. My students all come to class still bundled up in their coats and hats and I'm wearing my coat and hand warmers. The difference is that I'm comfortable so long as I bundle up, as oppose to last year when it didn't matter how many layers I wore, I still lost feeling in my extremities sitting in my office.

***We had Indian food, which, I know, but Indian food - primarily that it is delicious - was my big culinary discovery last year. (Well, that and I gave up any pretense of having standards and just started eating garlic cloves whole. What, it's Korea. Everyone here reeks of garlic. It's my favorite thing about this country!)

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