Saturday, October 30, 2010

NaNoBloMo 2010

It's almost November, which means it's NaBloPoMo time! I tried NaNoWriMo twice in college, but November is a rough month for a student and both times I fell hopelessly behind by the end of the first week. I've had more luck with NaBloPoMo; I participated in 2006-2008 and finishing twice. I barely blogged last November, but I've been planning for NaBloPoMo 2010 for the past month. My personal goal is for each entry to be at least 250 words and to finish my China travelogue and write about my trip to Ulleungdo over Chuseok. I'm also planning on having a week of posts about aspects of Korean culture (for a given definition of "culture" and an idea shamelessly lifted from Matt's Samoa Blog's Cultural Exploration posts), mostly to give myself a break and because I've been looking for an excuse to post pictures of Konglish signs and talk about rock-paper-scissors.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Co-Teacher #10

The fall semester started on August 26th, exactly two months ago, and this is the list of the 5th grade co-teachers* I've taught with so far:
  1. 손알찬 (Son Al Chan) - the substitute teacher from first semester who was only here for the first week of the second semester before Suk Jeong decided she was coming back

  2. Homeroom teachers - taught one week when it turned out that, whoops, Suk Jeong wasn't quite ready to come back

  3. 석정 (Suk Jeong) - the original 5th grade co-teacher who left due to pregnancy complications in May - taught one week before leaving again due to more pregnancy complications

  4. Homeroom teachers - taught one week while a Suk Jeong decided whether she would return or not

  5. 영은 (Yeong Eun) - the 6th grade co-teacher who stepped in and taught the 5th graders for a week before going on maternity leave

  6. Sue - substitute who only taught one week before quitting due to shingles

  7. Homeroom teachers - taught for two weeks while yet another replacement teacher was found

  8. Un-named wimp teacher - quit after two hours, so she barely counts, but she held up the process of finding a sub for several days

  9. Michelle - the latest in a long line of 5th grade co-teachers
People, this is crazypants. It's super stressful for me and counter-productive for the students. The homeroom teachers are annoyed about losing their free period and also, every time the homeroom teachers served as the co-teacher, the student only have English once a week instead of twice a week, and the 5th graders are now weeks behind. However, I do have a new co-teacher. Michelle has some of the best English I've heard in Korea and, more importantly, has made it almost an entire week, knock on wood, oh dear God!

*What is a co-teacher, you ask? Co-teachers are the Korean English teachers. Their exact roll varies by school and individual teacher, but primarily they are in charge of classroom discipline and assisting with the class (usually by providing translations when needed). They are also in charge of the paperwork (including all the paperwork a foreign teacher generates), assessments and exams. At my school, the co-teachers also teaches each grade solo once a week.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Hi Cake Teacher!

I was sitting on the subway this morning, nose in a book as per usual, when all of a sudden I heard a voice say, "HI CAKE TEACHER!" I looked up and standing in front of me was one of my third grade girls, sporting a huge grin. Lurking behind her were three of my 5th grade boys, her brother and two of his friends. Guys, I was north of the river, nearly an hour away from home and on neither of the two subway lines that serve my town. The Seoul National Capital Area has 25 million people, and I run into four of my students on a sparely populated subway car. What are the odds?

I waved to the boys and shook hands with the girl, only she doesn't quite grasp the concept of shaking hands, so we repeatedly laced our fingers together and then rapidly let go, a bit like quickly holding hands ten times in a row. We chatted for a bit - they were on their way to Seoul for the day, something in Korean I didn't catch, lots of fun, Teacher, on Monday class, game? Then they returned to their seats and I returned to my book, but every time I looked up for the rest of the ride, at least one of my students would have an eye on me.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Broadcasting Club

My school has an English broadcasting club. The Seongnam ABN channel, which seems to be a mix of PBS and public access, has a program where elementary school children get the chance to serve as the reporters on an English news show, although news is a bit of a misnomer - there's nothing ground breaking or even recent about the topics. The topics are usually related to school or English education and the students have a month to memorize their reports.

My school's club has five reporters: four girls and one boy, all 6th graders. My co-teacher Nicole is in charge of the broadcasting club, but I write the articles and run the practices. My students have given two reports so far: one in June and one last week. We started practicing for the latest report at the beginning of the semester in September. I wrote the five part article, my co-teacher helped the students translate it and the students came to my classroom during lunch to practice all month to worked on pronunciation and inflection, two things that are next to impossible to teach in a class of 30+ students. I have noticed, however, that I'm so used to Korean accented English that I don't always notice pronunciation mistakes, especially pronouncing the final 's' in plurals and possessives, something my students really struggle with.

Broadcasting Club
Setting up the video camera during practice. From l → r: 임기연, 정정윤, co-teacher Nicole, 조혜령

The most recent report was about the summer English camp. The first section was an interview of the English teacher, me. 한솜, one of the girls, asked me my opinion on Korean food and Korean students. We recorded the interview and showed the tape at the beginning of the ABN broadcast. The other students explained how the camp was run and talked about my family's visit and the particularly interesting activities the different camps did. Of course, only one of the reports actually attended English camp. :) After practice, 기원, the lone boy in the broadcasting club who spends practice with the faintly disguised look of misery of a preteen boy stuck in a room with a gaggle of girls, would bolt, but the girls would stay and talk and talk and talk. I miss seeing them every day, now that this report is over, although I am enjoying having a lunch break again.

Broadcasting Club
박한솜, my interviewer, while we waited for the camera to be set up.

The first week of November, the 6th graders will spend a week at the Seongnam English Village and the last report, which will be given on December 30th, will be about that experience. So far, I've written all the reports, but the students will be responsible for writing their own articles about the English Village. This will be the biggest writing assignment any of the kids have every undertaken, and I foresee a November full of hand holding and editing.

Broadcasting Club
Girls goofing off during practice.

Monday, October 18, 2010

[less than forget // but more than begun // these adventures in solitude never done]

Guys, last week was not a good week. I was sick all week. Just a cold, but the sort of sick where I had to pause in the middle of longer sentences because talking hurt too much to finish, and even though I was so tired my eyeballs hurt, I couldn't sleep. Two of the 4th graders who clean my classroom during lunch, including one of the most annoying kids I've ever had the misfortune of dealing with, were terrible all week and by Friday, they were outright disrespectful. One of the first grade teachers decided that since I'm not a "real" teacher, I clearly have nothing better to do in the afternoons than serve as her personal English tutor/editor. I begrudgingly agreed to edit her application for an English academy and she came back the next day to argue about my corrections. Which, woman, in the epic battle of native speaker vs. beginning learner, my English grammar will always trump your English grammar.

The co-teacher drama, which started the week with a bang, also ground on. On Monday, Sue caught the shingles and quit. By Thursday, my school had found a replacement 5th and 6th teacher, who promptly quit two hours into her first day. I never even met her; I teach 4th grade on Thursdays and she was gone long before lunch. I never did get a good explanation for why she quit. Something about the school wanting her to do things besides teach class, like writing student assessments, making tests, dealing with the endless paperwork that fuels the bureaucracy that is a Korean school and just generally being a productive member of the faculty. Which... yes? I'm just the assistant foreign English teacher and even I'm responsible for things beyond my regular classes. It's probably for the best, since she sounds like she would have been a horrible co-teacher, but it did waste three days that could have spent looking for a teacher who isn't either afraid of work or 5th graders.

All in all, by the time I drug myself home Friday afternoon, I was ready to curl up under my blankets and not come out until Monday. Instead, I woke up on Saturday and took a bus to Siheung to help Marie make wedding invitation. I hung out with awesome people all day and was fed excellent Indian food and shameful cocktails and then crashed on Marie and Greg's floor. Marie made me pancakes Sunday morning and Stitch n' Bitch wandered Hongdae in search of a new meeting place. We found an adorable little knitting café with excellent lighting, knitting boys in leather jackets and a conveniently located taco stand down the street. Continuing the theme of excellent food, we ate dinner at Jenny's Cafe and had some of the best western food I've had in Korea. On the walk back to the subway, I looked at Riah and said, "I needed this weekend so, so much." And Lord, I did need this weekend.

I have always been an introvert, but one of the things living in Korea has taught me is that I'm not nearly as introverted as I thought I was. I didn't have any friends when I lived in Rocky Mount. I had friends in Chapel Hill, an hour and a half to the west, and Greenville, an hour to the south, and I visited them often, but I didn't know anyone in Rocky Mount and I was okay with that. I talked to my co-workers and people at the gym and the library. I was working as a tour guide and half my job was talking to people. I was just fine with only being social a couple of weekends a month, so the almost crippling loneliness of my first few weeks in Korea surprised me. I had never realized how much I relied on casual conversations and phone calls to fulfill my need for human interaction, and by the end of my first month in Korea, I was ready to fall upon the first friendly face I saw and beg them to please talk to me, just for a minute. (And that's how I met Tony, who was suck on a bus and couldn't get away from me. Hi Tony!) I'm the only foreigner at my school and I don't know many people in Seongnam and it's still so easy, two years later, to go a week or two without sitting down and having a real conversation with someone. I'm still an introvert, but I need to occasionally seek out weekends where I surround myself with people and revel in their company.

I feel so much better today. My voice was still failing by the end of the day and I still don't have a co-teacher for 5th and 6th grade, but the 5th grade classes went fine today and my school has found yet another substitute co-teacher, although I firmly expect her to catch consumption or find out she's a leper before the end of the week.

Things will going to work out. They're gonna be great.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Damn Shingles

Remember last week, when I was all hurrah, new co-teacher, my problems are solved! Yesterday, Sue found out she has shingles and quit, which means I don't have a co-teacher. Again. Guys, I almost started crying in my office when I found out. I know a lot of this hysterical despair is because I'm also sick and had taught 5th grade all day and wanted nothing more in the world than to go home, crawl into bed and sleep until morning, but for the first time in a year and a half, I really considered quitting. Saying, "That's it, I can't handle this anymore," getting on a plane and going home so my mom could feed me soup. Instead I went home, made myself soup, went to sleep and woke up feeling marginally better, even if I still don't have a voice and can only stand for fifteen minutes at a time.

The school has started yet another search for an English teacher, but the very earliest the position will be filled is next week. Sue was my Monday, Wednesday, Friday co-teacher, and as far as this week goes, Monday is over, Wednesday is an easy day with only two classes and Friday classes are canceled due to midterm. At least I have more than ten minutes notice this time and can plan my lessons accordingly. Hopefully another replacement will be found by Monday, when the 5th graders are suppose to start a grammar heavy unit. I recognize my own limitations well enough to know that I'm not capable of teaching a class of 35 mostly low level preteens a new grammar topic without a mutual language, at least not without a lot of swearing.

I can't win for trying here.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Five Things Making Me Happy

It's been a crappy week. Not enough sleep, misbehaving students (a third grader called my co-teacher a bitch today), canceled plans, computer troubles at school, computer troubles at home and just general melancholy. In an attempt to cheep up, five things that made me happy this week:
  1. My 5th graders are doing really well! On Monday we studied countable nouns vs. uncountable nouns in the guise of Do you want some ________? versus Do you want a ________? and they did *so* well. By the end of class, I had a decent number of students who could not only chose the correct modifier, but also explain to me IN ENGLISH why it was the correct choice. One pizza - singular object - Do you want a pizza?; slice of pizza - part of a whole - Do you want some pizza?; two pizzas - plural - Do you want some pizzas? Hey Teacher, I'm hungry. Give me some pizza! I'm so proud of them!

  2. The third graders are studying Lesson 11 - It's Cold. They're learning about the weather (It's snowing, It's cold, It's raining, etc.) and weather appropriate clothes (Put on your coat, put on your gloves, put on your sweater, etc.). I was reviewing clothing with 3-2 class and showed them a picture of a pair of blue jeans.

    "It's cold," I prompted. "Put..."

    One boy, completely innocently, blurted out, "Put on your panties!"

  3. My goofball 3rd & 4th graders. Both grades played a game called Pass the Ball this week. The students passed a plush ball and dice around the classroom while a song played. When the song stopped, I showed the class a picture and they the students holding the ball and the dice had to answer a question. The 4th graders are studying a unit about shopping and I showed them a picture of an object and a price. The student holding the dice said I want a ________. and the student holding the ball said It's ________ won. I think I had as much fun watching the game as the students had playing it. I especially liked when a group of students would get so flustered trying to get rid of the ball or dice that they would created a möbius loop and the dice would become stuck circulate the same three or four students while the rest of the class howled with laughter.

    3-4: 10.5.2010

  4. The girls in the broadcasting club have been coming by my classroom to practice during lunch and after school and after practice, they like stay and talk with me. In my six month round-up I lamented the lack of students comfortable enough with English to go beyond the set phrases they learn in class and actually try to communicate. At the beginning of the month, the girls would barely speak English beyond their reports and now they won't stop talking. They'll talk about anything, from their favorite TV dramas to the 6th grade gossip to their thoughts on private academies (fuck hogwons!) (I was torn between chastising them for swearing in English and complimenting their excellent pronunciation of the 'f'). Yesterday, we talked about North Korea. (Kim Jong Il is bad man and North Korea people are very hungry. South Korea give North Korea people rice and cows, but not now. North Korea people are sad. And poor.) On Wednesday, there's no class after lunch and the girls stayed for an hour after practice. When I pointed out they could, you know, go home any time now, they said they wanted to stay and talk. And then they demanded to see pictures of my family.

  5. I was mobbed by 3-3 class on my way to lunch today. It's hard to feel sad when you have five tiny girls clinging to you demanding hugs.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Tales of 5th Grade Drama

Two of my co-teachers left last week. Yong Eun, the 6th grade co-teacher who is approximately a million months pregnant, left for her scheduled maternity leave, and Suk Jeong, the 5th grade co-teacher, announced that due to her pregnancy, she wouldn't be able to finish the school year. She's been in and out of school she started having complications following a car wreck in May. She would start having problems and be put on temporary bed rest, the school would scramble to find a replacement* and fail, the 5th graders would miss class and fall behind, a substitute would finally be found and classes resumed their normal schedule, Suk Jeong would come back to school for a couple of weeks and then start having complications again, and the whole repeat. I get that Suk Jeong is in a difficult position and obviously I want what's best for her and her baby, but it wasn't fair to the school or the students.

Both Yong Eun and Suk Jeong will be out for the rest of the school year, so the newest substitute, Sue, will be my co-teacher for the rest of the year. I've only taught with her for two days, but so far I really like her. She's a bit stricter on the students that I would be (fairly minor infractions result in the offending students spending half of class on their knees with their hands in the air in the back of the classroom), but I would much rather have a co-teacher who comes down like the Hammer of Thor on the students than one who can't control them. (I think she's simple establishing some ground rules and will probably lighten up after a few weeks, since she seems pretty relaxed about student behavior in between classes.) Her English is good and she doesn't feel the need to translate everything I say, but she's also not afraid to step up and explain things in Korean when the students are struggling. I think she's going to be a good co-teacher, and I'm relieved to finally have a 5th grade co-teacher who will reliable come to school for the rest of the year.

*Since Korea doesn't do sicks days (no seriously, if you're not in the hospital, you go to school/work sick) there isn't a network of substitute teachers for the a school to call upon. If a homeroom teacher is out sick, one of the special activity teachers (music, English, etc.) cancel their classes and cover cover for the sick teacher. If one of the special activity teachers is out,** their classes are just canceled and the homeroom teachers cover that period. If the teacher is going to be out for a while, the school has to find an out-of-work teacher to replace her, which takes a while.

**Since I'm not a licensed Korean teacher, I'm not suppose to teach classes by myself. When Suk Jeong is absent, the homeroom teachers are suppose to accompany their students to English class and act as the co-teacher, but they're busy and also, don't all speak English, so they usually disappear after a few minutes to go to their office to work. Also, the 5th graders are suppose to have English twice a week, but I only teach them once a week, so they're still missing a class per week.