Bruno Mars and guilt and surprises (oh my!)

So this has been running through my head all week:

Our key expression of the week at my main school is “Don’t give up,” so I found that video to play for the kids at the beginning of class to make them guess what we’re going to talk about. I was a bit leery about showing it at first – I didn’t know if 15-year-olds would enjoy or scoff at the goofiness of dancing and singing muppets. But as it turns out, a lot of them know Bruno Mars (I’ve heard some of them singing “Count On Me” in the halls), and something about this video not only amuses them, but seems to grip them with some magical power. Every kid in every class was silently riveted to the screen for the entire 2 minutes – and that is an accomplishment in these classes, I assure you.

And it’s not just the kids – so far all of my co-teachers have also seemed hypnotized by it and will stare with a look of deep fascination. It’s really cute. As for me, after 7 classes with this song, I know all the lyrics by heart and can’t get the hook out of my head.

*     *     *

I’m also having the kids play Jeopardy in class this week as a fun way to review the vocabulary in this chapter. I’ve been bringing bags of mini Snickers to each class to give to the winning team (5 or 6 kids).

The problem with this is that it is incredibly guilt-inducing, because afterwards I am invariably flagged down by the team that was a close second or third and asked, “Teacher… please give me chocolate.” “Teacher, I like candy.” And I really really really want to, but A) I just can’t be buying candy for 700 kids (at least not without a special occasion, like after a test or end of the semester or something), and B) it’s not a good principle to say you’ll give candy to the winning team only and then hand out candy on the sly to a few other kids.

Still, the looks on their faces kill me. It’s like the kids have never had chocolate. And, this being a really low income area, I’m sure it is a rarity for some of them.

Side note: Some people may wonder about why I’m handing out peanut-containing Snickers in class. This would be an unwise choice in the States (actually, most schools probably simply wouldn’t allow it), but here, peanut allergies are practically nonexistent. Food allergies as a whole are much lower in Asia than Western parts of the world. That link goes to a study of food allergies worldwide. The TL;DR version: Asian countries have far, far lower rates of all types of food allergies. Probably due to a mix of genetics and diet. So yes, they do exist here, but it’s much less of a big deal and very unlikely that any of the kids will have an allergy. Also, since they’re older, they’re responsible enough to recognize if it’s something they can’t eat.

Side note #2: These kids are so freaking competitive. Whichever team raises their hands first gets to answer the Jeopardy question, and when I hit the button to make the slide pop up, those hands shoot up so fast I can’t even tell who was first, often accompanied by yells and screams and cries of “Teacher! Teacher, me! Me first!” and occasionally the attempt at bribery: “Teacher, beautiful!” (with arms making a heart shape over their heads). It’s hilarious.

*     *     *

Surprise! Next week Tuesday and Wednesday, I will be leaving my school mid-morning to find my way to two other middle schools in Daegu – by myself – and participate in a lesson observation. All the EPIK teachers are required to do an “open class” – a class where other teachers, parents, and the principal can sit in and observe/evaluate the lesson. It strikes fear in my heart just thinking about it. In addition, all EPIK teachers are required to attend two (actually it’s four) other EPIK teachers’ open classes to evaluate and discuss the lesson with them.

And that is happening next week for me. I have no clue how to get to these schools, but I guess I’ll have to figure it out pretty quick.

Not only is the transportation and navigation part stressful, but leaving in the middle of the day means I’ll be missing multiple classes at both schools. Either my schedule will be rearranged or I’ll just miss seeing the classes, I guess. Which really disappoints me because I’m really starting to bond with the kids and look forward to seeing them each week.

*     *     *

Which leads me to my final point. No matter what surprises are thrown at me, what stressful situations arise, no matter how overwhelmed I feel by everything I have to do, and no matter how dark and dismal it feels to spend hours and hours on the weekend cooped up in my apartment working on lesson plans…

All of that disappears as soon as I’m in the classroom with the kids. Every class gets better than the one before as they start to open up to me and we can talk a little bit more and figure out the best way to communicate with each other.

The laughter, the tiny smiles from the quiet ones, or just getting the super shy ones to make eye contact with me… hearing them cry “Teacher! Saem! English Teacher!” when they want to ask me something… the funny comments they make in English (or sometimes in Korean, when I can understand them)… the moment when something clicks and we both understand each other… all these things make everything else so, so worth it.

I walked into one class today and one of the kids said, “Teacher, you look happy.”

Yes. I am very happy.


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