Weekly Update

Is it Friday already? Wow.

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What’s been going on in the halls between classes lately (besides the usual screaming and shouting and stampeding and general chaos)? Well, exuberant singing of the Korean national anthem and the Korean version of “Battle Hymn of the Republic” as well as impassioned chanting. We have class elections this week. They’re all super pumped.

This also meant that a ton of the kids lined up along the school driveway/entrance with signs to encourage their fellow classmates to vote for their candidate… which also meant that when I arrived at school the last couple days, I was greeted by a row of happily cheering students. I just can’t tell you how much I love these kids. I enjoy them so much more than I ever thought I would when I learned I’d be teaching middle school.

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The 3rd years at my main school are doing idioms this week, plus the phrases “What does ______ mean?” and “How can I say _______ in English?” Which has been an interesting challenge for me, because the textbook includes the English and Korean translations of various idioms like “Long time no see,” “Help yourself,” and “I’m full” – so when I’m teaching, I have to say the Korean phrases in front of the class as part of the lesson.

My pronunciation has at times elicited giggles and mimicking from them (not malicious), but I do it anyway, because I think it’s important for them to know that they’re not the only ones expected to make an effort with the other language. I’m trying too, because I want to communicate with them and help them learn. I’m willing to make mistakes and it’s okay for them to make mistakes too. That’s not something I can really give them a pep talk about in class, but I can at least try to show them.

The bonus outcome of this is that I get to work on my Korean pronunciation a bit. The first time I taught this idioms lesson, it was kind of daunting to force the Korean phrases out in front of all the kids and my co-teacher, but by the 10th class, it’s not such a big deal anymore. A few times I even got a chorus of impressed “우와” (uwa, Korean for “wow”) instead of snickers.

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The English textbooks here, as I’ve mentioned, are not ideal. The phrases tend to be unnatural and cliche, but unfortunately, for my main school, my lesson has to stick to the book to make sure the kids are prepared for the exam. Additionally, the CD materials (dialogues, videos) are so poorly acted, so stilted, so cheesy. “HEY BRIAN WHAT’S WRONG?” “OH HEY SUJIN. I HAVE A MATH TEST TOMORROW, BUT I DON’T THINK I’M READY.” “DON’T GIVE UP! YOU CAN DO IT!”

What I’ve found, though, is that the kids and I have been able to share a good laugh over the videos. I wish I could post them here because some of them are pretty (unintentionally) hilarious. We’ve had a dog abruptly shout at a turtle “Don’t give up!” and an alien literally saying “Bee dee ba da boo dee ba doo bee” (so the other character in the video could ask “What does that mean?”), which the kids of course imitated for a good 5 minutes afterwards.

But rather than try to make them take it seriously, I just laugh with them. Nothing like a little humor to brighten up some seriously boring textbook stuff.

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I love my last class of the day on Friday an inordinate amount. It’s one of those classes where the kids will not only respond and participate, but go above and beyond that in terms of asking me extra questions, talking with me about something other than the key expression, and self-policing the other kids. Today I was trying to start an explanation of a game and one of the kids shouted “BE QUIET PLEASE!” which instantly silenced the class somehow. It was quite funny.

This class has unofficially added a rule to our list. We always review the class rules in the beginning, and I always elicit them from the students rather than just saying them myself. So I asked what the rules were a week or two ago and someone said “Be cool.” That was not one of my rules, but the kids in this particular class keep listing it as one, so I guess now it is. Why not?

We were also playing a guessing game to review and I let one team answer the final question even though another team had their hands up as well. When I went over to the losing team and said “Sorry, maybe next time,” one of the kids looked at me and said, “It’s okay. Be cool.”

Be cool.


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