Loving my 3rd graders

So here I am, halfway through the semester, and I’m still waiting for things to get… bad. I had been warned so many times about these middle schoolers. That they’re troublemakers, that discipline is a huge issue, that they will make me crazy.

I keep expecting to hit some kind of horrible turning point and start losing all of my classes, but so far it hasn’t happened. My kids and I have good days and bad days. Some classes are consistently better, some are consistently more difficult. Some weeks (like this week – post-midterm-exhaustion) the kids are apathetic and unresponsive. Other weeks most of them participate well. Sometimes kids sleep or do other homework during my class, and sometimes they don’t.

I don’t want to say anything to jinx myself here, but these kids are honestly sweethearts. They have such a sweetness about them, such an air of fresh innocence. I’m sure some of them do get into some serious trouble once in awhile, but what I’ve seen thus far has been mischief more so than troublemaking. Throwing erasers at each other, stuff like that. Early on, I did have a group of boys pull out the cardboard insert from a pack of pantyhose (i.e., an image of a woman with very long stocking-clad legs and high heels) – which was promptly confiscated by my co-teacher, and they thought it was hilarious. (And the mischief is purely from the boys… the girls are really good basically all the time.)

Yes, I’ve had a few out-of-control-chatty classes in the past, but I blame that on myself for my poor classroom arrangement choice. We are never making groups with their desks turned towards each other again, I can tell you that much. Wouldn’t any group of 15-year-olds start chatting with each other during class if you seat them literally face-to-face and give them downtime while you’re working with another group?

So what I’m saying is, I really, really, really love my 3rd graders. Which is why it kind of devastated me when I was informed that for the second semester this year (starting in August), I’m switching to 1st graders at my main school. (I’ll continue to teach all three grade levels at my small school.)

Don’t get me wrong – 1st graders are adorable (the only middle school grade where they still have that adorable “little kid” vibe to them, at 12/13 years old), and I think they’ll actually be easier to teach because they still have that vivacity and enthusiasm left over from elementary school.

But… but… my 3rd graders!


Life is a constant ebb and flow of beginnings and endings, introductions and farewells, joys and sorrows. The more we can learn to relax into that ebb and flow, embracing the things that come and releasing the things that go, the happier we’ll be.


Pre-class jitters

So I’ve officially been doing this whole Native English Teacher thing for eight weeks now, going on nine… yet I still get pre-class jitters as I walk down the hall towards whatever classroom I’m headed to. Especially today, because I haven’t seen my kids at the big school for a week because of midterms. I’ll probably be even more jittery before class on Thursday, because those kids I haven’t seen for two weeks.

I don’t know that I want to get rid of that feeling, though. I like to be a bit nervous beforehand because it gives me some adrenaline to be energized for the class (and just as with teaching taekwondo back home, if I give 100%, they give me 50%… so I have to give 200% if I want them to be fully engaged). Besides, the anxiety melts away once I see their faces and start talking with them.

*     *     *

It’s quiet(er) in school today because the 1st graders are on a camping trip, so we’re missing a third of our students. The 3rd graders get a field trip tomorrow, which they’re pumped about (and hence, very NOT pumped to sit in the classroom on this muggy, gray day).

It’s yet another thing that is different from in the States. To my knowledge, middle schoolers don’t (aren’t allowed?) to go on overnight camping trips with just their teachers and their classmates. Right? Is this a thing in America? I don’t believe it is. Correct me if I’m wrong.

On the upswing

Monday comes around just in time to lift my spirits once more. It’s the best feeling when I’m unsure of how my lesson will go, and then I get into the class and start teaching and suddenly everything is clicking and the students are responding well and it’s flowing smoothly and they understand and they’re having fun.

I have my lowest levels this week (always rough for everyone involved). But today, my first period class was canceled (we have midterms on Wednesday here at my small school, so my co-teacher needed to spend extra time on exam prep with them)… and then my second period class was absolutely fantastic.

They’re a class of low level, normally very quiet and shy 3rd graders.

Because of the midterms, I prepared a brief review of the key expressions from Lessons 1, 2, and 3 in their textbook, then a Mario-themed PowerPoint review game. It’s the first time I’ve played a game with them. I spent literally hours making it over the weekend, and I can’t use it again because it’s very specific to this particular class… but it was so worth it to see even the shy ones getting into it, answering the questions, eyes lighting up, smiling and laughing. So, so rewarding. I would spend double the time I already spent on making that PPT just to get that response from the kids.

And they all did such a great job of trying hard to answer the questions (in spite of their low level, they were really really trying) that afterwards, I gave candy to not just the winning team, but to the whole class. (Which was totally doable with this class of just 9 students.)

We had a minute or so left before the bell rang, so I asked them how the candy (Twix) was. “Delicious,” they said. “More delicious.” (Comparative adjectives was one of our review topics of the day.) “More delicious than what?” I asked. “Chocolate,” they said. Yeah, I guess caramel + cookie + chocolate > chocolate any day.

*     *     *

I feel so bad for my co-teacher today; she’s quite sick – chills, fever, aches, sore throat – but the nature of working in Korea is that you show up. Unless you are actually on your deathbed or violently ill, you show up and you do your job. The same goes for the students; just put a surgical mask on and get on with your day. You can collapse when you get home.

Everyone goes around wearing these, either to try to prevent the spread of germs when they’re sick or to keep out the dreaded Yellow Dust from China.

So far I haven’t been sick one time since coming here (*knocks on wood and feels ashamed of her superstitiousness*). Considering the amount of new germs I’ve been exposed to, the number of meals I’ve shared with Koreans where everyone was digging their chopsticks/spoons into the same dish, the number of sick kids I’ve had contact with, and how filthy my apartment was for a couple weeks when I first moved in, until I deep-cleaned it… I think that says quite a bit for the strength of my immune system. *pats self on back*

*     *     *

…Speaking of yellow dust, it’s here and it’s not good. This site lets you track how bad the pollution is on any given day, and Daegu is right up there in the orange zone right now – so not the worst, but certainly not the best in terms of air cleanliness. So far I haven’t noticed any respiratory issues, but it’s still not healthy to be breathing chemicals and pollutants all day. I did notice yesterday that my throat felt a bit scratchy after being outside. And the effects are bound to be exacerbated by the sweltering heat and humidity coming in the next couple of months. Thanks a lot, China.

*     *     *

Trying to teach my low level 1st graders the response “I’d love to” – it was kind of adorable that a couple of them kept saying “I love you” by accident. “How about going swimming?” “Sure, I love you.” LOL.

Edit: Looking through a few worksheets from last week, I caught something I missed initially that made me chuckle:

Problem: “I’m crazy.”

Suggestion: “How about hitting you?”

*     *     *

One of my 2nd grade girls ran up to me in the hallway today, “Oh, Teacher, Teacher!”, wrapped her arms around me and gently kissed my cheek, complete with “Mwah!” sound.

Can you imagine a 14-year-old girl doing that to her teacher in the States? ‘Cause I can’t.

It’s just another example of how I feel so constantly surrounded by love and caring here – from my students and my co-teachers, from other non-English-speaking teachers at my schools, and even from random people I run into while I’m out on errands and such. But more to come on this topic in another post!

heartache, tears, and new beginnings

Time for some disclosure. Time to get a little more personal. If you don’t like juicy stories about my personal goings-on, please skip this post. If you don’t mind reading a post containing my raw and tender emotions and detailing my own foolishness, then read on, brave soul. But know that you have been warned.

Also, know that this is not the type of thing I would talk about with anyone face-to-face except for close friends. So why I am posting it on the internet for anyone to find and read is beyond me. I guess this blog feels like a safe haven of anonymity and an online journal of sorts. But if I start thinking about it too much, I’ll remember all the family and friends who say they read this blog and that will be uncomfortable and cringe-y, so I’m not going to think about it. I just really want to express my feelings and tell this story now that it’s come to an end – after all, it’s all part of my Korean experience.


There’s another reason (besides my crazy workload) that I haven’t posted as much in the month of April as I did in the month of March. Almost exactly four weeks ago, I entered yet another facet of Korean culture – the dating culture. “Culture” is certainly the word, because it is an entirely different experience from dating in the Western world. Korea is very couple-oriented. If you don’t have a boyfriend/girlfriend, people tend to think there is something wrong with you. (Okay, maybe not, but you do get many a shocked “Why not??”) Couples are very cutesy here. People wear matching couple outfits and celebrate things like 100 days of dating, and often non-engaged couples will wear “couple rings.”

I’ve remained silent about my dating adventures on this blog out of a desire to keep that side of my life more private, as well as out of respect for his privacy. However, now that it’s over, I think I’d like to write about my story (in a way that will still protect his anonymity).

Anyway, long story short, four weeks ago when I was walking home, I passed a Korean guy on the street… and he doubled back and said hi to me. And asked me out for coffee. And, 6 hours later, while we were still on our “first date” (which included dinner at a Korean restaurant, coffee at a cafe, beer at a bar, and ice cream at another cafe) he asked me to be his girlfriend. Such is the pace of Korean life, and that includes Korean dating.

Needless to say, my prudent and cautious self gently turned down his request, and I said we should get to know each other better first. This shocked him, since apparently it is totally acceptable to become boyfriend/girlfriend after one date here. (Granted, I have a sample size of 1, but from what I’ve read online, this is pretty typical with Korean guys. They tend to move fast and be clingy. Not all, but many.)

One thing led to another, and we got to know each other better, and we started dating for real. It was fun. It was enjoyable. He showed me many areas of the city to which I had never dared venture alone. We ate delicious food. I ate sushi for the first time. We went to Daegu Tower (aka E-World Tower, over 660 feet tall) and saw the city at night. We climbed to the top of Mount Apsan and saw a stunningly beautiful view of the entire city of Daegu (picture below).


Beautiful, beautiful Daegu. The city surrounded by mountains.


The mountains completely enclose Daegu in a warm embrace. Literally, a warm embrace. It’s already like 85 degrees here, and it’s only the end of April!

Cherry blossoms on the path up Apsan.

Cherry blossoms on the path up Apsan.

He was a cool person. His English was only a little better than that of my middle schoolers, but figuring out ways to communicate complex ideas was fascinating and fun to me. We talked about psychology and Maslow and Pavlov and Descartes. We talked about our dreams and our beliefs. We talked about taekwondo, because believe it or not, he was a pretty well-known taekwondo athlete in Daegu during his university years. He trained at the Kukkiwon (World Taekwondo Headquarters in Seoul). His skill level puts my American-earned 3rd degree to shame. We talked about introversion and extroversion. He never seemed uncomfortable with my frequent introverted silences, and I appreciated that quite a bit. We talked about music. He loved Celine Dion – driving in his car was like stepping into a 90s love ballad zone (resulting in this being stuck in my head for several days straight). When I told him I love Ingrid Michaelson, the next day he had downloaded all her albums and was playing them in his car. We talked about some of the metaphors she uses in her song lyrics.

Teaching him about American culture was fun. He’d only traveled around parts of Asia, so he was fascinated by what I told him about the differences in our cultures. Teaching him random English was also fun. Koreans have a polite phrase they say before eating, to the effect of “I’ll eat well,” and so I taught him “Dig in” – but he mistook it for “Dig it,” which he then said every single time we sat down to eat. It was so funny that I didn’t bother to correct him.

On my birthday, he surprised me with a birthday cake and candles and flowers, and he sang to me. It was really sweet.

And so the days flew by in a blur of late nights and scratchy-eyed mornings as we went on date after date. I barely had room to breathe, but I was okay with it. And, almost against my will (because I’ve truly enjoyed being single over the past year and a half, and having freedom and not having my emotions tied up with another person)… I found myself sort of falling in love.

Which is a very strange experience. I know it’s not uncommon, but for me, I’d never started dating someone before having feelings for them. So I often stepped back during the last four weeks and watched myself developing feelings for another human being. It’s weird. Really weird. Have you ever thought about how weird it is to fall in love? Strange, strange things happen to your mental and emotional state of being.

And then… almost exactly one month after we met, just two days ago, for reasons I will not fully disclose here (we’re getting juicy, but not that juicy – sorry, y’all), he decided to break up with me. Suffice it to say we had some fundamental differences of opinion, and he believed it was better to end things early, before we were in too emotionally deep, rather than in “6 months or a year” (his words).

One thing that I requested of him then, which ended up being one of the more beautiful experiences I’ve ever had, was that he express his feelings to me in just Korean. Even though I wouldn’t understand all of it, I wanted to hear him speak freely in a way that would allow his heart to come through (which is harder to do when you’re concentrating on translating the words and then pronouncing them correctly).

So he did, and it was actually really lovely, and I recommend it to anyone who’s dating someone who speaks a different language (preferably NOT when you’re breaking up).

Anyway, his decision came as a bit of a shock to my system, since we’d both been quite happy (seemingly) and got along quite well save for those couple of aforementioned fundamental differences. Especially since he had alluded to us having a long-term relationship multiple times (even going so far as to ask things like “Have you ever thought about marrying someone from another country?”).

Side note: I frequently step back to analyze my feelings from a biochemical perspective – I can’t help it; it’s my psychology background. So I’ve been thinking a lot about things like how the spike of dopamine from a new relationship messed with my balanced brain chemicals, and how once a relationship ends, you experience that painful crash akin to drug withdrawal. Not cool.

I spent the day after it happened feeling quite miserable and experiencing my first true bout of both tears and homesickness since my second day in Korea. After my first night here, I have not cried one time – until now. It was a bit of a relief to cry, actually. I was beginning to think I was no longer human, but some kind of happy-bot with no “sad and miserable” function.

But naturally, the sadness and the crying also brought on a strong desire to just go home. Especially since he and I had gone to almost every place nearby my home, meaning that no matter where I walk, almost every place I pass will be full of memories that I would rather not think about.

However, at the end of Day 2 of being single once again, here I sit in my pajamas, having listened to more than my share of sad and angry breakup songs, comfortably eating canned corn and canned fruit salad and ice cream for dinner, because why not? I can do whatever I want.

I’m grateful for this experience, because it has reminded me that BOTH states of being are okay: single and in a relationship. Both can be beautiful. Both can make me very happy. So in the future, whichever I find myself in, I can be content.

I’m on the path to intrinsic happiness once again. It might take a few more days, or weeks… and I might still feel pangs of sadness sometimes when I pass by that samgyeopsal restaurant, that coffee shop, that corner where we met… but I will be okay again. This little interlude in my Korean adventure has come to an end. It was lovely while it lasted, but it couldn’t last forever. And that’s okay. It just means that there are more and better chapters to be written.

P.S. I am quite sure that tomorrow morning I will re-read this post and regret publishing it. Nevertheless, I’m hitting “Publish” now. Vulnerability makes us human, right? And I just want to let you all know that I am most definitely not a happy-bot. But I am something of an eternal optimist, because already I can feel my heart, sad though it is, itching to leap forward, eagerly awaiting whatever adventure will come next.

Midterms and Deskwarming

Deskwarming (v).

  1. The act of sitting at one’s desk for an unreasonable number of hours, doing nothing, due to the fact that the school has other events and classes are cancelled, but the contract specifies that the NET must complete the 8-hour workday.
  2. The bane of an ESL teacher’s existence.
  3. Alternately, the joy of an ESL teacher’s existence (depending on personality, workload, how rundown she is from teaching classes, and whether or not she has anything better to do with those 8 hours).

Midterms are in full swing here at my middle school right now. Their commencement was marked by a flurry of unusually frantic activity (it’s always a little frantic, but today was especially so) before the bell rang, with teachers running back and forth, papers flying, copiers beeping, hurried instructions given.

Now… it’s eerily quiet. Usually, even during class time, there is a constant murmur of noise – the rise and fall of teachers’ voices, the occasional shout from a student, the monotone of textbook CD dialogues, the cheers and military-drill-like counting and whistle-blowing from the P.E. class out in the courtyard.

But today, it’s quiet enough to hear the ticking of the clock, the drip of the sink, the hum of the printers and computers, and the occasional bird song outside.

As for the deskwarming, I’m not the type to mind. I enjoy the quiet, and I can always find something to do, whether it’s prepare future lessons or blog and surf social media (okay, more so the blogging and surfing than the preparing lessons…). Would it be nice to have the day off, since I literally can’t do anything to help with the exams? Sure. But hey, I’m getting paid to sit at my desk. That’s pretty nice.

My principal came in earlier to chat and told me I can go home after lunch like the students and the Korean teachers will, but I’m pretty sure that’s against my contract. We’ll see what happens. If not, I’ll have the whole school to myself for about 3-4 hours. Weird.

My cup runneth over

I think my blog boils down to two main topics:

  1. I’m stressed and tired, whine whine complain complain.
  2. I’m happy and the kids are hilarious. Isn’t life great?

Hopefully I’m giving you more of the latter than the former – and today is one of those happy days. The title of this post pretty much sums it up; I can feel my heart brimming with love and joy and contentment on a day like this.

*     *     *

The girl who is rapidly becoming one of my favorites, whose English level is extraordinarily high and who is also hilarious, approached me today between class periods and said, “Teacher, I want to ask you a question. I went to English academy, but I quit because too much homework. So I want to practice speaking English, but there are no teachers I can practice with. So I want to practice with you. During lunch period, can I practice free talking with you?”

She was thrilled when I said yes, of course she could (“Really? Really, Teacher? Thank you!”). I guess she might’ve expected me to say no, but I’m also thrilled at the opportunity to help someone who really wants to learn, as well as to form a more personal connection with her. We’re starting in a couple weeks, once her midterms are over.

*     *     *

The “How about…” suggestions lesson continues to spur hilarity:

“I’m crazy,” said one of my kids.

“How about going to a mind hospital?” his classmate suggested.

When I said we would call it a “mental hospital,” they thought it was hilarious… I think “mental” is a Konglish word, a word that Korean has borrowed from English but it has a slightly different meaning, so they recognized the word “mental.”

*     *     *

In my smaller school’s after school class this week, we did activities related to the song “Lemon Tree” by Fool’s Garden. The kids all know this song and adore it, and I’m not sure why. (They latch onto very specific, and in some cases obscure, pieces of American pop culture.) But I like the song too, and it’s very fun to see how happy they are while they listen and complete a lyric gap-fill worksheet.

Today one of my favorite kids was joyously singing the chorus in hearty tones while his classmate cried, “My ears! My ears!”

After they finished the lyric gap-fill, we did a super fun activity that I learned during my TEFL certification course: I gave each student a slip of paper with four words from the song. I played the song again, and each time they heard one of their words, they had to stand up and then sit back down. There was some overlap in the words everyone had, and I made sure everyone had at least one or two frequently occurring words from the chorus, like “lemon,” “yellow,” “blue,” “sky,” etc. – so during the verses only a few kids would stand up, but during the chorus we had an adorable choreography of students popping up and down like whack-a-mole. It was so cute. And the kids thought it was pretty fun, too.

Then I asked them to sing the whole song together, and to my surprise they were ready and willing. So we did. They sang well and without a hint of embarrassment or self-consciousness. (Reminder: these are 2nd grade middle schoolers we’re talking about, so 14- or 15-year-olds.) It was, again, adorable.

*     *     *

There are so many other things that I can’t write a whole post about, but they are the tiny things that keep my heart happy. How we laugh when I accidentally give points to the wrong team and the students cry out in alarm. The kids who slap their own cheek when they say the wrong thing. When a kid somehow miraculously guesses the answer to the hidden picture or 20 Questions game right off the bat. The students who poke their head into my classroom on their way to another class, just to say hi (or make a heart over their head with their arms). The moment when my instructions click for the whole class and there’s a chorus of “Aaaaahhhh” (pretty much the audible Korean version of a light bulb moment) followed by “Teacher, OK. Start.”

I know, I know, I’ve repeated myself ad nauseam about how great the kids are, how happy I am, etc. etc. But this blog is my outlet for my emotions here, and most of my emotions have truly been either joy or stress/exhaustion.

However, I really want to make an effort to post more pictures. Maybe that will be my goal for the month of May: post pictures on a weekly basis!

More happy things

It’s difficult to come up with a unique title for my posts sometimes when I just want to post another batch of kid quotes!

Some days, the kids keep me sane with their hilarious comments. Even if it’s their antics that are threatening my sanity in the first place.

*     *     *

Two of my rowdy 1st graders were play-slapping each other during class, and suddenly one of the boys said loudly, “Do not touch my body.”

This same boy later stood up from his group and came up to me, extending his arm to hold an imaginary microphone up to me. “Teacher, how about kimchi? How about Korean food? What is your favorite Korean food?” Apparently he’d decided it was time to conduct an interview. Never mind that they were supposed to be talking about suggesting solutions to problems using “How about…?” I mean, technically he was using the key expression, but he was using it in a different way. Sigh.

*     *     *

Again, we were talking about making suggestions using “How about…?” I told them to come up with a problem someone might have and then give a suggestion for fixing it. One group came up with the problem “I’m stressed.” One of the girls yelled, “How about hit sandbag?” (sandbag = their word for punching bag)

*     *     *

My co-teacher and I were walking on the school grounds and a couple girls passed us. One of them said “Hello Teacher,” and then (my co-teacher tells me) turned to her friend and said in Korean, “My pronunciation was so good!” hahaha.

*     *     *

My 3rd graders were playing a team game where they had to write the correct key expression on their mini whiteboards and hold them up at the same time. The problem/clue was “I haven’t finished studying for my test,” and the ‘correct’ response was supposed to be “Don’t give up! You can do it.” But one kid showed me his board, and he had written “You’ll have a bad grade.” I tried not to laugh because he was being sincere about it – and truthfully, his answer makes just as much sense (or more?) as saying “Don’t give up.”

*     *     *

My after school class was practicing giving advice, so each of them had to come up with a problem, write it down, then switch papers with someone else and give advice. One of my girls wrote, “I used a smartphone for 10 hours last Sunday.” (This was her actual problem. She really did use her smart phone for 10 hours to play Cookie Run, the smartphone app game that all the kids are addicted to.) The advice she received: “I think you should break your phone and don’t buy it again.” To which she responded, “Very good choice.”

In that same class, one of my kids insisted on giving the same piece of advice no matter what problem I presented him with:

“I lost my wallet.” – “I think you should take a rest.”

“I got into a car accident.” – “Maybe you should take a rest.”

“I haven’t finished my homework.” – “Why don’t you take a rest?”

Of course, he’s smart enough and high level enough to know how to give relevant advice for these problems; he was just being silly. (And honestly, it’s probably the advice all of us – both the students and myself – wanted to hear the most, because everyone is so tired this week because of midterms.)

Then, hilariously, the student he switched papers with had actually written the problem “I’m tired,” so his advice of “take a rest” actually applied. We both got a kick out of that.

Droopy eyelids and other problems

This has to be my sleepiest day yet. I had never actually been in danger of falling asleep at my desk in the last 7 weeks, but here we are in the midst of midterm week and I have done the jerk-awake-without-realizing-I-was-falling-asleep thing at least three times. A huge built-up sleep debt and an afternoon without classes will do that to a person, I suppose. Thank goodness I have my after school class in half an hour to wake me up.

While it’s nice to have an easy workload this week in terms of lesson planning due to midterms, I’m really truly sad that I won’t get to see my Thursday and Friday kids. Also, 8 hours of desk-warming in the office doesn’t sound all that appealing. There’s only so much lesson planning a person can do at one time before going stir crazy.

I can feel that the kids have been in a slump the last couple weeks, and even some of my really good classes have been running out of steam. I’m hoping that after midterms (and the holiday weekend on May 1st), both they and I will get a little boost and be able to push through to summer break.

We can do it!

One quarter of a century

That’s how long I’ve been on the earth as of today.

How strange.

This means I’m halfway to 30.

I’ve been out of college for 3 years.

I’m not married (not even close!), like I thought I would be by age 25 when I was growing up. But it’s okay, because now that I’m actually 25, I’m glad I’m not married. For now. (I would potentially like to be someday, but right now there’s so much else to do and think about!)

I feel like the difference between 23-year-old me and 24-year old me was incredibly vast. In that one year, I changed more than I had changed in the previous 5 or 6 years combined – not because of a change in external circumstances, but more as a result of my internal mindset/outlook shift.

This year, I am taking that new mindset/outlook that I’ve established and placing myself in vastly different external circumstances… almost to throw myself in the ocean and see if I’ll sink or swim with my new approach to life, in a way. We’ll see what further changes my 25th year will bring about.

Where will this year take me? Where do I go from here? I have no idea. But for the first time in pretty much ever, I don’t need to know. It’s okay. I’m not worried. I’m not stressing. I’m not anticipating. I’m not even planning. If you know me at all, right about now you might be asking, “Who are you and what have you done with Maddy?” To be honest, since coming to Korea I’ve asked myself that question many times. Sometimes multiple times in one day. I barely recognize myself. Which is a really, really weird feeling… but in a good way.

*     *     *

On a lighter note, here are some of the small happy/funny things from my day that I consider my unofficial birthday gifts:

  • I discovered I have a birthday buddy in one of my students. He told me it was his birthday and was both stunned and pleased when I told him today is my birthday too. Cute.
  • Another of the co-teachers who I don’t have a strong relationship with (due to seeing him only every 3rd Monday and Wednesday) told me today that he likes my classes. Breathe a deep sigh of relief with me now. Phew!
  • One of my students drew this picture – “Teacher, you!” I’m flattered. (The sentences around the picture are part of their in-class assignment to write advice for someone who wants to be healthy and advice for someone who wants to have many friends using the phrase “I think it is important to…”)

I think it accurately represents me ^^

  • No one made a marijuana joke. Not. One. Person. You have no idea how refreshing this is for someone whose birthday is 4/20. Which, for those who are unaware, is not only National Pot Day in the USA, but also Hitler’s birthday. Quite unfortunate. So it’s rather nice to not have anyone comment about how I must really enjoy celebrating my birthday, harharhar wink wink nudge nudge. Since coming here, I’ve also happily discovered I share my birthday – including the year – with Luhan of EXO. Much nicer to think about than sharing with Hitler.
  • The picture below is what one of my 2nd grade kids wrote on the back of his frequency worksheet (“How often do you XYZ?”), which he had dutifully completed. 20150420_150927He then proceeded to ask innumerable times for the remainder of the class, “근데, 샘, 한번만. 닥 한번만,” (“Kunde, saem, hanboman. Dak hanboman” = “But Teach, once. Just once”), followed by a stream of earnest Korean that I couldn’t fully understand but it was so cute that he thought I could. The gist of it being, of course, that he wanted me to write my phone number. “No, no. I am your teacher, and you are my student,” I explained to him multiple times (let alone the fact that I’m, y’know, 10+ years older than you). “Teacher, I need it! Do you understand?” (He was now following me out of the classroom after the end of class, still asking in Korean and English.) “I understand, but no, you don’t need it and I can’t give it to you.” He finally gave up after following me almost all the way back to my office. So funny.

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As far as official birthday gifts, my co-teacher surprised me with cake, coffee, bread, a card, a tiny bouquet, and a small gift. I told her my birthday way back in February and she remembered all this time – she even brought candles for me to blow out after she and another teacher sang happy birthday. Way too sweet. I was so touched.


That box contained a delicious piece of blueberry cheesecake which I unfortunately devoured before I thought of taking a picture. She gave me a pretty hair tie and a four leaf clover key chain to represent “break a leg” – an inside joke between us because it’s one of the idioms we taught our 3rd graders.

I am seriously so blessed to have her as my co-teacher (the one I happen to share an office with, just the two of us, at my smaller school). She’s been like my Korean mom here, always making sure I have food and helping me with extra things outside of school. Such a wonderful person.

Week in Review

Friday is such an easy day for me. Beyond the obvious TGIF reason, it’s the day when I have tweaked and perfected my lesson to the point that everything runs smoothly and I have the timing down so there’s no unfinished sections and no running out of activities and having a moment of internal panic before coming up with something on the fly.

I feel sorry for my Monday and Tuesday classes – they’re my guinea pigs each week, and they always have to experience my lessons in their least polished, most rough-drafty form. Sorry, kids!

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Open class = completed. Cue sweet relief. The fact that getting my open class over with coincides with having an “easy” week next week (because of midterms, I have no classes next Thurs & Fri) is just icing on the cake.

Admittedly, it wasn’t my best class ever, but I did the best I could to teach well and to get the students engaged. My principal watched the first 15-20 minutes, which in my opinion was the better section of the class (they got a little excited and chatty during the game at the end), so I guess that’s a good thing.

At any rate, it’s over! I have two more coming up in May and June, but for now I can relax a little bit.

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While walking to school one morning this week, I had a tiny little girl (possibly 1st grade) start walking beside me. Apparently she wanted to walk next to me, because whenever I would try to walk ahead of her, she’d start running to catch up to me. When she got to me, she’d be speaking upset and flustered Korean – whether to me or to herself, I’m not sure. It was hilarious and adorable.

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Getting the balance right for teaching ESL is tricky. Sometimes the material is too difficult, sometimes it’s too easy. Sometimes I expect too little, sometimes too much. I have one low level class in which even the games (the games that my other classes loved) feel like pulling teeth.

But then small things happen to encourage me when I reach out to those kids who don’t want to participate.

Today, while the textbook dialogue was blasting from the TV speakers, I was walking around monitoring the class while they were supposed to mark the correct answers in their books. A couple boys in the back who are lower level rarely do their book work. I went up to them and silently pointed to the place they should be in the book. They gave me blank looks, so I repeated the dialogue: “Would you prefer the parrot show or the bear show?”

“Bear,” one of the boys said. “곰” (gom, Korean for bear). “Yes, 곰,” I repeated – and I saw a light spring into his eyes as he looked at me, equally impressed and amused.

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This was my favorite moment of the week, and it happened today during my last class (one of my favorite classes, as I’ve mentioned before):

First, I need to explain the matching game we were playing. This game has been a roaring success this week overall – I’ve had even the shyest kids getting into it, and for the first time, I guarantee that every single kid in class spoke English.

Essentially, the kids have to choose two words from the game board on the screen and put it into the key expression “Would you prefer _____ or _____?” (e.g. “Would you prefer pizza or chocolate?”). When I click the two words they chose, the words disappear to reveal pictures of Korean actors underneath. If the pictures match, the team gets a point. If they don’t, I click the pictures to make the words reappear and the next team tries.

Actually, I’m so proud of this PPT and lesson, I’ll share it here. If you want to take a look at the product of my blood, sweat, and tears, please feel free. (It works best if you actually download it and open it in PowerPoint presentation mode, not in Google Drive.) (Disclosure: the idea for the matching game came from a fellow EPIK teacher, but I did create my PPT 100% from scratch.)

Anyway, I inevitably had kids in each class who started writing down which picture was under which word. In this particular class I stopped a boy in the front row just as he was starting to write – “Don’t write!” “Oh sorry, sorry,” he said.

He then proceeded to turn around to a classmate on another team who had also started writing and shout, “Don’t write! What are you doing?? Are you kidding me?!”

I laughed way too hard at that.