Things I’ve heard this week

The fun never stops when you’re teaching Korean middle schoolers.

Today I walked into my 1st Grade Class from Hell, and was greeted by the most naughty of all the naughty boys with the following:

“Welcome to hell!”

Wow, kid, you took the words right out of my mouth. LOL. Thankfully, the school hired a new Korean English teacher this semester and she is my co-teacher for that class now, and she seems to have worked some teacher magic on them. The “welcome to hell” boy sat quietly and did his work for the whole class. In my book, that’s more like “welcome to heaven.”

Some of the 2nd graders were in my office to clean, and out of nowhere this occurred:

“Teacher! She – bad girl! Bery bery bad! Bery bery strawberry bad!”

“Very Berry Strawberry” is a Baskin Robbins ice cream flavor. (It remains a mystery as to why she was “bery bery strawberry” bad.)

I asked a boy and girl to partner with each other to practice a dialogue.

Boy: “Teacher, no! She is… she is the devil!”

I highly doubt that.

Boy (cleaning the office, speaking to my co-teacher in English): “Teacher, I’m tired.”

CT: “That’s too bad.” (continues ordering him about what to clean next)

She is too awesome.

The cleaning trauma continues… one of the kids just walked into my office (which connects to the English classroom that he was cleaning), heaved a sigh, and said:

“Very tired. I go… hell!”

Hmm, he might be unclear on the concept. Or maybe a bit of dusting and sweeping really does make him feel like he’s in hell. Hahaha.

In other news, today I confiscated an eerily realistic “cigarette” that one of the boys had made from a scrap of rolled-up paper and was pretending to smoke during class. Aigoo. I hope it’s merely an innocent mimicking of something he perceives as “cool,” not a reflection of something he’s already doing.

Is it Friday yet?

No? Dangit.

Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy my job. But my new schedule causes me to think it’s Thursday when it’s still only Wednesday, which makes the week seem so much longer. And that is just not cool.

Plus, we’re already talking about open class at both of my schools, and no one likes open class. NO ONE.

Real quotes from middle school boys this week:

Regarding the North Korea scare early in the week:

“Teacher, go America quickly! North Korea!” … then, at the end of class: “Teacher, don’t scared, okay?”

So cute.

“Teacher, you so pretty. I so handsome.”

There may have been some implication in this statement, but I chose to ignore it.

Student: “Teacher, our class is best right? Other classes are just dumb.”

Me: “Um… maybe!”

To be honest, that class is pretty awesome.

Usually when we practice a dialogue, the partners are one boy and one girl because of the seating arrangements. Today, two boys wanted to practice the dialogue together instead, because you know, girls have cooties and stuff. To convince me, one of the boys cried:

“Teacher! You think I girl, okay?”

He proceeded to read his part in a very high-pitched voice. My co-teacher and I lost it.

I asked the kids to practice making excuses when someone asked for something. They were supposed to start their excuse with “I’m sorry, but ______.” Here’s what a few of them wrote:

“Can you come to my party?” “I’m sorry, but I can’t. I hate you.”

“Can I please use your cellphone?” “I’m sorry, but your hands are dirty.”

And finally, one of the 2nd grade girls came by my office to chat yesterday and tried to convince me that kiwi fruit comes from a kiwi bird. “Kiwi bird, cut, open, eat!” She knows quite well that it’s not true. What a goofball.

A day for the Milky Way and lovers’ tears

Today is Chilseok (칠석), a day which celebrates a pretty, ethereal folk tale about young love, and which marks the end of the brutal heat and the coming of the rain. (Thank God.)

Google’s lovely rendition of the Chilseok story

According to the old story – and there are, of course, many variations in the telling – the beautiful daughter of a king (I guess some sort of heavenly-being-king, not a normal human) falls in love with a poor shepherd boy. Her father is displeased with this match and orders the two lovers to live far apart – very, very far apart. He sends the shepherd boy to live on the other side of the Milky Way. Talk about an overprotective dad, huh.

The two lovers are obviously heartbroken, and they cry and cry and their tears flood the land. (The rain at this time of year is said to be their tears.)

Finally the father caves and says they can see each other just once a year, on the 7th day of the 7th month in the lunar calendar (which explains why Chilseok is not on July 7th). In order for the two to reach each other across the Milky Way, all the crows and magpies fly up and create a bridge for the lovers to walk on and reach each other in the middle of the Milky Way on that special day.

Isn’t that such a beautiful image? Two young lovers walking across a bird bridge and meeting amongst the stars.

Fittingly enough, it rained today.

I love the rain.

Here are a couple more beautiful artistic interpretations of the story from two talented DeviantArt artists. (Japan and China also each have their own version of this legend, so some drawings reflect those stories rather than the Korean one.)

By taka0801 on DeviantArt
By AnHellica on DeviantArt

Back in the teaching zone

That was easy.

It only took one class this morning for everything to click back into place. A kind of inner Ah yes, here we are all back in the office together. Here are the kids making noise in the hallways and shuffling reluctantly into the classrooms. Here are the sounds of jumping-jack-counting and soccer-ball-kicking floating up from the courtyard/playground outside. Here I am, walking into class and turning on my teacher mode and feeling the nerves melt away.

It definitely helps that this time, I actually have some semblance of an idea of what I’m doing and where I’m going. On the first day of the first semester, I certainly had no clue.

Here’s what I’ve been mulling over today, now that my first day with the 1st graders is under my belt:

Thank God I started with 3rd grade.

Trial by fire. Having no prior experience, I had no idea how actually sulky and despondent and difficult the 3rd graders were being during those first few weeks. I mean, I knew they were quiet, but I misinterpreted that as low level or shyness. No, no. Nope. No ma’am. Nope, it turns out they were just being stubborn pubescent teenagers refusing to participate.

I still love them to death, and of course by the end of the semester our class atmosphere was completely different, but looking back now that I have some perspective… good gracious they were tough nuts to crack. If I had started the other way around, with 1st grade, and then switched to 3rd, I’d be feeling pretty darn discouraged right about now.

13-year-olds are only just barely teenagers.

Honestly, the 1st graders are mostly still just kids. Most haven’t hit the hormonal apocalypse yet, and they approach things with a non-jaded, eager, willing zest. The opposite gender still has cooties (meaning I’m safe from the “Teacher, phone number!” demands). They’re still unabashedly outgoing and don’t care so much about avoiding social embarrassment (for the most part). There is also the psychology of going from King of the Pack in 6th grade elementary to Bottom of the Totem Pole in 1st grade middle. It’s enough to humble most of them and shift any attitude problems that may have developed. Usually.

All of this makes teaching them a breeze, comparatively speaking.

The 1st grade classrooms are nice.

Dude, the 5th floor is waayyyy cuter than my floor (4th) or the 3rd graders’ floor (3rd). There’s artwork in the hallways and a nice big desk at the front of each classroom (instead of the tiny podium I’m used to for the 3rd graders). Because there are only ~25 kids per class (not 36-37 like with 3rd grade), there’s also more space and the room feels more airy and roomy. A very pleasant atmosphere to teach in – and if you think that’s not important, think again.

And of course, the day wouldn’t be complete with a Korean surprise to kick things off.

After settling in, receiving my schedule and timetable, and thinking to myself how lovely it was to have NO 1st period classes ever . . . . . after lunchtime I was informed that my schedule will change. I’ll go to my small school on Monday and Friday now, not Monday and Wednesday. Which means after lunch, one of today’s classes was moved to Thursday and Friday’s classes were moved to Wednesday, etc. etc. Long story short, I now have 1st period classes four out of five days a week. Sigh.

But oh well, I’ll adjust soon enough. For now I’m simply relieved that the first day has been plunged into, like Polar Plungers getting that first icy blast of water over with. The worst is over, and now I will adapt to whatever comes next.

Strong women (and, teaching is not a solo sport)

Today was Preparation Day for all the teachers at my school. Tomorrow we begin the 2nd semester, so today was the day for everyone to come into the office and prep the classrooms and class lists and seating charts and class materials and so on and so forth.

Because of this, I was able to meet with two of my co-teachers at lunchtime and we went out for lunch together. They are two of my favorites, and I was delighted to spend time with them, especially after not seeing them during summer break. As I listened to their familiar Korean chatter to each other (frequently pausing to interject in English, “We’re talking about XYZ”), I felt so grateful for being blessed with such amazing women as my CTs. Just as with any job, your coworkers have the potential to make or break your day-to-day job satisfaction, and in my case they have greatly contributed to making this experience enjoyable for me.

All of this led me to reflect on how many strong, smart, and determined women I’ve met while teaching here. (At the moment, 11 out of my 12 co-teachers are female.)

I’ve spoken before about my main CT at my smaller school. She met me at the Office of Education on my first day in Daegu, helped me out when I got lost later that night, and took me under her wing on my first day of teaching. She guided me through my first class ever, but in a way that made it sound like it was all my great idea – “Oh, this is good, Maddy! Next you will ask the students to do XYZ, right?” I definitely would’ve been lost without her. (Literally. Heh.)

Over the course of the first semester, I came to appreciate her more and more. Humble but competent, bright, cheerful, sharp, intelligent, always getting straight to the point while simultaneously bringing a warmth to the conversation that lets you know she enjoys talking with you. When we co-teach, she has that special and rare knack for taking the lead or picking up the slack in moments when my teaching is about to falter. I absolutely love her.

Then there is my Korean “mom,” who I’ve also written about before. She and I share an office at my small school, just the two of us, so naturally we became close via many a discussion of students, workload, stress, and personal life throughout the semester.

These two lovely ladies made my first 5 months in Daegu so much easier and less stressful. They were the first two co-teachers that I developed a relationship with.

But in one way or another, I’ve come to admire all of my co-teachers as I’ve gotten to know them better. Each has a unique approach to teaching, each has her strengths in various teaching techniques that I try to learn from.

I learned today that one of my CTs is a fairly famous teacher in Korea; she’s led seminars around the country, and this semester will hold an open class for teachers from all over the area. It’s a pretty big deal. Of course, she never mentioned any of this to me herself. Makes me feel a bit more stressed about co-teaching with her, though. I’m sure she must be judging my class without even meaning to. *sigh*

Whether they rule with an iron fist or control the class by having a playful, friendly relationship with the students, all of them have the ability to quiet an unruly class with just a word or two. All of them have a powerful skill that I don’t – the ability to speak, understand, and translate a second language. I know it’s not true for all Korean English teachers, but all of my CTs have a pretty good grasp of the language.

All of them have spent hours in the office, well beyond the official end of the school day, working on lessons and all the red-tape paperwork required of them. Sometimes they come in for hours at a time on weekends as well.

Of course, I know it’s also not uncommon for American teachers to put in extra hours of unpaid work, and I’m fairly certain that teachers all over the world do this! My admiration for my Korean CTs obviously extends to teachers everywhere. Provided they’re teaching for the right reasons – i.e. passionate about sharing knowledge, working with children, interacting with students, etc. – most teachers are awesome like that, willing to put in the extra (personal) time and expense for the sake of their students. Outside the classroom, we think about our students, we worry about them, we smile because of them. We’re constantly seeking to improve our lessons and teaching techniques for them.

This also led me to thinking about how comforting it is to have a teacher network. I think it’s so important for teachers to be able to talk to other teachers, and not just for the obvious reason of sharing ideas and strategies. Sometimes it’s nice to be able to confide your stresses, anxieties, and “this-kid/class-makes-me-want-to-pull-my-hair-out” moments with a person who can completely empathize.

Today, chatting with my two CTs, it was so comforting to hear that I’m not the only one feeling this horrific dread in the pit of my stomach about starting the new semester tomorrow. And not just dread – anxiety, nervousness. Even though my co-teachers have been doing this for years, they still get nervous about the start of school. I was reminded that just about every teacher feels like this at back-to-school time, and it’s not because we hate our jobs or hate the students or hate teaching (at least, not necessarily; I’m sure there are some teachers who are tired and in bad school situations and perhaps they do hate their job).

At the end of the day tomorrow, I think the dread and apprehension will be at least 75% eliminated. It’s just a matter of getting back into the groove. That’s what I keep telling myself, anyway… but I have a feeling tonight is gonna be a loooong, restless night.

I’m alive!

Yes, I’m still alive, and no, I haven’t abandoned blogging. I spent the last two weeks traveling around Korea with my family, who came to visit. We went to Seoul and Busan, and they also came to Daegu for a few days.

Pictures to come. Maybe. Possibly. Potentially. Okay, probably not. If there’s one thing I’ve learned through this blogging experience, it’s that I suck at uploading pictures (and/or that WordPress has a crappy, clunky system for uploading pictures that makes me want to avoid doing so at all costs).

But anyway, here I am again, back in the office for one random day. Yesterday was my last official vacation day, and tomorrow all the schools are closing in observance of Korea’s Independence Day (August 15th), so I just have this one little day of deskwarming in between. School officially starts up again on Tuesday. Oh boy!

It’s always worse anticipating the return to the daily grind after a long hiatus from it. In your mind, it seems that the return will require such a colossal amount of effort and energy compared to the laziness of being on vacation. You remind yourself of all the tired and difficult days during the vast stretch (weeks, months) of pre-vacation work, and dread going through all that again – perhaps wondering how on earth you managed to survive it and still have energy left over. You completely forget, of course, all the rewarding parts of working that helped you get through.

Or is that just me?

Anyway, as the first day looms nearer and nearer, I have to keep reminding myself not to think about 6 lesson plans per week and after-school classes and Korean surprises and the delicate dance of co-teaching with new coworkers (an impossible dance in which at least one of the participants is bound to get his or her toes stepped on multiple times). Instead, I have to remember how at the end of every day, no matter what challenges I faced, I always walked home with at least one good memory of something a student said or did to make me smile, and that always kept me going.

To all my fellow teachers: here’s to the start of a fantastic 2nd semester! Good luck!