“Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall”

My favorite quote, and the only quote I remember, from Great Gatsby. In my mind, the only one worth storing in long-term memory. (Sorry to any Gatsby aficionados out there; I wasn’t a fan.)

Autumn has come to Korea. The weather has been mostly beautiful, the leaves are changing colors, and the days have slipped by quietly without me really noticing. It’s already been almost 2 weeks since my last post.

You know how it goes… things happen, students say stuff, and it’s cute or funny or sweet, but then I don’t write about it because other things take priority, or because maybe I would’ve written about it 5 months ago, but now it’s just sort of par for the course as an ESL teacher here.

So now I will endeavor to give an all-encompassing update of what’s gone on in the last twoish weeks, for anyone who cares to read such things:

— I said goodbye to the delightful 1st graders at my main school and this week started teaching the 2nd graders. As such, by the end of the week I finally will have been introduced to all the students at that school (in total, about 880). I find the 2nd graders to lie somewhere between 1st and 3rd in terms of energy and motivation, but sadly leaning towards 3rd grade in enthusiasm (or rather, lack thereof).

To my 1st graders, everything I said was exciting and great. Every lesson I taught was fun and easy. There were no “pulling teeth” moments, none of those dreadful silences as I stand at the front, sweating wildly and waiting for the volunteer hand that will never be raised. There were no sleepers, no bored or exasperated looks. They were all eager to try and do and speak and learn.

I feel as though this goes beyond the fact that they are still young and prehormonal; this is a particularly all-around smart and nice group of kids, and I know what a blessing and rarity that is for teachers across the board. I miss them.

The 2nd graders have most definitely hit puberty and are caught in its raging throes. (Is that even a thing? Can a person be caught in throes? Whatever. They are, okay?) Attitudes, insecurities, egos, reproductive urges, and self-consciousness are coming out in full force, in a strange contradictory blend. They’re still good kids, though; I’m just going to have to work harder for their attention and their respect.

— Today one of the 3rd grade girls came to visit me in my office. She lived in America before and can speak fluent English. I was happy to see her, but still couldn’t help feeling shocked when this steady stream came out of a Korean student’s mouth: “Oh my gosh, okay, um, so like I was wondering if you could do me a favor – I like suck so much at writing, and I’m doing this speech contest…” She has the inflection, fillers, and slang that, without living in an English-speaking country, it’s nearly impossible for an L2 learner to achieve. It’s nice to be able to talk to her using natural speed and vocabulary. Basically, she asked me to proofread her speech and make suggestions, which I’m happy to do.

— Two boys in one of the 2nd grade classes, during my intro lesson today, insisted that their names are Tony Stark and Harry Potter. And so Tony Stark and Harry Potter they shall be.

— Now I am fighting the urge to merely “Save Draft” and let this sit in my drafts box until I realize how inane and repetitive and dull this post is and delete it.

Actually, I’m hoping to write a post very soon about how my perspective has shifted after living here for 8 months (basically, recognizing the pros and cons of life in Korea rather than just the pros). We’ll see!

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My crazy Class 10

I’ve spent the last 8 weeks teaching the 1st graders at my main school, and I can honestly say the time has flown by at breakneck speeds. Teaching them has been absolutely delightful; their enthusiasm is so refreshing. However, next week will be my last with them this year, and then I will switch to my final group of students, the 2nd graders, for the remainder of the semester.

There’s one 1st grade class in particular that I want to talk about, though. Probably the one that will stand out in my mind the longest.

Class 10.

This class is the strangest amalgamation of personalities and ability levels I have ever encountered. From what I can tell, there is an unusually large number of students with extremely high English ability. A few of them appear to be almost fluent. (One has actually lived in the USA and I can have fairly normal-speed, natural conversations with him.) At the same time, this class also seems to contain a disproportionate number of students with ADHD, and possibly other special needs.

This leads to the most exuberant chaos imaginable in every single lesson with them.

Here’s a little rundown of today’s lesson, as an example:

I am greeted in the hallway by one of the most energetic boys. His English level is not high but he makes up for it in energy and effort. We begin walking down the hall together towards Classroom 10.

“Teacher, hello!”

“Hello! I am going to your class.”

“Teacher, Korean speak. I not English.”

“Class 10. I will go.”

“Oooh, yes!”

As we enter the classroom, he stands beside me at the front of the room and starts yelling at his classmates to “S*it down, s*it down!” He frequently plays ‘teacher’ like this, and for some reason every time he does so he raises the pitch of his voice to squeaky levels and uses excessive hand gestures. It’s hilarious.

“Okay, you sit down too, please,” I tell him.

The sitting down part can only last a few minutes for some of the boys, including him. They simply cannot contain their energy. My co-teacher and I let them get up and dance/walk around in the back during the class, as long as they’re not disturbing the other students and they’re still paying attention. Sometimes simply standing up at their desk for a bit helps.

The other way the excess energy comes out is through shouting. There is one boy in particular who seemingly CANNOT NOT SHOUT. No matter what the situation, his decibel level is off the charts. Today is no exception. He loves to participate, and when we’re doing choral repetition he drowns out every other voice in the class. The extremely high-level girl next to him wears an expression of patient, sisterly tolerance, as she does every week.

Additionally, one of the girls and two or three of the boys also scream at amazingly high pitches when, for example, there is an exciting or devastating result in the game we’re playing.

To combat this, I’ve taken to teaching in a very low, even, calm, almost monotone voice. It helps a little. Sometimes.

During our warm-up and key expression practice, I make sure to call on the students that are raising their hand silently, not the ones shouting “Teacher me! Ooh, Teacher! Teacher meeeeeeeee!” It takes a good deal of willpower to ignore the noisy ones, because they are really cute actually.

I have a GIF of Pikachu on one of my PPT slides. Squeaky-voice boy raises his hand to inform me that Pikachu is his pet.

We move to the textbook. They have to practice some dialogues with a partner. One of the screamers/back-of-class-dancers (who sits in the back – and he’s actually been given two desks, so that he can sit next to a partner and then go and sit by himself when he needs to) calls over the squeaky teacher-imitator.

“Will you practice together?” I ask him.

“Yes, yes, Teacher. We are couple.”

Finally we get to the part that they’ve been waiting for: the game. Cheers and clapping erupt. There are pictures of Kim Soo-hyun and Suzy in my PPT as part of the game. One of the boys jumps up and shouts, “Me and my girlfriend!” Chaos ensues.

My CT breaks out a call-and-response to get their attention back –

“One, two!”

“Three, four!” a few of them respond.

“One, two!” she yells more firmly.

“Three, four!” This time they quiet down.

They are full of laughter, outrage, and of course screaming as we play the game. Some of the boys are dancing around the back in excitement, occasionally skipping up to the front trying to see my laptop screen to see what’s coming next in the game (they can’t, and then my CT directs them firmly back to their spots). When it’s the Squeaky Voice boy’s turn to answer, another boy on his team “whispers” (a.k.a. loudly says) each word in his ear and the squeaker promptly repeats it. On Team 1, the Boy Who Cannot Not Shout keeps trying to say all the answers, and I restrain him as best I can to give other kids a chance.

As frequently happens with this class, we run a few minutes behind on time, so we don’t have time to completely finish the game when the bell rings. I wrap it up and say goodbye to them.

As the post-bell chatter begins, a boy sitting at the front gets my attention. “Teacher, look” – he pulls earplugs from his ears, grinning widely. I guess that just about sums up Class 10.

Honestly, no amount of description could convey how crazy this class is. But it’s a good kind of crazy. They’re all good kids; they’re just very very very energetic and eager. The girls, of course, are quieter, but I’ve been working on giving them more attention and encouraging them to speak more in class, since all of them are usually perfectly capable of answering the question, but don’t get the chance with the boys shouting.

One thing that I think is so sweet about this class is their efforts to help each other. The higher level ones patiently coach and prompt the lower levels. There’s a very family-like vibe which I love.

I will miss this class quite a lot when I switch in a couple weeks.

P.S. In case anyone is wondering, the boy with earplugs wasn’t tuning out the actual lesson; he still participated throughout class. But the last couple weeks, he’s been plugging his ears with his fingers when things got crazy, and I guess this week he just took it to the next level.

Friday update

Here I am back in my office for the 2-day work week after Chuseok holiday. There are many things to be happy about today even beyond having a 2-day work week. For instance:

— The weather is cool and very autumnal. Chilly in the shade and just warm enough in the sunlight. Perfect.

— The kiddos look so adorable in their winter uniforms – dress shirts and ties, and optionally a sweater vest (even for the girls). As of yet they aren’t mandatory since the weather is still shifting back and forth, but some of the students have been choosing to wear them over the short-sleeved summer uniforms.

— My cleaning crew are currently storming around the office, causing probably more chaos than cleanliness to occur, but I love their enthusiasm. This is probably my favorite 15 minutes of the day, especially on Friday because they are all filled with weekend cheer, unable to be squashed by my co-teacher’s mock severity.

One boy from one of my lowest level classes has taken to looking up words in the English-Korean dictionary. Today’s exchange:

“Teacher, g-i-f-t-s?” as he started flipping through the pages and reciting the alphabet to himself – “A, B, C, D, E, F, G…”

“Gifts,” I said.

“Gift… 선물?” (Sunmul is Korean for gift.)

“Yes!”

“Ooh, I genius.” (turning to his partner in crime) “I genius, you… not genius.”

Another one (from my low level class) just ran through the office on his way to clean the connecting classroom and shouted “Curious!” as he went. (“I’m curious” was one of our key expressions in class today. As a teacher I absolutely love this. And as an observer I find it hilarious.)

One of the high level boys, who used to clean my office but has now been switched to a different cleaning duty, sometimes wanders through aimlessly holding a broom or dusting cloth and amicably fake-laughs: “Eh heh heh heh.” I have no idea why.

Then this:

“You very ug-uh-lee boy!”

They just finished and had exited the office when one of them bolted back in, in apparent fear for his life. The high level boy peeked his head in and said, “Safe, safe. Come here!”… followed a few seconds later by, “Outside is very dangerous.” What on earth is going on out there.

Have a safe and happy Friday, everyone.