building up

*alert alert: long rambly post ahead*

Is it me or the school being a total roller coaster of emotions right now?

Today was exceptionally good. Today was the first time I thought to myself, I’m glad I work at this school every day.

Which is crazy considering that today is Thursday, and if you read my past Thursday posts from this semester so far you’ll see how I’ve been feeling about them. (hint: not good)

I’m really loving having my own classroom. The kids come to me rather than vice versa, and hence I can prep the classroom at my leisure, set up and test things on the computer, unlock and lock the door, tell them where to sit, etc.

But the best thing is that, if I choose to spend my 10-minute break in the classroom instead of in my office, I can chat with the kids who come in before the bell.

Today I spent basically 100% of my between-classes break time in my classroom, solely for that purpose. As I did so with each class, I realized that I’m actually forming bonds with these kids that were impossible for me to form last year at either school. Break time is one of the only ways I can talk with them about silly, fun, or otherwise unrelated-to-the-textbook topics. And doing that really does make a difference in their attitudes during class time.

Some conversations:

2nd grade boy: “When I 25, America go. And marry girl. Blue eyes, gold hair.”

Me: “Okay.”

He tried to tell me something else but didn’t know the words. A few minutes later I heard him asking my co-teacher, and then he came back.

Him: “When I wedding ceremony… you… invite.”

Me: “Oh, you will invite me?”

Him: “Yes. And present give.”

Another boy usually comes in and uses random English that he knows – “What’s your name? Where are you from? Do you like k-pop? Oh, good good!” (Please note that he already knows my name and where I’m from.)

In my last class today, a group of kids came in early and oohed and aahed over the Pikachu GIF on my PPT. (I always make the first slide of my PPT a cute dance GIF or something to have on the TV as they come in.) They asked if I know 짱구 (Jjang-gu, in English known as Shin Chan, apparently an anime character) and requested that I put him on next week’s PPT “hello” slide. I agreed, then asked how to spell Jjang-gu and wrote it in hangeul on the board so I could search for it later. They thought it was hilarious and amazing that I could write in Korean.


짱구 it is

Aside from the bonding going on, I started a new batch of lessons today that went over pretty well. It’s hard to please every class, as sometimes the first class will go crazy over a game and the next one will be so over it before you even start – and that can depend on general class mood, which period it is, co-teacher, etc. etc. But overall I think things went pretty smoothly.

I mean heck, if playing people bingo and “4 corners” (choose a corner, say the dialogue for that corner, and 1 corner is eliminated randomly) is enough to get even the most grumpy kids all out of their seats and using English, what more can I ask for? [There’s this one boy who usually slouches down in his seat and refuses to participate, but he was all “Teacher, teacher, do you know how to play League of Legends?!?” and I was all “HA I fooled you into having fun in English class. TAKE THAT SULLEN TEENAGER!”]

I also discussed the open class lesson (T minus 7 days… ㅠㅠ) with my co-teacher, skimmed through my draft of the lesson plan and PPT with her, and she put my mind at ease about it.

I’ve had this thing ever since I was little where I can’t feel good about my work if there’s some little uncomfortable thought in the back of my mind that it’s not quite right somehow. And I had that little uncomfortable thought nagging at me all week, even after my overhaul of the entire lesson on Monday night. Overthinking? Maybe. But I know once I get the lesson to where I want it, everything will click into place for me, mentally speaking, and I’ll be satisfied with it. And now that my co-teacher approved my ideas, I’m much closer to getting there.

AND tomorrow is Friday. I mean, it can’t get much better than this, right?

P.S. There is however apparently a particularly nasty flu virus going around atm. Seems like almost a third of every class is either absent or sitting there looking like death with the surgical mask on to “protect” their classmates. They’re dropping like flies. My 3rd graders said they’re required to all use hand sanitizer at the start of every class. (Not a bad idea at all. Korea could use more of this honestly.)

Thus far my ironclad immune system is holding out quite well, perhaps because I’ve spent the last 10 years of my life (literally) working with children of all ages and being coughed and sneezed at on the daily. [Hopefully I’m not jinxing myself by writing that.]

So I guess the title of this post remains apropos. building up that immunity. hang in there, everyone. after the weather change, spring will be here and we’ll be okay.


The kind of day…

… that involves this kind of school-wide message first thing in the morning:

What did you suddenly embarrassed Cool Messenger andoeseo? Sorry ㅠㅠ

The original version has been updated with the inevitable relationship too low.

Suddenly I gave that advanced would not say I’m sorry in advance ……

Existing messages will be retained. (If you’ll ever make us happy to contact you.)

He confirmed this message, please use the update as usual, it means that thing properly.

Once again suddenly sorry ㅠ _ ㅠ advanced point

… that you sit down at the end of and realize your whole body is throbbing, but now that you’re sitting down it’s an almost pleasant, slight-relief-of-pain sensation. Lying down would be even better. Bed, I miss you.

… that you don’t even feel guilty about eating one of the leftover fun size M&M packets that were kinda sorta meant for the kids. Hey, I bought them, so I can eat them, right? Chocolate is right there with breathing and sleep on Maslow’s hierarchy, right? Especially for teachers.


Nothing in particular

I honestly don’t have much to update on today, but it seemed like I should write something.

Today is the last day of the Easter lesson, and thank goodness for that because I’m getting to the point where just looking at an Easter egg gives me a headache and I only have a few more explaining-Easter spiels left in me. Saying almost the exact same things 18 times gets incredibly boring – I have to keep reminding myself that it’s still new for the kids and I have to muster up some excitement about it so they can get excited too.

Last Friday I was given the fantastic(ally horrifying) news that I will be having an open class for other NETs in the area, essentially to show the newcomers what a “more experienced” teacher’s class is like. Um… EPIK? Did you forget that I got here last year? I don’t call 1 year a whole lot of experience to be showing off to new people.

Anyway, I had to choose two date and time preferences on the spot, which I’m not good at doing (I need processing time when people drop these stress bombs on me, not “OKAY NOW MAKE A DECISION QUICK! QUICK QUICK!”) But it’s done now, so the class and date are set and whatever happens, happens.

All weekend and Monday I prepared for this open class lesson, but it was bothering me. An open class (although they say “Don’t change anything, we want the new NETs to see how a typical day would go”) is expected to be smooth, simple, easy for everyone to understand, with fun, engaging activities. I couldn’t get the lesson how I wanted it.

Monday night I had an idea that would be a lot better but that basically required starting from scratch and redoing both this week’s lesson and next week’s open class lesson (since they are both working from chapter 2 in the book).

I have to start this week’s lesson on Thursday morning.

So, yesterday (Tuesday) and today have been me going back to the start and recreating these lessons just in time to teach them (and submit the open class lesson plan well in advance).

Not that this is such an important and entertaining piece of information; I’m sure it’s quite boring. But that’s why I haven’t posted for nearly a week. Busy with the less-fun parts of teaching.

And now, the bell’s going to ring in 4 minutes, and 10 minutes after that my first class will come pouring into my classroom. All the paper eggs are hidden and ready to go. Three more times asking, “Do you know about Easter?” and it’s time to move on.

Sharing culture (Easter in the ESL classroom)

I feel encouraged.

Today I started teaching my kids a lesson about how we celebrate Easter in the U.S. With the timing of the midterm test, I have more than enough time to teach the textbook, so I’ve decided that in between each textbook chapter we’ll have a culture lesson. Something to give everyone (myself included) a breather and a chance to have some fun.

So, I decided to start with an Easter lesson.*

In Korea, Easter is really only celebrated by dedicated Christians, so some of the kids don’t even know what it is (which was shocking to me at first, since I think just about every kid in America, religious or not, knows about Easter).

And obviously Korea doesn’t have any of the fun traditions that we associate with Easter in America – the Easter Bunny, Easter baskets, chocolate bunnies, egg hunts, Easter dinner with family.

So I’m teaching my kids about these traditions (with lots of pictures to keep their attention, and the occasional translation from a CT).

First I show them this video, and although it’s a bit young for them, even my 15-yr-olds didn’t ridicule it. Then I ask them what the bunny was doing, and if they know what holiday the video is about.

The presentation part only takes about 10-15 minutes of me explaining Easter traditions and teaching them new words, such as “chick,” “lamb,” “lily,” “bonnet,” even “hot cross buns.” I retrieved some old pictures of my family’s Easter traditions (dying eggs, finding the Easter baskets, having Easter dinner together) (thanks Mom!), and they got a huge kick out of finding Maddy Teacher in the photos. Then I quickly review the new vocab words with them.

(Incidentally, they think it’s hilarious that we call it “dyeing eggs” and “egg dye.” It’s fun to explain to them that d-y-e has a different meaning than d-i-e.)

Then comes the fun part: Class Easter Egg Hunt! I have pre-hidden 18 paper eggs around the room, and each egg has a question about Easter on it. The kids have to find the eggs and write the answers on their answer sheet.** This takes up the majority of the class time – about 20-25 minutes, which allows me to take a deep breath while still feeling like I’m educating them. Kinda. At any rate, a lot of them come to me during the hunt to get help with questions or spelling or just chat (which I’m okay with, since we’re practicing English).

In the last 10 minutes of class, we check the answers together. I give M&Ms to the kid who had the most right answers, but then I tell them that since in America, all (basically) children get candy, I give them all a Tootsie Pop. There’s usually 5 minutes left at that point, and I give them an Easter word search to work on.

Let me tell you, nothing shuts up an excited class of Korean kids faster than Tootsie Pops and a word search.

It’s cute how totally engaged they get. When the bell rings, they don’t even jump up like they’ve been stung as they normally would; they sit there and keep working on it till I tell them to get out. Haha. Kidding, but I tell them class is over, Happy Easter, bye!

This is undoubtedly one of the most successful lessons I’ve ever taught. It’s exactly the break we ALL needed (even though school’s only been in session for 2 1/2 weeks). They are overjoyed when, at the beginning of class, I tell them we will NOT use the textbook today.

And I get to each this lesson from today until next Wednesday, to every grade and every class! So that’s pretty cool.

*I got the idea for this lesson, particularly the classroom egg hunt, from another native English teacher’s open class I attended early last year (although I made my own materials), so I’m grateful to her for the idea. At the time it was totally impractical for me to do this lesson [with the egg hunt] because I didn’t have my own classroom; I was constantly moving from class to class. But now that I have the “English Zone,” I can hide the eggs before the kids come in. It’s amazing.

**My biggest problem has been getting them to leave the eggs there, not take or move them. Even with multiple repetitions of this rule in English and Korean, I always have to rapidly go through the classroom after each class, checking off egg locations on my list and making sure they’re all still there. And printing off new ones for the ones that got inexplicably lost. Sigh. But it’s worth it!

Ode to a Neighbor

O Neighbor

You are truly a wondrous human being

You who are capable of emphatic conversation and raucous laughter in the wee hours of the night

and who can continue such marvelous noise straight through to 6:45 the next morning

when I awaken and wonder how anyone is capable of such a feat

Truly I envy your vampiric lack of need for sleep

Also your talent for finding the right time to make loud sudden noises

just as I’m drifting off

such as (I can only assume) pounding nails into your walls with great vigor and determination

It is also indeed incredible that you can fill all the hallways and all the stairwells of this building

with your powerful pungent cigarette smoke fumes

To say nothing of your fantastic penchant for washing and clanging dishes in the sink at 1:30 in the morning

Truly your diligence is enviable sir

Though I shall never quite understand why

when our door key codes are but simple 4-digit PINs

it is so difficult for you to recall yours

such that you must always enter and re-enter it many times before you get it right

Perhaps your intent is to create a lovely symphony of beeps and boops resounding through the thin walls of the building

to let all of us mere quiet residents know that

you have arrived

O Neighbor

You are truly a mysterious human being

Battery: 0%

And it’s only Monday.

Let’s just say Year 2 is throwing me for a loop.

I kind of knew what to expect, having worked at this school twice a week last year, but coming here day after day with no respite (of going to my other school for the rest of the week) is wearing me down.

I’m still unsure whether I’m holding the kids or myself to too high a standard. Or both.

I rode the (negative) emotional waves today, from frustration to anger to annoyance. I obviously need to learn to let go of what I can’t control. If a CT simply isn’t going to support me in the way I’d like to be supported in the classroom, so be it. I have to work around it. (You’d think I’d have learned this last year. Obviously it didn’t sink in well enough.)

As for the kids, for the ones who don’t care about English and for the classes that feel like pulling teeth, I just cry on the inside and smile on the outside and slowly make my way to each table, making sure they practice at least once anyway, trying to help them understand what they’re saying. Even if as soon as I turn my back, they’ll start chatting in Korean again.

My last class today was 2nd grade, one of the most mixed level I have – meaning, some kids are at the top of the A level (could debate large-concept topics), others at the very bottom of the C (can barely read). I tried to balance, tried to have the A level kids help their C level partners, tried to chat a little about other stuff with some of the high level kids so they wouldn’t get bored, tried to encourage the ones who felt lost.

After finally getting to the end of this exhausting routine for the last time today, I sat down at my desk feeling drained in all ways possible.

A CT told me we have hweshik on Wednesday directly after school. Another CT asked me to help her record and be in video lectures for the students to watch at home. None of my CTs are on the same page as to what I’m teaching in each of their classes. A student asked me to help her friend study for midterms. Another group of students are expecting me to hold an English Club with them, and I’m all, hold up kids, I haven’t heard a word about that from any of the other teachers. Don’t you come marching into my office on Friday wondering why I’m not ready for English Club. (They will.)

Then I got a message from a teacher in the 2nd floor office about my health insurance documents, so I stepped outside my office to head down there and pick them up.

And as soon as I opened my office door, I was surrounded by 2nd graders – “Oh, hello teacher! How are you?” “Teacher, [in Korean] my brother found you on Facebook! Please accept my friend request!” “Teacher, you are so beautiful! Wow!” “Teacher,” and this boy offered both his hands to shake mine respectfully, “Teacher, I love you. I love you, Teacher.” “TEACHER I LOVE YOU!” crowed his two friends behind him.

Maybe it seems dumb, but these little moments help me hang in there. It’s something positive to focus on when these difficult, new-school-year, new-coworkers, new-schedule, new-curriculum times come along.

Dear Thursday, I hate you. (a rant)

I don’t like to rant too much on my blog because it’s on the internet forever and chances are whatever I’m ranting about will improve with time anyway. But Thursdays are kind of awful this semester, and yesterday was particularly awful, so here is my rant (partly written yesterday, but I decided to cool down a bit before editing and posting).

Just in case any of you were thinking it’s all flowers and rainbows over here.

Walking to school in the morning, I was the victim of witnessing an older (but not too old to know any better) man peeing in broad daylight IN THE MIDDLE OF THE PATH. This is the third time I’ve encountered this (from different men). Nothing like seeing an old man’s… ahem… ‘nether regions’ to start your day off right. (Had I written this yesterday, I would’ve gone on to rant about the many ajeosshis with mighty egos who act like they own the place [and by the place I mean the whole country] just because of their age and gender and Confucianism blah blah blah… but today I won’t.) (Thanks a lot for your actually sexist, classist, younger-people-oppressing “ideology,” Confucius.) (Oops.) (But that seriously is a topic that can make my blood boil.)

Anyway. Who knew men peeing in public is all Confucius’ fault, right? That’s what I’m here for, folks.

As I mentioned last week, Thursday is a five class day, back to back to back, and it’s also the day I start a new lesson with every grade since the first day of school was a Thursday. The stress of trying out new things combined with a busy day and the fact that my new co-teachers and I still aren’t used to working together in the classroom does not make for a happy mood.

And then there are the textbooks.

Why the hell are we, and many Korean schools, using these horrendous, poorly-written and poorly-organized textbooks full of useless, overly formal English “conversation”? I’m particularly infuriated by my school’s textbooks (compared to the ones I used at my old school last year, which were decent and simple enough for the kids to actually learn some useful phrases) because they are just horrible and often barely decipherable even for ME, the native speaker.

Yesterday, as I’m asking the kids “What is Hana going to do in the band?”, I see that the CD version of the textbook, displayed on the TV screen, says “play the drurms.” The DRURMS. Really? Drurms. Okay. Fine, so a typo slipped through.

Oh wait… then we get to the listening part. I play the audio and wince as an F-list voice actor LITERALLY SAYS in the most obnoxious voice ever “Which do you pre-fore?” PREFORE?!? That is NOT ENGLISH. THE WORD IS PREFER. Pree-ferrrrr.

But don’t worry, at least when they’re supposed to be listening for where the girl can apply to join the badminton club, the robotic voice actor says “You can apply ot website.” Not “on the website,” not “AT the website,” not even “ot THE website,” but just OT WEBSITE. Like maybe the voice actor had a small stroke and forgot how to speak for a second. OKAY. GREAT. THANKS FOR YOUR HELP. I CAN ALWAYS COUNT ON YOU, [STUPID TEXTBOOK PUBLISHING COMPANY].

If you can’t tell, this really gets my goat.

Edit: Yesterday when I drafted this, I called the publisher out by name. Then I feared getting deported for criticizing a major Korean company, and a main provider of English textbooks in this country. If you’re curious… “why bee em.”

To top everything off, my new main co-teacher’s idea for how I should be teaching the textbook and planning my lessons is completely different from my former main co-teacher’s ideas. And since the latter and I are quite close and on the same page, it’s extremely stressful trying to figure out what on earth I should be doing.

The only good thing about Thursday is that the next day (which is today) I can sincerely say, TGIF.

아이고! Lost in translation

Korean schools have a school-wide messaging system that all the teachers and administrators use to keep each other updated. Of course, everything is in Korean, but I always scan them to see if something seems important. Sometimes I run them through Google Translate… as if that helps any.

Here are a collection of school messages I’ve received and attempted to translate.

If you have lost a thumb or student transportation card, please send a three-layer jinhaksil

Take minutes to find items ordered

1. Notes et al 15 kinds
2. Peanut, Peanut Caramel
Find the key ㅠㅠ>

Some of the key depends itgoyo clustered ~
A key chain character Lisa Simpson’s up ~
Where ever I think yesterday I shed picking up new minutes heulheul give me im me

Main Office: Sheep playing teacher.
Most, but … if there ever been carrying this lack of self-troubled student
I’m afraid, so throw the extra characters, please send me your parents
I am in the Main Office, 4th Floor

I love ^^
Yoo-jung’s yesterday once will guide Sinmungo app installed safety related messages sent to you again.
Reported until Monday because I want to finish the day ….
Check sludge will send it as an attachment to an example, we will appreciate it if you answer me.
Fighting is always fighting always ^^ ^^

Missed the received content.

Maybe you saw a small wad of keys’re not from around here?
There are six keys on the square flower pink key chain, this is a very important key ㅠㅠ
Each key has ‘green, purple, gray, 2,3’, etc. They said there’s written.
I went to that place Where the spirit …

I’m begging you saw minutes at ambient ~~ ~~~ Contact

Hey ~
Application receives milk feeds.
Students Family Letter (Form) is indeed doable distributed each year.
Prospective milk feeding of staff sent to geupsiksil please fill out the attached file ~

Knysna program when connecting Freeze, when attaching files stored down, the conflicts these men HOT!
I appreciate your patience, director of information I am going to spend 2011 to buy computers this year …. Haut.

These men HOT, people.

Why I love my job

Item 1. A 3rd grader approaches me in the hallway as I’m unlocking my classroom door. “Hello Maddy!” “Hi, how are you?” “I’m fine, thank you, and you?” “I’m good.”

He walks by, but doubles back a second later to hand me a mini Tootsie Pop.

Him: “Here.”

Me: “Really?”

Him: “Yes.”

Me: “Oh, thank you!”

Him: “Yes.”

He walks on.


Exhibit A.

I’m still trying to open the lock (the English Zone’s double glass doors don’t lock, so we have a flexible plastic bike lock style lock around the handles). He doubles back yet again.

Him: “Oh, help me?” (LOL at this because he obviously meant “Can I help you?” That or he decided to say what he believed to be my dialogue in this situation.)

Me: “Oh, okay! Can you do it?”

Him: “Okay, yes. Okay.”

[struggling for a few seconds, twisting the key around]

Him: “Okay, relax. Relax.”


He did manage to open the lock and was clearly very happy about that. I thanked him – not really for opening the lock but for making me laugh right at the start of my Monday morning.

p.s. this kid used to sleep through the entire class, every class. when i taught his class on thursday, he put in the greatest effort of any student there.

Item 2. I walk to lunch and am bombarded with “Oh, Maddy saem!” “Maddy Teach-uh!”

Item 3. At the end of the school day, a very low-level 2nd grader strolls into my office singing “Newspap-uh, newspap-uh, newspap-uh” and asks me, using his new key expression from the textbook, “Which-ee do you pruh-per, KIA Tigers or Samsung Lions?” (referring to two Korean baseball teams). He then recommended that I choose Lions because “Tigers, [thumbs down]. Lions, [thumbs up], good good.” Then he asked me to write my name under my choice. I guess it’s some homework project for one of the English teachers.

It’s true that a percentage of kids at this school do not try and give major attitude when I dare require them to practice their textbook dialogue, but the kids who do make this massive effort, even if they aren’t very advanced… they totally make up for it.


I had a housewarming party today.

The party consisted of my two closest co-teachers and myself. They pretty much invited themselves over, which is totally cool because they’re the best. I’m most comfortable with them out of any of my coworkers here.

I will say, though, that my apartment has never been cleaner.

(in the process I found a spider in the corner of my closet. 10 minutes, a rolled-up newspaper, and half a Kleenex box later, the issue was resolved but I spent the next 15 minutes googling and image searching “venomous spiders Korea” just in case. (it wasn’t deadly.) (regardless, I then had a case of the creepy crawlies for the next 20 minutes.))

Anyway, they arrived at 7 p.m. and brought gifts: dishes and tissues and laundry detergent (the latter two are traditional Korean housewarming gifts).

We ate jjimdak (which is NOT evil fish jjim, but a mildly spicy chicken, potato, carrot, and onion stew which is delicious – picture at link) and strawberries and cinnamon cake and chatted for over 3 hours. One of these two women no longer works at my school, so we caught up on her school and compared notes re: students, coworkers, schedules, principals and vice principals. We talked about how school went last year. About our stress. Our insecurities. Our future goals.

These women are 10+ years older than me, but somehow – and this is where the gratitude comes in – the three of us have formed this friendship of sorts.

[[In Korean culture, it is actually impossible to be “friends” with someone who is not the exact same age as you. You can be “close” with them, but the Korean word 친구 (chingu) is only for people born the same year as yourself. If there is an age difference, even of just a year, you have to use different titles to refer to them rather than the word “friend.”]]

But anyway, as we sat cross-legged on my floor eating strawberries and chatting up a storm, I just kept reflecting on how grateful I am for them. They are two amazing women: kind, strong, honest, smart, considerate, and very supportive of me in and out of school.

As the night came to an end, we shared mutual relief that tomorrow is Sunday, not Monday, and promised to try to meet once a month like this amid our busy schedules.


i am grateful.

the end.