suddenly, summer

I mean, I’m used to it because it’s often the same in my state back home, but we really barely got a spring this year.

It was chilly enough for jackets in the daytime and downright cold at night straight through most of April, and there were only a handful of really nice days before the blistering heat struck earlier this month. This week has been torturous for all of us stuck in offices and classrooms sans air conditioning, with the sun beating down mercilessly on the windows and baking us alive.

My co-teacher wisely gave me permission to turn on the a/c in my English classroom when it gets especially unbearable, because so many kids at this school need a lot of extra motivation to care about studying English particularly, and a comfortable, inviting environment really helps with that. I’m lucky because my classroom, being the “English zone,” is the only room in the whole school with an independent heating/air-con system, so we don’t have to ask the admin to turn it on for us. And we can get away with using it a bit under the radar without getting yelled at. mwahahaha.

Anyway, we’ve had some ups and downs this week.

2nd graders are an exhausting sample of the middle school population. In one class, we had played a whole ONE ROUND of a new game and a boy loudly declared “Teacher, no jam. No jam.” (No jam is a newish slang term, a mix of the English “no” and the Korean “jaemi eopseo,” which means not fun / boring.) Like, kid, give it a freaking try before you announce to the whole class that this is boring. K thx. (Also, if it’s really that boring how about we go back to the textbook? No? Didn’t think so.)

The second incident was with another 2nd grade boy, who is particularly troublesome in general, but this week his team was doing poorly in a game and so he decided to give up and start writing English profanities on his whiteboard. He caught my look and started erasing pretty darn fast, but the bad attitude of one can be a disease that spreads to the whole class. (Although a minute later he did write “Merry [sic] Teacher is pretty” to try to bribe me for points. Nice try, kiddo.)

On the upside, my 3rd graders are absolutely lovely and generally well-behaved and polite. Recently, one of the high level boys has managed to do something that I never could, last year or this year – his partner in class is a kid with a learning disability who usually never speaks, even in Korean. Two weeks in a row now, Boy 1 has successfully encouraged Boy 2 to perform the textbook dialogue with him in front of the class. It’s so sweet.

And when we were playing a survey guessing game (a bit like Family Feud in reverse; I showed them four actual American survey answers for a particular category, they guessed which answer was the most popular – practicing “Agree/Disagree”), one of the questions was “Which woman is the most beautiful? Scarlett Johansson / Jennifer Lawrence / Katy Perry / Zooey Deschanel.” One of the boys said confidently, “Teacher is most beautiful.” Pretty sure I can’t touch any of those ladies in the looks category, but still, it was a day brightener.

And today is Friday, and there’s light at the end of the tunnel as we speed up towards the last 6 weeks of school, 1 of which will consist of the speaking test for all students (conducted by yours truly), 1 of which will be at least partly taken up by final exams, and the rest of which I’ve almost finished planning lessons for.

Happy weekend everyone, and as the science teacher cried joyfully at lunch today, “TGIF!”


Pleasant surprises

Not ALL Korean surprises are bad, you know.

For example:

1. Early in the semester, I scheduled my open class for Tuesday, May 24. Today is Tuesday, May 24. Surprise! No cameras showed up. I realized that my big open class  a couple months ago (the one for new NETs) “counted,” cancelling out my regular open class. Yesssss! It was an especially great feeling because this particular group of students are not the ideal “open class” kids – they tend to be quiet and look like they’re not having fun even if they are. I was kind of worried about it, but all that pent-up nervous energy dispersed into happiness when I realized it was class as usual.

2. No air conditioning is allowed until at least next month, even though the temperatures have been climbing into the 80s with a relentless, scorching sun baking the classrooms every day. Today it’s raining, which is great – no sun (and as someone who is legitimately allergic to the sun, I’m loving that) – but it also means it’s crazy humid inside. My hair is literally reaching new heights of frizziness and everything feels sticky and damp.

The Korean surprise part is that during my last class of the day, the air conditioner in my classroom was mysteriously turned on. None of the kids would fess up, and my CT and I certainly didn’t turn it on, but we decided to quietly accept the boon. I mean, it probably takes just as much energy to turn it off right away as it does to run it for 45 minutes, right? Right?!

So we had beautifully dry cool air for 45 glorious minutes.

3. It’s mid-year self-assessment time for the NETs. Does anyone like answering these questions meant to trap you into egotism or low self-esteem? Rate yourself high on too many things and you look like a freaking narcissist. Rate yourself low and you look like a failure with no self-worth or confidence. Where is that balance? How much of a gap is there between “5 (very true)”, “4 (generally true)”, and “3 (true)”? Just how true can a statement get? True isn’t true enough? I’m confused.

The pleasant surprise was that my principal happened to walk into my office as I was balking at the task. He asked how my Korean is coming along, and I sheepishly explained that speaking is difficult but I can understand some.

[long tangent incoming ↓]

(wince… I know that question will only become harder and harder to answer the longer I stay in Korea if I don’t light a fire under my behind and actively study! I’ve been passively learning more and more vocabulary and grammar structure just by paying attention, and I can frequently understand the ‘classroom Korean’ / simple conversations that my co-teachers and students use, especially with contextual evidence. I can understand what is going on in the conversation in the Level 5 listening test from Talk To Me In Korean (the highest listening test level), even though I can’t understand every sentence. And that’s with zero studying!

But my confidence in speaking is so low. I get frustrated with myself – how can I expect students to put themselves out there and try to speak English if I’m too embarrassed or shy to try speaking Korean?

However, it’s kind of confidence-shattering to attempt to speak Korean and the listener has no clue what you’re saying. I think it has to do with the fact that English speakers are accustomed to so many different accents and ability levels, whereas most Koreans have only ever heard native Koreans speaking Korean. They have a very low threshold for pronunciation or intonation mistakes. Plus, some might not expect to hear Korean coming out of a foreigner’s mouth.

But I’m pretty much awesome at saying “Can I have a trash bag, please?” Sseuregi bongtu juseyo. I do this every time I go grocery shopping. Rolls right off the tongue. I’m a total pro now. So, you know, if any tourists out there ever really need a trash bag in Korea, I’m your woman.)


Then he asked, “How long will you stay in Korea?”

“I’m not sure,” I said. “But I’m thinking about staying longer.”

He smiled, “I think you should stay longer and longer and longer!”

Knowing that the head of the school values me as a teacher gave me the confidence boost I needed to fill out the “list 3 strengths,” “what aspects of your work attitude can be improved?”, “list 3 goals,” etc. etc. on the self-assessment.

4. My CT informed me that the kids are all out on field trips and extracurriculars tomorrow. All day. No classes. These are the days when I can bring in my morning coffee and yogurt, pop in my earbuds and get a ton of work done in uninterrupted peace and quiet. I’m so looking forward to it.

almost Friday

It’s hotter than blazes in every classroom, the kids are exhausted, the teachers are on edge, and this Thursday seems to be a hallway of gloom, ever expanding out in front of us so we can never reach that pinprick of light at the end that is Friday.

If you’ve ever tried to teach something to a rock garden, then perhaps you know what my day was like. Flat, gray, emotionless and immovable students.

“Teacher, we are tired. Midterm test.”

Child, you act as though you’ve just been through a war.

On top of that, I didn’t wear tights today, and rather than wear my open-toed work slippers in bare feet, I decided to keep on the flats I walked to work in (shh… well, no one really cared actually) – but wow, I’d forgotten how uncomfortable normal shoes are. (Coming from spending most of my day barefoot as a taekwondo instructor, to now wearing comfy slippers at work every day, I’ve been totally spoiled.) So add throbbing feet to the mix.

Buuuut it’s not all bad.

I made my 2nd graders make newspaper stories this week (key expression: “Have you heard about ___?”). They were allowed to pick any topic they wanted. Here are some of my favorites.

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And three groups decided to write about me. Aww.

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The cute and the crazy

I had a class last year that was off-the-walls crazy and wild, but they somehow managed to be crazy in the most adorable and endearing way. They were my secret faves. Sadly, I only taught them for half a semester, and I don’t think they will ever be topped.

But this year I have Class 106.

They’re active and outgoing collectively, but they’re also unique in the mix of extremely strong personalities. They’re all pretty sharp kids for 13-year-olds, but they tend to yell at each other a lot and get worked up over small things. Every lesson plan takes at least 10% longer to get through with 106 because of the yelling, the enthusiasm, and the sidetracking.

With this class, I get experiences like the following (these are from the last several consecutive weeks):

It’s early in the semester and I’m still getting to know these kids. I tell them to sit according to their homeroom seating chart (this makes it easier for me since the homeroom teacher has already gone through the work of making sure they’re paired off in the least-trouble-making way possible). A girl asks if she can change her seat, and I say no, that’s not fair to the other kids. She goes to her seat and promptly starts crying.

I’ve never seen this kind of petulant behavior from a Korean middle schooler (my only frame of reference being the spoiled fake-cry tantrum that a Western kid might throw), so I go over to her, shocked, and ask what’s wrong.

With the help of a few friends, I understand that the reason she’s crying (and these were genuine tears) is because the boy she sits next to says things like “Maddy teacher is not pretty” under his breath while I’m teaching. LOL. While her loyalty is touching, I assure her not to worry about his opinion and to just do her best. She sucks it up and we carry on smoothly.

As the weeks pass by, I realize that this previously mentioned boy is the definite troublemaker of the bunch. I make it my mission to befriend him. Each week I call on him to answer simple questions and praise him generously. Although the other kids seem disgruntled, this boy starts actually paying attention and doing his work. Today, he takes the initiative to tell me, “Teacher, I interest in beatboxing.” [My teacher’s heart leaps with joy at his attempt to use “interested in”] I ask him to demonstrate for me, and he does. He’s actually pretty good. “Wow, you’re really good!” I say. “Oh, thank you!” I can tell he’s pleased.

I’m teaching them “How about ~ing?” We practice and then I tell to write their own sentence.

One boy writes, “How about going to 천국?”
Me: “What is 천국?”
Him: “Hell. How about going to hell?”

I know he doesn’t realize the impact of the sentence in English, but I’m still taken aback that he would want to visit that particular place. Seeing my expression, his partner quickly corrects, “Heaven, Teacher! 천국 is heaven! He mistake.”

I confirm this to be true via Google translate afterwards. (I’m still not sure, though, whether he’s merely saying, “Hey, let’s go to heaven sometime,” or whether he’s implying the death of the person he’s asking.)

Several weeks in a row, the name-calling gets out of hand. “Teacher, he is stupid. She is crazy. He is ugly.” While 99.9% of the time, they’re just teasing their friends (not angry), I worry that some kids are taking it to heart. One week I call a time-out and make them say our class rules together, stopping to heavily underline #2: Be friendly, be kind. “Don’t say ‘he is stupid.’ Be kind. Say ‘he is smart.'” We’re still working on it, but it’s getting a lot better. (As an aside, I had noticed this was becoming a trend with all my classes, and besides asking the kids to be kind to each other, it spurred me to start telling them that they are smart more often.)

I’m trying to go through a practice round of the game we’re about to play, and I struggle to keep a straight face as the troublemaker boy (who has been sent to the very back of the room by my CT for pouring half his water bottle all over his desk) makes a ridiculously contorted face (not AT me, but more just… putting it out there in the world) and then starts blowing spit bubbles with intense concentration.

It’s 30 seconds to the bell for the start of our class but one of the girls insists that I look up the definition of something-something “결절” (which turned out to be “vocal nodes”) just so that I would most definitely understand that her sore throat was not just a sore throat, but due to speaking too much and too loudly. (Believe me, honey, I know.)

They’re supposed to be drawing things on a map – in this instance, a tree. One of the girls waves me down. “Teacher, do you know 어린 왕자?” Other students help out. “Little prince. Ah, little princess. No no, little prince! Little prince.” “Ah, yes, The Little Prince. The story. Yes, I know.” The girl points to her drawing of a little boy standing next to a tree. “This is little prince.”


Sidenote: This book traumatized me when I was young. I still find it disturbing.

We’re reviewing giving directions (go straight, turn left/right, etc) and a boy in the front row is muttering fervently (but not maliciously), “Son of a betch. Son of a betch.” One of the sharper girls catches it and looks at me with shock and amusement, but I shake my head at her and carry on until the boy suddenly says, “Son of a BETCH!” and everyone hears it, and then I say “Hey!” and my co-teacher has to yell at him in the back.

Such is Class 106. What a bunch of punks. But they’re cute punks, and they tend to be the highlight of not just my Wednesday, but my whole week. The cute and the crazy.

Sunday sounds

I live in a very bustling little neighborhood.

On a relaxing Sunday like today, as I chill in my apartment, I hear a lovely cacophony of familiar neighbor sounds.

– First, the birds singing, which is still so awesome to me because last year there were zero birds around my almost-windowless, next-to-the-highway apartment.

– Then, since it’s Sunday, choral singing and piano playing for hours from the church directly next door (and by next door, I mean there’s maybe 10 feet between my bedroom wall and the church’s brick wall). The sound is so robust that it comes right through the brick and floats gently into my room. I love it. It’s happening right now as I type this.

– The thudding of a hammer and the growl of power tools from the carpenter’s shop which is adjacent to the church and hence about 10 feet away from my adjacent bedroom wall. Sometimes I have to shut the windows to block out the sawdust and the smell of wood varnish. Sometimes his most ferocious, 1-million-decibel (probably) tool makes me want to pull my hair out. But hey, he has to make a living too. Even on weekends.

– Children screaming and playing in the tiny couple of houses below and to the north of me, plus coming from the daycare/kindergarten center a bit further west.

– These days, some child in some building near me has been practicing his or her ocarina religiously. I most often hear it on weekend mornings (like today, when I woke up to it) and in the evenings, drifting into my windows and making me think of Link.


From the Zelda Wiki

– And tonight, maybe from 10 p.m. until midnight there will be raucous voices enjoying Sunday night with friends and alcohol at the barbecue restaurant just slightly north of the two tiny houses.

– And after that, maybe until 2 a.m., if I leave my window a little bit open for fresh air, the sound of the family who runs the barbecue restaurant scrubbing down their grills and cooking tools and chatting with each other will come floating up to my window.

Granted, when I’m stressed and tired, all of this sometimes makes me feel like this:

But more often, I just accept it and I’m like this:


+1000 points to you if you’re not immediately related to me and you know this movie.

Just kidding, I don’t creep on people. But it’s kind of nice to hear these sounds and feel the little community living their lives around me, in a Rear Window kind of way, sans murder (I hope). (And now, for those of you who didn’t know the answer to the GIF caption above, you know which movie to add to your watch list.)

Is my school actually a cult

Because according to the school messages run through Google Translate, it is:

Once you receive payment requisition is printed regardless’ve even any director, manager who is close to God,
Time to leave this little (at least 2 to 3) sounds good indeed delivered us Print ~

I mean… okay, close to God, that’s fine…

It’s normal for the vice principal to send out funeral announcements for teachers in the area, but these sound strange…

Castle 0 kinds of teachers working in the school garden will be notified of the death of his father he hath (general public).
1. Funeral Home: Special dresser Hospital No. 101
2. to In: May 21, 2016 3:00 09
Chapter 3. paper: Youngcheon hogukwon
4. Contacts: 0 kinds of sex teacher (<– wut?)
Bakhuitak social Chairman (010-2738-2758)

It said the mother of binary facing teachers (English Department) who worked in Foshan High School Please note that hath passed away March 19.
1. The unit group: and the ranks (electronic announcements, PE)
2. Empty Place: Civil Awards funeral.
3. to person: Tues., March 22nd
4. Contact: Binary facing teachers (010-5417-1367)


Inform the window body. The current master club less than our entire school students. I will ask the Lord to cooperate aggregate. So a lot of the hassle is over …

Does this not sound cultish.

Now is the vice-principal business trip. God will be the overtime minutes (you go on business trips affairs manager 4:30.) Ask God affairs director to cast 4 ~

so wait, are we worshipping the Director? (who even is that?)

The principal has the right did you prepare for the Teacher’s Day ‘Will’
Enjoy it – did you send the minutes to bring his disciples bread ^^
It is the bread back one level in one room. ㅎㅎㅎ (<– this is the Korean version of “hehehe”… why are we so tickled about this bread?)

Disciples? is there something I should know, guys?

And this last one reads like a straight-up passage out of a cult’s holy book:

– >> General cleaning ask ~~
Especially in charge of a class suites do not often use the children he sent me a lot, thank you focus on cleaning.
I’m begging you please to better placement, because all children are given an hour to serve time, so that no child roles –
Have you there is insufficient anti-cleaning tool asks God songsukja Director, He gives us yet, as even one year shall not enter this year came because the cleaning tool.


p.s. no cultish elements in this one, but it’s just funny:

A state which is covered with a booklet reports on the toilet stool(<– um, what kind of stool are we talking about here?)
With literally dumped the trash went here.
Students often say this behavior in many bathroom.
It seems to require a map. (<– we need maps to use the bathroom?)
Homeroom teachers are using the map and gave it to the toilet, dump map, (<– a dump map? o.O) since these pictures are appreciated strongly so please come again stamped. (Vice Principal ask)
Use the ‘big smile’ paper cup and sip French Cafe Mix, please notification in the lab and gave the strawberry milk and slippers. (<– this sentence has apparently no relevance to any previous part of the message)
Thank you for your report to the responsible student. (<– you’re welcome)