here today, gone tomorrow

Well, here today, gone next week anyway.

Yesterday the school halls were echoing emptiness back at my footsteps. Today there were stamping feet, loud voices, the whir of heaters doing their best to combat the cold. And soon – in a few days – we will return to the emptiness.

Maybe the purpose is to make all of us remember what our responsibilities are lest we get too lazy during break. To stop us from feeling too relaxed. Get that cortisol flowing again, you know.


The night before a stressful day, I try to cope by making some kind of mantra for myself, typically involving the formula “No matter what happens tomorrow, by [X] time I will be at home doing [Y].”

Yesterday, it was “No matter what happens tomorrow, by 5:00 p.m. I will be at home eating spaghetti and cheesecake* and watching The Office.”

It really does help. With practice.

*Not, like, mixed together. Ew.


The day wasn’t as dreadful as anticipated.

Classes have been shortened to 35 minutes. I waste spend the first 10ish minutes on a group memory game (they memorize the picture, then I hide it and they try to remember all the items). Honestly it really isn’t that much of a waste of time since they often seem to be mute after not speaking English for over a month. I consider it a nice easy way to remind them what English even is.

Then we talk about New Year’s Resolutions. I have them guess the Top 10 most popular resolutions for Americans (based on an article I found) and if we have time they write their own resolutions for this year.

Yes, it’s February, but talking about the new year isn’t that belated in Korea since the Lunar New Year was just last weekend.

Anyway it hasn’t been too bad. We all know no one cares what goes on in class during this mini semester, and the kids were as nice as could be expected in the circumstances. Except for the one truly evil class in today’s crop, who were consistent with their general behavior throughout the year (evil).

But all that matters is I survived it for the very last time, and since they’re graduating to high school next week, now I can truly say:

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There were a few other nice things about today as well.

  • The science teacher came to my office – “Maddy, I have present for you. Name stickers!” She ordered every teacher at school a personalized sticker set as a little new year’s gift and she didn’t forget me!
  • Before I started one of my 3rd grade classes (not the evil one), their homeroom teacher came in and requested a few minutes of my class time (purely with eye contact and body language, that is). She had just received their high school placements, which made them cheer and gasp in anticipation. I guess it’s kind of like getting into college, since they have to apply and might not get the one they want. Anyway, it was cute to see some of them get excited about their new school.
  • Two 1st graders came in at the end of the day to deliver some traditional rice cakes. Another boy popped his head in and said, “Maddy… Maddy? Is it really Maddy? Oh my God. We again meet.” Apparently he’d been convinced he would never see me again after the end of the semester.

I suppose the best part is that after we grind through these few days, there’s more vacation until March!

Language

Of course we all know it’s essential. How else would we communicate with each other? Yes, there is body language and eye contact and gesturing and tone and all that, but words are still pretty darn important.

I’m really making an effort to use Korean these days, particularly with my boyfriend (to alleviate the burden of communication that he upholds every day by speaking in English with me). In doing so I’m realizing just how scary it is to attempt to produce your own thoughts in another language.

Even though I encourage my students to “just try,” to put themselves out there and just say something in English on a daily basis, it’s… much easier said than done.

As a teacher, of course it’s easy to be delighted by the outgoing, bold kids who just shout out whatever they feel in English, even if it makes no sense, because it’s still an attempt at communication and it helps the student to make progress (plus it’s cute). Of course it’s easy to be frustrated or disheartened by the shy and quiet ones who don’t want to say a single word, even though they actually know enough vocabulary and grammar.

But I am that quiet student who doesn’t want to speak for fear of making a mistake. For fear of embarrassment, of saying something wrong, of the awkward confusion that could result from an error in pronunciation or grammar.

Logically I know that it’s better to just make the effort and let the grammar mistakes roll off my back, to just push through and improve by doing – I know this because I’ve seen the benefits in action countless times – but the fear is really a big obstacle.

Part of the problem, of course, stems from the fact that Korean is less forgiving than English (in my opinion) in terms of pronunciation, and less exposed to a variety of sounds since so few foreigners actually speak it.

But mostly it’s fear on my part.

To get back to my original point, I’ve been frustrated as I recognize that the words I choose in Korean (and I have a very limited selection to choose from before resorting to Naver Translate (more accurate than Google)) might have a different undertone or connotation than their English translation. But I have no way of knowing unless I constantly ask, “Is that right? Does it sound natural? Is it too formal? Too stiff? Too casual? Rude? Blunt? Standoffish?”

Do I say “교장선생님이 나한테 얘기했어”? Or “교장선생님이 나에게 말했어”? Technically they both mean “the principal said to me…”, but which is politer? Which is natural in context?

Is it 맞아요, 맞죠, or 맞다? By definition they all mean “Right/Right?,” but there is an appropriate context for the use of each.

HELP.

Not to say that English doesn’t have a similar mess – sure, English is even more confusing in many regards (I’m sure most of us have read “The Chaos“), and uses a ridiculous amount of slang, borrowed words, and cultural context (almost like inside jokes among all native English speakers), perhaps more than any other language.

But still, Korean is particularly troublesome, where you have a bewildering and treacherous interpersonal minefield of the ‘levels of speech,’ ranging from 반말 (banmal, casual language only for friends) to 존댓말 (jondaemal, polite language) with a million levels in between which make it downright terrifying for a non-native speaker to navigate.

I do think personality can have a lot to do with language learning as well. Extroverted people are more likely to put themselves out there in an effort to get the human interactions that will energize them. For me, and I’m sure many other introverts out there, I’m pretty good at listening, reading, and writing in Korean on a basic level. It’s the speaking that can be overwhelming (so basically exactly the same as English… heh heh).

It’s going to be an uphill battle. Wish me luck.

stamina

I’m feeling rather like this today:

Just pushing through.

It’s been an extremely bumpy week.

The lows:

Monday is always a difficult day, but especially because it’s my busiest day and a day with some of my worst-behaved classes. It’s particularly frustrating for me, as someone who used to have a teaching role with total authority in the classroom and the ability to appropriately discipline students who were misbehaving, to now have almost zero power in that area. It’s unfortunate that my co-teachers often seem to have a higher tolerance for bad behavior than I do, but because their status in the hierarchy trumps mine, I can’t do anything about it.

On Wednesday I was gifted with a Korean surprise – initially I was told we were having a school-wide “open class” in the afternoon, and I foolishly assumed that meant other teachers in the area or an open house deal for the parents (which wasn’t a crazy thing for me to think since we held that type of thing last year for the parents). A bit stressful, but not that big of a deal.

BUT THEN after lunch on Wednesday I found out that it was actually a school inspection. People from the city’s office of education were coming to check out the quality of our teaching and such. This did make me feel more nervous, because by luck of the draw, the open class period happened to be one where I’d be teaching the lesson for the first time ever (i.e., no “practice” with another class).

And of course, this was the one class this semester that my planned activity totally flopped. I had wanted to just try something different, and usually even when I do try a new idea, it works out okay – but this was just that internal panic mode, rapidly-spiraling-out-of-control situation that every teacher dreads. The kids weren’t into it, they were getting restless, and I realized a couple of the questions I had prepared as part of the game were convoluted, leading them to give the wrong answer.

Thankfully, the class wasn’t filmed, and the inspectors only stayed in the room for a couple of minutes in the beginning, so no one was really witness to said disaster.

Still, it was completely and utterly demoralizing because I knew that that wasn’t my best, and even though no one actually saw the crash and burn (besides my sympathetic co-teacher), I was so disappointed and frustrated that I was near tears afterwards.

I had a double period after-school class today to make up for a missed class 2 weeks ago. The 15 kids in my class (16 yr olds) are such a mixed bag of high and low level, wanting to be there and not wanting to be there. A few of the kids spend half of the class telling me “I no English” while others are getting bored with the simple material. It’s so hard at their age because I want to / sometimes can relate to them as adults, and they have the maturity to grasp and discuss bigger topics than the 14 yr olds, but at the same time they are still kids and they just want to go home.

I’ve honestly had my hands full all semester trying to think of activities that I can modify for different levels or things that will engage all of them, with moderate to weak success. It’s freaking HARD to please a group of teenagers, man.

Today was particularly difficult due to the double period and the fact that while outside is cool, inside is sun-baked like an oven. It was okay in the end, because I purposely saved a K-pop/American pop song game for the end of the second period when I knew their patience would be wearing thin, but overall it was just a draining and soul-sucking experience. (heh heh, kidding, mostly)

The highs:

There are two boys assigned as greeters this semester, so they stand at the gate every morning to say hello to every student and teacher that enters. They are two of my faves for their cheerful attitudes in and out of class (in spite of their English skills being quite low). Every single morning, I turn the corner past the gates and am met with a boisterous “HELLO MADDY TEACHER! WELCOME TO [OUR MIDDLE SCHOOL]!” and occasionally an “I love you.” Today, one of the boys added, “Eat breakfast?” It’s very cute and it means so much to me to be able to start the day like that.

I discovered this note on my desk when I entered my classroom a few minutes before the bell. No clue as to who wrote it, but it made me smile. Also, I should really teach the kids how to spell my name, as so far I’ve only seen “Meddy” and “Mady.”

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(Yes, that is an earthquake disaster information sheet beneath the note. Korea got a bit freaked out by the chain of earthquakes in September.)

 

I played a ‘Family Feud’ style game with the 1st graders, in which they guessed the top survey answers for questions like ‘favorite food,’ ‘favorite movie,’ ‘best drama,’ etc. (Back in August, I think I mentioned I had surveyed all the students at my school with these questions, compiled them, and created this game, because it’s more fun for the kids to guess their peers’ answers than random strangers’ answers.)

Anyway, we didn’t have time to finish all the questions before the bell rang, but a few boys lingered behind and asked if they could click on all the remaining questions to reveal the answers. It was just a cute moment as one boy clicked away and a few of his friends crowded around the TV, laughing, scoffing, or exclaiming in surprise as the top answers were revealed. Any time one of them gives up their precious break time to linger and interact with me or ask to see what we didn’t have time for in a game is touching to me.

So now here I am, 5:50 p.m., about to leave work and so, so, so thankful that it’s Friday.

Life takes stamina.

Physical stamina, yes, but also mental and emotional and spiritual stamina. It’s certainly important to build those up as much as you would your physical stamina. Push through those hard times the way you would push through a tough workout, and have faith that on the other side, you’ll come out stronger, and things will get better.

I’m not saying my own problems are so horrible; for the most part, I’m just being a baby. But I want to remind myself that all these small hurdles and frustrations and fears are chances to build my stamina, not as a body, but as a human soul.

So, to close out the week, I’ll just leave this here. Song of the week (month? year?).

Don’t give up, I won’t give up

I got stamina

Fears (and also 1 exciting thing)

While organizing my room a bit over the (all-too-short-and-nearly-over-now) summer vacation, I stumbled across a list of fears I wrote just weeks before coming to Korea. [Writing down your fears, including the irrational and improbable ones, can truly be calming.]

Here is what I wrote:

What if…

  • E2 visa application isn’t done on time?
  • Flight trouble?
  • Lost in [Incheon] airport?
  • Sick during [EPIK teachers’] orientation?
  • Lesson presentation [during orientation] flops?
  • EPIK sends me home?
  • Assigned school is horrible?
  • Coteacher hates me/is mean?
  • Can’t find (insert important place here)?
  • Make no friends and spend an awful lonely year?

Fear is such a weird and normal part of being human.

Coming to Korea was probably definitely the scariest thing I’ve ever done. But it’s so easy now to forget the deep, stomach-knotting fear that sometimes overwhelmed me prior to arriving. I think it’s good to be reminded of your past fears sometimes, because it gives perspective and shows that like 98% of the things we fear never happen, and the stuff that does happen, we can usually overcome.

So, of course, basically none of the fears on my list were realized. (I did get lost though. Legit lost. On my first night. So that fear came to be, but hey, I didn’t die… unless you count dying of embarrassment. hehe)

Currently I’m facing the mild but imminent fear of starting Semester 2 on Tuesday – more dread, really, but I suppose dread is a type of fear. With 4 days to go, I still have no idea what my schedule is or where my classroom will be. Of course. (Praying that they’ll allow me to keep my English room even though there’s semi-noisy construction going on 2 floors below in the cafeteria. I so do not want to share classrooms with other teachers.)

Then there’s the much broader but much vaguer fear of my life direction next year and beyond… but that’s still far away enough to comfortably push to the side.

So for now, my most pressing fear will remain facing a classroom of highly unenthused, overheated, mentally-checked-out teenagers.

And I guess if that’s my biggest fear at the moment, I should be grateful.

P.S. Totally the opposite of fears, but this is way too exciting not to mention:

I had to come into the office today because I’d run out of vacation days and there’s just this one random Friday stuck between vacation, Korean Independence Day (this Monday), and the start of school – but to my complete delight, while I was gone the tech guy came in and installed a BRAND SPANKING NEW computer, complete with new widescreen monitor (I have never seen a widescreen monitor in this school, much less a computer less than 3 years old), new keyboard which I love because it makes satisfying typing sounds, new mouse and new mouse pad.

It is lightning fast.

It doesn’t freeze and crash when I use the “Save As” feature.

It doesn’t take a million years to load a browser page or download something (in fact, it takes less than a second).

The screen is so wide I can multitask with two documents or windows open side by side.

IT HAS WINDOWS 8. Like, WHAT? I didn’t think school computers existed in Korea that had anything newer than Windows XP. No joke. Plus the full Office 2013 suite. O…m…g.

Am I in public school heaven? What benevolent administrative fairy godperson bestowed this wondrous gift on me? I’LL LOVE YOU FOREVER, ADMINISTRATIVE FAIRY GODPERSON! I want to send you a box of donuts as a token of my eternal gratitude. Or a box of caffeine or a box of puppies or whatever floats your boat.

(seriously though is this a mistake? like did they confuse “foreign teacher’s office” with “Principal’s Office”?? is this coming out of my paycheck? i feel guilty. i’m the lowly foreign teacher. how am i worthy of this expensive technology? i don’t know if anyone else got new computers, but the one other teacher in my office hasn’t yet. *pledges to create fantastic and awe-inspiring powerpoints to show everyone this was definitely a worthwhile investment*)

(in case anyone is wondering, i’ll take this over a reliable supply of toilet paper, soap, and hot water in the bathrooms any day. heck i’ll take this over almost anything any day. my school relationship meter just skyrocketed to “warm & fuzzy.” i guess now we know the true way to my heart.)

(also kind of really wanting to buy a desktop computer for my home now because i so miss having one. laptops are just no match.)

(don’t worry, i won’t.)

(but i want to though.)