Monday, September 17, 2012

Settled Into a Teacher's Life

So I feel like I'm getting into a regular routine now:
6:45am Wake up and get ready
7:20am Eat breakfast with brother and/or dad
7?42am Leave apartment for school and pick up brother's friend along the way
7:55am Arrive at school and prepare for the day
8:40am-Noon Teach classes, go to gym with my students, lesson plan, etc
Noon-1pm Lunch
1:10pm-3:55pm Teach classes, go to gym with my students, lesson plan, etc
4:15-5pm Teach conversation club class or advanced club class
5pm Leave school with Tracey (on certain days) for Hue Spozone gym
6pm Leave Hue Spozone for piano academy
6pm-7pm Piano lesson and practice
7pm Head home for dinner with dad (when he's home)
7pm-10pm Hang out with my family in living room, random stuff
10pm Go to room since brother has English webcam tutoring and computer is in living room
10pm-midnight Chat and videocam with friends, read news, blog, etc. in room and sleep

So even though things have gotten into routine now, a lot has happened since the last blog update. Nothing big but it's the small things in life that build up that create the big life changes anyway...

I go to the gymnasium almost everyday to visit and play with my students when I'm not teaching a class or lesson planning. I have the semester class schedule that has my particular classes but it also has the schedule for which classes are at Physical Education class during the day. I really want to develop relationships with my students and it doesn't seem to be happening in my regular classes so I need to make an effort outside of class. I'm always dressed in my normal teaching attire so I have limited choices in the activities I can engage in. I want to play soccer with the boys sometimes but the school field is made of dirt, not grass. It's not appealing to my skirts or pants, especially when I still have classes to teach afterwards.
I play a lot of basketball because it's simple enough and there are hoops in the gym. The boys are the only ones who play so I ball with them. The girls play this dodgeball-like game where your team is in a rectangle across from the other team, who are also in a rectangle. There's one ball and it is like dodgeball in that you are trying to hit someone on the other team. The thing is, there are also your team members on the outside of the opposing team's rectangle. You can pass the ball to them and they can hit the other team too. So if you're in the rectangle, you are surrounded on all four sides by the other team. I've play this game with my girl classes a few times. So when I'm at the gym, it's either hit or miss. If it's a class that likes me, they give off a really positive vibe when I come in and say hi and notice me. Then there are classes that don't like me and they just ignore me. The first few times I went to gym, it was kind of awkward too. I insa-ed to all the gym teachers first and then walked around to see my students. I got a lot of questions about why I was there from students the first time a class saw me. None of the gym teachers speak English so there's a lot of hang motions and speaking with broken Korean/English. I'e also used some of the students with better English ability to translate, which is kind of amusing. I've been keeping track of which classes I see at gym too so I know for a fact that all my classes have seen me at least once outside of class. I feel like it's starting to work in the sense that my students are noticing I'm there and realizing that I want to spend time with them and get to know them; my students have asked me if I like sports and have said things like, "Teacher, I heard you are good at basketball."

I am officially teaching 20 (or 21 depending on how you look at it) hours per week at school. I teach 15 regular classes, 2 conversation club classes (Tuesday/Thursday) and 1 advanced third year club class (Wednesday). I have about 35 students in each regular class, 18 students in my Tuesday conversation class, 15 students in my Thursday conversation class, and 13 in my Advanced class. I am in love with my Advanced club kids. They are all pretty good at English and are really sweet. I had some bad first impressions of some of them but they're all great and sweet to me now. I know they like me because Mr. Cho, who usually teaches them told me they told me they enjoy my class and like me. A few of them have also stepped up in class and tried to help me out by yelling at the class to quiet down when they get loud or explaining directions in Korean when no one else in the class understands. I've taught my Advanced kids three times already. They had to take an English test to get into the Advanced club class. They are in different third year homerooms but it's a good mix of boys and girls. I more recently started teaching the Tuesday and Thursday conversation club classes. My Tuesday class has far more girls while the Thursday class has a lot of boys. My Tuesday and Thursday conversation club class has students from each second year homeroom class but they are not necessarily Advanced or Intermediate English level students. There's a pretty big range. In my Thursday class, I have about four students with a very low English ability. So far, I really like my Tuesday club class. They are really funny and just sweet kids. One of my favorite boy students is in the class. He always drops a full 90 insa (it's hilarious) when he sees me and is just is really sweet. My Thursday club class is a different story. There's still a lot of disrespect in the classroom in that they talk over me, ignore me, etc. It's really frustrating especially because I am trying to do more fun things in the club classes since they are a smaller class size. I am also really chill and lax in my all afterschool classes since I assume they are there for extra learning and can have a little more room to breathe than in my normal class. I let them talk when they are doing work as long as they are paying attention when I'm talking and giving instructions. My Thursday club class can't even grant me that small request. I'm hoping that I'll get through to them but it's so hard when a few of them can't even understand me when I ask what their name is.

I started learning piano! This is something I'm really excited about. My co-teacher Mr. Lee found a piano academy for me, which is something I really wanted to do. It's funny since the piano instructor is actually the mother of two of my students, the son is in my advanced club class and the daughter is one of my high level 2nd year students. My instructor's English is almost nonexistent but she's a really sweet woman and she gets the point across. The original price was set at 90,000 won (less than $90) a month, which is a great price. I go Monday-Friday for an hour of lesson/practice. The first real day I went in, I used a lot of broken Korean and hand motions to ask for potentially a discount. I didn't have a set price in mind but she wrote down 50,000 won in my book and I was shocked at the discount. I was expecting to pay maybe 70,000 won but she went above and beyond. So far, I've learned a lot but that's not saying much since I'm starting from scratch. Regardless, I'm stoked. I've always wanted to learn to play an instrument and never really had an opportunity until now. I can check play an instrument off my bucket list now. I want to get decent by the time I leave Korea so I can buy a keyboard back in America and play when I want to. At the speed I'm learning and playing, I have no doubt it can happen. Regardless, let's keep fingers crossed.

I have now been to a wedding, memorial, and funeral in Korea. The wedding was the first weekend I got to Mokpo. The memorial and funeral were two weekends ago. The memorial was for my host mom's father who passed away last year and the funeral was for my host dad's brother's wife's dad. Both were interesting experiences. For the memorial, we went to my host mom's brother's house (the uncle I drank with who got drunk and told me about Dokdo and how much he hates Japanese people) and there was my host mom's mom and other family members. There was a lot of food that was prepared and some church leaders came by. There was some hymn singing, a passage reading, and the church pastor (maybe) led a short message. Afterwards, we ate. That was about it. For the funeral, we went to a funeral place and the immediate family of the deceased sat us down with a bunch of food. I didn't see the body or anything and I think it was in a separate room where you could go in and pay your respects. Everything here is very food orientated, which is similar to Chinese culture in some ways. I also went fishing with my family. We went to one of the small islands off Mokpo and my dad, brother, and I did some fishing. My mom and sisters sat in the car...

Back to teaching and my students, since they are the biggest part of my life here. I've noticed that the teachers' relationships with students are so different compared to America. While there's the physical aspect of it first of all. There's corporal punishment, even though it's now illegal, as well as other forms of touching. For example, when playing ball with one of my classes, one of my male students wrapped his arms around mine when I was defending him, in an effort to stop me from blocking another student's shot. I'm assuming he did it because it's somewhat appropriate in Korea but it's not something I would have done to any of my teachers growing up. I never touched any of my teachers, not a pat on the back, nothing. In general, there's just less personal space here in Korea so maybe that's why it's more appropriate here. Also, teachers can hang out with their students outside of class. That's BIZARRE in America. If that happened in America, it was in a group setting, never one-on-one with a student and it never occurs between opposite genders. Here, it would be perfectly acceptable for me to go get ice cream or hang out with any of my students one-on-one, even a male student. There's no judgement really, no thinking that someone else beyond the teacher-student relationship is going on. There's also a lot more teacher power here than in America I think. What I mean is that in America, students seem to have a lot more "power" in the sense that they can complain to their parents about something and the next thing you know, the school is called and the teacher is on suspension for saying something politically insensitive, punishing a student, etc. How a teacher talks to a call or treats a student is never really put into question here. It's just very different.

Now that I've taught my third lesson and am about four weeks in, I'm getting a better feel of these students. I'm torn because I want quiet in the classroom when I'm teaching but I remember what it's like to be in middle school. I used to turn around and whisper something to a friend behind me. I remember chit chatting. As a teacher now, I'm on the opposite side. In the front of the classroom, you really can see every student, everything. Also, I know that none of my students are "bad" kids. Every single one of them has a a good heart (I'm staying optimistic) but they can just be rowdy at times. So I question what's better: for the class to be quiet and act like they are paying attention even though some of them aren't listening but are zoning out OR for the class to be loud and ruly and engaged in the material even though I know some of them are just chit chatting with their friends and still not listening or learning? What do I do? I have been so focused lately on classroom management and ensuring the students know I am in control of the classroom and demanding respect, I am scared that I've lost perspective on everything. I hate the chitchatting in the back of my classroom and I will call it out while teaching. But is that the best tactic? Does utter silence in the classroom mean they're actually paying attention and learning? On the flip side, when the class is loud, there are always chitchatters included in this who I know are not even paying attention. I'm just trying to figure out a good middle ground to stand on.

My kids are pretty funny. I find myself laughing a lot in some of my classes. The boys generally have a lot more funny comments than the girls but I have a few girls that I think are pretty funny as well. Some of the students' introductions (on the back on their namecard) are quite comical as well. I know a lot of my students have a sense of humor so I want them to know I enjoy it by laughing in class when I see it. I think because of this, a few of my classes have become more receptive to me. I tried to use this with Class 3-3, the super rowdy class on Wednesday. I tried to be a little bit looser with them and even went along with one of their jokes but then asked them to be serious for a section of my lesson. That actually seemed to work. But I feel like every week is different for each class. Last week, some of my classes that are usually pretty good and receptive to learning were really rowdy and not engaged. I guess I just have to try to be sympathetic to my students. They are kids and they study all day. I have to remember they are people. It's crazy how much effect they have on me though. I invest in them so it's hard when they're not fully engaged.

There's a difference between Korean teachers and American teachers, I've noticed. There's a reason my kids have such an emotional impact on me. If I have a few really rowdy, disrespectful classes in a row, I have no energy and have a really draining day. For the Korean teachers, they seem unaffected by it. They don't attempt to make their lessons more interesting or engaging because their perspective is that the students who want to learn will learn. The students who want to pay attention are those who want to learn and thus will do so. Since the Korean education system is so test-focused, the students have an incentive to pay attention in order to do well on the test. Thus, the teachers don't have to try to make their lessons interesting; the students who want to do well will pay attention regardless (or try to, at least). When kids are acting up in class, Korean teachers will just send them outside as to not distract those who want to learn. I feel like it's the complete opposite in America. We have the whole "no child left behind" mindset and am focused on ensuring every student is learning. (NOTE: I understand this is not completely accurate since there are students who slip through the system and can't read, write, add, subtract, etc and are in high school.) But I would say for the most part, a lot of (good) teachers try to make sure each student is learning. I think teachers in America take things personally from their students. I think that's why I'm so invested in my classes and students. I think that's why I'm so drained after a long day with lots of rowdy classes. I'm so much more personally and emotionally invested in these kids.

So while some kids have grown warmer towards me, there are some that are still really disrespectful and some that are just plain scared of me. I remember one class where I told a student to go stand outside and he wasn't listening so I walked towards him to usher him to the door and he actually backed up from as if he was scared I would physically touch him and hit him. I was in a momentary state of shock from that; it just didn't occur to me that I might be actually scaring the students. On the other hand, there was a class that I made stay after a few minutes after class because they were talking all class and being disrespectful. There was one student in the back who stood up and was packing up his stuff. I walked up to him and told him to sit down. He asked why and said that it was his time now (they have 10 minutes between classes) and I couldn't hold him. I told him that because the class cut into my class time, I was going to cut into their time. He said I wasn't the principal. I then replied with the fact that I am the teacher of the classroom. He backed down but that is just one example of how disrespectful some of my students are. They like to challenge my authority. That was one of my boys. The girls are bad too though. In one of my classes, there was a girl sleeping so I told her to get up and do jumping jacks. She looked me up and down and glared at me. I'm being serious; she looked me UP AND DOWN. I remember thinking, "Oh HELL NO." HAHA. I think she'll probably hate me forever now since girls hold grudges and boys get over it but yeah--definite attitude and disrespect problems at my school. On a somewhat less obvious front, the girls do makeup and other beauty-related things in my class. One of my rules is Respect for the teacher and other students. Part of that is there should be no makeup, toys, or distractions. What I see, I take... forever. I have collected at least four mirrors, three combs, some lip sticks/balm/gloss, and one pimple extractor (yes I know it's disgusting). In one of my classes, I saw one of the girls using this on her friend next to it. IT WAS SO GROSS TO WATCH.

So since the English levels are so varied across the board in all my classes, I haven't had a chance to really engage the more advanced kids in each of my classes. So I had a class announcement where I told my students they could participate in an optional assignment where they get a notebook/journal for the class and write me a letter once a week. I would then correct their sentences and reply to them in the notebook. It will help with their English reading and writing. It's also a good way for me to get to know them better since I have so many students. I've approached a few of my students in each class that I think are a bit bored in class to encourage them to do the optional assignment.

Oh and and since my school is a Christian school, there are student and teacher worships I should attend. The students have one every month and the teachers have one every three months. Both were in complete Korean so I had no idea what was going on. The students from both the middle and high school fill the entire gymnasium; there are students sitting in the bleachers on the three sides on the second floor and students sitting on the floor of the gymnasium too. I got to see how scared my kids were of my Vice Principal at this event for the first time. Since then, I've realized how terrified they are of him. When he passes by my classes in the hallway, my students get silent. It's kinda funny to watch actually. Well, at the worship, he would stand up and point at students and when they noticed, they would completely shut up. It was kinda amusing to watch. He's a scary man when it comes to students' discipline but he's really nice to me and the other teachers. The teachers' worship was held in a room in one of the high school buildings. Tracey, two other new teachers, and I were introduced to the teachers at that session.

So now that I've talked a lot about school and my students, let's talk about my personal time. I went to Gwangju this weekend with most of the Mokpo crew. The real reason I went was to volunteer with and teach English to North Korean Defectors at a Hana Wellness Center on Saturday. Since it was Tracey's birthday on Friday, we decided to make it a party and stay for the night and celebrate in the city. We stayed overnight at Em's (our ETA mentor) apartment about 30 minutes outside of Gwangju. It was a lot of fun. We headed to Gwangju in the early afternoon and then met up with Katelyn and Jason. We got lunch and did some shopping before meeting up with Ben West. Then we split into two groups, the ones that were going to volunteer headed over while the other group did their own thing. We met up with Di Hoa at the Hana Center. There were four and a half people (I say a half because there was a little boy of seven who came with his sister Lucy) who showed up for English lessons. I worked with Lucy, a fourteen year old middle school girl who had really impressive English. She has better English than most of my students, almost on par with my advanced club class. I was really impressed. After volunteering, we went downtown with Di Hoa and met up with Sonia (a returner), the other group we split with earlier, and more additions including Hana, Jessica, Jayeon, etc. We had a lot of ETAs in one place, it was actually really great to see everyone. In a weird way, it felt like we could just pick up where we left off. It felt like we were just on a weekend getaway from orientation and Goesan. I didn't even think about teaching while I was with them. It's crazy because I really do feel like I'm living this double life where I'm a teacher and then live a different life outside of that. We did some walking and shopping downtown. I didn't get anything but then we got dinner.
Afterwards, some people had to leave but the rest of us went to this desert cafe. They have the best frozen yogurt and waffles. It was absolutely delicious. Everytime I go back to Gwangju, I will stop by for a waffle and frozen yogurt. Afterwards, we went to a bar and then eventually to a club. It was a lot of fun actually. When we got back to Em's place, it was around 2am. In the morning, we made breakfast and went to the only coffee shop in her town. She lives in a really small village, smaller than Goesan; it only has one main road. We headed back into Gwangju and Tracey and I split from the rest of the Mokpo crew since we were going to church before heading back home. They grabbed an earlier bus back. Tracey and I met Hana for church and then grabbed lunch before we went back to Mokpo. When I got back home, it was late afternoon and I just spent some time in the living room with the family. My sister 지은 didn't come back home this weekend but the rest of us were just chilling. My brother spent the weekend studying since he has an upcoming exam. I know it's going to be a quiet weekend coming up so I already made plans with a bunch of ETAs to go rafting and bungee jumping this Sunday in Seoul. Otherwise, I have to tiptoe around the house trying not to make any noise. That's no fun.

Today was another typhoon day if you can believe it. Typhoon Sanba hit today and it was a category 2 typhoon so it was supposed to be more intense than the one that hit two weeks ago. Honestly, to me, it felt similar if not weaker than the other one. Regardless, school was cancelled so I didn't have to go in. I just bummed around the house all day. I videochatted with a lot of family and friends though so I feel a little bit more validated.

1 comment:

  1. Ammy, I'm jealous that you have so much time (or maybe just the initiative and opportunity) to hang out with your students. I hardly see mine outside of class, even though I want to! But they have no free time. I'd never be able to get ice cream with them.

    On that note, I think it's true that Korean teachers have a much closer relationship to their students. Especially high school students. Their homeroom teachers see them all the time, and in some cases spend more time with them than their parents do. But I disagree that teachers have more "authority". Like you've seen, some students don't think twice about sassing you. And when it comes to teachers' authority versus monster parents' whims... Seriously, some students' parents are insane and can wield a surprising amount of power over a school, especially in the form of a parents' union. Rumor has it that parents' complaints ousted my school's last principal...

    As for discipline problems, I would just let the chatters slide. My take is similar to Korean teachers': those who want to learn will learn, those who don't are just missing out. They'll come around. And with more time, you'll come to know exactly which students are the ones who talk because they're being helpful and which are those who talk because they're not paying attention.