Before 2014 ended all of the teachers at my school went to a hweshik((school dinner) out at Eulwangni Beach (을왕리해수욕장). I didn’t know until the day before that we were going, but I was happy to tag along. We were able to spend about 3 hours at the beach. As always I sat with the grade 3 teachers and they showed me all of the interesting and exciting foods I could try. As this was a seafood restaurant there were various types of seafood. I tried everything on the table, except the sea squirt. There is just something about this squishy orange thing that makes me not want to try it.
Today is Teacher’s day!
I almost forgot that it was teacher’s day until I received a kakao message this morning from a former student of mine. It was one of the best things to start the day too. I translated the message as I wanted to share it with everyone back home and for those who don’t understand enough Korean yet.
My main school during last year was a small middle school in 옥계. I really enjoyed the school a lot and I was very lucky to get a chance to fully experience the 회식 (Hweshik) also known as a work dinner. Many people do not enjoy these, but I really enjoyed them. Actually it was always really nice food I would never buy for myself and that deserves its own post. But today I am just going to talk about my last dinner at my main school.
A year ago today I boarded a plane at JFK Airport and met new EPIK friends in San Francisco before boarding our plane to Incheon International Airport in South Korea. Thinking back on the past year it is interesting to see how far I have come and how much my life has changed. A year ago, I went through orientation and upon completion was ushered by bus to a city in my province. I remember meeting my co-teacher the first day and the car ride back to where I was going to live was awkward but friendly. Fast forward to now and I can say that my co-teacher, 라미, has been my biggest supporter. She has been there every step of the way and has helped me with anything I had a question about. I’ve learned about cool new apps to make my life easier, she has helped coordinate camps so I can go on vacation when I wanted, she has given me many rides to places I needed to go, and countless other things. I’m truly going to miss working with her and though it was the first year teaching for both of us, I think we worked well as a team and I will be sad to say goodbye.
My kids. What can I say? I remember waiting to be told when my first class would be held. I felt nervous and uncertain the first day I walked in to see my kids. I felt nervous three different times, at three different schools. But I overcame that quickly and tried to teach to the best of my ability making mistakes along the way. My kids taught me a lot about myself, especially some of the rowdy ones. My patience wears thin quickly when I’m not being listened to; however, as the year went on I was able to control my patience better. My older apathetic to learning English kids reminded me of myself. They reminded of me of what I was like during classes I hated. They weren’t going to listen to me even if I told them ten times and you know what at the end of the day I came to terms with that. Outside of the classroom those kids were just as lovely as the students who paid attention.
Today we were supposed to have graduation at all of my schools. Because of the snow my main schools graduation was moved to Monday. My other two schools graduation ceremonies are on Tuesday, however, I will not be able to go to them. I already asked to go to the other middle school one , but was denied that request. In many ways, that breaks my heart that I can’t see all of my graduating students receive their diplomas. But, I am glad I took the time and foresight to say goodbye to my other schools in December when I knew classes were winding down.
For the last week I have been debating how to say goodbye to my main school. I love my students and I wondered should I just give them a hand shake, congrats and goodbye. Just wave goodbye to the kids? It didn’t sit well with me to be untrue to myself and my nature. I’m a very affectionate person and I like to say goodbye with a hug, if you are close family or a friend your receive a kiss on the cheek, unless you are one of the few who gets a kiss on the lips. Today while we were practicing congratulating the graduating class I hugged a student. The principal then said that we can shake the kids hands or give them hugs. When we sat back down I turned to two older female teachers and asked them if they thought it would be okay if I gave the kids a kiss on the cheek goodbye. Would it be strange? They smiled and said nowadays that isn’t seen badly in Korea and to go ahead. I feel glad to know that I can be my authentic self on Monday. The kids might be squeamish and some do not like hugs, like one of my sisters does not. But at least I will feel I have said goodbye to my students that have become like extended family to me the way I want.
A year ago today I would not have imagined that I would get so attached to the teaching staff at all of my schools, nor to all of my students. Especially my middle school students. I bonded with some elementary students, but not as many of them. Of course with all endings there are always new beginnings. I will be moving to a different part of the country to start teaching at a new school and to experience the process all over again. As always a year moves quicker than we think and we learn more about ourselves than we expect.
Now to ponder what the next year will hold. I will keep my eyes open and enjoy the journey.
I like to challenge my students. I like to make them think outside the box. When I teach alone this definitely fails on me. However, when I am able to teach with my co-teacher the meaning isn’t lost in context and I can talk about interesting subjects. I think the students can get to know more about me through these types of lessons.
I have come up with four lessons, one I have not presented yet. I do not know if I will be able to do it before school lets out on the 31st. As I am not sure when my last day of classes at the middle school are. However, even if the lesson flops, at least I have brought interesting information to them.
I will say I am lucky with my co-teacher who lets me present to the class on varying topics. Some of the earlier lessons I did were on the Evolution of Marriage in the USA and Mass Shootings in Schools. As always with a topic, some kids will tune out the lesson as it is a video and powerpoint driven lesson. But a lot of kids find it fascinating as well.
Some of the other lessons I started was a lesson on beauty through music. To me this was a lot of fun and it was interesting to hear the kids feedback. I used Sean Kingston’s – Beautiful Girls, Mika’s -Big Girl, Pink’s -Perfect, TLC’s – Unpretty, and Christina Aguilera’s -Beautiful. Depending on the class the videos were or were not shown. The one I didn’t show was TLC’s Unpretty and Christina Aguilera’s Beautiful video was not shown to my first grade middle school students. We did listening exercises and also watched videos asked their opinion of it after. I did warn the students before watching videos if there were things that may upset them. The beauty lesson served as a point to stop making fun of people who are different in my second grade middle school class. In Christina’s video there are two men kissing and in the back of the class I could hear snickering. So when it was over I asked the students why they were making noises and faces at that scene. I told them just because they aren’t used to it or don’t like it doesn’t mean it is okay to act that way and in fact they were hurting me by doing this. My co-teacher helped to translate. I have gay family and friends and if you are making fun of the couple you don’ t know you are also making fun of the people I know. Let me just say the point went home because I referenced back to myself. This lesson did serve well through all of the classes, with some students wanting to know the names of the songs.
The older lessons on the Evolution of Marriage and Mass Shootings in Schools were received in different ways.
The Evolution of Marriage lesson came about in less than 2 hours of planning. That is very short notice and not very accurate for many people, however, my co-teacher and I are required to have an English class for the teachers. It is just me and her. So one day I was running out of ideas and for some reason interracial marriage popped into my head. With that I was able to make it into the Evolution of Marriage. My co-teacher thoroughly enjoyed it and thought it was interesting to see and thought it would be good for the kids to have more of a cultural lesson. The Evolution of Marriage proved to be an interesting lesson because many of the students did not know at one point it was illegal to marry someone of a different race in the USA. They also didn’t understand how that could have happened. The interesting point on this lesson was that although it was mostly an information driven lesson, I did let the kids ask questions as well. To make it seem more real I included photos of interracial couples, including my previous relationship. However, the title stems from the similarities of the marriage debate. I actually presented this lesson before the US Supreme court was deciding on Same-Sex marriage. That was my building up to point. Because the arguments in same-sex marriage are the same as the ones that were used for interracial marriages. Some of the kids really liked the lesson and I asked their thoughts at the end about same-sex marriage and interracial marriage. Some were willing to state their opinion and others were not. I told them that was okay, I was just curious of how they think.
The Mass Shootings in Schools was a lesson I asked my co-teacher if I could present on. It is a topic that is not talked about in Korea and lucky for most Korean students they do not have to worry about someone walking into a school with a gun. I made a powerpoint and covered three school shootings that were powerful in my lifetime: Columbine, Virginia Tech, and Sandy Hook. I picked these three for several reasons. Columbine happened when I was in 7th grade and I remember how things started to change after that with the implementation of a school officer. The year I was graduating college Virginia Tech happened. Sandy Hook happened the year before I moved to Korea and happened in my home state. The kids were shown a powerpoint presentation and news video clips. My co-teacher helped translate questions and what happened as their were no subtitles. Most of it was just small snippets,but I told them how mental health is also important and most shooters need a mental health professional and did not have one. I asked the kids if they have anything like this. The war drills that they practice for we don’t have in the USA. Instead we have lockdown drills for school shootings. I told the kids they were lucky to know that they would never really have to think about his problem. A lot of them thought the USA is a scary place, but I said it seems like it happens often, but it is still a safe country you just need to stay out of bad areas mostly. My students paid more attention to this lesson even though some parts were hard to understand. I find it is a culture point worth talking about as news about shootings in the USA have become more frequent.
The last lesson I never got to implement. Timing got in the way and so did end of the year. I wanted to use the TED Talk by Shane Koyczan entitled” To this day…for the bullied and beautiful.” (You can watch it here.) I had made a powerpoint about bullying in English and wanted to show this as there are Korean subtitles though they aren’t perfect. My powerpoint is not 100% finished either as I wanted it be thorough and close to accurate. I even made a worksheet with questions and quotes from the talk asking the students opinions. This was translated in English and Korean by my co-teacher and I. She said the subtitles aren’t perfect but they are okay. Unfortunately, I was unable to do this with my students because we ran out of free time to do so. I was also going to include a anti-bullying paper activity that is popular to drive the point home. But alas it is a project for another way. You can watch his animated video here.
This is one of the joys of teaching middle school. I can do topics a little bit more interesting and that may grab the students attention. Not all of them are perfect lessons and they need work and improvement. Some of it is above their level, but many of them still find it interesting. One thing I have found is it is okay to talk about things you like to your students. If you think it is a good idea try and run it by your co-teacher to see if you can teach it. Maybe you can’t go into a lot of detail but you can cover some of it. I think it is great learning and teaching a language, but I think culture and society needs to come into the equation as well. Because what one country talks about another doesn’t. What is being done little by little is opening minds…no one has to accept your point of view, but you are showing them there are plenty of things to learn and talk about. So I encourage other teachers out there as well to teach what you like and be creative! I’m still learning how to be a teacher. How to be a good teacher and plan good lessons that are engaging. That comes with experience, but the most interesting lesson I had was talking about my family.
My school wanted to have a garden bbq party. My principal bought wine for the occasion and we were going to grill fish and eat cows hearts (쇠염통).
At first, I thought I had heard this wrong as it was in Korean. The more I thought about it the more I realized we were indeed going to be grilling cows hearts. So on Tuesday, we had our small garden bbq party behind the school and it was a lot of fun but I didn’t get to eat much. I have eaten both types of the fish that were served before but they had been grilled a lot more. I like the crunchy skin and cooked meat.
The big fish 도루묵 (Sandfish)I didn’t really get to eat. I don’t eat the eggs though. Everyone else can eat the eggs.
I did try the cow’s heart. It is chewy. very very chewy. And I’m not too sure that I am a fan of it. Though I did eat it. My principal was telling me that cow’s heart is extremely expensive. Not sure why that is but it certainly isn’t a delicacy I enjoy.
The wine was made locally and we had 복분자 (raspberry wine) which was delicious. One of my favorite moments was the gym teacher saying Franzia was from France. I told my co-teacher it’s from America. It says right on the box, ‘California Red.’ I got a good laugh.
The sweet potatoes we tossed in the fire and were absolutely delicious!
I stealthily took photos with my silent camera app. I like things more candid when documenting an event. Although I didn’t eat much at the party, I had my fair share of wine!
I’m currently teaching at 3 different schools. When I first arrived in Okgye (옥계) I was told that I would be teaching at the middle school 3 days a week and the elementary school 2 days a week. That sounded like a good schedule to me. I’m in the door at 8:30 A.M. and I’m out the door at 4:30 P.M. To me, this was heaven. No weekends, no overtime, no fixing problems, I was able to be free as a bird once the clock struck 4:30 P.M.
For those who don’t know, the schooling system in Korea is set up differently than in the states. It is on a 6-3-3-4 track. 6 years of elementary school, first through sixth grade. Middle school is seventh through ninth. High school is tenth through twelfth grade. And college is four years the same as back home.
After teaching for about a week and many phones call that went back and forth between schools it was finally decided that I was going to also be teaching at another middle school on Mondays in Wangsan (왕산). Wangsan school is a 40 minute bus ride into Gangnueng (강릉) and from there by co-teacher drives me by car to the school which is 20 minutes away.
This is Wangsan middle school, it is the smallest school in the city of Gangneung. There are 19 students in the whole school. They are truly a lovely bunch, each class is really intimate and it is easy to rally their attention. Lots of hello’s when I arrive and good-bye see you next weeks when I leave. Although the school is really far out the children are truly a joy. I also am finding at this school, I spend more of my focus during pair work helping the special education students. I find it rewarding as they repeat each word after me or they try and speak in front of the class, the other classmates are not rude either. Which I appreciate and I feel they have an understanding as to why I may not circle their way as much. I may start to insert a reward system for the stronger students. Not sure how to implement it without hurting the other students feelings if I have a stronger student help them out.
The Okgye elementary school complete with the English classroom. I have a smartboard that isn’t seen in this photo. I still don’t know how to use it properly and sometimes I hit a button and it goes to the wrong page and I make a fool of myself in the process but it is okay. There are roughly 120 students between first and sixth grade and I only teach third to sixth grade. The kids are cute and their attention spans are quite varied. Some students are pretty good at English and others struggle much more. But there is always a kid or two in class who are able to relay the message on to classmates in Korean.
And last but not least my home base. This is Okgye middle school that I work at during the rest of the week and where my main co-teacher resides. The school only has 85 students and they all approach me differently. Some say, “hello” and shuffle away quickly after I answer back. Others come charging and say hello quickly as they run through the halls. The class dynamics are all different, sometimes I have the blank stares. The I’m listening and still not going to stay on task or do the assignment. The omg teacher I need your help, “What is this word in English?” “What about this?” It’s a wide array of personalities and really fun.
I have two after school English conversation classes that I have yet to set a curriculum too. I feel input from students is always a good starting point. As I teach and interact with each student I feel myself growing. I remember what I was like in school, what I hated about teachers, what I liked. What I refuse to be in the classroom. How I want to shape my classroom and how I want to inspire my kids. You are never too young to think outside the box and have an opinion. And I think I’m going to make it a goal by the end of the year for them to tell me how they feel about certain things. Why not? We are supposed to be conversing in English, not “Hello, nice to meet you.” six months later, maybe you might say, “Teacher, what did you do this weekend?” That would be a reward within itself.