Goodbye Wangsan Middle School

Bittersweet goodbyes.

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Wangsan Middle School is my smallest school with 20 students. I only go to the school once a week to teach classes and I don’t always see my students every week. There was a two month hiatus after my coteacher was in an accident and a substitute teacher took his place.  I had learned to recognize most of my students names but unfortunately with the absence of not going I forgot almost all of them. Though if I have a list of names I am more likely to pinpoint the right name to the right student. Read More

Implementing thought provoking lessons

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.

Teacher, your family is just like a drama!

The perks of being a teacher is trying to find interesting lessons for your uninterested students. One morning my co-teacher says to me, can you think of something to do for our first class? I had a mini panic attack and went flicking away through facebook snatching photos of family members and making a mini power point where I explained relationships and how my family looks like.

This proved to be an interesting topic. Almost all of my kids were engaged even though there were only pictures and it was just me talking. I started with the stereotypical family image of a father, mother, daughter and son. So my first question was, “Do you all have a mother and father?” The second question was, “Do they live with you?”

So I brought a picture up of who lives in my household. My mom, me, and my two younger sisters. (My mom’s boyfriend and my sister’s boyfriend also live with us) I went into that later though.

So I went through the chronological order of my family though my mom’s first marriage dictated by mr. ? ,my real father. The kids got a kick out of this. Shocked there was no photo, ( I have one back home somewhere packed away) but for all intents and purposes this worked better.  Fast forward to marriage number 2 with the birth of my youngest sister, and then adoption of me and my younger sister. With the mention that both of our last names changed due to adoption. (This is not as common in blended families)

Went over the family again and mentioned that my dad remarried and my mother currently has a boyfriend. Having a boyfriend later in life is worth a chuckle to them. I told them my grandmother has a boyfriend as well, but he is just her ‘friend.’ We all know better. The other kicker was saying my sister was pregnant and not married. This was a shocking revelation as well.  However, it proved to be a talking point.

My students exclaimed in Korean that it was just like a drama! Meaning that my family situation was like what happens on their TV shows and is totally outside of the norm. However, I did tell them that about half of all marriages in the USA end in divorce. Not only that but many people remarry and then have children together or raise their children together. I talked to them about the use of terms like step brother/sister and half brother/sister. To my students this was  a fascinating topic because their families are not like mine. Whereas to me my family is normal and there are oddities, but that is what my family is like. I explained about my two brother’s I don’t know . One I met through facebook, and the other I met in person and never said a word to. To them that type of possibility isn’t really an option. I also mentioned about extended relatives that have remarried or divorced and gone over their situation as well. I mentioned one of my older aunts in on a dating website and looking for someone to spend time with. Their older aunts and uncles or grandparents do not date.

I had a lot of fun on this topic and in retrospect I wish I could have talked more and given more examples to my kids about my family and what it is like. But at the end of the day I realized here in South Korea my family is more like the ones that appear in TV shows than the ones of reality.

Teacher game!

I’m not known as the teacher that plays games. Although many ESL teachers play lots of games and incorporate them into the curriculum, I’m not one of them. I don’t like powerpoint games because I don’t like how everyone has to stare at the screen to be involved, which there are bound to be students who will not do anything but sit and talk to other students. Besides the fact, I have no idea how to work a lot of the powerpoint games. I’m not that saavy with powerpoint so it is more of a headache than a help to me. I like old fashioned games where you have to interact with another person and actually speak to each other. So I finally decided we will play snakes and ladders. 

There are plenty of free game templates out there, but I feel it is best to make your own resources. So I made mine from scratch, it isn’t the best and looks a little silly, but it works. It is a template I can change at will and for now I used it to incorporate black friday. It is an unrelated subject but it is kind of a funny topic for kids. So the game rules were changed so that English is being used more. For every snake or ladder they land on they have to read a correlating sentence. If they cannot read it correctly, then they cannot go up the ladder and have to go down the snake. If they read the sentence card correctly they can go up the ladder and do not have to go down the snake. However, if they read it incorrectly they cannot go up the ladder and they go down the snake. Because the students don’t want to go down the snake a lot of struggling readers try harder to read it. And the best part is that they are practicing English.  

Snakes and ladders is an easy game, however, elements need to be added to make it a useful language activity. Reading sentences is not that fun, even if they are interesting. Some example sentences are:

I got a free coffee!

I hit him in the face with my shopping bag.

I just got pushed into the stuffed animals.

The ipad is soldout!

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The sentences aren’t perfect, but they are useful for the game. To make it more amusing, I added some commands to the game board. Such as give someone a high-five, jump 3x to avoid rolling balls, do a dance you won $100, and yell “omg!”, with your hands to your face. These added words to the game boards give the other students a good laugh and add amusement to the game. Considering that most students played it pretty well made me really happy.  

Even though our students call us ‘teacher’ and we do ‘teach’ them English, many of us are not qualified teachers. Meaning we didn’t go to school to be teachers and we don’t have extensive training, it is more of on the job training. However, there are many people who do come over as teachers that were teachers in their home countries or have their CELTA or DELTA qualifications. So compared to them becoming a good teacher is a learning process. The kids don’t always like what you teach, they aren’t always going to listen, and you may not be able to help every student succeed. But that is a learning curve that comes with the territory. If I had to plot myself on a graph of where I stand as a teacher I would put myself slightly higher than the starting point, my kids like me, but they might not like my lessons. I’m okay with that. As I teach and create more lessons the more I learn about myself and class dynamics. The students in every class are different, what works for some won’t work for others.  I know I am not a good teacher yet. That is something I can work towards the more I teach and grow as a person the better I will become. I still believe an education isn’t all games and fun, and it might vary from what others think. But if I think of my favorite classes and teachers we rarely played games, we did a lot of work and projects, but it was the teacher’s personality that made the topic interesting.  It was great to play games in school, but a lot of times the new knowledge isn’t learned. I might not be the ‘game teacher’, but I can be fun when I want to have fun with the kids.

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Inadequate teacher.

You are inadequate. It resounds in my head today.

Inadequate. Outta Control. Volume explosion. Silence amiss.

Inadequate.

My third grade elementary class has made me feel inadequate. In every sense of the word. My class arrives 10 minutes late every time we meet. Today I spent the next 15 minutes trying to get them to just pay attention to me and the screen. I sat in silence for a few minutes. I stared them down. I  yelled be quiet. Shhhhhhh!

‘삼학년!’ ‘Grade 3’ I yelled and they did their chant to pay attention to me. The kids tell me do that, it works, it doesn’t. Only half the class redirects their attention to me.

Another child yelled over the noise ‘손 머리’ ‘hands on head’ So I tried that and once again 2/3 did this, but continued talking. I had children running around, sitting on their legs, putting others in a headlock and hiding under the table. Grabbing each and everyone is tiring. It’s even more tiring when you realize you can’t communicate. The fact I have to use my broken Korean to yell over them ‘왜, 계속 말해요?’ ‘Why do you continue to talk?’  Trying to put Korean words together when I am unsure of the verb conjugation or what to say or what to ask.

And I get stares. Some think it is funny. Some talk over me in Korean. ‘영어 못해요.’ ‘ I can’t do English.’  Others apologize in Korean for making the other students talk so much. And as the frustration builds in me and I slam my hand on one desk. The other students are frustrated because they want to learn.

One thought comes to mind. Inadequate teacher. I want to run out of this classroom. I like my students, a lot. They are really cute and loveable. But, the language barrier kills me. I’m on the threshold of being able to communicate without being understood or understanding. My vocabulary is lacking.

Class resumes for about 7 minutes of teaching. The last 5 minutes we watched a video of ‘How animals eat their food.’ Funny, how every student watched the video though they were hardly quiet.

As class ended and they left to go to lunch one boy was crying another had grabbed him by the shirt. I had to ask in Korean what happened. I didn’t know what the one boy said, but I asked if the other had hit him. He said yes, so I asked why. He said he didn’t know so I made him apologize. At first no words, and then he repeated after me, ‘미안해…’ ‘I’m sorry…’ They left and went to lunch.

And it must have been the crying boy who brought my frustration to the forefront since I began to tear up after. Inadequate teacher. That’s what I felt, my frustration so high I could barely focus. I had no motivation to eat but realized I had to show up to lunch. Wiped my tears away and just sat by myself.

At the end of lunch as I grabbed a cup of water, one girl from my third grade class told me to say ‘조용히 해라’  ‘Be quiet,’ next time and it should work. I appreciate her making an effort.  It made me feel at least a few want to learn English.

I’m frustrated at myself. I’m frustrated at the home room teachers who should show up to class and help translate. I’m frustrated with the fact I have no co-teacher at the elementary school. Well, I do but she teaches on Fridays only. So, I have never seen her.

And then the realization hits. I can’t be upset with anyone but myself. I can’t control everyone else and I can’t expect them to help me. So I’m frustrated with myself alone for being inadequate. For not knowing enough vocabulary and grammar to communicate effectively. For not knowing how to discipline in Korean, because English just doesn’t work.

When I reflect on this I realize, I would never be that teacher. If I had a class and someone who wasn’t fluent in the other langauge was teaching I would be there every class. Because it isn’t in me to leave others sinking.

But that is life. You either sink or you swim. I will be swimming, someway, somehow, this bitch will stay afloat. Just you wait and see.

3 Schools and Nina Teacher

3 Schools and Nina Teacher

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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