Tuesday, July 26, 2005

The worst & the best, all in a Cornflakes cereal bowl!


Today. The whole bowl of cornflakes, wrapped up in one. I believe I have just lived both the worst day and the best day of my stay thus far in Korea. All in one day. Here's why.

First the worst. So, regular readers know that I am a first-year (first-month!) American ESL teacher here in Seobyeondong, Daegu. Ok. Much of what I have not yet gone into detail about is my teaching. This is precisely due to the fact that I am and have been catering my classes to 'what I feel.' Meaning, I've had nearly zero instruction on what to do, sauf my fellow Korean English teachers telling me that 'such and such class is on page blah blah or book number blee blee. Basically, my first month has been touch and go, trial and error. On the first day of classes--this will give you an idea of how clueless I was---I gave my fantasy class (which is the very beginning of studying English, so just book 1 to book 3. example: I see red! I see blue! I see yellow! What color is the house? The house is blue!) I gave this very beginning class a worksheet that I had made on the body parts. I proceeded to give them this 2 page worksheet on body parts--pictures that they would have to identify and actually write the name of the bodypart, or fill in the blank with sentences. Needless to say, they were dumbfounded. So was I.

Back to why today was the worst. Now, up to this point, I've felt pretty confident about my classes. I finally have a system down---since I see ALL the students at the school (roughly 80) together in classes for a total of 1 and 1/2 hours per week, I've had to resort to a system to remember everyone's names and to keep my head on straight! This type of teaching where I only meet with the students a total of 1 and 1/2 hours per week (one day for 25 mins, another day for 50 mins total), it doesn't allow much time to really get to know the students, realize they're progress, let alone really keep track of the content that I'm teaching them.

By the same respect, I've also felt too eager in teaching too much to these students. Whilst the Korean teachers see the same kids, everyday, at the same time each week, I see a different class, at a different level, at different times, every week. Ok, so luckily every week is the same. But everyday is different. It's really hard on me to have to keep track of everything day by day, but also for the students too---who rarely finish the homework I assign them from one week to the next. This method is not idea. But today, today proved to be the blow of all blows to this method.

My GB class (second to highest level class, all middle-schoolers, so around the age of 14 to 15.) I recently changed from this Streamline book which gave the student scenarios to read about, questions to answer, and general questions to test comprehension---to a kids book of Time magazine that gave articles on specific subjects, where the student would read it, think about the content, and then we would discuss it in class. I wanted to change the structure of my G-level classes from answering questions, focusing on grammar, and the like, to interactive discussion classes which would enable them to broaden their vocabulary, thus speak better overall. Well, at least for this GB class, I was wrong.

These students are top of their class at their regular school. They can follow directions, and they can write, well---ok I guess, for their age group. But they can't speak a darn, and that is what broke me down today. I cried, literally. During class, I realized that only 1/2 the class actually went through a Time article that I had printed out, circled the words that they didn't understand like I asked, and defined them---writing the Korean equivalent--so that they understood the meaning of the word. I asked questions about the article, and they looked at me blankly. I asked one student, why didn't you do the work? And he looked at me as if I were an alien, speaking some strange language. I slowed my words down, spoke simply. He just stared at me. Everyone did. I moved to a more simple article, about a 3 or 4th grade level in the States (mind you, their about in the 7th or 8th grade), so they should be able to comprehend it. They could barely follow my directions, let alone, read the simple lines that I asked them to. I took out my Korean-English dictionary, and translated a few words. That seemed to help, but only a little. I called on them, asking them questions---and they didn't want to answer. It was as if I were talking to the wall!!

So I took my book down, and said, "Do you really want to be here? Are you forced to be here because of your parents, or do you really want to learn English? Because you know what? This is a conversation class. It's not supposed to focus on reading, or writing, like the other teachers' classes. It's about conversation, speaking. S-P-E-A-K-I-N-G!! Do any of you understand me? Nod your head yes, or swing it side to side for no!! Anyone? Hello? Don't all raise your hands at once!..." And still nothing. No response. Blank stares. So I stood there, and smirked at them, as they sat there----looking as if I had just scolded them. Looking at me like I were crazy, which made me feel all the more like a wet noodle. Then I put down my whiteboard marker and walked out. I went to my desk and sulked. I felt like a failure, because they couldn't understand me. And it angered me that they wouldn't even look at me, or try to respond when I was talking to them. I couldn't help but tear up--going back to my desk---Kelly asked me what was wrong. I couldn't contain myself, and I kept wiping the tears away. I told her I was fine, but that she needed to go tell my students that I would see them tomorrow and that they could leave.

That was my first worst day, and I hope it will be my last. If I have to talk to these kids like elementary school students, and use little-kid books (the ones the lower Junior and Fantasy levels use, but my, do they talk so much!!) I sure will. As long as these kids finally respond to me.
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It was already too late---Angelina told me afterwork that Michael (the Canadian, and her fiance, whose job I took over) was often angered by this GB class because the students wouldn't talk. I guess the school tried to find a solution to their 'not talking,' but nothing has helped so far. Michael supposedly had these students write sentences, like "I will talk in class, I will talk in class.." dozens of times. If I'll be darned---I should have done the same thing.

For punishment here in Korea, the teachers have the students raise their arms during the whole time that class is in session. Supposedly this hurts and is very uncomfortable for long periods of time. Back home, we send a kid to the corner--but nothing to hurt the kids! (We even have laws now about daring to touch a kid---for fear of sexual harrassment. And to think they allowed bear-bottom spanking with a holey wooden paddle when I was in Elementary school!) Or, here, they hit the kids on the hands with rulers if they say the wrong answer, or misbehave. Wow. I like this punishment system now.

The best day. Coincidentally, I've had the best day too. Afterwork, I when to have an ice cream with Angelina at Baskin Robbins, and we laughed the whole way home. When we went our separate ways, I decided that since it was still light out, I would get on my jogging gear, and walk around to see what I could find. What a find, indeed!

I walked over the bridge to Dongbyeondong, and took a detour. Just down the street, I guess they were having a market---wow, were the streets filled or what! There were local merchants, selling fruits and veggies, clothes and shoes, seafood and strange.....eels or squids too! It was amazing. Tons of people, and lots of good bargins. I immediately when to a cheap clothing rack and found me a few awesome deals. The merchant was really nice, and he said--"For you, ee chaennin reduction! Shop!" I liked this. No tourist price!! So he gave me 2,000 Won off--a bit over 2 bucks--and I bought 2 shirts and a pair of knickers for 13,000 Won! What a deal! Plus, I found a great Konglish shirt---"I hope wish many stars!" but I decided on another, "Can't Buy Me Love" t-shirt. My favorite movie, so I couldn't resist (that's me in the negative picture.)

Then I went to a nearby store, and decided upon some groceries for the rest of the week. With 12,000 Won left (from the 25,000 I had), I bought the following items--which I nearly cannot live without!! They include: these special little liquid yogurt bottles, 요 구 르 트 (don't ask me to pronounce it yet, but it's simply named "yoghurt"--great for a morning perk besides coffee!); this japanese fruit jellow that's serves as a great snack; Grape jam of course (can't go without my tartines!); the green leaves you on the right are actually something like mint leaves--and as you'll see later, I eat the mint leaf with tuna. It's delicious! Last, on the left---I found some SWISS hazelnut chocolate. I'm thrilled!! Plus, I needed a chocolate fix too. :)

Oh, I almost forgot. Cornflakes too! Hooray for POST cereals. And, not to forget, this yummy dish called "Tahmn-yiung"---a kind of 'Daoh,' which is mashed up rice, with sweet red beans in side. It almost looks like wax, but it's really soft and gooey to the taste. It's so delicious! And it's only 2,000 W for a fresh set of... say, 20? Yeah. Tomorrow's another day. I just have to keep thinking---simple!

~ Chelsea


Roma non è stata costruita in un giorno... alas, Rome was not built in a day.




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