Series of Short Post 2: Cherry Blossom Festival Edition

Well the Cherry Blossoms were here… and now they are gone.  Would they be as beautiful if they stayed year round? Philosophical musings aside, David and I went to a Cherry Blossom Festival on April 5th with some friends from Uijeongbu.  It was great fun, except the weather was not as nice as we hoped.  The festival was not quite what I was expecting and I did not want to be one of those people taking hipster pictures of the cherry blossoms.  This meant hardly any pictures of actual flowers but I got the interesting stuff!  I let the pictures do the talking.

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Series of Short Posts 1: Beginning My New Job

I am so sorry I have been absent for such a long time.  In all honesty, I have been a combination of busy, homesick, and actual sick, so I haven’t really felt like writing.  In fact, I have about 3 unpublished drafts waiting for me to finish but who knows if/when I will finish them. To catch everyone up, I thought I would write a series of short posts and TRY to publish one everyday.  We’ll see if I can maintain that!

First off, Beginning My New Job. I have now been working at my job for about a month.  The beginning was a little difficult because I had an entire week of shadowing the current teacher.  This would have been fine except for I had already been doing pretty much the same thing at the other campus.  So it got old pretty quickly.  It is a weird situation to be in, having a classroom but not wanting to step on anyone’s toes.  Watching a teacher, who is very much ready to return home, in his last week with his students.  Not that he was in any way a bad teacher, just that you could tell he was over worked and ready for some time off.  I talked to him a lot about going home and what he was excited about etc.  Speaking to and saying goodbye to him actually launched a week or so of intense homesickness.  I was just re-signing a new contract for the year and all this talk of home seemed to make the thought of another entire year seemed unbearable.  In fact, at the time I was feeling homesick, I started writing a lengthy blogpost about the whole situation.  In the last two weeks, however, this feeling has already faded and life feels ok again.

My schedule is pretty nice.  I start work at 11am everyday and work until 7:20 (except Tuesdays, when I have to be at work for a staff meeting at 9:15).  Since I started though, I go into work early almost everyday.  I have not yet found a way to get everything I need to done in the amount of time I am given.  I am told that this will soon change.  Everyday I teach 1-2 Activity Room classes for kindergarteners.  They only last 40 minutes with the last 10 being spent on playtime.  During these periods we play bingo, freeze tag, alphabet games… and so on.  I feel like these times are some of the most stressful of my day because the kids just want to run crazy and play on the play structures.  It is very difficult to get them to behave at times because I am not their normal teacher and I only see them once a week for 40 minutes.  They are super cute though!

I also teach ESL1 everyday from 3pm to 4:20pm.  These are kids who are in elementary school and have never taken English before.  Most of them are in 1st grade, one is in 2nd, and one is in 3rd.  As you can probably guess, this creates quite a large knowledge gap.  This class is pretty fun because, even though they do not understand me most of the time, I have lots of free reign when it comes to curriculum.  I get to plan a lot of fun activities for them and there always seems to be extra time.  The hardest part is that the kids are still having a really hard time with phonics (knowing their letters and sounds) but we have had to move on to words, vowels, and so on.  So I have been doing a lot of backtracking to the basics.

On Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, I teach BC 4 which basically means 4th graders who have gone through the program.  There class is from 4:30-7:20 (and remember, this is AFTER all day elementary school).  A couple of the students have conversational English to almost the level of an American 4th grader.  At times, I forget that I am teaching English Language Learners which is probably not a good thing.  It doesn’t help that we use American curriculum though.

I also teach BC 5 in the same time slot but on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  This class has been challenging in a lot of ways for multiple reasons.  For one, there are 9 students (soon to be 11 starting this week).  They are older and do not fit very well into my tiny classroom.  Their curriculum is also much more challenging.  One of the workbooks they use (TOEFL iBT) is a workbook for high schoolers to test their ability to succeed in English-speaking University. Think of the SAT but only focused on reading, writing, listening, and speaking English.  THESE KIDS ARE IN 5TH GRADE!!!  The last couple of TOEFL lessons I have taught have been about the Earth’s magnetosphere, Tabula Rasa (Psychology), and the Industrial Revolution.  It is ridiculous.  Sometimes I’m not even sure of the correct answers from the multiple choice questions and I consider myself pretty smart!  So basically my teaching this workbook is me giving them the correct answers.  I find this style of teaching for this particular book to be ok though because I have a lot better things to be teaching them and our time is precious.

Anyway, my short post turned into a long one.  I will leave you with a couple pictures of my classroom.

Robin Class!

Robin Class!

Color overload?  Yeah, me too!

Color overload? Yeah, me too!

Cake Days

How did David Miller become a kindergarten teacher? 

I’m not prepared to offer a definitive answer tonight, as I suspect they’ll be debating this one for years to come.  Perhaps it was something in the soju, or a bit of undigested bibimbap.  But every morning I get up and walk to school, where I play fearless leader to a trio of tiny children.  I teach them how to spell words like “bug” and add numbers like 6 and 2.  I remind them to share their toys, and to put on smocks to keep their lunches from staining their clothes.

Even with all the fires of secondary education burning in my soul, the external evidence still indicates I’m a kindergarten teacher.  The rest is academic.

It’s not a bad gig, if you can get it.  Sometimes, I even feel pleasant sensations in my heart.  I think it might even be joy!  Yes, it can be a very joyful work environment, filled with laughter and colors and the wonder of marvelous possibilities.  But then again, today someone peed all over the floor in the hallway.

(It wasn’t one of mine.  But you know that one day, it could be.)

Like I said, I have three little monsters in my charge every day: two girls and a boy.  People tell me that it’s hard to teach such a small class; the classroom management equations get dire when the one kid acting out represents a third of those present.  I’m not sure I’d actually feel more in control if there were ten kids who would rather color than learn phonics in my classroom, but I won’t argue with the theory.

One of my three, the boy, is what I would call my nemesis.  We must all be tested by something in life, and in my case it seems I flew across an ocean and endured bureaucratic hell, to be tested each day by a kid named Andy.  Like all the best nemeses, he recalls a younger version of myself: hyperactive, inattentive, unwilling to sit in a chair.  Or still, ever.  I’m sure my old teachers can all relate.

The boy has his less-than-admirable traits.  In an age group not known for maturity and empathy, he stands apart as a paragon of self-centered insecurity.  Whenever we must form a line (and often we must), the question of “who is in front and why isn’t it me?” is ever in his mind.  It’s usually ringing in my ears, too.  He’s not above bullying the girls to get his own way.  And while he is clever, he has bad habits, like guessing the pronunciation of a word from the first letter alone, or conveniently forgetting the meaning of key classroom vocabulary.

“David Teacher, what is ‘sit down?'” he asks, whilst standing on his chair.  Again.

But I wouldn’t be writing about him if it were all that bad.  In point of fact, he’s been getting better these past weeks, and his misbehavior no longer deviates so strongly from the class average.   In fact, he’s capable of genuinely moving sweetness, and he’s clearly not out to make anyone’s life miserable.  But one place where he continues to stand alone is in strangeness.  In word and deed, Andy is baffling.  He knows it, and he loves it, and truthfully I kind of love it too.

About two weeks ago I heard him yelling about “Cake Days” during play time.  Since that is one of the few times of the day when I don’t need to be aware of every little thing he’s doing, I assumed he was excited about someone’s birthday and moved on with my life.  He kept doing it from time to time, and it wasn’t until this week that I learned the truth. 

Andy loves trains.  He loves buses too, and pretty much anything that moves.  I guess because they remind him of himself?  But that’s neither here nor there.  At playtime he usually busts out a lego train and guides it hither and yon, in defiance of the nature of trains but in accordance with the workings of his heart.  And when he excitedly offered to give one of the girls a ride on the Cake Days, I put it together.  In all the frantic urgency of being six years old (Korean age), he was trying to say “KTX.”

Andy can say KTX normally.  I’ve heard him do so a dozen times.  But at playtime, the KTX becomes Cake Days.  I don’t know how, but it does.  And it makes me laugh out loud.  I told him he was being hilarious.  He grinned, and went right back to writing the exciting saga of Cake Days.

I guess that’s the vital essence of kindergarten right there.