Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Moving on and moving out III: Last days in Wasu

Good morning! It's my final week in Wasu. Some notes and reflections:

I didn't post much this month because R and I went to China on vacation  for a week. It felt good to get away and explore a new place. Planning our days and getting around left us both exhausted at the end of the day. We were simply too tired to have any nagging thoughts in our heads. All of the stresses of transferring and beginning a new semester got subsumed under the new maps we read and places we saw. I slept better than I had in months. 

Teaching and school came back to mind toward the end of our trip. "Out of sight, out of mind" only works for so long, I suppose. Buying Frank McCourt's memoir Teacher Man in Beijing and reading it during the trip played its part, yet that wasn't completely it. No, a number of things we saw or did sparked ideas for lessons or anecdotes in class, like how I went from teaching the summer class ways of saying "I'm not interested" and "No thanks" to saying it every 15 minutes in China. We encountered hordes of hawkers there. I remember thinking that I have learned those phrases in Chinese. By the last couple days, I was feeling refreshed and eager to resume work.

The school days this week have been good. The high school's having a staff dinner tonight  for me and the health teacher because we're both leaving the school. I'm going across the county and she's moving to be with her husband, who's been in another country on business for a while. While I'm grateful for the dinner and the goodwill, I hope that the drinking doesn't get out of hand. Soju and beer can taste good, but only for a glass or two. We'll see what happens. I don't want to be rude or ungrateful. It's just that I'd rather drink Chilsung cider to keep a clearer head.

I've been cleaning and moving things out of the apartment for some time now. The place looks and feels bare. The posters have come down from the walls and the books have been stashed in boxes. It felt good to throw out old and unnecessary papers and clothes. Moving also meant mailing out things I'd long delayed. Moving spurs action. Having to move meant doing stuff I'd put off, which I can't do in the future. The little maintenance work here and there will save time in the end.

The new apartment in Sincheorwon will be smaller, but that will be okay. What it lacks in size, it makes up for with two things: A side window in the kitchen and a cross breeze. The Wasu place, despite its large windows, never received much of a breeze, but the Sincheorwon apartments do. What's more R lives in the same building, so we won't have to take different buses home anymore. We'll be able to have more time together. I'm looking forward to cooking more dinners for us.

There's one last thing to do with Gimhwa HS: Update the summer class page. I didn't write anything about the final class.

Two of Cheorwon's teachers will be transferring this month. I wish them both well. We're at semi-annual time of people arriving and departing. Some of our friends have already left the country for new endeavors. I wish them well, too. 

Finally, I noticed my post about the Trick Eye Museum in Hongdae has received hundreds of hits lately. I'm happy to see that. Who's linking the page? Why the sudden interest? I'm just curious, for many bloggers (expat and Korean) here have featured the Trick Eye Museum on their blogs and surely others have done it better than I have. 

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Moving on and moving out part II: Onward to Sincheorwon / Updates

The transfer list has arrived, so the wait is over: My request went through and I'm going to Sincheorwon to teach at the middle school and (most likely) the high school.

I'm relieved. Like I said here, I'm eager to take over for the leaving teacher and work with her coteachers. Next semester's looking like it will be an important one for EPIK, what with job shadowing and our continuing efforts for professional development. Staying as Coordinator means more work, but I'm ready for the challenge.

Updates

I'm slowly working through the (self-made) backlog of posts and post ideas. Two of them have made it online: The "pages" sidebar on the right of the screen has links to my notes from the summer class as well as a page about books for new or prospective EPIK teachers. The book page came to mind last year, for late July and August mark when the EPIK application process gets serious. I thought it'd be good to list some things to read or pack in the suitcase so applicants could prepare themselves for teaching in Korea. The page will get updated at intervals.

As for the class page, it represents something I'd long thought of: A web resource for the students, my thoughts on each lesson, and notes from the lessons.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Moving on and moving out

“Stand! You’ve got a cross the bear
There are things to go through if you’re going anywhere”
-Sly and the Family Stone

My plans for Korea have taken a sharp detour in the past week. See below for the soundtrack to this post, too.

After three years at the high school and the girls middle school, I'm transferring from Gimhwa. Such a choice did not come easily. It came suddenly and it wasn't entirely my choice, but it had to be done. At first, I was angry at the sudden change because I’d been reflecting on how to improve for next year, but after some deep reflection, moving on represents the best choice. Though I had some excellent classes and coteachers, some unresolved problems loomed ahead for several classes, and it’s best to move before they get worse. I had actually considered transferring earlier this year, but thought it best to stay. At the time, I couldn’t justify moving. Now I can.

I am transferring to either another school in my county, or to another county in Gangwon-do. It's likely that I can move across the county to Sincheorwon and take over for Jaquie, who's transferring to the east coast. I've visited her school and met the teachers and administrators there; it's a good school. Moving there would allow me to continue serving as District Coordinator, a position that's challenging yet edifying. EPIK's making changes and this group of teachers is dedicated to making them happen. They work hard and care deeply about their students. It's a privilege to work with them.

However likely staying in Cheorwon County is, it isn't certain. I may be placed in another county. It all depends. The Head Coordinator will be notifying all the transferring teachers of their placements in the coming days. He knows about my situation here. He’s a fair man, but of course, he can’t promise anything. If I have to move somewhere else in Gangwon-do, it’ll mean a brand-new school and a new area. Being away from Cheorwon won’t be easy, but I’ll take the challenge, should it happen.

Now is not the time to wallow in worry, but to prepare for the future. My contract ends in 30 days, so time is tight. By this time next August, I will have:
  • Attended this weekend’s International Tesol Academy workshop at Sookmyung Women's University in Seoul.
  • Taught an hour-long conversation class with ~10 1st grade high schoolers.
  • Taken a vacation to China with R.
  • Turned 28 years old.
  • Moved to another town or county
The next month will test the time-management skills. The conversation class marks the last of my major responsibilities at Gimhwa High. It should go well, for the 1st graders worked hard all semester. I’ll miss them. The semester went well, but this class means we can finish on a high note. I’m eager to experiment with some new lesson ideas and learning strategies. More on that in future posts...

I've enjoyed my time teaching here. It's been challenging and edifying. I've grown personally and professionally since arriving here in August 2011. I’ve taught some excellent students. Saying goodbye to them this week has been difficult. Emotional doesn’t begin to describe the students’ reaction. At least I’ll be able to visit Wasu and Gimhwa in the future. It consoled them, but only so much.

Now it’s time to apply everything I’ve learned to a new school. Like Bob Dylan sang, “Strike another match, go start anew.” Starting fresh at a new school, with new students, coteachers, and administrators sounds an exciting way to spend 2014-2015 in Korea.

======================= 
Moving will entail plenty of work, but we’ve already begun getting the place ready. R has been understanding and helpful. She has her own camps and classes to do, but she's making time to help me. I can't thank her enough for her help and support.

More posts are on the way….

Soundtrack to this post:


Link Wray’s cover of Dylan’s “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue.”


Sly and the Family Stone’s “Stand.”


Motorhead’s "Live to Win."


Minor Threat's "Salad Days."

Quick hit: Two weeks without FB/More unplugging

No more Facebook.

And I don't miss it. It has made getting ahold of some friends more difficult, but I don't miss its headache-inducing interface, the incessant ads, or the time I wasted on it.

And actually, it spurred what's become a series of long emails with an old friend from Wisconsin. We'd rarely written each other before, but now that FB is gone, we've move to email and have written more in depth about our lives. It's a positive change.

More unplugging


  • I no longer read emails on my phone. All data has been erased. The accounts have been un-synced. I did so out of concerns for privacy and because reading emails on the phone's screen gave me headaches. 
  • I deleted Wordpress and Blogger. Blogging will be done on the iPad or at home.
  • I kept Skype and Kakao simply because they used for talking with my American family and friends and the Cheorwon crew.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Resisting the temptation to plug in

I'm spending too much time on my phone doing unnecessary things and it's affecting my attention span. I realized this while I was doing exactly what I try to keep my students from doing: Tuning out conversations to use the phone.

This weekend I was in a pension in Pyeongchang with the other Gangwon-do coordinators. It was Sunday morning and C the game fiend got me and several others to play the game Smash Up with him. I'd never heard of this game before and listened intently when he explained how to play it. He went over everything like a pro. He walked us through each turn, explaining what each card could do and why. Slowly but surely, a rhythm developed.

And there was a lull in the gameplay and I pulled out my phone to--of all things--check emails and messages. Why? Just because, I guess. I have no real reason here, for even if I had gotten emails, I dislike typing on the phone's tiny keypad and dislike reading the tiny letters on its screen even more. Not only that, but I was missing valuable information about the game. My mind couldn't handle email and the Smash Up conversations at the same time. I was exhibiting the same behavior I deplore. There we were, friends and colleagues, and I was tuning out. What rudeness. C never said anything, but I knew that fiddling with the phone wasn't good.

I put the phone away. The messages and emails could wait...not that there were any, anyway. Everything Internet-related could wait. The game and the conversation were what mattered, because they were with people I rarely see face to face. These are people whose advice has helped immeasurably in teaching and being a District Coordinator. They matter. The conversation matters. I unplugged and returned to the game. We would all be leaving before noon and it was best that I not waste our time together.

Later:

The temptation to plug in is strong these days. I deleted all the emails from my phone and unsync'd the accounts. There is no need to check them on the phone. Anything important can be done on the iPad or the computer. 

It's time to go to school now. Today's goal is to knock down all six classes, prepare for tomorrow, and minimize time spent in front of screens.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Smart phone microphones and recording conversations in class

I meant to write this yesterday, but I didn't because the guitar was calling. The guitar's been neglected as of late, so I took 90 minutes, cranked up the tunes, and blasted away. It felt good. I took a little trip to rock and roll land and forgot about the busy days over here for a bit.

Anyway, that one thing: A few books I'd been reading lately mentioned making recordings in class. They specifically mentioned tape recorders because they came out before smart phone became ubiquitous. And yesterday, as my middle school girls began their group discussions about what they would do in certain situations, I had the idea to walk around and record whatever they were talking about. I'd brought the phone to class to use its stopwatch function in a memory/copying activity and thought, Hmm...this has a mike in it. Let's see what happens when I record things... So I did. I pushed record, walked around, and listened.

I didn't tell the students I was recording. I did as I always do: Move from group to group and see how everyone's doing. Maybe some of the girls noticed the phone in my hand, but none of them said anything.

When the class was over, I listened to the recordings and learned two things:

1. The fidelity's better than expected. The levels were good. I'd wondered if it would pick up some of the quieter voices, but it did.
2. I said "hm" too much when listening to the students. Or at least I think I did.

Actually, there was a 3rd thing I learned: the phone can send the sound files via email and KakaoTalk. In doing so, I shared them with my coteacher, who also praised the sound quality. Altogether, all of this is good to know. I've never used any recording equipment in class before; maybe now's the time to start. The phone's recorder's much more convenient than a tape recorder. The thing to do now: Consider where/when to use the voice recorder and how it can benefit the students in our classes.

For anyone who has recorded things in class, feel free to comment below!

* One book was How to Teach Teach Speaking by Scott Thornbury. Expect to see a review of it soon!

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Quick hit: Boar sighted in Cheorwon

One of the Cheorwon EPIK crew told me that she saw a wild boar in town earlier. It even made eye contact with her before it ran out of sight. I'd no idea that Cheorwon had boar, but evidently, the county does.