Friday, October 10, 2014

Lotte World observations

1. We arrived around 10:15am. There were no bag checks or security lines. The students got together and the teachers doled out tickets. I got one that said "guide pass." We passed through the turnstiles and wenot our separate ways. That is, I followed the teachers and the students went every which way. Our instructions were simple: Be ready to go at 3:40pm. I marveled at the amount of freedom given to middle schoolers.

2. Lotte World is indoors and outdoors, and while it bills itself as an amusement park, it also has plenty in common with shopping malls. I was surprised to see cosmetics stores and chain coffee shops here and there.

3. I think my past trips to Six Flags Great America have spoiled me. That park had more than five roller coasters; coasters that were much bigger, taller, and longer than the coaster I rode at Lotte World. Not that the Lotte World coaster didn't have its thrills--it was just too short.

4. Lotte World has a Folk Museum inside and a pretty good restaurant sits next door to it. I joined the teachers for lunch at that restaurant and enjoyed the bossam (steamed pork) and bibimbap. Both dishes are excellent by themselves, but the combination of the two made it one of the best meals I've had here.

5. Students and young people everywhere. One coteacher explained that October's usually a time for school trips, which explained why the place was packed on an ordinary Wednesday.

6. The Folk Museum: I got tired of the noise and rush of events in the afternoon, so I went there and spent an hour enjoying the exhibits from Korea's past three kingdoms of Gogureo, Baekje, and Silla. I honestly hadn't expected much from a museum that was attached to an amusement park, but I was wrong. The museum's worth visiting for anyone interested in Korean history, especially in seeing scenes from its past monarchies or its many temples and palaces.

*Lotte World is located next to Jamsil station on Line 2 of Seoul's subway system. It is less than 20 minutes from the Dongseoul Bus Terminal.

**Seokchon Lake is nearby as well.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Blogging on the bus: Going to Lotte World

We're on our way to Lotte World amusement park this morning. I'm on the bus with the art teacher and the third grade middle schoolers. It's my first time going there. It'll be good to ride a rollercoaster again.

Also: Updates on the way about the first month in the new town, hiking, and attending the KOTESOL International Conference. They conference was quite good because I got to meet Scott Thornbury, the renowned teacher and author, after his plenary talk.


Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Teaching tip: never contradict your co-teacher

[Note: This is not a new post. I originally wrote it in the spring of 2012. It probably got listed as a new post when I was rereading it and noticed a few typos. I fixed those types, clicked "update," and saw later that it became a "new" post.

As it happened, Jane transferred to another school when that semester ended. I never heard where she went. She'd be in the final year of high school now.]

One of the joys of teaching is that no one day's ever the same as the next. Monday's conference with a student sparked this post.

The military has a rule that says "Always obey your commanding officer." Teachers have a similar, yet unwritten rule that says "Always support your fellow teachers. Do not contradict them unless you absolutely have to." Teachers need to back up other teachers to establish consistency both within the school and within the classroom. To contradict or go against another teacher means that the student(s) can exploit a weakness and play teachers against one another. It invites power struggles. Power struggles are never good because all parties invariably lose face.

Being the foreign (Guest) teacher only amplifies this point because the language barrier and not knowing all ins and outs of school culture can lead to students playing the Guest teacher against the Korean teacher(s).

I thought of this rule when a student, Jane, came to my desk yesterday to ask about an exam question. It seems she thought the question had more than one possible answer. Right away, I knew I had to tread carefully because although I proofread the exam, I did not write it. I didn't know the answer to that particular question either because Ms. J the co-teacher had written the instructions in Korean and had said not to worry about it. I asked her to explain the question. She did. She asked about whether the expressions she used were right. In my mind, I knew they looked okay, but I also knew that the co-teacher had had a different answer in mind. To say I agreed with Jane would mean contradicting Ms. J'a answer.

After she finished talking, I said, "Okay, I understand, Jane, but I can't help you here."
She nodded and asked, "But, isn't this the right expression?"
"It may be. I don't know. I didn't write the exam. Ms. J did."
"Yes, but you're a teacher too, and I thought you could help..."

I thought she might say that because she didn't know the difference between my job and the Korean teacher's job. We're all English teachers to her, and while yes, we all do teach English, my status as an Guest English Teacher puts me on a different plane than the other Korean teachers. Guest English Teachers follow different procedures than Korean English teachers. For instance, I'm not officially obligated to write exams or record grades for my classes. It's possible, but I don't have to. This alone means that I have no say with other teachers' exams.

This would be hard to explain to her, but I told her, "Yes, Jane, but the rules for me are different. I cannot help you here. You'll have to talk to Ms. J."

I had no real sway in the matter. To do otherwise would be to put Ms. J in a bind because Jane could say, "Well, Ben said this, but you said that" and put her on the spot. She persisted anyway. She wasn't arguing to argue--quite the contrary, as a passionate learner*, she's dedicated to knowledge for its own sake and simply wanted further explanation. And I couldn't give that to her. Jane eventually said "Okay" and let it go. She thanked me for my time and walked out of the office.

Fellow teachers: back up your colleagues.

*Jane transferred to Gimhwa HS from a high school in Chuncheon recently. She's a teacher's student: she comes to class early, takes good notes, beams a smile everywhere she goes, and studies hard. Her English is nearly as good as the Korean English teachers themselves too. Her advanced abilities play into why she came to my office because students rarely ask me about anything in their regular English classes because they lack the English necessary to explain themselves. They go to their Korean teachers instead.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

High school poetry action

For Kevin at The Other Things Matter, whose post “9 Tanka” inspired me to try using some poetry in my 1st grade high school class a couple of weeks ago. His post was also where I learned about Tanka.

Tanka is short Japanese poetry. There’s likely a more technical explanation, but for our purposes here, tanka means short poems about everyday life. In his post, Kevin writes about a few poems he’d used in classes over the years. He used them because they contained things students could relate to, like loneliness, and they did it in a way that was direct and easy to understand.

The poem I used was this one:

because I thought
it was the girlish thing to do
I pretended
until my 2nd year of high school
to love strawberries

Please note that the poem was translated from Japanese by Kevin.

I chose the poem for these reasons:

l  In other words, I thought the students might appreciate being able to read and understand a poem in a foreign language. I know how good it feels to understand a bit of Korean and figured that the students would feel the same way.
l  It’s about time and how people change. It might spark some thoughts about how people change over time.
l  It’s about being a girl—or doing the girlish thing, which the students might enjoy discussing, so we can lead into gender roles and ideas about being a boy or girl.

Kevin had included some thought-provoking discussion questions that he used in his classes. I used them as well:
  1. What do you notice about the poem?
  2. Have you ever pretended to like something?
  3. Do you think there is a way to act like a boy or a girl? which I added:
  1. What are girlish things? Boyish things
  2. Why does the poem end with the word strawberry
  3. Could you change the poem to be about you?

We spent more time thinking of differences and similarities between boys and girls than we did writing, but we did end up with some detailed Venn diagrams in all four classes. My coteacher also stepped in and translated the poem for every class. This was good of her to do, since maybe not everyone understood exactly what the poem was saying. I hadn’t accounted for translating the poem.

As for the questions themselves, I listed them on the board and distributed copies of them to small groups.

The groups eagerly listed anything they could think of. After they had time to discuss the questions amongst themselves, I called the class to order and made a master graph on the board. I wrote everything down, from differences in appearance (long vs. short hair) to attitude. The group and class review took longer than I expected, so there was little time for writing. This wasn't a big problem, for the list generated plenty of vocabulary and discussion amongst the groups.

Something else that came up: Few if any of the students said they’d pretended to like anything in the past. They were surprised to hear that I've pretended to like or dislike a few things. One of those things is in this attempt at rewriting the above poem:

because I thought
it was a cool thing to do
I pretended
until age 26
to hate going to bed early

The students seemed to understand it. The bell rang right around this time in all four classes. And all four classes did go well. We may not have gotten to do the poetry recitals that I’d envisioned, but we got somewhere. Ideas came up. Words were spoken. They got on the board. The big thing in my mind was the students had read and understood a poem in English. They’d read and commented on a piece of literature. I count that as a success.


l  For the rewritings, I made this model:
n  because I __________________
it was a ____________________
I pretended __________________
to __________________________

l  And couple of students did attempt to write their version of the “because I thought” poem. One girl wrote this:

because I thought
it was a good sister thing to do
I pretended until the movie Frozen ended
to love the prince

l  Though I did highlight the poem’s short lines and show that it’s one sentence that’s divided into lines, I didn’t highlight the the girlish thing part. The difference between a girlish thing and the girlish thing amounts to something in general versus something important. Maybe it doesn’t matter as much as I thought, for such a distinction might have been too much for the students to bear at first. 

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Re: Plugging in / A cartoon about smart phones

Some of my former 1st grade high school students drew this picture for their newspaper posters during the 2014 summer camp.

It's accurate. When the middle and high schoolers get together outside of school, their gatherings look something like this. Is the same thing happening in the USA? Probably. Yet this isn't a case of "Wow, Korea's crazy," but rather, "Hmm, maybe we're spending too much time in front of screens." 

I've a close friend in Cheorwon. We meet every week or so for dinner and cafe action. Both of us carry phones with us, yet we both put them on silent and don't look at them during our conversations. The temptation abounds, though. We often discuss music or films and become curious about various release dates or creative personnel. We sometimes do get anxious for instant clarification, but we've agreed to let those things go and focus on talking to each other instead. 

Again, this isn't about being "better." Phones and technology have their places. I just think that the phones can be put away when friends are in the room. 

Related: Phones and dinner manners
Various scenes involving young people and smart phones between Aug. 2011 and June 2013

Monday, September 22, 2014

A quick hit courtesy of DPS / Kick that ball and say something

It's Monday afternoon. Time for a jolt of energy...

I finally got around to watching the classic film Dead Poets Society last night. This scene resonated with me:

Mr. Keating has each guy read a quote from a poem and kick a ball as hard as he can. It combined physical activity with poetry in a way that got me thinking of how (if?) I could do a similar thing in my classes here. At my previous school, my boys middle school teachers suggested going outside and using the soccer field for a lesson or two on sports, but nothing like that has come up at the new school. Not yet, anyway.

Still, while I'd have to change the language used, having the students come outside, yell something life-affirming, and kick a ball sounds like fun. Maybe they could yell something like "I am Min-su and I love my phone!" or "I am So-young and I can run!" I bet the kids would like a chance to get out of the classroom.

More on the film later.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Some assorted links and thoughts


"You don't need to use the book." 

Virtually every coteacher I've had has said some version of this sentence. In my experience, hearing "you don't need to use the book" usually gets followed with "You can play games." I heard it again today after a first grade middle school class. Perhaps my coteacher said so because I referenced a page in the textbook and had the students review it. I'd said, "Look at page 100. What are they talking about? What expressions do they use? We're going to use those expressions today." That part of the lesson was included for review.

Actually, I rarely follow the textbooks the students use, but I do reference them from time to time so to keep abreast of what they're studying. I've found that incorporating grammar points or vocabulary from the text into my "free" lessons has increased class participation and attention. 

And yet, why disregard the textbook? I understand that the Korean English teachers use the textbooks in their classes and wouldn't want the EPIK teachers to repeat the same material in their classes, yet the texts do have good content in them and they can provide useful supplementary material for classes. 

Finally, regardless of if I use the textbook's contents or not, in most classes the textbook is also the notebook. Most students don't carry notebooks around with them. They write in their textbooks. I should note that Korean students buy their textbooks and are free to write in them. Or rip them up. It happens.

Classroom etiquette 

I'm continually amazed at how many liberties some students will take with classroom etiquette: Turning around to talk to the people in the preceding row and nonchalantly walking in minutes late without materials are two sticking points with me. There's one more, and though I've said this before, it bears repeating: Materials in general, or lack thereof. How I'll see backpacks and pencil cases galore, but no notebooks or textbooks. I know this problem isn't limited to Korea or America, but I'm still amazed at how pervasive it is here.

Having a working bike again

The rear tire got punctured a few months ago and I got lazy about getting the bike fixed. I finally took care of it last weekend when I rode into Wasu, got the bike out of the old apartment, and took it back to Sincheorwon on the bus. The bike's fixed at last. It certainly makes getting around a little easier. And now I can resume the after-school rides around town. They were always good for unwinding. Woohoo.

"Is your beard real?"

It had to happen some time. I knew growing a beard while living here would prompt a few questions or provoke a few stares. For one, Koreans don't usually have facial hair, or, if they do, most Korean men are clean shaven. What's more, beards reside in the realm of older men, not those in their late 20s like me. This isn't so much the case in the USA, but the facial hair culture's different here.

And it shows, for two things have happened in the first two weeks: One was a boy who asked if he could touch my beard and another was a boy who actually went ahead and did it. The second boy took me by surprise. He quickly apologized for it. I said, "Okay, I know you're curious, but ask first." 

"Is your beard real?" was an actual question from a class.


A Czech EFL teacher reflects on a few questions about what communicative teaching really means. She posits her thoughts on some principles of Communicative Language Teaching. I'm linking it here because it's a good reflective piece about teaching and how a teacher's approach can shape a class.

She writes of how best to work with upper and lower level students here. I found this one especially relevant to EPIK teachers, for our classes have a wide range of students as well.

A teacher in France writes about the tricky relationships between teachers and parents. She herself is a parent and has seen both sides of parent- teacher conferences. It also contains some bits about how conferences work in France.