Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Quotes from the classroom / The walking dead

Here's a quick hit about some stuff I heard earlier today:

Two good quotes from a 3rd grade middle school class. The students were completing the expression "I am ~ enough to ~." Here are three of the responses:

1. I am old enough to love.
2. I am cute enough to attract boys.
3. I am tall enough to do the dishes.

Hehehe, yes indeed. While #1 says something self-aware, #2 will have no shortage of boys who like her, #3, takes the humor prize, for doing the dishes does require some vertical stature. Good for her.
And on a similar note...something I misheard became an even better line (and just as plausible) version of what was actually said. It happened earlier when I saw Jelina, one of my former 3rd grade students in the hallway.

Me: Hi there, how are you?
J: Sad.
Me: Why?
J: Universe.
Me: Universe?
J: No, university.

At first I thought she was playing on the traditional teenage melodrama of "everything sucks," but she was actually lamenting how much work she had to do to get into college, and she's far from alone. A Korean student's 3rd year of high school is a grueling marathon of studying in the school and the hagwon. They live at school and feast on their textbooks. For all the emphasis we have on the ACT in the States, the Korean college exam carries much more importance. The kids study day and night for this thing. Here's an illustration from the first day of the new semester in March: I'd begun a section of a 3rd grade class and had asked, "Are you ready for a new year?" to hear a chorus of "No"s. I asked why and they said "college entrance." There they were, a full 8 months before the November exam and they were shaking as though they had it the next day. I'd been excited to teach them in their final year of high school because their English levels had risen and the class was full of interesting kids. 3rd grade seemed like the time to bridge that gap between ESL and the traditional English stuff I'd been doing before Korea--the students were about to leave school, their participation had increased, and they understood 95% of what I said. Surely now we could blend English conversation with literature and really up their levels. Not so. Not at all.

The semester's classes were inconsistent at best. The stress of the upcoming exam and school life had the kids either half-asleep or slap-happy. They seemed like the walking dead; the same kids who'd never hesitate to talk stopped saying anything beyond the bare minimum. Answering "How are you?" took visible effort, as if they had to stumble through an unlit labyrinthine network of tunnels to find the correct response in "I'm fine, thanks"--an expression that they'd known since elementary school. Getting any participation grew difficult. The kids were just too burned out to want to pay attention. The once-engaged 2nd graders had morphed into burned out 3rd graders. Sure, some students did still talk, but it wasn't on the same level as last year. This grew wearying. Was it the lessons? Was it school life? Was it general apathy? I still had some good classes, for sometimes the students' slap-happy attitude brought out some great jokes. The best class of the semester came when we discussed bullying, swearing, and insults with a clip from the Korean film Sunny. You can watch it with the YouTube link below. Skip to 32:24 and turn on the subtitles by clicking the icon next to the gear at the bottom of the player. The kids enjoyed that one because they got a chance to learn about bullying and the context of swear words. I thought long and hard about using the clip in class because of the profanities, but went ahead anyway. The kids deserved to know more about English swear words because most, if not all of the students had already heard them before. I made sure to explain that profanities were not to be used outside of class as well. They understood. The resulting discussion yielded some thoughtful discussion about why bullying exists, too. My co-teacher said he enjoyed it and added that the kids needed to know about bullying. [Side note: swearing is an integral part of American/English speaking culture. The students may as well know why people say hell and damn in the States. Also: I've yet to hear any of those same 3rd graders swear.]

At any rate, the 3rd graders enjoyed the class and seemed to enjoy the semester when I asked them about it,  so that's good. I'm not teaching them any more because they need more time to prepare for college. This is probably for the best. I wish them well. 100% of the graduating class got into college last year. Let's hope it happens again.

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