Friday, August 30, 2013

Fire Friday / a week of farewells and hellos, round 4

It's Fire Friday today. Whereas Americans will say TGIF, Koreans say Fire Friday as a way of igniting the fires if the weekend. Or so the students say! I like it,  but I've begin seeing weekends as a time to gather firewood and save the real burning for the weekdays, for those days count the most.

It's now 6:20pm and I'm writing this post on the phone. The Crew is meeting in Sincheorwon tonight for barbecue. By now the outgoing teachers have left and the newcomers have settled in. We'll make it a great semester.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Yonghwa Garden Restaurant, Cheorwon County (용화 가든, 철원군

An excellent chicken soup restaurant that's located outside of Sincheorwon. Thanks to Ramsey for recommending it!

If you look closely, you'll see that the water runs under the tables. Having your feet in the water while eating good food with good friends equals a quality time.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Bring your materials to class: "I will remember to bring my notebook..."

I wrote about students not bringing their materials to class below, but doing a repost of the article because a recent meeting with the new Gangwon-EPIK coordinator inspired me to redouble my efforts. During our too-short conversation, he eloquently elaborated on why notebooks remain essential to class: They not only provide a record of the class, but they all serve as reference materials for later. He explained how he required the students to bring notebooks and assigned lines to them if they failed to bring them to class. I did the same thing. Last week, I reminded every high school class about the need to arrive with appropriate materials. If they showed up to the next class (or any subsequent one) without notebooks, they'd be writing 50 lines of "I will remember to bring my notebook to class."

And in what will surprise few people who've taught anywhere, many students forgot what I'd said in English, what my co-teachers said in English and Korean, and what was written on the whiteboard. It was what I said in the very first class and what I continue to say now: Bring materials. But after two years, I needed to do more.

So I made good on the promise and hit them with this:

True, he didn't sign the signature part. I'll have him do that tomorrow.

Keeping this up will take effort, but it's necessary.

The original post:
Bring your materials to class: Since my first days as an educator, I’ve told students what teachers around the world tell their students: Bring your materials to class. ...

And by the way; the new arrivals are all excellent people who will surely rock and roll it in Cheorwon!

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Day three of being 27 / Weekend update

Quick but substantial post tonight. Week 3 of school begins tomorrow. The past week has been busy and eventful:

R is coming to Sincheorwon! No more long bus trips to see her. Woohoo.

Sincheorwon's teachers are leaving and will be replaced by Rochelle and another woman.

Josh in Dongsong's teachers is transferring out of Cheorwon and will be replaced by a man.

Alexis in Wasu's finished her year and begins her new job at a school in Seoul. I'm told that Wasu will not get a replacement for her until next month. This means that thanks to another teacher vacating the apartment and moving to Sincheorwon with his wife, I will be the only foreign teacher in Wasu for the time being.

I took over Gracie's phone and consequently have a smart phone now. It's nice to be able to type and to take nice pictures again. All of the pictures that I took and posted her were taken with the iPad camera. It does a decent job, but it's ungainly.

I turned 27. As many surely know, the world doesn't stop on the birthday. Far from it. There were four middle school classes to teach, lessons to plan, and persons to see on that day. In short, I got to do everything I loved. Perhaps others might decry having to work on their birthdays, but not me. Getting things done takes precedence over lazying about any day.

And so begins another era for the Cheorwon Crew...I can't wait to meet the newcomers and show them around. They're coming to an excellent place. We have good people and good schools here. And at the same they come here, Gangwon EPIK has a new head coordinator. I met with him recently and had a stimulating conversation/interview with him. It'll be a pleasure to work with him and the newcomers!

Enjoy the rest of the weekend, those on Seoul time. For everyone in the States, it's ~7:45am Central Daylight Savings Time now. Good morning to you. Make it a great day.

Relaxing in Seoul on Friday night. Sunglasses by R. 

Thursday, August 22, 2013

2 years of Gangwon Dispatches and counting

I began Gangwon Dispatches two years ago today on the night before my 25th birthday. I flew out of Chicago the next day. Since then, well, you know the story: 2 years in Cheorwon, Gangwon-do and innumerable adventures in this wonderful country. Here's to year 3...

I'm off to dinner now. Come back for more.

PS--Thank you, dear readers.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Fall 2013 Week 1 - Class rules and acrostic poems in high school

Class rules / Acrostic poems

The first week is done. Unlike other EPIK teachers, girls middle school and regular high school's semester began on Tuesday. I taught two classes on Tuesday, four on Thursday,* and four on Friday.** The schedule hasn't been set yet, so we'll see what happens next week. Typically, schedules don't get written until after the semester begins. Every semester has begun with a provisional schedule that becomes a regular one. The first few days are often exciting as a result.

The high school classes went well. Despite the lack of time off, it did feel as if we're in a new semester instead of a continuation of the old one. It felt good to be back in class and getting the 2nd semester going. The students have shaken off the restlessness of the last days and have begun anew. They're paying more attention now. 

For the first week, I kept it simple and limited the lesson to reviewing the class's rules and showing the students how to write an acrostic poem about themselves. I did so because it took little prep work and was easy to add to my already-written intro lesson about rules and procedures. Classes went like this:

Intro/Saying hello

This is typically the first two minutes where everyone's getting settled in. I'll say hello and check to make sure everyone has their materials. Sometimes we'll talk about the weather or school events. I'm going to do more during this time by implementing so short "Do now" tasks because the 10 minutes they have between classes is time enough to mentally prepare and move to the classroom.

Rules/Overview of new semester

My rules are simple. They abbreviate to STABS:

S peak at appropriate times [in English]
T reat others with respect
A rrive on time
B ring materials
S tay on task

When I wrote the list, I looked for the smallest amount of words and the words that were easiest to understand in isolation and in the full sentence. I also phrased them positively to avoid putting anyone on edge with a series of "Don't" expressions.

Poem definition and demonstration

I used this image from Read Write Think, an excellent resource site, to explain and demonstrate an acrostic poem:

I also showed them an acrostic poems about Korea. And to show how they could write poems about themselves, I showed them what Benjamin would look like as an acrostic.


K nowledge industry
O ceans, rivers, and streams of clear water
R olling hills and mountains of luscious green
E ating delicious barbecue and kimchi!
A lways changing

The beginning line was blank until the 3rd class because I couldn't think of a good line that began with a K-word. Luckily, Michael, a 2nd grader, came by after class finished and said, "How about 'knowledge industry'? Korea has much knowledge and many industries. We are smart!" I liked his line, so I wrote it in and added his name to the credits.

The idea was for the students to describe themselves in the space of the poem.

Poem drafting

Writing takes time. I make sure to give the students plenty of time to write anything and circulate the room with the co-teacher to offer help and direction anyone who needs it.

Poem final draft/decorating

I'm planning on decorating some of the room with the students' writings and thought this acrostic poems would be a good place to start. Rewriting the poem also helps spelling practice and word choice. I've found that rewriting things leads to a better draft because in rewriting something, I'll inevitably think of better ways to phrase things. For the students' purposes, it gave them a chance to draw their words larger and add some pertinent decorations.

I'd planned on doing a poetry slam at the end, wherein the students would take turns reading their work and the audience would rate the best one, but we ran short of time in every class but one. Maybe next time we can do it. If I run through the introduction and rules quicker, we can probably squeeze in a reading. The one class that did feature a reading went well. That class has four girls in it who have gotten better and better as of late. They used to go off-task and distract each other, but thanks to some joking and positive attention via questions in class, they've been paying more attention and speaking more. All four of them turned in good work. 

The poetry went well. The students have now written a poem in a foreign language. The sense of accomplishment from having done an English poem was palpable. While poetry's not an "everyday" skill like, say, booking a hotel room, it is a literary skill. It focuses on word choice because every word counts in a poem. Above all, it allows the students to express themselves and learn something new at the same time.

* High school
** Girls middle school

What I'm teaching this semester:

High school grades 1-2
High school night class (Grades TBA)
Boys middle school grades 1-3
Girls middle school grades 1-2

Friday, August 16, 2013

Happy Liberation Day!

 We got off school because 15 August is Liberation Day (광복절), the day of independence from Japanese rule on this day in 1945. Liberation Day coincided with the end of World War II in the Pacific; Japan's reign over Korea ended when the Japan surrendered to the Allies then.

We celebrated by going down to the Hwa River and picnicking under the a bridge.

Left to right: Meat mandu, donkasseu kimbap, and kimchi mandu.

Donkasseu kimbap is so named for the pork cutlet (donkasseu) inside the rice and seaweed roll. 

The shady areas were crowded, so we moved up and got a good view of the action.

The Korean army shirt I bought shortly after arriving here. I wore it in honor of Liberation Day.

Google translate: "Train with my life"

Monday, August 12, 2013

"English will take you everywhere!" / High school summer camp 2013

All of my reflections on the camp trace themselves back to a single idea: Making it a good time by staying as positive as possible and enjoying the ride. Like I said earlier, it went very well. I'd best set some context:

The plans I'd drawn up were duly written and revised over four times. The fourth, and most substantial, round of changes took place the day before vacation. JB the co-teacher and I sat down and went over the plans. He made many (good) changes and suggestions, things I hadn't thought of before. The amount of changes necessitated rewriting the timetable, but they were for the best. JB's ideas were more hands-on than mine and thus proved more interesting for the students. Whereas I saw the camp as reviewing and expanding on the past semester's lessons, he envisioned expanding on that by bringing in projects and skits. Indeed, his additions brought more of a fun element to the camp. I should've remembered that the kids work hard enough during the school year and thus need something that's as entertaining as it is educational during the summer.

Still, I was worried about how well everything would turn out. It was my first camp and I'd been put in charge of drawing the plans for a 2-day camp that lasted from 9:30-9:30 one day and 9:00-5:30 the next. I'd have three Korean English teachers as well as two other EPIK teachers on board. Getting two other EPIK teachers was difficult because everyone's different vacation schedules. One teacher was able to help out for the 15 minutes between saying yes and the school telling her that her vacation times changed. Another teacher had a family emergency to attend to. Eventually, one co-teacher recruited Anna from Yanggu and our old Cheorwon buddy Chris stepped up. Additionally, I was to brief everyone about the camp. I felt the pressure to deliver. Despite knowing that many things were out of my hands, I was the man making the plans and thus had to know what to do. The anxieties were there in the days leading up to the camp, but I kept them at bay by remembering to stay on the positive and think about all the good stuff that can happen. It is true that inasmuch as I had nerves, I was eager to get back in the classroom. The long vacation saw plenty of fun, but the classroom never left my thoughts. Maybe it was the camp looming, but it explains why I went to the Hanbat Museum of Education while in Daejeon.

As the time neared*, I kept the good in mind: Catching up with an old friend, working with the students, meeting a new colleague, and seeing the co-teachers again. All four of those things happened and then some. Chris came up the night before and stayed over; we had a good time chatting and joking. Our conversation distracted me from worry.

The camp's events proved that the worrying was for nothing.. Chris and I walked to the high school with high hopes for the camp. R had sent me an encouraging message in the morning, a message that I glanced at throughout the camp. Though the details weren't 100% finished, we felt confident that all would work out. Anna arrived at school a short time later and we all got going with the opening ceremony.

After that, the camp went by in a whirlwind. I was too busy teaching, supervising, or finessing the plans to worry about anything but enjoying the time. The students worked hard all the way through--even at 9:00pm on Monday, after having been at school all day, they were hard at work on their skits. Everyone was engaged and participating. They must have found a second wind after dinner; indeed, Chris and I weren't tired either. We were riding on the energy.

And to our surprise the next day, every group came in with typewritten script drafts and expanded dialogues that they'd written overnight. None of us had assigned homework, but there it was. The kids were dedicated to doing well and beating the competition. Every group was competing for points in different categories. In some areas, every group could theoretically earn the high score because they hit the objectives, but in some, they were competing with each other.The students made excellent use of their time and put lot of care into their skits. They put a lot of care into everything. The pictures below should give that impression!

So, what was to happen during those days? Here's what we did:

  • An awards ceremony.
  • Newspaper posters
  • Jeopardy game
  • Skits about the mini-lessons and life in general
  • 6-station mini lessons on various role plays:
    • Hotel accommodations
    • Airline tickets
    • Making excuses for missing school
    • At the doctor's office
    • At the bank
    • Talking about ethnic restaurants and foods
So, what was to happen during those days?

One of my two groups hard at work on their newspaper

One of Chris's groups put this poster together.

A close-up of the comic at the bottom. Word humor!

To anyone who's putting a camp together, relax and enjoy the ride. Planning days worth of activities is difficult, but payoff is great. The summer camp saw the students climb to new heights in their ongoing language journey. Like the title goes, English will take you everywhere because it's a global language.

Special thanks to the co-teachers for all the logistics and legwork! 

* All through the vacation, emails were flying back and forth between Chris, Anna, and I, so we were all on the same page.
A quick afternoon trip to Incheon's Chinatown provided a good distraction, too. Good times!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Wong's "10 Beliefs of Successful Teachers"

The summer vacation and the summer English camp have come to an end. I'll be posting about them shortly, for the camp exceeded all expectations. We made it a great time! Until then, here's an excerpt from a teaching book that I posted on the bulletin boards surrounding the desk...

An esteemed Education professor recommended Wong and Wong's book The First Days of School during a methods class and it's a pity that it wasn't on the reading list. Here's why:

10 Beliefs of Successful Teachers
1. Believe that every child who enters your classroom wants to grow and learn and be successful and has the capacity to do so.
2.Believe in yourself that you have the skills needed to reach children and move them to new heights. 
3. Believe that every day is a new day with the opportunity to start anew. 
4. Believe that you are part of a greater community of educators who are proud of their profession and dedicated to teaching. 
5. Believe that the smile of welcome you radiate to your students every day  will warm the hearts of of more bodies than you will ever imagine. 
6. Believe in partnerships with colleagues, administrators, and parents that will nurture children. 
7. Believe that you are both a teacher and a learner and grow yourself professionally each year.
8. Believe that hard work is required for success. 
9. Believe that education is the bedrock of humanity. 
10. Believe that we are here to help you and your students achieve success.

What teachers do is nothing short of a miracle that humbles and inspires us all.
It only takes one person to make a difference.
And we applaud the person who does.
Know that you just don't make a difference. 
You ARE the difference. 
You are the window through which children see the world. You are the sanctuary their heavy hearts come to each day.
Nothing brings more happiness than a successful lesson.
Remember, whether you're teaching in Korea or elsewhere, that while you're in the school or classroom, you are an educator and are influencing young minds. 

Wong's words are triply true in Korea. We are here not only as foreign teachers, but also as ambassadors and emissaries of our cultures. We wield the power to change perceptions and change lives by being leaders in our field.

Go forth and make it a great day, everyone.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Thursday afternoon on the Hwa River, Wasu/Gimhwa, Gangwon-do

What a beautiful, sunny, and hot day in the Wasu/Gimhwa township. Families are out on the riverside enjoying the weather. The merchants have set up food stands, the grills are sizzling, and the children are playing. What a sight. I've said this before., but I'll say it again: I love my country home. The scenery and the cozy neighborhoods beat anything I've seen in the cities so far.

An excellently relaxing vacation day...

Friday, August 2, 2013

Weekend trip to Jeju Island! (Part 2)

R and I spent our full day relaxing and wandering around the southern city of Seogwipo. We ate a leisurely breakfast of barley rice bibimbap and topped it off with some coffee at a nearby cafe.

We ended up checking out two waterfalls and taking several long walks around the shoreline. The weather was overcast, humid, and warm. I'm not sure if the sweat on my brow came from the temperature, the physical exertion, or all the water in the air. Perhaps all three? At any rate, we certainly got our exercise in. The first of the falls we saw was...
Cheonjiyeon Falls

With one of those cool Halubang [Grandfather] statues.

Cheonjiyeon Falls 천지연폭포)

Meaning "God's pond," Cheonjiyeon Falls lives up to its name. Despite the massive complex of convenience stores and gift shops at its entrance, the falls is indeed a beautiful, natural work of art. The greenery and the falls looks like paradise. Even all of the tour groups milling about couldn't spoil the intimacy and beauty of the Falls.

On the waterfront

That's for you, Mike!

While en route to Jeongbang Falls, we took a rest in one of the mini parks in Seogwipo. I couldn't pass up a picture with an island in the background.

Jeongbang Falls on the coast line

We walked nearly 2km from one waterfall to another and it was well worth it. This waterfall empties into the Pacific Ocean. Check out the rocky shore and the pristine shoreline.

The "Reflections" post will come out later...all in all, a hell of a good time.