Tag Archives: school

Here we go again

This is the street I take leaving school each day. In three months, Ill take it one last time on my way out of Korea.

This is the street I take leaving school each day. In three months, I'll take it one last time on my way out of Korea.

It’s done. I’m officially leaving Korea at the end of August. I told my co-teacher, and it was a much calmer event than I had anticipated considering my co-teacher’s general anxiety and proclivity for histrionics. It still wasn’t any less awkward than I imagined, though. I don’t leave for another three months, but my co-teacher essentially forced me and my other co-teacher to talk to her so that we could get to know each other — almost three months into the job. It was clear to me that the other co-teacher didn’t want to chit-chat all that much since she actually wanted to finish her work. Awkward.

Anyway, if the renewal discussion had come up last week, my life would be completely different. I was pretty set on staying for another year, but then something — I’m not quite sure what — happened over the weekend, and doubt quickly took over. In the end, the fact I wasn’t completely sold on Korea meant I shouldn’t commit to another full year. The worst thing that could happen is I go home, dink around, run out of money and come back. I could fly back here at the drop of a hat. It’s nuts when I really think about it.

It’s very liberating to have this decision finalized, but it’s a little nerve-wracking not knowing what’s coming next. It’s much easier to deal, though, because I have no deadlines or expectations to meet at this point. Except for a couple of bills, I’m free of responsibilities and can fly as far as my money will take me. I could dink around Asia a bit before I head home, where I will definitely bounce around the country. Right now, I’m taking any ideas I can get. I’m nervous, but I think it’s the good kind of nervous.

See you stateside.

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Transience

The sun sets over Seoul, as seen from Olympic Park.

The sun sets over Seoul, as seen from Olympic Park.

As the end of May approaches, I’m rounding the three-quarter mark of my teaching contract. The end of this go-around is visible on the horizon, and it’s the popular water-cooler — actually more likely patio table — topic of the moment. Are you staying? Are you going? What’s next?

It’s decision time around the city, and Korea continues to impress me with its professionalism. My co-teacher breached the topic of renewing with this gem: “Are you satisfied with your job?” Clearly that’s the only criterion we use to decide whether we should dedicate another year of our lives to this country. In addition, this conversation happened yesterday, and the deadline for my decision is tomorrow. If my math is correct, that gives me two days to choose. Awesome.

Two days for a life-changing decision. That pretty much summarizes life as an English teacher in Korea: as adventurous and challenging as it may be, it all comes and goes very quickly. Nine months ago, I arrived as a wide-eyed American, but it feels like the pages of the calendar have just flown off the wall. The evanescence of this experience, however, goes beyond the time that passes.

This experience is as much about the people as it is the place. Ever since orientation, when I was quarantined for a week with 200 other foreigners, I’ve basically survived with this group of friends. Now with the questions, we all realize the adventure will soon drastically change for everyone. A large portion of this group is headed in different directions, and it’s over,  just like that.

We’ve all been through this at least twice before: high school and college. I had essentially the same friends from second grade through graduation — 11 years — and then I had to move on and start over. The cycle repeated itself in college but instead in a five-year period. Now I’m in Korea, where the lifespan of an English teacher — and its consequent friendships — is all too often only one year.

Tomorrow I decide whether this one year in Korea is enough for me. I think the easy decision is to avoid the unknown and re-sign, but the thought of giving one more year to this venture isn’t one that inspires joy in me — especially without a handful of my newest and closest friends. They’re leaving as quickly as they appeared, and I could very well do the same thing.

Stay tuned.

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Yes, I’m still alive

Ultimate has consumed my life for the past two months.

Ultimate has consumed my life for the past two months.

I come and I go. It’s an unfortunate cycle really. There are times when I’m everywhere, and there are times I completely disappear from the radar. The past 1.5 months (wow, it’s clearly been way too long) have been rather eventful, and I’ve been nowhere near updating about it.

I spent most of the weekends in January and February in a go out-sleep-play frisbee-go out cycle in preparation for Dream Cup in March. This tournament took me to Japan for a weekend, where I saw the bright lights of Tokyo, the pristine snowcap of Mt. Fuji and a handful of small-time Yakuza. Japan is ridiculously expensive. In a four-day weekend, I spent nearly $500 USD. I spent about that much in two weeks in Vietnam. That being said, however, I’ve added Tokyo to my short list of cities in which I can really see myself living. (Chicago rounds out that list.)

After Dream Cup, I spent many evenings — weeknights and weekends — catching up with friends in Seoul. This may or may not have led to multiple benders lasting three or more days. It probably wasn’t the most effective way to pass the time, but sometimes I can’t say “no” to an invitation for trouble. It’s especially hard when it involves warm weather and drinks on a patio.

Throughout this mayhem, I was also preparing for this past weekend’s party of a tournament on Jeju-Do, an island to the southwest of the Korean peninsula. We played our games on some of the practice fields for the 2002 World Cup in ideal 70-degree weather. Clearly I spent as much time as possible without a shirt. It was glorious.

The school life remains rather stable, but I can feel the stresses of Korea building once again. My co-teacher and I rarely see eye-to-eye on things, and unlike my previous co-teacher, she doesn’t seem to be on my side since she’s new to the job and working by the book. It’s nothing serious, but the many nuisances continue to add up. I’m still undecided whether I’m going to re-sign for another year, but we still have a little time to make that choice.

Unless an offer comes along that blows my mind, I can’t foresee myself moving out of Korea in the near future. Outside of school, I live a pretty stress-free life. All in all, with balmier weather and good friends all around, life is pretty good.

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I suck at blogging

winter-camp-3787

One of my third-grade students who is clearly hard at work.

I’m now in the second week of a new school year here in Seoul. (The school year starts in March and ends in February.) Usually moving to the next grade was just another chapter in the same book of our childhood education. As a teacher in Korea, each year is like a different book written by a new author. Very little is the same from year to year.

I was the only teacher in my school who ended the last school year and knew his position for the next school year. Most of the teachers are teaching different grades now than they did last year. Teachers apply for certain positions, and then the higher-ups (the principals and vice-principals) place the teachers in their position without much rhyme or reason, it seems.

The results are drastic changes from the previous year. For example, of the six sixth-grade homeroom teachers, two taught second grade, one taught first grade and one was the P.E. teacher. I previously had three co-teachers (one for third and sixth grade, one for fourth grade, and one for fifth grade), but now I have four co-teachers — three of whom were homeroom teachers last year. Two of those three had never taught English before.

I don’t understand why the teachers get shifted around so much; in fact, teachers can only teach at a school for five years before they’re transferred to another school. (Again, they apply for a district in Seoul and hope for the best.) I’m no pedagogy expert, but it would seem that the teaching styles in first and sixth grades would be quite different and that keeping someone who has continual experience in the same grade would be more beneficial.

It’s been quite a transition period to say the least. I’m adjusting to the three new co-teaching styles — which right now means I run the classes to show the Korean teachers how we’ve done things and have them become more or less involved as they see necessary. It’s hard for them because the kids already know who I am from last year.

For the most part, things are going pretty well. It’s a similar dynamic to when I started six months ago, but now the roles are reversed. There are bumpy moments here and there, but the new teachers and I are smoothing those out pretty well. There’s always one exception, though, and it happens to be the most important of the new teachers — my official co-teacher who is responsible for me.

She might be one of the most awkward people I’ve ever met, and she’s extremely disorganized on top of that. My other three co-teachers have been prepared for their respective classes with me, so the lesson planning between us have been quick and to the point. With this other co-teacher, though, things are always a mess.

I don’t know what else she does (fifth-grade English is the only class she teaches), but she doesn’t prep during the three hours we have after school. Yesterday, I had to stay 20 minutes after I was supposed to be leaving so that we could sort things out — only to have her try and change them this morning. She over-thinks everything and consequently becomes a nervous wreck about it.

Her presence in the classroom is rather ambiguous as well. I’m not sure where she wants to be in the teaching balance between us, and I’m indifferent to whether she wants to do less or be more in control. She just needs to decide on what kind of role she wants to have so we can teach more effectively and not bore/confuse the kids.

The school year and half of the faculty might be new, but the struggles are still the same. I’m sure they’ll pan out, just as they did last year. As the saying goes, the more things change, the more things stay the same.

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Welcome to Korea, pt. 2

“Korean organization” ranks right up there with “War on Terror,” “reality TV” and “good morning” as some of the biggest oxymorons, and that’s the kind of (dis)organization with which I deal on a daily basis. I accept it as a part of Korean society, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less annoying. Of course, this source of the anger behind this little diatribe is the dreaded winter camp. I’ve actually known my camp dates for a little more than three weeks now and even have some winter break plans organized. The dates of the camp, however, all pretty much all I’ve known — until last week.

The school continues to test my patience as they decided last week (or at least that was when they informed me) to hold a school camp instead of having me work for the district camp — the same school camp that wouldn’t fit in the budget three weeks ago. This camp will comprise 60 students from first to sixth grade, grouped by ability into four classes. It all sounds like standard fare, but we’re in Korea where nothing is standard fare.

Because the higher-ups decided so suddenly to have an English camp for our school, they weren’t able to to find any other native-speaking English teachers. It gets even better: they told me that after trying to put the burden of finding help on me. Everyone I know in Korea is an English teacher — meaning they’re all doing the same thing I’m doing. The talent pool is a bit shallow during that time of year and on this short of notice.

Yesterday the teacher directing the camp asked me to help her with the student interviews by which we’ll separate them into their classes. Of course, I told her it wouldn’t be a problem to figure out a time to do that, especially since camp isn’t for another four weeks. Monday turned to Tuesday, when it became a problem: we have to find a time to do all 60 interviews this week because the camp’s orientation is next Tuesday. This is especially fantastic because I had already re-scheduled a class into the remaining free time I had this week, which was already limited because of the supposedly nine-hour workshop I have on Wednesday — and learned about on Monday.

I don’t know where the breakdown in communication occurs; however, a lack of communication would imply there was information to pass along to me. As with the original dates (and location, even) of the camp, there was absolutely nothing my co-teacher could tell me because there was nothing to know. For a country that seems like its brains should be hard-wired to logic and reasoning (since its educational system excels in math and the sciences), Korea doesn’t seem to be able to keep its days straight.

Even though I know it won’t come anytime soon, all I want is a little more notice and organization. Korean inefficiency will continue to boggle my mind.

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The Difference of a Year

I’ve been in Korea for a little more than two months now, and things are still chugging along quite nicely. Tomorrow I start another week of classes, and I’m still excited to do it. Even though each week’s routine is more or less the same, each day is different. That’s the great thing about working with other people, whether it’s my co-teachers or the students; they’ll always come up with something new.

Aside from geography, my life has changed drastically — internally and externally — from one year ago. I dreaded waking up in the mornings and driving to work day after day after day. I wrote this in a separate journal almost a year ago to the day:

In general, though, this past week or so has been completely “blah.” I feel like I’ve really been going through the motions. I know I’ve said it before, but I feel it more this week than I can really remember. Wake up. Change. Get coffee. Go.

Work has been pretty drab. I understand this is a great opportunity for someone who has no prior experience, but it’s nothing like anything I imagined myself doing. I’m having a bit of an identity crisis only 12 weeks (that long?) into this situation. I’m already worried about where I’m going next. I don’t know where or what that could be. So far (I know it’s still early) I haven’t done much that I have felt like is portfolio-worthy, something that shows off my strengths, something that’s more than replacing text and photos.

It only took three months into my first full-time job for me to become jaded and disenchanted, although I’m sure this feeling had manifested itself long before that. Some days, going to work felt more like punishment than privilege. If I felt tired at all, I just had to roll out of bed, inject myself with coffee, and hope a pencil didn’t somehow find its way into my temple.

Here in Korea, I still don’t have the best sleep habits, so there are definitely days I drag myself out of bed and onto the subway for the 45-minute commute, but the difference is that I don’t find myself asking, “Why?” My co-teachers motivate me and the students energize me. It’s a pretty good system we’ve got going here.

I don’t know where this teaching gig fits into the grand scheme of my life, and I definitely don’t see myself teaching in the long run. I might be concerned only with the here and now, but it’s not turning out too badly. After all, that’s what made me quit my job and gallivant to Korea in the first place.

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Teaching troubles

I’m in my third week of teaching now, and it has been every bit of an adventure as I had imagined it. The kids are doing the things kids do (especially the swooning fifth-grade girls), but they’re nowhere near unmanageable. All in all, it’s still, not unexpectedly, a learning experience.

The biggest challenge in this job is the fact that I’m co-teaching. The rapport between each of my three co-teachers and me still isn’t quite there. We’ll accidentally cut each other off thinking it’s time to transition, and other times, we won’t even have a transition. This lack of chemistry affects how I present my part of class, and I’m sure the Korean co-teachers are adjusting, too.

The hardest part of finding this balance is the lack of hierarchy. I’m obviously the better English speaker, but they’re the more experienced teachers. These kids have been with these teachers since March (because their school year starts in the spring), and I’m still a fresh face to them. Because of my lack of authority and experience, it’s hard to tell co-teachers certain things (i.e. the curriculum) don’t really work. Sometimes I get bored teaching in my own classes because we work from the CD so much, but I’m not confident in my own alternatives — if I have any.

With each week, though, I hope to be able to invoke more activities (especially with my fifth-grade class where I hold the reins) separate from the curriculum and turn it into a more conversation-centered class. Singing “I like apples” over and over can only go so far.

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