Tuesday, April 6, 2010

No Safety Net

Okay so I’m getting behind. The past few days have been quite busy, mostly in a good way. So much has happened that I am not really sure how far back I am going to go. For my own sake I believe I will merely go back to Thursday night, April 1st. On Thursday I had a fairly simple day because all my classes had been cancelled. A lot of the day was spent going to the bank and trying to figure out all my online banking options. Even with the help of one of the other English teacher’s and the bank’s service agent I was not able to transfer money from my account here to my account back in the US. It was a frustrating process in that it took almost two hours and four phone calls to the bank to ultimately gain nothing. Besides that I worked on lesson planning for Friday. On Fridays I have my 4th grade advanced class and the class for the teachers. After the day was over I headed home. After being home for less than half an hour I got a call from Choi and he told me that he would not be at school the next day so I was going to have to do all our classes by myself. My initial reaction was a nervous acceptance followed by a fair level of irritation. Without the internet at home it is very difficult to do strong lesson planning on short notice. While we do have our textbook we never rely solely upon it and often we have learning games or activities that Choi either picks himself or we talk about in the morning before class. So my irritation came from the simple fact that I would not be able to get a lot done at home now and I had just had a wide open day that would have easily allowed me to be ready to teach alone. But I did what I could at home and just got up very early and headed off to school.

I got to school almost two hours before school started. I had come up with some ideas to go along with the lesson plan but I used the internet to grab some more ideas. The part of lesson planning that is truly difficult to do on short notice is finding and preparing all the materials you will need. Many ideas sound great but you can only do the ones that will work with the materials in your hands. This week I have been trying to encourage the kids to work on their dialogue journals. Their journals are an optional assignment so many kids do not do them. I have been trying to show them how helpful they are in learning English as well as trying to take away some of their fear in doing them by giving them tips on how to make writing easier. One thing I started doing is writing my own journal and sharing it with them. I’ll tell a simple story about something I did and allow them to have a copy of it. This has allowed me to show them the types of things they can write about (the journals do not have be about wonderful or exciting things but can simply be about the best dinner you had that week) and teach them about the different tenses in English (past, present, future). Many of the kids only know how to write in the present tense or if they do use the other tenses they mix them up or just use all of them at different points in their stories. I have tried to show them that “most” of the time when you are writing in your journal you will be using the past tense because most often you are writing about things you did in the past. So on Friday I continued with that pattern the only difference was I stretched it a bit longer than I had done in the other classes that week by giving them a short handout to practice the past tense. Once the classes started my concern about being alone was overcome for the most part. It was funny to see that after I explained to each class that the Korean teacher would not be there that day a certain fear crossed their faces because they knew as well as I did that it was not going to be as easy as it has been for us to understand one another. I have been here long enough to know who the more advanced students are in each class so while I explained things I also used them to make sure that the other kids understood what was going on. The most difficult part of being alone was dealing with the issue of discipline. One of the great advantages of being the native English speaker and having a co-teacher is that the co-teacher tends to be the one who deals with most of the discipline issues. So while the kids are starting to understand my expectations it became clear quickly that they were going to see just how much they could get away with while the Korean teacher was not there. In each class I was quick to remind everyone of the classroom rules but they are kids so of course there were numerous instances of them fooling around, hitting one another and just not listening. I had to raise my voice multiple times to get the kids to listen to me as well as make an example of a few kids who kept disregarding the rules. Some of the kids are quite sneaking. They speak English quite well and loved showing off their skills but then when they were caught doing something wrong they suddenly pretend to have no idea what I was saying. Thankfully that had happened to me enough times before Friday that I was not conned by any of the kids that day. The classes were difficult but moved by much faster than normal and so the day passed on fairly quickly.

My last class of the day was for the teachers and this week we focused on the topic of food. We talked about American meals and restaurants and contrasting them with Korean ones. One of the most interesting parts about American restaurants to them is the idea of tipping. In Korea there are no tips for servers at restaurants or for delivery or for anything and they find it quite odd that we give tips. It did not take long for me to realize how difficult it would be for someone who had never left a tip to know how to when placed in an American restaurant. They wanted to know why we left tips and how much they were supposed to be and the answer I kept falling back on was, “it depends.” While in theory tips are supposed to be a reward for good service I had to explain to them that they are pretty much just an understood part of the price of the meal. Even really bad servers get tips they are just usually smaller than that of a good server. That was so bizarre to them. I then had to try and explain the concept of cheap and generous to them as they kept asking me for the exact amount they were supposed to tip a server. Beyond that I had to explain sales taxes to them. There are no sales taxes in Korea. The price you see is the price you pay, mostly. So as I showed them examples of menus from the USA and they saw how much more food cost in America I also had to remind them that the prices they were looking at did not include the tax or the tip. I then explained to them how amazed I have been since arriving here to see how much less expensive food is here then back in America. It was a fun class. The class with the teachers always goes to fast. I stuck around and talked with a few people for a while but then headed home and got to enjoy a nice relaxing evening.

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