Tags: teaching

[ domo ]

At the Noraebang: 5 v 1

Monday evening, while teaching my final class of the day, I asked my students what they did over their weekend. One girl mentioned going to the movies. The sole boy in class spoke about wanting to play baseball but staying inside because it was raining too much to meet his friends outdoors. The other girl said she had a horrible time and went on to elucidate.

This girl - currently in sixth grade - went to the downtown of Uijeongbu to pass the afternoon and ended up in a noraebang (노래방) with five boys in their first year of middle school. As she went back over her story again to add more details she mentioned that the boys had given her money to go with them to the noraebang and then gave her more money once they were all inside. She tried calling her friends to come and join her but only one other girl came -- and then the boys called one of their friends to make it a group of six boys and two girls. She didn't have much fun with the sex ratio being what it was, but at least that was the reason for her disappointment concerning her weekend and not anything more.

Hearing that she accompanied a group of guys to a noraebang who paid her for her time was rather surprising but I wasn't really sure what type of comment to make about the situation. The Grand Narrative writes that the age of consent in Korea is 13 years old which makes her weekend activities that much riskier. Since we were in a classroom setting I'm not sure how much detail she felt comfortable sharing with me about the meeting so I can only assume that things didn't get out of hand and her distaste was over spending time with that many boys rather than with anything in particular that they did.

I did make sure to tell her to be careful in the future and mentioned the incident to her former teacher so that someone else in the academy was aware of what had happened. My current co-teacher for her class seems extremely disinterested in teaching. On top of that she is also quite rude, so I don't exactly trust her to handle the situation very gracefully. I really hope that my student takes care of herself in order to avoid any potentially dangerous situations in the future.

[ hanbok papillon ]

"Are You Korean?"

There has been a lot of talk here recently about the match between Argentina and Korea. During dinner last night some of my coworkers asked me who I thought would win and my guess was that the game would end in a draw, which seemed to surprise everyone. The following class period saw one of my students - a boy in his first year of middle school - also bring up the subject and I gave him the same answer. When I asked for his own opinion about the outcome his reply was,

"Oh, Korea can't win. I went to the store and put money [bet?] that we will lose."

I see someone doesn't have much faith in the abilities of the Korean national team. Many of the younger students at our academy - ranging from third grade to fifth grade in elementary school - are confident of a Korean victory while the middle school students are much more noncommittal in their replies. Must be the onset of cynicism developing there. Heh. As a joke - and something that came to mind after an experience with a different class a few weeks ago - I teased him with the rejoinder, "Hey, are you Korean?"



The two sides met during the 1986 World Cup with one of the lasting images from their encounter involving Maradona (now coach of the Argentina national team) and Huh Jung-Moo (now coach of the South Korean national team) getting tangled up on the pitch. Maradona looks like he came out second-best in that one, though the team went on to win the game 3-1.




A few weeks ago while teaching a lesson on pentagons in an intermediate-level class I decided to review the various types of polygons with the three students. We went through triangles, rectangles, pentagons, hexagons, heptagons, octagons, nonagons, and decagons -- at which point I thought we'd be done. However, one of the two girls in class asked me what a twelve-sided polygon is called. The first thing that came to mind was 'dodecagon', but since I wasn't entirely sure I added that I would double-check and let her know if that was correct or not. This prompted the boy in class to remark,

"Teacher, are you American? Why don't you know that?"

"Do you know the capital of the Balhae Empire?" *

"Umm ... no."

"Why not? Are you Korean?"

"Ahhh ... teacher!"

That last one was said in a tone of voice that suggested he realized exactly what I was getting at, but for the benefit of the other students I explained how being from the United States doesn't mean that I automatically know everything in English, and especially not when it comes to more specialized terms. (That, and there's obviously something to be said in favor of getting one's facts straight when teaching information to students.) Similarly, just because he was Korean didn't mean that he knows everything about Korean-related history. The girl who had asked about twelve-sided polygons picked up on this immediately but, to my surprise, the other girl in class raised her hand to ask "What is Balhae?". In near-perfect unison her classmates turned to her and said,

"Hey, are you Korean?!"



* I deliberately chose the Balhae Empire as an example because not only is it an area where the students likely hadn't learned as much, but also because it had five different capitals between 698-926CE.

[ coyote » laugh ]

April Fool's Day

Today was April Fool's Day (만우절 in Korean, or 萬愚節 if you prefer the Chinese characters) and mine passed by rather quietly. In years past I've tried to trick my students by telling them that they'll have to take their big level test, though with the way our academy's schedule turned out today really was when everyone had to take their level tests. I did manage to get two classes convinced their test was canceled and we'd be having a pizza party instead, but they were also students who I started teaching this month and who don't know me that well yet. My 'regular' classes weren't so easily swayed by mention of snack food on test day.

One other trick that I tried - after my students knew it was 만우절 - was to come up with two obvious lies when talking with students. Something like saying "I love you" to a male student, telling someone that I would go to their house for dinner, or confiding to a student that I was really a girl. After the obvious falsehoods were out in the open I'd go up to a third student, always the best in the class, and tell them "you're a good student". This usually confused everyone as they saw it first as a compliment and then as a trick before finally asking how I'd intended it to come across. This is where picking the best students became important, as their self-esteem and confidence is usually high enough where they could laugh at the joke and wouldn't see it as an attack on their abilities.

Overall it looked like everyone enjoyed the teasing, especially given how some of it was self-directed. None of my students tried to pull one over on me today, though my favorite 만우절 moment from year's past was the girl who approached me before class to say:

"Teacher, today is my last day at the academy!"
"Oh, really? Why is today your last day?"
"Well, I think you're a bad teacher. I asked my mom to change to a new school."
" ... "
"Noooo. It's a joke teacher. 만우절!"

[ pile of books ]

Korean Bananas in an English Classroom?

It looks like I not only teach my students English, but can also (in one case!) help them with their Korean grammar.

I have a couple of intermediate classes that are currently learning about measure words (numeral classifiers), and to help them on the subject I broke up the grammar lesson into a couple of parts. To start with, I wrote the word 'Noun' at the top of the board and made sure everyone was familiar with the concept. I usually include the Korean translation (명사) under the English for lower-level classes and then drop it once I know students understand the English meaning.* Under that I drew an arrow to the left of the board and wrote the word 'Countable' next to it. I had students list off countable nouns - tiger, orange, teacher, computer game - and then drew an arrow to the right of the board and wrote the word 'Uncountable'.

When I asked students to tell me some uncountable nouns they gave me another list - water, juice, soju, milk, paper - but looked confused when I asked them about what 'helping words' go with the uncountable nouns. Great, at that point I knew where to really get involved with the lesson. Unlike in English, the Korean language constantly associates measure words with objects and events - similar to Chinese and Japanese - so to prime my students I asked them about Korean measure words.

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[ lovebirds ]

Korean Expressions in Translation?

Earlier in the week I was teaching an intermediate class of two fifth grade girls and covering the grammatical structure "know how to + [verb]". We went over the examples in the book, I asked them questions, and encouraged them to ask me questions as well. One of my questions was, "Do you know how to swim?". The first girl responded with "Yes, I know how to swim." while the second answered, "No, I'm a beer bottle." From an outside perspective this might come across as an unusual reply, but it's actually a fitting response based on a related Korean expression.

This is covered in the 가나다 Korean for Foreigners Intermediate 1 Workbook (Lesson 16, part 3; page 61), which uses a collection of expressions to help students (of the Korean language) gain practice at using the structure ~(이)라고 / 다고 하다 for quotes and narratives. From the workbook:

3. 수영을 못하는 사람을 맥주병이라고 합니다. Or, in translation: 3. A person who can't swim is called a beer bottle.
(The underlined part is where students supply their answer from a list provided at the top of the exercise.)

Of course, that's using pretty formal speech. A much more informal first person equivalent would be 나 맥주병이야, which is probably what my student had been trying to convey through her response.



While helping my coworkers check student diaries this afternoon I came across an entry from a girl who was writing about spending time at home with her twin brother while her parents were out shopping. She mentioned how she hoped that her mother came back soon and followed that up with the line, "If my house is a watermelon, watermelon in the only in the seedy."

Perhaps not the greatest English, but it kind of gets the point across. This student also translated each of her sentences into Korean, with the quote above written as:

"만약 우리집이 수박이라면 수박 안에는 씨 밖에 없다 ㅠㅠ"

My own translation of that would be, "Supposing our house is a watermelon, there is nothing inside but the seeds."

Perhaps a little formal (academic?), but I wanted to make sure the "만약~ 라면~" and "밖에 없다" structures were both represented. As you've probably gathered, her expression refers to how empty a watermelon is without its inner flesh and alludes to how lonely the seeds would be as the only things inside. It struck me as rather poetic, a sentiment shared by two of my co-teachers. The girl's brother wrote on a similar theme but used a different expression to convey his feelings. His was, "home is red bean that is not in Boonga-bbang".

For those who don't recognize the final word in his sentence, it's a reference to a Korean snack food called Bungeoppang (붕어빵). There are a few different fillings that are used within these fish-shaped pastries, but probably the most common is red bean paste (azuki bean paste), with the beans themselves known as pat (팥) in Korean. Just as a watermelon would be empty without its flesh, a bungeoppang pastry would be empty without its red bean paste inside -- indicating the extant to which the siblings were thinking about and affected by the absence of their mother. One of my co-teachers recognized the second expression as something she had heard before while the other said that she was unfamiliar with it. The two women are about the same age but the teacher who didn't recognize the expression is originally from Gyeongsangnam-do (a province in southeastern Korea), which makes me wonder if it's a local colloquialism or just something that she hadn't encountered before. Not that it's all that important -- it doesn't change the fact that I'm impressed by the creativity shown by these students.

[ 糟糕 ]

Shame and Scandal in the Family ♫

Some time near the beginning of autumn we had one of our teachers take a day off due to the death of her grandfather. This came on short notice - perhaps unsurprisingly - and resulted in everyone scrambling to work out a schedule on how best to cover her classes. I mean ... it's not like you actually want something like that to happen, and familial duties are important to uphold.

However, while sharing dinner with our academy director later in the week, I heard that another academy director in town had seen this teacher's name show up on the list of interviewees for local public school positions. Naming conventions in Korea are such that the majority of given names come from a set list of Chinese characters (hanja), while all ~250 family names present today are associated with a particular hanja character, and my coworker's family name is one of the less common ones in the country. This list on Wikipedia - based on the 2000 South Korean census results published by the National Statistical Office - ranks her family name as falling somewhere between nos. 90-95, with an estimated distribution of less than 9,000. (The ambiguity is to afford some protection over her real identity.) In other words, very noticeable when coupled with her given name.

Our academy director went on to add that he wanted to send memorial flowers to her family and, as memorial services are typically conducted through a hospital, asked which hospital would be appropriate for their delivery. At first our coworker said that flowers were unnecessary, but eventually relented and said they should be sent to her family's home address -- which struck our director as a little unusual, although apparently not out of the realm of possibility. (He said that only ultra-traditional families take care of funeral arrangements on their own these days.) This situation put our academy director in an awkward position: he didn't want to pry into an employee's personal life and raise potential trust issues, but it was also important to have enough time to find and train a replacement should our current teacher be looking for work elsewhere.

I never did hear whether our director chose to speak with this teacher or not, but during my first period break today I heard from another teacher that she will definitely be leaving for a public elementary school position at the end of the month. The woman who told me said that she had only recently heard about the news and wasn't sure if any of the other teachers had known earlier than the start of the week. She also mentioned that our coworker had completely fabricated the news about her grandfather's death. Funny to see that we were both keeping the news secret over a fear of spreading untrue rumors. In a way this kind of works out well for our academy; we've had quite a few students drop out over the past couple of months - mostly to attend academies focused directly at middle school students - so this change lets our vice-director consolidate classes (and schedules) going into the winter vacation period.



♫ While the title of this entry may be seen as a reference to my coworker's lie about her grandfather's death, I don't mean to come across as so damning in my opinion. However, it was hard to pass up the chance to quote an awesome calypso song from the 1940s, albeit one focusing on a completely different type of scandal. You can check out a cover of the song at this link and the lyrics are posted online here.
[ clazziquai project ]

Made in ...

While teaching passive voice in one of my classes this week we did an activity from the student book that has students ask and respond to questions about where their belongings are from/ were made. Students are typically quick to check their pencils, highlighters, pencil cases, and notebooks; with a little prompting they also start looking at the tags for their clothing and shoes. In past classes the majority of the students' school supplies have been from China and Japan, with Korea not far behind. Due to the complicated geo-political history of the region this can result in claims by the students that, "Oh, China/ Japan is bad." or "Teacher, we should have more things from Korea."

Of interest, my Tuesday class reported that most of their belongings were from Korea, with Japan in second and Thailand coming in third for the production of school supplies. This doesn't necessarily mean anything special, as all it takes is one school friend going to Thailand and bringing back pencils as souvenirs to bump up the statistics. However, there was one student who had a somewhat surprising addition to her list.

While the other students were busy checking their belongings one girl called me over for help. She wanted to include her coat but couldn't identify which country it was from. Looking at the tag on the inner lining we could see the line: "원산지: DPRK". The word 원산지 has a meaning similar to "country of origin", but the abbreviation following that term confused my student. When I saw it I couldn't help but double over from laughter. I printed out DPRK on the blackboard and then wrote out what it stands for: Democratic People's Republic of Korea. No surprise the students all recognized the 'Korea' part of that, but they were still puzzled over the rest. (Understandably, as it's not English vocabulary they've covered at their level, and might not be anything they've covered in social studies either.)

When I explained that DPRK is the same as 북한 (North Korea) the coat's owner was up in arms. "No, that can't be true! Teacher, don't lie to me!" Even after seeing the result from the English-Korean dictionary function on my cellphone she still seemed to be in denial. The odds are that it was manufactured at the Kaesŏng Industrial Region -- a cooperative endeavor between the governments of North and South Korea where South Korean companies set up manufacturing facilities on the other side of the border with North Korean employees. Hearing that seemed to appease her considerably.

Due to the stigma people associate with North Korea it's probably not a surprise that they'd use an English abbreviation of the communist state's name rather than the Korean equivalent. Still, before teaching that class I didn't know how products made in Kaesŏng are marketed. (Assuming it really was made in Kaesŏng.) I do have to admit that it was a very amusing way to find out.

[ donkey kiss ]

Hit by a Motorbike and I'm the One at Fault?

Today (well, Thursday) was the last day of work this week before the onset of the Chuseok holiday. The timing of Chuseok is set by the lunar calender - the fifteenth day of the eighth lunar month - and as such it's precise date changes from year to year. This year it falls on 3 October, with the days before (Friday) and after (Sunday) marked as national holidays -- in fact, the 2009 edition of Chuseok falls on the same Saturday as Gaecheonjeol (National Foundation Day), which means even fewer red days off from work for employees here.

Our academy director - who is apparently much cooler than 95% of the other English directors in the country - has also given us Monday off, to go along with the extra day off we had near Children's Day on account of Buddha's Birthday falling on a Saturday. Despite the four-day weekend I spaced on making plans, and now it's obviously much too late. There's going to be a soccer game in Jeonju tomorrow that I'd like to see, but the roads were already clogged with traffic on Thursday afternoon and will only get worse tomorrow. One of my friends made the trip to her family's hometown earlier today and informed me that the trip from Seoul to Jeonju took five hours rather than the usual 2½ that it would at any other time of the year.

To make matters even worse, I had an absolutely horrible experience earlier today that soured my attitude for a prolonged stretch of time this afternoon.



My apartment is located very near to Jungnangcheon (중랑천; Jungnang Stream) - pictured above - and I often use the green-colored pedestrian path to get from home to work. There are a few entrances to this path from the nearby alleyways, each of them marked with signs indicating that unleashed pets, fishing, and motorbikes are all forbidden in the area. This doesn't keep deliverymen in a hurry from using the walkways adjacent to the stream but, while I might be annoyed at their disregard for the law, at least in the past they've made a point of using the bicycle lanes.

The same couldn't be said for the jerk I encountered today. Not only did he drive on the pedestrian path, he also did so in the very center of the lane. I moved over to the side to make room for him, and when it looked clear that he wasn't going to reciprocate I held up my hand in front of my shoulder in the hope that might deflect some of the force were some part of his motorbike to clip my body. In fact, his side mirror did smash into my hand - leaving me with a tingling sensation for the next several hours - but the accident could always have been much worse. And I would have counted myself lucky if that were the end of our encounter.

But oh no. This guy stopped his motorbike, climbed off, and then shouted "야, 여기 와!" to me. Depending on how you want to interpret that it can come out as either a brusque "Hey, come here!" or a downright rude "Get over here!". I walked over to where he was parked and offered a "미안합니다. 조금 의험해서 걱정했어요." (I'm sorry. That was a little dangerous so I was worried.)

His response, incredibly enough, was to ask me why I had hit his motorbike! (야, 왜 쳤어!?)

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[ salle du bain ]

Swine Flu in Uijeongbu

Back at the start of August our academy held a teachers' meeting - an event that usually only takes place two or three times as year - to discuss affairs prior to the start of the new academic year. One of the topics brought up during the meeting was H1N1 - 신종 인플루엔자 in Korean - and we were notified that eight students at the elementary school across the street from our academy had been diagnosed with the virus. Following this announcement we installed an alcohol-based hand cleanser in the lobby that each student was required to use before being allowed into the main part of the academy. The academy director's major concern at the time was that having a student catch H1N1 might lead to the other students' parents pulling their children out of our academy over concerns for their health -- and there was no guarantee they'd come back following a week-long quarantine.


Shingok Elementary School


Fast forward to the start of last week and a mother called our academy to say that her daughter would be staying home from classes after testing positive for H1N1 at a local hospital. This girl is one of the newer students at our academy - and not one that I teach - so while I recognized her name I don't have any idea who she is within the general student body. Our academy director called the local board of education to ask if we needed to close for a week but was told he would need to wait a day for them to deliberate the situation. Cue a day in limbo as everyone wondered whether we'd need to come in to work the following day or if we'd have a four-day break for the remainder of the week, to be made up at some point in the future.

The verdict was that we were clear to remain open, much to everyone's relief. Preventative measures have been stepped up even more since that incident, as now the vice director checks each student's temperature with an ear thermometer in addition to making sure everyone washes their hands with the alcohol disinfectant. Teachers seem to be exempt from both safeguards, but I still make it a point to use the disinfectant in front of students from time to time so that they have a role model to observe. Seeing a teacher participating might help persuade them better than simply telling them what to do without the example. Or that's the theory, at least.

[ ganesha ]

On Handwriting

A recent article from MSNBC came out over the weekend discussing the drop in familiarity with cursive handwriting and its future alongside courses focusing more heavily on computer-related skills. The article mentions that the American National Assessment of Educational Progress will soon have students fill in composition components via computer -- 8th and 11th graders switching over in 2011 and 4th graders by 2019. One wonders how many fourth graders receive an education on typing proficiency and what percentage of those students live in an environment where they receive constant opportunity to practice. I graduated from high school in 1998 (granted, a while ago now) and the first time typing became a necessity was in 9th grade, when all freshmen were required to take a keyboarding class. (I grew up with a computer and had taken a programming class during elementary school - LOGO on the Apple IIe - so was a bit ahead of my peers.)

Katie Van Sluys, "a professor at DePaul University and the president of the Whole Language Umbrella, a conference of the National Council of Teachers of English" offers her thoughts on the matter with the following:

Handwriting is increasingly something people do only when they need to make a note to themselves rather than communicate with others, she said. Students accustomed to using computers to write at home have a hard time seeing the relevance of hours of practicing cursive handwriting.

"They're writing, they're composing with these tools at home, and to have school look so different from that set of experiences is not the best idea," she said.


You know, studying science and social studies in school is a lot different from the "set of experiences" students receive at home but I don't see anyone claiming we drop those from the curriculum. More seriously though, I was going to point out that greeting cards and official invitations are one area where handwriting can make a nice impression, though nowadays I suppose it's much more common to go to Hallmark's online site and have something printed up that only requires a quick signature in closing.

In fourth and fifth grade our teacher gave us weekly cursive homework made us write every assignment in cursive -- the use of printed script was an automatic '0' and we were also graded on how neatly we wrote. While it's true that I switched to using print when my family moved and I changed schools in fifth grade, I do feel thankful for having that experience. To go along with my personal story, another quote from the article that I found interesting was the assertion, "Most people peak in terms of legibility in 4th grade," coming from Vanderbilt University professor Steve Graham. I had no idea about this, but it does make me wonder if there's any correlation between all the compliments I receive about my handwriting and the fact that I was graded so harshly on it during fourth and fifth grade. (The compliments have involved my English, Chinese, and Korean handwriting, though I'm not sure if handwriting in one's L1 can influence how well one writes in any subsequent languages.)

I notice, too, that my students here in Korea are always thrilled when they receive something with cursive handwriting. Our academy makes a note of each student's birthday and gives them a card on the appropriate day; while I use printed script for the inside message (ease of comprehension) I write their name on the envelope in cursive and have received several requests from students interested in learning how to write it themselves. (Then again, I also had a class clamoring on how to write their name in Russian when they found out I have a passing familiarity with Cyrillic.)

There are a few elementary students at our academy with absolutely atrocious handwriting though. I have one student in particular where I can barely understand his homework - be it in English or Korean - because his writing is so incredibly bad. We're talking chicken scratch here, to the point where he can't even read his Korean writing back to me when I ask him to in class. (And no, it's not Korean calligraphy either!) Fortunately he's in the minority among my students, otherwise I might go insane. Does anyone working at a Korean public school know how much emphasis is placed on penmanship in Korea? For that matter, I also wonder how much influence learning Hanja (Chinese characters) at an early age can have on developing a student's everyday handwriting.