mundane stuff

The days here roll on evolving into an almost routine, which may be a first in my entire adult life!  Kind of comforting, actually.

Every morning, I throw on my clothes at the last minute, hop on my cute little bike, and roll past the students walking to school who all greet me with, “hi, teachuh!”

I make a cup of instant coffee (that’s all there is here), check the morning broadcast’s power point for mistakes, throw it onto my USB and head into the studio where all the kids who have broadcasting as their Club Activity all turn and say, “Good morning, Miss Leith!”  They joke around loudly while I take off my shoes and go sit in the carpeted sound-proof room, waiting for the session to begin.  Usually they’ve forgotten to turn on the monitor and lately something’s wrong with their microphone, so they have to use mine.  So after they’ve told the whole school to pull down their screens and turn on the closed circuit broadcast, then one of them always takes off one shoe and hops the mic. over to me.  At the last second, the co-teacher arrives in a rush, as she has to run upstairs from taking roll-call with her home-room, and the broadcast can begin.  I go through each of the idioms I’ve illustrated in the book I wrote, then explain what they mean and how we use them culturally, where upon the co-teacher goes into both a translation as well as adding anything she feels is necessary for the kids to understand better.  It’s always quite intense for her, as we cover a lot of ground in ten minutes, and she has to speak really fast.

Then, we wrap up and go prepare for whatever classes we have.  The kids all tell me “bye Miss Leith!”  (they forget that it’s Mzzz Leith, but I’m happy they can pronounce the “th” at the end)

Pretty much every week I get excited with some new idea to try on the kids, and it works out really good with the proactive teacher and then bombs with the passive teacher, and by the end of the week I’m feeling a little defeated, only to begin all over again the following week.  It’s gotten to the point where I just feel like the kids who have the passive teacher are just screwed and her apathy kind of rubs off on me, because I’m basically at the mercy of the mood she sets in the classroom by her not paying attention and not really being interested herself.  The kids in her classes either tend to look oppressed and gray, or they are engaged in some kind of power struggle where they are clearly winning – talking whenever they want to, hijacking the lessons by side-tracking the teacher with unrelated discussions, or just totally tuning out.

The problem is she thinks the kids will behave for her if she is best buddies with them, and she doesn’t really know how to get their respect.  She’s so much their equal, they think they can even argue with her!  I think I do, but being disadvantaged with communication I have to channel myself through her and that DOESN’T translate at all, because half the time she doesn’t bother or immediately undermines what I try to do. Another problem is she’s really young.  She clearly wants to be one of the kids.  Like she’s totally star-struck with the soccer players…to be fair though, there’s only two English teachers and she gets all the lower level students, so she’s at a disadvantage.  I don’t know how that got divy’d up, but it should be the opposite.  Those students need the proactive teacher who has the firm hand.

But really, those students need to just not be learning English.  Turns out the national curriculum is just waaay too hard for them – and asking them to listen to the foreign teacher recite scripts is like asking you to listen to Greek for an hour straight.  So with the passive co-teacher, we’ve just decided to let me try to do something more simple and engaging, but I honestly have a really difficult time with what should be a really good lesson when I walk into the classroom and it is animal house…and I know it’s not me, because I’ve used these lessons with the other co-teacher and they work brilliantly…

But the classes with the proactive teacher are a joy to teach.  She enthusiastically responds to everything I do, is always there when I need her, and never misses a learning opportunity.  She’s also a drill sergeant, and the kids really respect her.  The kids take notes, they hang on every word, they try really hard to understand, they all like me, and I feel free to joke around with them. And the new kids feel free to talk to me too.

One of them asked today, “Teacher, umm, Ms. Leith?”  Yes? “Why don’t you delete?”  Huh?  “Your spot.”  (the mole on my forehead) Because that’s part of me. “Korean people.  Delete. Delete.”  I like who I am, just the way I am.  Everybody is unique.  “Oh. Okay.”

One first year student doesn’t like me.  I have no idea why.  He just scowls hate bombs at me all day.  If I try to talk to him, he just says, “DON’T TOUCH ME!”  So I guess on the first day I accidentally touched him, but I never touch the kids and don’t recall doing anything, but it doesn’t matter what I do or say or if I apologize or anything, this boy hates the world and me most of all.  It’s really shocking.  I’m just glad there’s not guns floating around in Korean society…

I went to Kyobo bookstore in Seoul with one of my former students and we picked out an easy reader with pictures for the kids, in my effort to have them learn English more naturally.  It’s an awesome book!  I just don’t think the kids are ready for the other book yet.  (I wish I had more advanced students) 

Anyway, the book is called, “Bad Kitty Gets a Bath.”  It’s a chapter book, but very easy and full of illustrations.  Yes, they’re a little offended being treated like little kids, but they’ll soon see it’s not a little kid book.  And, despite themselves they learned the words,  rub and reach during the introduction.  And, despite themselves they got exposure to reflexive pronouns.  Plus, the book is hilarious, so hopefully they’ll forgive me.  And besides, they get to see the teacher try to lick her leg and tail and…

I’ve done a lot of research on easy books for teens and found nothing easy enough or teen enough that doesn’t also do a bad job of hiding its learning agenda or is just stupid fluff.  These things DO EXIST but they cost hundreds of dollars and are produced for schools with a budget, not lone maverick uncertified Native English speakers posing as teachers in other countries.

Also surprising from all Korean teachers is how much free reign they give us Native English Teachers with our lessons.  It’s kind of really a you-know-better-than-us, we-don’t-have-a-clue-how-to-impart-your-voice thing.

And I really can see why they think that too.  For example, it’s obvious that the textbooks are co-written by westerners.  And it’s also obvious they’re written by ancient westerners.  For example, if a teenager is shopping, the store owner doesn’t tell them, “This brand is very popular!  Many teenagers like you buy them.”  Only a person totally out of touch would call a teen a teenager to their face like that…

These books…and then it’s obvious that they are co-written by Koreans.  For example, an interview with Oprah Winfrey.  There’s no photo of Oprah, only an illustration of somebody Oprah-like.  Then there’s a dialog, and the voice is your gosh, & golly gee Andy Griffith nightmare, not Oprah.  And “Oprah” says absolutely nothing except she wouldn’t have gotten where she is today without education.  Maybe there is a Korean somewhere named Oprah, and they interviewed her…

I look forward to lunch and dinner every day.  I really like the low-budget Korean comfort food we get (unless there’s SPAM in it).  I get really tired of what little I can order at restaurants, so the variety is appreciated.  A whole new set of Korean teachers need to be trained by me that they are free to leave when they are finished eating, as I take my time and I hate the pressure of having them squirm through their politeness thinking they are in purgatory wishing I would eat faster so they could be free.

The incredibly elegant electronics teacher talks to me once in awhile at lunch.  There’s a communication gap, but less of one than w/ the Architecture teacher.  Pretty much those are the only two who even attempt it.  Today I invited myself over to his house.  I think he was shocked.  I mean, he’s been telling me about how the teachers live in this group house during the week and how it’s on the Han river and that it’s very beautiful and…so I told him that NOT ONE Korean has invited me to their house. (excluding Miwha, but that doesn’t count because I was there to give her an English lesson)  I explained how if he was a foreigner in my country, I’d invite him over for dinner right away, that that is American hospitality, and how sad it is that I’ve been here two years and NOT ONE Korean has had me over.  I tell him, how can I know anything about Korea?  So we’ll see…maybe it’s too weird for a girl to go to an all guy place, I don’t know, but I’ve definitely got no designs on any of them, and they’re all married anyway. But I’ve never been one of the girls and always been one of the guys, so that would make me very happy to just hang out and have a drink and a smoke.  I think this is going to be my pet project…

In the evening after dinner at school, I ride my little bike home – well, almost home, as I still can’t make it up the final hill – and take a nap.  Then I get up, try to read my email, and either do some research, watch t.v., or paint.

Here is session #4

It’s taking me way too long.  I think it’s because I chose to try to learn to glaze.  And glazes aren’t as forgiving, I’ve found, so my mistakes are showing through.  I also don’t like how the brush strokes stay in the glazes – I mean, strokes are nice in regular adding on of paint, but I don’t want them in my glazes.  Also, I’ve messed up the colors – I’d totally take a different approach to colorizing a black and white photo.  In addition, I’m making the basic shapes change too much.  I also didn’t draw this prior to painting it, ’cause I hate the redundancy and hate transferring a drawing even more, but maybe I should have…I also did a horrible rookie mistake and used black out of the tube for her hair, so she has shoe-polish colored hair.  Nor do I know how to paint hair and especially not baby peach fuzz.  Live and learn.  I just need so much more practice.  Hours and hours and hours of practice.  And I need to just play around with techniques.  I guess I should do something abstract but without any structure at all – just really try for different effects.  (sigh)  I really need classes…

In good news, today I got a call and am allowed to overload into the Hangul class, so I begin real lessons with PEOPLE next week!  Yayy!

Ice block’s almost melted, that means it’s time to go to bed!

In a footnote, moon also asked me if I’ve gained anything by coming to Korea.  I told moon that it allowed me be selfish for the first time.  But in retrospect I think that would have come wherever I was, just because my kids are gone and I would have had to struggle out of loneliness and find new sources of happiness anyway.  What Korea has done for me is jar me out of every last comfort zone I ever had.  I’ve never been afraid of stretching out of my comfort zone and had thought I was fearless and coming here was part of being intrepid.  But EVERY. SINGLE. LAST. crutch I ever had but didn’t know I had got knocked out from under me here.

That’s really good for a person.  If you can live through it.

Good night!

One thought on “mundane stuff

  1. That is a stunning and luminous painting. The eyes are just right. That’s only Session FOUR!?

    Korea has done the same for me, my friend. We are made out of iron pots.

    Love you.

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