Uncharted Waters: Teaching

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Saturday, November 17th. 2:05 PM. I’m sitting in the fifth floor lobby of the CGV movie theatre in downtown Daegu, waiting to see Skyfall, the new Bond movie. Entirely by myself after following a stubborn impulse to have a solo adventure only a week after my arrival and not knowing a word of Korean (I’m being hyperbolic here….I knew two words of Korean! 1. hello= anyong ha se yo 2. thank you= kahm sa ham ni da), I felt a tinge of self-consciousness. Okay, more than a tinge. The creeping suspicion that everyone was staring at the only non-Korean in a forty-foot radius gets even worse courtesy of the man sitting next to me on the bench. After shooting me a few furtive glances, he turns directly towards me and has a staring contest with the left side of my face. I give a subtle bow, flash him a smile and mumble out a quick “anyong ha se yo”  (butchering the pronunciation most likely) before getting ready to go into the theatre. As I’m standing up, he taps me on the shoulder. I look over and the guy is positively beaming, offering an outstretched hand with a puffed rice square. “Eat! Very good snack!” Reacting instinctively, I trade him and his wife some popcorn for the puffed rice as we talk in stilted, staccato English and have an endearingly genuine cultural exchange. Shaking his hand before we march into the theatre, his wife reminds me insistently, “Enjoy Korea, Okay??” I’ve been doing my best!

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 My first solo trip to downtown Daegu was a totally empowering experience. I went shopping for some stickers for my students (seriously, these kids love stickers almost as much as they love hi-fives…and they love hi-fives more than a bro at a frat party), had octopus and chicken cooked in a wok in front of me after smiling and pointing at a totally random item on the menu, saw a movie and successfully took a cab back to campus. Apart from sporadic bursts of adventure in Daegu and Chilgok, classes have dominated the majority of the past two weeks. Operating on a spectrum from demonic to angelic, the kids here will spit out an exhausted (and, admittedly, slightly relieved) husk of a human being at 5:30. Some highlights from my first week of teaching 5th graders:

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The Good:

-Playing hangman during break time with a group of adorably persuasive students

-Hearing cries of “Alex teacher!” and being bombarded with hugs and requests for hi-fives as I walk through the halls

-Having students who remember me poke their heads into my classroom, occasionally demanding a sticker for their efforts

-Hearing sighs of “Oh wow” with the awe and reverence of an archeologist finding the Ark of the Covenant when I reward groups with 10 points (the maximum they can achieve during a 45 minute lesson)

-Giving 5th year olds the opportunity to hit pictures on the wall with flyswatters is rewarding as hell, so long as you can suppress any fighting or outbreaks of chaos

-Realizing that your lesson has at least a little educational content, and catching glimpses of your students remembering certain words and phrases

-Improving each day as a teacher

The Bad:

-Students staring at you with the engagement and vivacity of a cow chewing cud after you give them an assignment or instructions

-Having your attempts to maintain order and control fail miserably (I’m getting better at this each day!)

-Trying not to show or vocalize your frustration when Satan manifests himself in the body of an 11 year old determined to make your next half hour a living hell

-Hearing enough whining and complaining (“Teacher! This so hard!”) to convince yourself that you demanded your students to scale Mount Everest rather than asking them to repeat their name and favorite color

-Miming clumsily and drawing stick figures on the board when your students don’t know enough English to process directions

The Ugly:

-Consoling a crying student whose classmate decided it would be a delight to kick him in the shins while you’re bombarded with frivolous questions and requests for more stickers

-Fighting, name-calling and poor sportsmanship (I’m frequently oblivious to the specifics of these…another incentive to keep learning Korean!)

Phew. I’m tired just typing all that out. All things considered, this week was pretty damn awesome and I learned a ton despite the occasional moments of self-doubt and frustration that manage to bubble to the surface. Most of the kids are sweet, sincere and eager to learn, and I’m excited to get a whole new batch on Monday (tempered by the naïve hope that I won’t have to suppress any revolts or call in an exorcist).

Some more fun stuff! Last week I went out with a bunch of co-workers to an awesome little Korean coffee shop; I challenge anybody with some remnants of a soul to look at the pictures below and not say “D’aaaaaaaaaaw” at all the cuteness.

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At the moment I’m preparing a lesson plan for my first “academic” course, a 45-minute lesson covering any topic imaginable (at least one that teaches vocabulary and involves activities or games).  My current lesson is a presentation on The Hobbit! My students will get to read an excerpt from the story, watch clips from the cartoon, solve riddles and have a race around the room trying to go “there and back again” (holy shit I am the biggest dork). At least it’s topical with the movie coming out soon!

Thanks for reading and sorry for the gap between the last post and this one. Hopefully as the clusterfuck of the past few weeks simmers to a low boil and I get more in the swing of a daily routine, you can expect more frequent (and less tediously lengthy) entries. Drop me a line on email (Aorlando@mail.smcvt.edu) or Skype (aorlando123) if you feel compelled… I miss everyone and hope you’re all living easy!! 

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4 thoughts on “Uncharted Waters: Teaching

  1. Alex, definitely enjoy reading about your adventure and admire your confidence in doing this (even if you may not feel it yet). Keep writing !!

  2. Alex, glad to hear you are settling in. These missives are fantastic, keep them up! They are a great diversion for the rest of us.

  3. Considering teaching there myself next summer, so your blog posts are enlightening and helpful for me as I try to decide which international school and country to pick. Thanks!

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