Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Tell Me Something Good

Wow! One month of the new school year has already flown by! It's hard to believe.

In the Big Scary World(TM), lots of crazy stuff has been going on, from the devastating Japanese earthquake and tsunami to democracy movements in several Middle East countries, from an unparalleled attack on collective bargaining rights in Minnesota to Charlie Sheen's meltdown all across our TV screens (not mine, though, since it's hardly been on all month).

But I'm not here to gab and whine about all that guff, I want to talk about rose-colored glasses, seeing the world through. That's the gist of the 11th grade lesson plan this week, titled "Always Look On the Bright Side of Life" in which Monty Python's Life of Brian plays a key role.

Class begins with an image of a half-filled glass of wine and the question, "Is the glass half-empty or half-full?" Opinion is split on the matter, allowing me to introduce that meme as a "litmus test" of optimism vs. pessimism.

Oh, and a poem by Oscar Wilde:
Between the optimist and the pessimist,
the difference is droll.
The optimist sees the doughnut;
the pessimist the hole!
Etc. After a slew of optimistic quotes, cartoons and images, students have to write sanguinary, optimistic statements about some very dreary, downbeat topics, like global warming, poverty, taxes, sweatshops and 수능 suneung (college entrance testing). They choose two from the list of eight, and I randomly select numerous students to tell us "something good!"

After two years of trying to figure the best way to "get" participation in this kind of public sharing, I have more or less given up. I never felt it was fair to always "pick on" the best students, and I feel it's mostly counterproductive to embarrass the non-speakers. Even meandering among the rows of tables and clapping a hand on someone's shoulder didn't sit right.

But I've hit on a solution that works for me, and seems also to please the students, who like its verifiable randomness. I have an English coffee mug containing little plastic balls, and on each ball, I've written a number from 1 to 41, encompassing the last two digits of their student ID numbers. I pull a ball from the mug and it's kind of like bingo--except in reverse. You know.

Now, it's not like I lucked into some little plastic balls with numbers on them--though I looked and looked. What I found, in the office supplies section, was map pins with reasonably large heads on them, in a mix of colors. I borrowed some wire snips and a pair of pliers, cut off the metal pin part, and went at it with a Sharpie. Voila!

Oh, and you can tell it's an "English" coffee mug because it's decorated with little images of Beefeaters and red phone booths and London Bridge and the Millennium Eye. 3000 W at E-Mart.

Do 10 or 12 numbers in rapid succession every class, and before long you'll hear from everybody. Another option is to have them read sequentially, but don't start with student #1--pick a ball from the mug and go up from there for a while.

I started dl'ing and supering target language text on top of my videos some time ago, and "Bright Side of Life" was among the earliest. I recently created a new YouTube account where I will be uploading just these classroom videos Of about 100 videos that I use or have used, 30 or so have been subbed. It will take a while.

After watching the video, we use a handout I modified from EFL Classroom 2.0, one of the best resources on the net--I think the "Complain" box goes first, that's about the only change I made. In the last 12-15 minutes of class, students use the handout to generate conversation. Yes, it's artificial; yes, it's kind of silly; but it's also kind of fun!

Challenge your students to think how to respond when their friend/partner says "Nobody loves me!" or "The president is so stupid!" I have listened in on some quite inventive reasons for optimism. Generating off-the-cuff English is hard, so give praise, but don't let them slip into Korean or stop trying.
Whether you think you can or you can't--you're right.
- Henry Ford, US industrialist

Tuesday, March 29, 2011


The first official day of Spring was over a week ago now, back on March 20th, but you wouldn't know it on a typical weekday in Seoul. I say weekday, because at least the last two weekends have been nice, relatively speaking, with temperatures pleasantly in the fifties.

However, my morning stroll to work has been in frigid air throughout March, at or near freezing. Though I do not wish to hasten summer, with its stupefying heat and oppressive humidity, I would like to experience some vestige of spring.

There is a Korean expression, 꽃샘추위 ggot saem chu ui, which means winter is jealous of the spring flowers. To which I say, What @#$%! spring flowers?

Seriously, I've been carrying a camera around for weeks, hoping to snap the first blooms of spring, but there are hardly even any buds yet! Cf. this post from March 25, 2009.

Okay, so you might argue that spring's true harbinger is the first pitch of baseball season. Though we've had the warm-up games, the real deal is this Saturday, April 2nd, 2 PM at Jamsil stadium. And I'll be there.

Assuming the weather is nice.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Education News Roundup

1) Covered by both the Times and Herald, the Korean education community reacts to the latest attempt to clarify and define strategies to replace corporal punishment of students from the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology. The boards of four education offices, Seoul, Gyeonggi, Gangwon and North Jeolla, have decided to reject the ministry's new policy, claiming the disciplinary measures "inflict physical pain on students and may violate their rights."

What are these draconian measures? Lists the Herald: "proposed alternatives include push-ups, walking laps around a track and standing at the back of the classroom." Sez the Times: "The measures considered as indirect punishment were running laps, standing in the back of the classroom or being sent to be alone in a separate room."

What's wrong with this picture? I'll grant you that beating students with broomsticks is indefensible, but hasn't the pendulum swung a bit too far if you can't even send them to time out?

2) In response to the devastating earthquake that struck Japan on March 11, the government will begin an earthquake-readiness inspection on school buildings nationwide. According to the Korea Herald, the last such inspection was in 2008, following the Sichuan, China earthquake that killed 70,000 people.
On Friday, the ministry conveyed a set of school safety guidelines, including those for building structure, during a meeting with school officials across the nation.
Under the plan, local educational offices have to complete the inspection on all the school buildings by May 20 and submit renewed safety plans.

3) Dads take interest in kids’ education, reads the top headline in the JoongAng Daily's Education section. The story reports on mostly middle school "Father's Committees" which get involved in curriculum and extracurricular activities such as sports clubs and the like.

Several dads interviewed talk about how they now spend more time with their kids, feel closer to them, etc. But the money quote, at least for me, was this:
“Fathers tend to speak frankly about students, so sometimes it’s easier to talk to the fathers rather than mothers,” said Lee Jin-ee, a teacher at the school.
Put another way, mothers have an unwavering belief that their child is special, gifted, and a genius, and if the child is not at the top of the class, it's all the school's fault. Father, as Robert Young would say, knows best.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Notebooks and Cellphones

Notebooks: On the bulletin board at the back of my classroom I have a list of class rules assembled from the "Class Rules" lesson the second week of school. One of the rules says:
I will come to class on time, with my materials, prepared to learn.
I ask them several times in the first couple of months exactly what materials that is talking about. They know it refers to a) notebook, to write things in; b) pen or pencil, to write things with; and c) brain, to know what to write. (While the class is Conversation, writing things out first gives them greater confidence in their generated language, especially early on.)

Despite all this, many classes have about 1/3 of students show up with no notebook. What's up with that? Well, anyway, this post is not going to complain, it's going to celebrate those who do bring their notebooks, particularly that genre of notebook with sappy or nonsensical English printed on them. To wit:

"Take you wonder by wonder; Open up your heart and greet the world as it is. We can always find joy and love wherever our eyes rest."

The small print makes up for the macro gibberish, being quite profound in its odd way: "We all have our own ability. The difference is how we use it.  If it's your limit, you can't exceed it; if you exceed it, it's not your limit."

Remember, a high school boy picked this out.

"A champion is someone who has won the first prize in a competition, contest, or fight."  Fair enough.
Cell Phones: Chapter two in our first grade textbook is about cell phones, so I've begun a three week unit on the topic.  Actually, this week is mainly an opportunity to do some research in Multiple Intelligences Theory, thinly disguised as a lesson on cell phones.  It is a follow-up to the research review I did in lieu of a winter camp when not enough students signed up.  The first activity is a dreary, lengthy inventory to help classify students in terms of their stronger/weaker intelligences (again, do find out about this theory, from Howard Gardner at Harvard, if you're unfamiliar with it.)

I introduced the activity with a Kim Yun-a Samsung Haptic commerical, seen at YouTube; Yun-a is Korea's figure skating champion, and a national heroine.  The point of the ad that I try to bring out is that she is not only a skater--she writes, she sings, washes her dog, and rolls around in her bed.  We all have many abilities, or kinds of "intelligence", etc, etc ...

Part 2 of the lesson is some light-on-the-English fun sparked by this Korean cell phone commercial (thanks, Nck!):

Thinking about their responses on the inventory, they are to create their own ideal smart phone with the features that they want most to have.  I give them a hand-out with a sort of blank cell phone on it, and they invent new apps and create icons for them, and provide English labels.  Of course, they're supposed to chat with each other in English during this process.  Here are a few results from classes so far:

Finding a person I want to meet, doing exams instead of me

"19" refers to restricted movies, a common meme, there's also a hotpack and a fan
Instead of an Apple product, this guy likes Grapes

I like the "sleep well" app (and its sheep icon), and the secrets box
Some of the more inventive apps include the anywhere bathroom finder, plastic surgery detector, find out if someone likes me, and the "heartbreaker".  "You sure you mean beartbreaker?" I asked.  "You want to leave sad, desperate girls behind as you go through life?"

"Yes," he said, with what I think he imagined was a rakish grin.  "They can lov-uh me, but I can heartbreak."

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Yeosu 2012 Expo Update

Many friends know me as a World's Fair buff, or at least a fan of the idea that humans can overcome politics, wars and strife, and meet together for a time in a geographical as well as philosophical sense, on a neutral field of fun, food, science, architecture, art, and all the thngs that make us human.

Most with an opinion on the matter think the defining World's Exposition was New York 1939, with GM's World of Tomorrow, the Trylon and Perisphere, etc. But personally, I believe in the 1958 Brussels Expo, which was the first one to happen after the devastation of World War II and the long dark years of post-war recrimination and recovery.

While I spent an afternoon in Knoxville '82, I never really considered that a World's Fair experience; so I spent a fair amount of money to attend the one in Shanghai 2010 late last September. Alas, though Shanghai proved to be the "Paris of the East" for ths tourist, the Expo experience was all about long, long lines and really, really nice staffers who couldn't help you defeat the long, long lines.

Assuming I will still be in Korea through one more contract, I can take another shot by way of Yeosu 2012 (mentioned previously here). JoongAng Daily served up an interview with Yeosu boss Kang Dong-suk, whose last big project was Incheon Airport--a facility with few if any significant flaws, if you ask me. Money graf:
As of this month, 88 countries have agreed to participate in the expo, with 22 from Europe, 15 from the Americas, 25 from Asia, 19 from Africa and seven countries from the Middle East. The committee is expecting 8 million visitors from those countries and beyond for the three-month event.
This is pretty good for a "minor" fair, designated by the BIE to last three months, instead of the big un's six months; the more countries sign up, the greater chance of turning a profit. Zaragoza, Spain (2008), with 108 countries, lost money. The chairman said that the main goal for the expo was to place the ocean itself on display for visitors to see. The theme for the expo is “The Living Ocean and Coast.”

If Kang and the Yeosu designers are hoping that the ocean theme has an extra draw due to uniqueness, they failed to do their homework. Indeed, Zaragoza's theme was: "Water and Sustainable Development". Oknawa 1975 had the motto, "The sea we would like to see". For Montreal 1967, they built an island! So, what is their slant?
“There is so little we know about the ocean,” said Kang, explaining the efforts being made to place the ocean at the center of the expo. [...]
Yeosu’s shoreline has been polluted by its role as a port city used for commerce and industry.
“We have blocked the flow of pollutants into the ocean and we are recycling seawater,” Kang said. “By May next year, it will be an ocean of life.”
Kang said measures were also being undertaken to prevent the extensive Expo construction from adding to ocean pollution.
An enduring feature of World's Fairs is the legacy of amazing buildings, going right back to the Crystal Palace in 1851 and the Eiffel Tower of Paris 1889. From the Seattle Space Needle to the Brussels Atomium and the original Ferris Wheel, Expos have a tendency to leave behind interesting structures.

“All the display pavilions will be demolished - only the symbolic facilities will be kept and we will turn the city into the center of marine tourism,” said Kang in the interview. “We have 400 islands near Yeosu. It will become the mecca of seashore tourism, even beyond Japan or China.”

An island as legacy bulding--hmmm. It worked for Montreal ('67), once home of the Expos!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Club Saturday

On Saturday, I met up with Nick and The Stumbler for some pre-season baseball at Mok-dong yagu-jang, Home of the Heroes.

The hapless Heroes (Oh, come on now, it's not even the real season yet!) took a drubbing from the very mediocre LG Twins, something like 8 or 9 to nothing. But that doesn't really matter. It was baseball, it was springtime, it was the sun on our backs!

That's pretty much my modus operandi (or em-oh as we fans of Adam-12 called it in my childhood) on a Saturday in spring. Ballgame or park or market. My SMOE contract is Monday through Friday. I know I taught the public speaking class on Saturdays last semester, but that was fall and winter. It was also a big sacrifice, even if the remuneration was pretty boss.

For Korean students and teachers, however, Saturday is still a school day. At least the first and third Saturdays, and the fifth if applicable, and at least until noon. The alternate Saturdays, 놀토 nol-to, are a day when they can go to hagwons early.

At my school, Saturday is club day. Music, art, yearbook, magazine, etc. So it at least lacks some of the drudgery of Korean-style math or "self-study"--though I suspect there is both a math and a self-study club. And maybe even a self-study math club.

Anyway, I found myself in a rather awkward situation last week, on account of club day. Twice, actually. Here's what happened.

Towards the end of lunch on Wednesday, a group of six or so freshyears came to my class, nervous and polite, the way they are, and presented me with a perfectly written letter asking me to ... sponsor an "English movie-watching club" on Saturdays. They even had a list of objectives.

Then on Friday, one of the seniors--one with very passable standard English skills--asked me if I would form an English Conversation club for Saturdays.

Well, what would you do, Dear Reader?
a) Laugh in their faces and ask if they can share whatever mind-altering drug they've obviously taken.
b) Become so touched by the desire of these students to speak English that in an ill-considered gust of emotion you say "Yes".
c) Pretend you don't understand English, and just repeat "Mulayo, mulayo". Then, when they switch to Korean, you switch to French.
d) Tactfully explain that they have a great idea for a club, but the [mean old] government won't pay you to work on Saturdays, so you aren't allowed to do it; however, you will talk to the "Administration Department" and see if a suitable teacher can be found.
e) Tell Minsu that he's welcome to come by during lunch for a chat like 'Harry' used to do, or Taewon. Just have some ideas to talk about and understand that sometimes it's not convenient.
f) Angrily phone up your "handler", cussing out him or her for failing to prevent these pesky students from bothering you during the five minutes of peace and quiet you get during the lunch break.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Outside My Window

Despite 28% cuts in the facilities budget of the Seoul Office of Education, my school is building a new gymnasium. That's a good thing. It's right outside my classroom, which is not so good.

1) The noise factor is bothersome--remember, I teach Conversation, so speaking and listening are the main things we do.

2) The finished building will obscure the view out of half the windows in my classroom.

But in the meantime, I have a great view of the action. This machine drills holes down into the bedrock and then installs pipe piles.

Next, the piles are being "block capped" with a concrete block that distributes the load evenly among the piles in the group.

That's about two weeks of work, so far.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Education News

1) This week's education news roundup opens with the headliner, "More 'fat schools' north of Han River", detailing the increase in overweight and obesity among Korea's youth. Welcome to the First World, Taehan Minguk!

According to data obtained by a member of the National Assembly’s Education, Science and Technology Committee and reported in the Joongang Daily, 64 of 1,276 Seoul schools were "fat", meaning 20 percent or more of the schools' students were overweight by BMI measurement.

The article tried to make sense of the data by purely geographic means: north of the river, "nine out of the top 10 schools with the lowest obesity rates were found in Songpa," eight "fat schools" in Gangseo (my district, but certainly not my school), etc. Random pins in a map, really. I suspect a more meaningful breakdown might be accomplished by a socioeconomic rubric...

Education, Science and Technology Committee member Rep. Park Young-ah commented: "There is a need for schools and also the government to provide measures for physical education, health programs and education on right eating habits."

No one mentioned the report I blogged about last year that 60 percent of Seoul high schools plan to cut P.E. classes for 3rd graders.

2) Students cry foul over soaring fees
According to a governmental report, Korea’s college fees ranked second-highest among OECD members following the U.S. in 2007 when it marked $8,519 a year for private schools.
In a separate report by the National Assembly, the annual university fee reached 7.5 million won in 2010 for private schools and 5 million won for public schools. The amount exceeds 10 million won for medical schools. Adding costs for class materials and lodgings, the money easily surpasses 10 million. The sum amounts to about 23 percent of the average Korean’s income of 32 million won.
Debate and discussion of soaring higher education costs promise to monopolize the policy chat forums for some time to come, since the problem seems as intractable as it is in the US. University costs are rising faster than private sector incomes. For instance, the article says that 189 private universities had 7,353 buildings in their campus in 2008 ― up 279 from the previous year ― suggesting that 1.5 buildings per school have been built within a year.

Detractors suggest that new buildings are just another way for universities to increase slush funds, pointing out that:
As of 2009, Ewha Womans University, Yonsei University and Hongik University have been piling up 738 billion won, 511 billion won and 485 billion won, respectively. Korea University, which has recently announced a 5.1 percent tuition hike, has also set 230 billion won aside. The amount of reserves for these prestigious schools has risen by double digits over the past three years, despite their complaints.
Interesting stat:
[U]niversities have been stingy about investing to enhance students’ and professors’ capacity and aptitude. The KHERI found the private universities spent only 0.9 percent of their budgets on books for their libraries. The portion has risen only 0.04 percent over 10 years. On average, the number of books per student is 58.5, a far cry from Stanford’s 703 and MIT’s 259 in the United States.
Well, okay, but I wonder what that ratio is at, say, University of West Georgia. Ah, 47.

During the 2008 election cycle, the Lee Myung-bak campaign promoted a "half-tuition" policy, whereby the government would fund half of a student's tuition costs. However, it seems to have gone nowhere, and is currently "at the forefront" of the main opposition Democratic Party's platform for next year's elections.

3) Story K Research Center of Youth Intellectuals Forum (whatever the hell that may be) has released a report touted in yesterday's Dong-A Ilbo about pro-North Korea bias in Korean history textbooks. Before venturing any further, it must be said that the DongA is the "rightest" of Korea's right wing dominated media. And they are very poor about labeling opinion pieces as such. For instance:
On North Korean leader Kim Jong Il handing over power to his youngest son Jong Un, five of the six textbooks surveyed used the term "inheritance" or "formation of inheritance structure" instead of "succession." In a father-to-son power succession, something which is hard to find in a civilized society, use of the term "inheritance" to describe the event is inaccurate.
Possibly there's a translation issue, but I don't see the huge difference, since succession means "the right of a person or line" to take over. That North Korea has reverted to a feudal power structure seems obvious, and both terms seem to me adequate for relaying the fact.
The five textbooks also turned a blind eye to the human rights of North Koreans, who are suffering under dictatorship and suppression. One of the textbooks that mentions human rights also blurs the subject by saying, "An issue more important than human rights, including political prisoner camps in North Korea, is the defection of North Koreans who are suffering from hunger."
Well, if the textbook mentions human rights, it clearly didn't turn a blind eye, though it may have given them short shrift. I don't know, I would need to read the text. However, it could be argued that the starvation deaths of 3 million people is more important than maybe 200,000 people in political or re-education prison camps, at least from a purely humanitarian perspective. No one is arguing that things north of the 38th are going well.

The article is correct that it is wrong to say NK is "suspected" of developing nuclear weapons, when it has detonated two such bombs; however, it's rather simplistic to deny the role of antagonistic foreign powers in spurring the regime on. While the Clinton administration had effectively reined in Pyongyang's nuke program, the swaggering, tough-(non)talking Bush approach clearly raised tensions and whipped up Kim's paranoia. Rightist oversimplifications of history are no less dangerous than simpering lefties'.
The new textbooks have been published after undergoing a string of obstacles and struggle, including legal battles, amid social consensus that left-leaning history textbooks should be corrected following the inauguration of the Lee Myung-bak administration. Nevertheless, textbooks meant to view the North as an "immanent being" and to overlook objectivity and historical facts have not been corrected. This is believed to be closely related to the structural problem of South Korea’s history sector. Amid an overly nationalistic perspective over history, the environment of a certain school of South Korea’s history community that accepts and justifies everything on North Korean history is apparently worsening this problem.
The Korean culture wars, like those of America, are so often fought in the classroom. To quote T. Jefferson: "Educate and inform the whole mass of the people...they are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty."

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

That Crazy Language We Call English

I am posting below an email forwarded to me by The Stumbler. Many of these I've heard before, some are new to me, but here they are, all in the same place:

You think English is easy???

1) The bandage was wound around the wound.

2) The farm was used to produce produce.

3) The dump was so full that it had to refuse more refuse.

4) We must polish the Polish furniture.

5) He could lead if he would get the lead out.

6) The soldier decided to desert his dessert in the desert.

7) Since there is no time like the present, he thought it was time to present the present

8) A bass was painted on the head of the bass drum.

9) When shot at, the dove dove into the bushes.

10) I did not object to the object.

11) The insurance was invalid for the invalid.

12) There was a row among the oarsmen about how to row ...

13) They were too close to the door to close it.

14) The buck does funny things when the does are present.

15) A seamstress and a sewer fell down into a sewer line.

16) To help with planting, the farmer taught his sow to sow.

17) The wind was too strong to wind the sail.

18) Upon seeing the tear in the painting I shed a tear.

19) I had to subject the subject to a series of tests.

20) How can I intimate this to my most intimate friend?

Let's face it - English is a crazy language. There is no egg in eggplant, nor ham in hamburger; neither apple nor pine in pineapple. English muffins weren't invented in England or French fries in France . Sweetmeats are candies while sweetbreads, which aren't sweet, are meat. We take English for granted. But if we explore its paradoxes, we find that quicksand can work slowly, boxing rings are square and a guinea pig is neither from Guinea nor is it a pig.

And why is it that writers write but fingers don't fing, grocers don't groce and hammers don't ham? If the plural of tooth is teeth, why isn't the plural of booth, beeth? One goose, 2 geese. So one moose, 2 meese? One index, 2 indices? Doesn't it seem crazy that you can make amends but not one amend? If you have a bunch of odds and ends and get rid of all but one of them, what do you call it?

If teachers taught, why didn't preachers praught? If a vegetarian eats vegetables what does a humanitarian eat? Sometimes I think all the English speakers should be committed to an asylum for the verbally insane. In what language do people recite at a play and play at a recital? Ship by truck and send cargo by ship? Have noses that run and feet that smell?

How can a slim chance and a fat chance be the same, while a wise man and a wise guy are opposites? You have to marvel at the unique lunacy of a language in which your house can burn up as it burns down, in which you fill in a form by filling it out and in which, an alarm goes off by going on.

English was invented by people not computers and it reflects the creativity of the human race, which, of course, is not a race at all. That is why when the stars are out they are visible but when the lights are out they are invisible.

There is a two-letter word that perhaps has more meanings than any other two-letter word, and that is 'UP'

It's easy to understand UP , meaning toward the sky or at the top of the list, but when we awaken in the morning, why do we wake UP ? At a meeting, why does a topic come UP ? Why do we speak UP and why are the officers UP for election and why is it UP to the secretary to write UP a report ?

We call UP our friends. And we use it to brighten UP a room, polish UP the silver; we warm UP the leftovers and clean UP the kitchen. We lock UP the house and some guys fix UP the old car. At other times the little word has real special meaning. People stir UP trouble, line UP for tickets, work UP an appetite, and think UPexcuses. To be dressed is one thing, but to be dressed UP is special.

And this UP is confusing: A drain must be opened UP because it is stopped UP . We open UP a store in the morning but we close it UP at night.

We seem to be pretty mixed UP about UP! To be knowledgeable about the proper uses of UP, look the word UP in the dictionary. In a desk-sized dictionary, it takes UP almost 1/4th of the page and can add UP to about thirty definitions. If you are UP to it, you might try building UP a list of the many ways UP is used. It will take UP a lot of your time, but if you don't give UP ,you may wind UP with a hundred or more. When it threatens to rain, we say it is clouding UP ... When the sun comes out we say it is clearing UP...

When it rains, it wets the earth and often messes things UP.

When it doesn't rain for awhile, things dry UP.

One could go on and on, but I'll wrap it UP, for now my time is UP, is time to shut UP !

Monday, March 14, 2011

Ground Meeting

Even though the first day of school was March 2 and the first day of classes was March 3, today was the day of the all-school opening assembly, called the "ground meeting" since, well, everyone meets on the ground.

Everyone stands around for twenty minutes or so waiting, then they sing the national anthem, there is about ten minutes of ceremonies where top students are recognized and new faculty are introduced, then the alma mater is sung and we're done for another year.

In my photo, you can see where the gym is being built, right beside my classroom.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Suramu Danku, and Hyeongnim Status

... or Slam Dunk is the name of a Japanese manga comic series familiar to most Korean males under 30. It centers around the Shohoku high school basketball team, and particularly the exploits of a delinqent named Sakuragi who is rehabilitated as this team of misfits fights its way toward the national championship.
I mention this because I was informed by my new co-teacher Mr Kim (he of the case of the switched amplifier) that it is the source of my new nickname among the freshyear students.  Study the team image above and see if you can figure out who the students think I resemble.
Tough choice, I know, but if you picked Mitsuyoshi Anzai, the team coach in the brown jacket, give yourself two points.  At first, I wasn't sure I liked being nicknamed for a manga character, but after reading up a bit on the series, it's actually a compliment.  Anzai is known as the "white-haired Buddha" because of his mild manner and strategic brilliance as a coach, and Sakuragi rubs his belly sometimes--I allowed a group of players at my old school to do the same thing, for luck.

This conversation took place at the first English Department meeting of the year, which began at a really upscale restaurant near Balsan named Tteokssamsidae, which means something like rice flour dumpling wrap times, and whose specialty involved wrapping the meat not in lettuce leaves but in thin sheets of ddeok.  We moved to second round in Deungchon-dong where mass quantities were consumed before finishing up with third round in a noraebang. 

At the conclusion of the evening Mr Right, who took over as Dept Chair, was quite moved, or drunk, or something, and told me that from now on he considers me his hyeongnim.  This is a rare conferring of an honor on a foreigner, or at least that's the way I'm going to look at it.  Anyway, it got the new school year off to a good start, as I gleaned that the four new teachers are rather "livelier" than last year's crop.  Good. 

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Tuttle Update

Well, week one of classes for the 2011 school year is finally over. Nineteen to go.

A few observations about the new crop of "freshyear" students: they seem on the whole a better prepared lot, in their English at least, though also freer, more talkative and less scared than previous groups; of 560 of them, 26 or maybe a few more are left-handed, a percentage which seems to be increasing every year; alas, nary an interesting pencilbox to be seen.

I have almost an entire new crop of co-teachers, only one returning from last year. One of the others has been at the school for a while, but never co-taught with me before. The rest are all new teachers. This is good and bad: good in that they have no baggage about what they should do and don't seem inclined to sit at the back and "take a rest" or read the newspaper; bad in that I cannot necessarily rely on them to keep me in the swing of what's going on at school--cancellations for standardized testing, meetings and such.

For the next month or so, my lessons will run from Thursday to Wednesday, so I have two new lessons tomorrow: first grade (remember that means 10th grade to USAns) will create our class rules; and second grade will learn about dating--Korean girls are more attracted to boys who can speak English, according to a survey. Part of this lesson is watching a video and answering questions about it.

Alas, my classroom sound system wasn't working on Monday (though it was fine on Friday afternoon), so the dude came to fix it this afternoon. During a class. And failed.

One of my new co-teachers, Mr Kim (who also works part-time for the tech desk, he told me), tried to switch out the amplifier with the one in the other, seldom-used, English classroom. But that didn't do the trick either. So my Plan B was just to hold 2nd grade classes in that room until the problem could be worked out, and Mr Kim returned the amplifier.

Now, that classroom has a much more complex sound system (though the identical amp running the PA) because it is essentially a listening lab, with student headsets and microphones wired up. Once he hooked everything up again, we now had two non-operational sound systems. Plan C, find some speakers and run them directly off my classroom computer. (Plan D would be make up a new lesson.)

While Mr Kim trotted off to find some ordinary computer-type speakers, I double-checked his work and found he had plugged the speaker cord in the microphone jack. Back to Plan B, I guess, and there's 45 minutes of my life I'll never see again.

Still, it's hard to fault a guy for trying to help, and I can say that he has great promise as a co-teacher, having in one week shown himself very quick to pick up on when to speak, when to move, how to interact with me as well as the students.

Also, did I mention the "touch" part of my big touch-screen is on the fritz?

Monday, March 7, 2011

2011 FC Seoul Home Opener

2010 K-League Trophy
Nice touch, having the Championship Trophy displayed in the "fun park" outside the stadium before the game.  Not that I would describe myself as a rabid fan, but FCS is my home team now, so I support them--and was in the eighth row at midfield when they won the thing last year.

Besides showing off the trophy, the fun park had several new features this year (at least for the opener) including a sky bounce, free ChickenMania fried chicken samples, two PlayStation booths, lots of new merchandising (though still nothing to fit my fat ass), and even a mechanical bull.  I put together a video of the fun park, the pre-grame "We are the Champs" showboating, and a bit of the half-time.

Success has its price--in this case, increased ticket price!  Everything went up by 2,000 W, which is, granted, the first increase since I've been going to games (2008).  Still, judging by the team's performance in their first defense of the title, they've gotten a bit uppity.  Suwon controlled the game pretty handily, winning by a 2 - 0 margin, and frankly it could have been 4 - 0.  The new star Molina was almost invisible, and even scoring virtuoso Dejan was mute. 

It's tempting to blame this on the new manager, a Korean--FCS's first homegrown coach in years, following in the large footsteps of Vingada and the fantastic (IMO) Senol Gunes.  Or, you might blame the 20 minute pre-game BS going to their heads.  Or perhaps the cold weather and slippery field.  Whatever the case, it was a disappointment for the diehard fans, and for the ten thousand or more newbies who swelled our ranks this first day.

Still, with the 2011 finals about nine months away, there's a lot of soccer yet to be played!

Friday, March 4, 2011

First Day of Classes

First day of classes under the belt, so to speak, and all's ... well, much the same. Which isn't bad.

My schedule consists of 20 class hours, 14 HS first graders (i.e. sophomores) and 6 "second graders, known in the US as juniors. The typical class (if today was any indication) will have 40 students who are not placed according to English proficiency, and a co-teacher I've never met before.

Well, that last isn't entirely true, as co-teacher par excellence Mr Wright was one. Two of the others were brand new to the school, and made a point to come by and ask me what I expected of them. Off to a good start with the scary waygookin!

As I have done for three years now, the first class with me begins with a quote on the board, to copy into their notebooks:
To the uneducated, an A is just three sticks. --A.A. Milne

When we get down to what that means, all about symbolic representation and language, etc., I draw other configurations of three sticks on the board. Most are meaningless but I put in the Korean character ㅋ which is the k sound, and an H.

That segues into speaking English in this class, entering the "English Only Zone" and not worrying about grammar and accuracy. "It's okay to make a mistake," and so on.

Then I draw on my Multiple Intelligences background of Howard Gardner et al (look it up, it's definitely worth your time as a teacher) by doing some math. "How many minutes in an hour?" I ask, and put the response up. "How many hours in a day? How many days in a week?"

"So, how many minutes are in a week?" --10,080.

"How many minutes are you in this classroom?" --50.

"You can speak Korean out there"--sweeping gesture out the window--"for 10,030 minutes every week. I only ask you to try to speak English FIFTY little, teeny minutes when you're in this classroom." (Granted, I leave out the fact that this means I am likely to have little to no impact on their ability to speak English ...)

Anyway, I've just had the idea that I'm going to put great big block numerals of 10 030 up in key locations of the classroom next week.

So, Part III of Lesson One: Introductions. I provide a little biography of myself and my background, concluding with three (cherished) similes about myself: My friends say that I am as smart as Einstein, as funny as Jim Carrey and as kind as Mother Teresa."

Believe it or not, only thirty minute or so have elapsed by the point the students get to this, their first speaking assignment. They have to write three sentences about themselves in the format: "I am as (adjective) as/as a (famous person or animal)." Before the end of class, everyone will have to read one or more of their sentences. ("I've told you about myself, now you will tell me about yourself.")

Before they begin, we list on the board some adjectives that describe people's bodies, circumstances and personalities, then match them with famous people or animals, etc. As rich as Bill Gates, as strong as Hercules, as tall as a tree.

By now (I just calculated this: I have done this lesson almost exactly this way 52 times here at Youngil-go) I get a little feel for the class based on their best adjective/noun pairings. In the past, some of my favorites have been as silent as space, as kind as the KFC grandfather (aka Col. Sanders), as passionate as fire, as delicious as Britney Spears.

It's interesting sometimes, the different impressions people form: students have been as lazy as a dog, and as energetic as a dog, as outgoing as one, or as happy as a puppy. Today a student was a modest as a pastor. But the winner was as noble as a unicorn. I'm not sure what that means, but I like it.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

A New School Year

Back in the US, the new school year traditionally begins the day after Labor Day, which is the first Monday in September. They still do that in some places, but in much of the country, the school year starts earlier and earlier, nibbling away at the "three best reasons to teach" (June, July and August) until there's only two and a quarter.

Korea has a similar scheme, with the school year beginning on March 2, the day after the Sam-il (3-1) Independence Movement holiday, commemorating 1919 demonstrations against the repressive Japanese occupation of Korea.

So, tomorrow begins my third full year teaching Conversational English, although actually, the day consists of (if it follows form) a couple of faculty meetings and an all-school assembly in the hall on the fifth floor of my building, where sometimes students dribble basketballs during inclement weather.

This is to be Principal Jun's last semester, and I understand everyone is waiting to find out who his replacement will be, although I don't expect that will be announced tomorrow. I can say I have appreciated his support and regard.

I went in today to get my classroom ready, mainly cleaning two months of Seoul city grime off all the horizontal surfaces, trimming and placing my plants and fixing up the bulletin board. I also got a couple of weeks worth of lesson plans squared away, though that's iffy due to the fact there has been talk about streaming the classes--if they've actually done it, I'll have modifications to make. I'll make them gladly.

Yes, it creates more work for me, but if they won't give me smaller classes or more face time, organizing classes by English level is probably the most effective change they could make. The other thing the new Department Head hoped to work out for me was a team planning period with my co-teachers, weekly or twice a month. This would be great, as I expect I'll have a slate of newbies, given the way they rotate this duty--turns out, it's not seen as a chore by most, but as a plum. Not because of me so much as because it counts as a regular class assignment.

So, here we go again--off into another year with new challenges, new faces, new minds. The best time of year is the first day of school--when we all get create ourselves anew!