I think they’re starting to get used to my presence

My last class on a Monday night is a debate class, and as the topic of tonight’s debate was internet anonymity, I thought it was perfect timing to pen a new post on my rather conspicuously un-anonymous (nonymous?) blog.

I really love this class, it is one of three “special” classes that I have each week. The aim of these classes is to get the students speaking, rather than simply saying strings of words out loud like they often do when working from conventional textbooks. These classes really seem to build students’ confidence and furthermore, it allows me to focus on the students’ individual needs far more rigorously, as I only have a maximum of four students in each class. Not that my regular classes are huge either. The school is a so called “hagwon” – a private school that holds classes after public school is over for the day – and as such I think the largest class has nine students. Overall, I have a bit less than 100 students, out of 180 at the entire academy.

My students work hard! Their life is study. My hours are a blissful 2-10 pm and some of the students are at the academy from 4 pm until long after I leave. My heart took a leap of joy when the Head of the English Department divulged to me that “new research” shows that it is important that students take a more active role in the classroom. I’ve since spent the last week coming up with a detailed lesson plan for next year involving a different warm up game each class and far more partner work. They have also asked me to take on special reading classes in the new year and are encouraging me to get creative. We have a great textbook to work through, but we also want to get the students reading current articles and maybe even a novel. Yes, the students really are that good.

Craft supplies ahoy!
One of the extra activities I’ve had the chance to run – Christmas Cards!

I can easily hold a short conversation with most of the students, although most of the time it ends at their answer to “How are you?”. This isn’t just because most of these conversations occur on the devastatingly cold stairwell, held at sprint speed. No, it is more to do with the shock the students seem to have that I ask this question every time I see them (and my shock at their shock). To my students, this is a real question, and they want to take the time to answer it truthfully. This usually means I get “so, so” as the initial answer. When I ask why, it is often due to exams or disagreeable weather patterns. I’m not sure whether this is pessimism or realism on the students behalf. I like to think it’s realism. They aren’t telling me things are just plain “bad” and I feel that if I was a little less optimistic I would have to agree with them. They’re answer, if they were a little more confident, might be something like this: “The weather outside is frightful, however my mum will be making me some warm soup when I get home, and if I’m lucky she will make hotteok. I also have important exams at the moment, but I know that I will do well in them because I have been studying so hard. So, overall, I’d say that I am both good and bad; more concisely put, I would say that I am ‘so-so'”.

I have been lucky enough to get one student tell me that they are “bad”. Lucky? Lucky. The answer was adorable!

H: How are you today Amber?
A: Bad.
H: Oh No! Why?
A: Turkey.
H: You don’t like turkey?
A: I’m going to Turkey.
H:The country?
A: Yes.
H: You’re moving to Turkey?
A: No. Holiday.
H:You’re going on holiday to Turkey? That’s amazing!
A: No.
H: Why not?
A: History. Everything is history. Why learn on holiday? I hate history. And I am going with him *points to student on the other side of the room*
H: Oh, are you related?
Both: No!
H: Same school?
Both: No! Our Mothers. Friends.
H: Oh, so you both get to go on holidaytogether ?
Both: Not really!
H: So today you are “bad”?
Both: Yes!
H: *falls into a fit of laughter*

I think the students and I are starting to get used to each other. The fact that I always say “how are you?” is becoming more of a running joke than a shock. When the students stare at me they are no longer looking so deep into my eyes that I feel like my soul is being pulled to pieces. Rather, they are comfortable looking briefly and saying “Wow Teacher, you have blue eyes!”. If I see them in a store they don’t pull on their parent’s shirt and point. Rather, they yell loud and clear “Hi Teacher!” so that everyone in the store knows who I am.

Everything in Korea seems to be cute, from baby pink kettles, to koi shaped pastries and parrot shaped hand cream containers. It is not surprising that there seems to be a culture of clinging on to one’s innocence when you consider how mature the students must be and how hard they must work from a very early age. Yet, I can’t help but admire my students. School work takes up most of the day (and the night for that matter), so they manage their time effectively because like all kids, fun, play and socialising is still number one on their priority list.

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