Intrepid Girl Reporter


Monday, 4/7: two songs about Anne Frank
April 7, 2008, 9:05 am
Filed under: ACT, IGR Recommends, music, skool, students

I love my second graders more. I’m not even going to front here. Maybe it’s because I know some of their names now, but I look forward – I even get excited about – seeing them. The first graders are fine and cute and all, but with the exception of 1K, whom I see every week, I don’t know them all that well, and I find myself caring less.

My affinity for these classes is only strengthened after days like today, in which I taught 4 classes of first graders, only one of which could be said to be listening. And I am prouder still of them when I think of last Wednesday, when a small cadre of drama-loving girls staged a minor revolt against Co-Teacher F.

I like Co-Teacher F, personally, but apparently he hits too much for some students’ tastes. As a result, he made two of my better-behaved students cry quietly all through class Wednesday, which dampened the mood, as you might imagine. On the opposite side of the room, girls kept trying to call my attention to the situation by writing me notes that said things like “Teacher hit.” We were still studying the subjunctive, so I got sample sentences like “I wish teacher is fired.” When I told them that that wouldn’t fly, they changed it to “I wish she or he is fired” and pointing, rather unsubtly, to the hitter in question. As a result, I had to drag two of the crying girls and one of the protesters to the gyomushil and foist them off on ACT, who discussed the issue with them and promised to intervene so that Co-Teacher F does not hit them anymore.

My pride is mitigated a little bit by my shame in not having intervened, but, of course, here’s the thing: I don’t think any students should be hit, but I see corporal punishment being inflicted literally every day. While I may privately judge this, I still feel that this is a different culture and educational system, one of which I’m not part, and one I don’t always understand, so I’m not really qualified to or justified in stepping in. But I guess girl students aren’t hit that often – there are all these nuances to the punishment system that I don’t get – so when one is hit, it’s a big deal. But I’ve become so used to turning away that it didn’t occur to me that something might be wrong with what was going on. So I suppose I’m proud of my girls, even though I know part of their motivation was attention, simply because they gave me something of a wake-up call. In addition to stepping in for their friend.

And for the record, Co-Teacher F came to me later, apologized, assured me that if I ever had a problem I should talk to him directly, and informed me that he used to hit a lot more, but had become much better about it. Well, good for him.

Soccer and I were discussing Neutral Milk Hotel the other day, and Jeff Mangum’s obsession with Anne Frank came up. I told her that he wasn’t the only one obsessed with Anne. Here’s a Ryan Adams bootleg and perhaps one of NMH’s best-known songs, “Holland, 1945.” They both take very different approaches to the subject.

Ryan Adams – Dear Anne

Neutral Milk Hotel – Holland, 1945



Tuesday, 3/4: New York City, capital of the world

2D – Guess Who?

Lesson: Introduce students to each other through question-based guessing game

  • Teddy Bear Barrette has switched over to rhinestones
  • but she’s doing her work!
  • Eun Jeong actually competed for tickets today
  • Future Vet*, Good Twin*, Super Woman* all present
  • surprisingly well behaved
  • next time don’t have teams come forward, make questions more difficult

2B – Guess Who?

  • Help Woman*, Kind Mother*, Field Trip, that girl with the pink glasses
  • not too participatory but generally good
  • guessing game doesn’t work as teams, maybe have kids find matches

2C – Guess Who?

  • Bad Twin*…oh God
  • those girls in the front need to QUIT talking
  • one of the choir girls still wants to be “social poverty designer” (Catholic girl)
  • Canada, Lisa Loeb*
  • having kids practice easy questions with each other, answer hard questions, find random matches worked better
  • new co-teacher less effective

I moved gyomushil (teachers’ office) yesterday and it was TOTAL CHAOS. Apparently it had not occurred to anyone working at or affiliated with my school to, I don’t know, do this stuff sometime before the first day of school.

In this room I could practically see my breath and I couldn’t feel my fingers to type; the windows were open and no one would allow them to be closed, so we all stood there, huddled around an ancient freestanding gas heater with a teapot on the top. The teapot, in case you were wondering, serves as a humidifier. Those of us who were not gathered round the campfire were counting to eight repeatedly and shouting my name; evidently there was some discrepancy regarding the desk I was supposed to have versus the desk I actually had, and while I was supposed to receive the eighth desk, which desk became the eighth varied depending on where the person started counting. Meanwhile, the students, teacherless, roamed our dirty halls like packs of hyenas, waiting for the first of us to fall. Did I mention that the first graders weren’t even there? I kept asking people if I could help – I couldn’t figure out what to do on my own, as everyone simply seemed to be moving each other’s stuff around and back again – and no one would give me directions, so eventually I just sat at my desk. Meanwhile, the teacher with the broken arm had the papers and folders she was moving propped between her coat and her cast.

My absence from this blog would be inexcusable were it not for the fact that a) I’ve been working for Uncle Sam, who possesses powerful Internet monitoring superpowers, for the past month, b) the Internet at my house on base was more fickle than a Korean middle schooler’s chosen favorite singer, and c) I got a bead stuck in the optical drive of my MacBook and had to have it serviced. Oops.

But anyway, I’m back. And reasonably sure that I can never work for the federal government. To illustrate this point, I would like to offer a series of questions I received from children at the American Corner (like a mini-Embassy) in Busan, via teleconference, during a presentation on American Food: Diverse and Delicious, followed by both actual and given answers.

Q: Who were the first immigrants to America? How did they start American food?

AA: Well, in the seventeenth century, the white man came and pretended to be friends with the natives for a while, but then he killed them off, took their land, and shot the animals and grew the crops that would become the basis of American cuisine.

GA: Well, in the seventeenth century, many immigrants came from Europe. They made friends with the natives, and from the bounty of the land, they all cooked food together.

Q: Why is American food so sweet?

AA: Because Big Food is filling it with high-fructose corn syrup!

GA: Because we have many immigrants from Europe, where they make very sweet desserts.

Q: Can you tell me the story of how New York City came to be your country’s capital?

AA: No.

GA: No.

*These are obviously my actual class notes, with changed names. Hopefully soon I will make a glossary of pseudonyms. In the meantime:

Bad Twin/Good Twin: These girls are not actually twins, but they look like it. One is good. One is not.

Super Woman, Kind Mother, Help Woman: attended winter camp, created Super Woman, Kind Mother, and Help Woman, respectively

Lisa Loeb: v. smart, a little morbid, has dyed hair and Lisa Loeb glasses, as well as a general Loebian aesthetic; I wave at her in the hall and she looks at me and shakes her head

Future Vet: started emailing me because she has a cat (rare in Korea) and I have one too; originally wanted to be a vet, but because this may be too difficult, is currently planning on being a “pet beauty artist”



Wednesday, 12/5; the art of losing

The time between meeting and finally leaving is sometimes called falling in love

– Lisa Loeb

Yeah, I quoted Lisa Loeb. You want to make something of it?

2L (boys) movie reviews, part 1

  • okay for the most part but loud
  • got through everything

2M (boys) movie reviews, part 1

  • usually lower-level kids seemed interested
  • except for that kid in the back who kept asking why he had to do it
    • I thought I made real progress with him but maybe not?
      • although he is obv smart because when he wrote “fuck” on his paper and I yelled at him he told me that it was just a joke, and that maybe it was bad in America, but “I am Korean”

1J (boys) – personal ads, part 2

  • TOTALLY redeemed themselves today
  • v. participatory
  • titles: “‘Who Likes ‘Muhan Dojeon’?”
  • Malcolm X is my favorite kid ever
    • ad title: “I Am Seeking My Future Wife”

1K (boys) – personal ads, part 2

  • as usual, not as adorable as the class before them, but reasonably well behaved
  • made The Smartass hold his hands above his head
    • should have been a desk, but he claimed to have some sort of rib injury (?)

Malcolm X is fat – not obese, but unquestionably fat – and he has Malcolm X-style glasses, hence the name, and he has the sort of permanently disgruntled look that only the fat kid can possess. I wish I could put his roster mugshot on here; he’s looking at the camera as though he’s asking it, Are you serious? But his English is amazing and he, himself, is pretty great. Today I let him rent a pen – the pen costs a shoe, which they get at the end of class when they return my pen to me – and he managed to finagle another one shortly afterwards and kept demanding his shoe back. When I forgot, he yelled, “Teacher! MY FOOT IS LONELY!”

The Smartass, on the other hand, is whom I suspect to be the ringleader of this whole groping Thing. For his level and his age, he speaks English pretty well as well – and I have so few of those students, maybe fifty of my thousand, that I’m loath to alienate any of them – but he’s become the leader of this gang of maybe four boys in the class, all of whom need him in some way; he’s already hit puberty, obviously, and he’s reasonably tall and good-looking, and the other boys who circulate around him are, in order, incredibly short, a little chubby, and…obviously forgettable, because I can’t remember exactly what his thing was. At any rate, they tend to talk about sex a lot and ask really inappropriate questions, which I ignore, because I don’t want to encourage them, but what I thought might have been a groping incident happened with one of those boys a few weeks ago. I’ve seen him around my classroom when I’m not generally there, e.g. at lunch, and I’ve seen him try to get in through the window too, so I suspect him – or someone associated with him – with the vandalism I’ve dealt with, too, but I can’t prove anything. The major thing I hate about him is that he’s a terrible influence on kids who might otherwise be decent human beings. Plus, you know, he could be one of my best students if he weren’t one of my worst.

So. Progress on a few things my loyal-est readers will have followed: TFANY is almost surely out. I talked to The Program today about what would happen if I terminated early, aside from the fact that I’d have to buy my own ticket home, and the answer was that I would no longer be able to claim any association with The Program at all. Ever. Which is problematic in that I’m depending on The Program to help me get into grad school, and also psychologically demoralizing in that my entire year would be annulled. If that was what I wanted, I would just have done TFA in the first place. I’m trying to see it as liberating, but really, honestly, right now I’m just depressed. Because even after the fact that I have to lock my classroom, that a few of my students see me less as a teacher and more as the object of some sick game, I still wanted to be part of TFA. And I know there are other things I can do, and that I should probably cultivate my interest in things besides education so I get a wide range of experience before I figure out on which area of development I want to focus. This is, however, a dream I’ve had since the age of sixteen – and, honestly, much longer. I’ve only wanted to do TFA since the age of sixteen; I’ve wanted to teach kids who needed teachers since (and this is rather embarrassing) I read the condensed version of My Posse Don’t Do Homework in my grandmother’s Reader’s Digest. See, my life is almost unbelievable, but not in the entertaining way, more in the are-you-SERIOUS-that’s-really-dumb kind of way.

So there’s that, and the aftermath of yesterday’s incident – ACT is horrified, as I believe I mentioned, and held a powwow with the other teachers today about teaching the other kids about respecting women and the fact that, if you’ll pardon me, I AM THEIR FUCKING TEACHER. The student in question continues to insist that he did nothing, that it was a “mistake,” which I am absolutely positive is not true. This was not a misunderstanding. I am still so angry, so appalled, and more so that he can sit there and say that it didn’t happen, that he can lie with such sincerity. Miguk Oma suggests taking that kid out of my class, and I’m starting to think that it’s not a bad idea, but I am also about 98% sure that it is not just him. Honestly, I don’t entirely know what to do.

But then there are moments of such unbelievable delight – I LOVE Malcolm X. I love being bowed to by one of my most disrespectful students. I love how my students scream my name in the halls. Today I gave Canada a copy of one of my favorite YA novels, The Westing Game, to read instead of doing classwork, and she was so excited. And one of my students from PopSong – who also, of course, happens to be in 1J – turned in a personal ad describing himself as a “just student.” I love him so much; he is the kind of boy whom you just know loves his mother, and she him. He will be teased by his friends for being “the sweet one” long into his twenties. AND I received this personal ad from another student, which I sort of promise is the last one I’ll ever offer:

I am a 1. dark and bright, 2. don’t need glasses and 3. kind person. I like 8. warm 9. sleep and 10. friend. I have 6. brown eyes and 7. short hair. I am as attractive as water. I am 155~ cm tall. If so, please send me an email at 15. you look like happy.

This has nothing to do with mistranslation and everything to do with the fact that a magical alien has apparently landed on my doorstep.

I met with Soccer at Zini Book tonight to finish writing our grant for the after-school program. We talked, as always, about how it is with emptiness and changing love, and the unchanging (thanks, Coleman Barks). Also about Jeremy Piven. With all the stress I’m dealing with right now, there are other shifts in my relationships here that make me afraid I’m going to lose the state of affairs with which I am very happy – but surfaces change, and I can’t do anything about that. And I know that no matter how ruffled the water on the surface becomes, the floor of it remains the same. But it’s hard not to flail out in fear, and also hard not to get more specific, so I’ll leave it at that.

We also talked about the island and the year, and how we’re all here together for a short period of time before we get thrown apart again. But that’s how it is with everything, right.

I would recommend something, but my congestion is making me lightheaded, so maybe not tonight.



same old story/in a middle school, in a city, which is every middle school in every city

from a future tense exercise:

“I will study about squirrels_____.

You will not study about squirrels___.”

A lot of the best stuff from my students comes not from mistranslation – this kid clearly knows what he wants, and the level of exclusivity reserved for that activity – but from the fact that the unbridled mind of the seventh-grader comes up with some pretty weird stuff. I like people before the filters hit. 

Despite these small joys, however, there are still, you know, PROBLEMS. Hey, is teaching hard? Wait – what did you say? Teaching is hard? Are you sure? Because I’ve never heard that before. I mean, I never even imagined that such a thing was possible.

Yes. Yes, I know. None of this is news; teaching is tough, life is rough, it’s good work but it’s heartbreaking except when your students sing in harmony or stand up and recite “O Captain My Captain” or defend you in some sort of trial against The Establishment. And these things, my readers, they do really happen, not just in the movies – the great thing about teaching is that you find these inspirational stories to be true, a little bit, in between yawning stretches of unbelievable surreality and the blackest of humor. (Between. I taught that today. It means when you have something that’s surrounded by two other things.) But I know that these highs and lows exist, so I shouldn’t be surprised when they happen to me. Right?

As it turns out, my students like me fine. Yes, there are a few who leave me bizarrely threatening notes or refuse to speak English when they clearly know how, and no, they never stop talking, but in general my class gets good reviews; I’m helping them understand the things they already know, giving them practice, etc.

My fellow teachers, however, are full of endless advice, advice that often sounds strange or ludicrous or completely wrong to my poor ethnocentric ears, advice that often contradicts itself, advice that goes counter to the other advice that I got the class before from another teacher or another teacher or another teacher before that. And PCT, as is well documented, has more suggestions than anyone else: suggestions on students, on how to run my classroom, on materials, on what I should eat for lunch. Never mind that sometimes these suggestions do not even make sense. I try to follow the best suggestion I can find, but that usually means that I have to face the wrath of the other coteacher or five coteachers or whomever, a few of whom of whom believe that my failure to follow their advice should be taken as a personal affront.

Things came to a head on Thursday when PCT called me aside to tell me that my students were having trouble retaining information without the presence of any sort of worksheet. I agree; I like worksheets; I wanted to give worksheets. But in the first week, PCT told me that worksheets meant that students wasted a lot of paper, so I gave up the worksheet idea in an effort to appease her. Now, of course, it turns out that I’ve been wrong the whole time; also, that my lessons are too simple, that having individual students answer is “boring,” that I have an attitude problem, that I cannot take advice, and that she has never forgotten when I tried to leave the light off during a PowerPoint presentation during the first week (two months ago) and she told me to turn it on and I left it off. Then she told me that of the many ETAs with whom she has worked, she has never had trouble with any – repeat: any – of them until she met me.

I met with ACT on Sunday to discuss the whole thing. She remains, as always, an angel sent from Heaven specifically to make my life in Korea easier. (Yes, I have a personal angel service. Don’t you?) She told me that she didn’t know what to tell me, but then she gave me a hug, which is the Korean equivalent of donating a kidney. Then she sent me an encouraging email with praise from the other teachers. It turns out that they don’t all think I have an attitude problem, and they haven’t all been complaining about me – that’s just PCT. Which puts me more at ease. PCT is leaving after this semester, so I’m just trying to get over the fact that she hurt my feelings and that she was really incredibly rude, even though things happen like the following incident: in which she failed to tell me that my schedule had changed, even though she knows I cannot read the schedule, even though she has told me before when my schedule changed, so that I was late to my own class because I didn’t know it was there. Then she told me that without a copy of my original schedule she cannot tell me when things change, even though she has done it many times before – maybe there was some sort of superpower that she lost? – and told me to put my schedule on my desk so she can see it, and then told me that we should have done that before. Now I am sitting at my desk in the teacher’s office trying to surreptitiously eat chocolate-covered hazelnuts, because I don’t feel like sharing, and pretending that no one can see me.

Things appear to have blown over now, for the most part.



victory
October 15, 2007, 1:24 pm
Filed under: ACT, life on Jeju, life progress, music, pipe dreams, Pop-Song, skool, students, volunteering, yoga

My PopSong boys – the boys who had left because they were embarrassed that they were the only boys, the boys who skipped out for two weeks – came back today! I LOVE THEM. I was so happy. They still can’t hear pitch, but their presence, you know, it just adds so much.

Today I wore a plaid flannel skirt and met Scooter for coffee, which is almost usual now, and then Soccer and I went to see this art thing at the Art and Culture Center, and then I went to yoga and had dinner with ACT and her daughter so that we could talk about the winter camp I’ll be teaching. I am exhausted exhausted exhausted – and tomorrow will be the same; I’m going to school, then to pottery, then to Korean class, and THEN I will go home. That will be around 9. Today ACT asked me if I wanted to do any more volunteering, and I felt bad, but I was like, NO. Now I am going to take a shower and watch “The Office” and dream about my students singing sweetly. Or showing up, whatever.



it’s all fun and games until somebody loses a window
September 18, 2007, 3:25 am
Filed under: ACT, crushes, CT, life on Jeju, music, okay seriously Korea, PCT, skool, teaching, VP

So the price for my getting to spend time with the only cute teacher at my school (also, the only male teacher under fifty) this morning was a nasty-looking rock on the floor of my classroom, where it had landed after having been hurled through one of the windows at the end of the room. Vice Principal and Cute Teacher helped me sweep up the fragments of glass littering the floor – although there wasn’t a lot to talk about, given my complete absence of Korean skills – and then I was consigned to Pseudo Co-Teacher’s room next door until the whole thing got fixed. The whole thing is more than a little unnerving, although at least I know that it’s probably not personal; Actual Co-Teacher has assured me that the same thing happened twice last semester. Sweet. I was a little afraid that it was some student who was disgruntled over having not won a Choco Pie. Or maybe someone protesting against Kentucky Fried Chicken, or hapas, or people who can’t speak Korean. So many possibilities, really.

Every few months or so I forget exactly how in love I am with “Baba O’Riley,” so I listened to it on the way to school as I caught some third graders hanging out in Family Mart, and then I used it again as my signal for the kids to come into PCT’s room instead of mine. Which was the only upshot of the whole situation, I guess, because really I was just playing it to see if I could.

Other day highlights:

STUDENT RESPONSES TO THE PROMPT, “DESCRIBE JEJU-DO”

  • many cars
  • many beautiful girls
  • many handsome boys
  • exciting stones
  • oranges

STUDENT RESPONSES TO THE QUESTION, “WHAT HAPPENS IF THE NOISE-O-METER GETS TO FIVE?” (correct answer: no talking for the rest of the period)

  • “You hit”
  • “We die”
  • “You very angry”

As untrue as all those are (well, maybe not the last one), as much as I would like to sing that I don’t need to be forgiven…I made one kid in my last class, 2K, stay behind once the bell had rung. I actually know him pretty well, which is to say that I can remember his name; we’ve hung out after lunch a good bit. He’s tiny and mouthy and funny and he speaks English pretty well, but he seriously will not stop being disruptive and talking – which I can understand, having been more or less the same kid in some ways, but still. So I had my standard “you-are-smart-why-are-you-doing-this” talk with him, after which I released him into the care of his other English teacher, who then proceeded to corner him in the hall and hit him repeatedly with a book. And this is a teacher that I like.

PS. It’s not his best, but I’m still in love with David Sedaris.