Intrepid Girl Reporter

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.


minute after minute/hour after hour

“I am thankful for food because can fly.” 

– a student on Thanksgiving gratitude

“I would bring Spiderman because he can build a house.” (out of webs?)

“I would bring a scientist because he can find a super pig if we are hungry.”

– 2nd graders on passengers they would choose to accompany them on the Mayflower 

I’m sitting here in the gyomushil again sneaking pieces of melon taffy because I don’t have enough for everyone. And I don’t want to share. I am not a melon fan, but this candy is delicious enough that I originally bought it for The Roommate Box and, um, started eating it. (…Sorry.)

I’d like to say that I’m chowing candy thanks to the stress of seeing one student hold a knife against another’s neck in class today, but honestly, I don’t even know how surprised I can be anymore about anything. To be fair, it was clearly a joke, and was clearly just a pocketknife…See? Listen to me! I took it away, and I immediately received protests from the students, because apparently the pocketknife was doubling as a keychain for some kid’s house key. To which I can only say: WELL MAYBE YOU SHOULDN’T CARRY KNIVES AROUND HUH? I gave it to Short Jeong, who, unsurprisingly, didn’t seem all that fazed.

In other news, I now have two Internships to choose from. All things considered, my problems could be a lot worse.

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.

no need to argue

My well-documented dream jobs:

1) Working for Sesame Workshop

2) Being Geoffrey Canada

3) Other things along those lines

4) Chubu*/breeder of beedogs**

Today it is raining on Jeju-do, and I am starting to think, with the change of the seasons, about the fact that I may very well need to find a job next year. The big “if” at the heart of my Teach for America deferral is making me uncomfortable – and that doesn’t even take into account the fact that after my last class today, in which this stupid eighth-grader with a perm and a navy cardigan proceeded to imitate my manner of speaking RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME, I am tempted to never look at children again.

I can’t go to grad school next year. I’m not sure that I want to spend another year in Korea, either, to be honest. I didn’t expect to come here and make American friends, but much to my antisocial surprise, not only do I like everyone on my little island, they – and my family – are what is making my experience what it is. I’m not sure if I could come back knowing that it would be different. Nothing gold can stay, as those famous poets New Found Glory said.

Which isn’t to say that everything is perfect, obv. The extended blog hiatus is largely a result of a trip last weekend to Busan, one that proved rife with misfortune. An abbreviated list of what happened:

– got lost looking for “love motel”

– slept on a round bed

– had entire crew of Program Kids come to the area of town where we were, only to find that there was nothing to do, felt guilty

– found that four tickets bought for Busan Film Festival were useless due to the absence of my co-teacher’s ID number

– saw documentary on butoh, Japanese performance art that exists “on the far edge of death” (yes, really)

– took ₩15,000/half hour cab ride that dropped us off in the exact wrong part of a town we did not know, a part that had nothing but a Trump Tower, some construction, and an apartment building called “Golden Towers” that was actually gold

– took bus ride to Lantern Festival in Jinju; bus ride was supposed to take one hour, ended up taking THREE AND A HALF; meanwhile, Program friends left after us, got there before us, in some sort of space-time warp I don’t care to contemplate

– stayed in this motel that I’m pretty sure was the setting for Psycho

nearly got in fights with: movie ticket clerks who would neither allow us in the movie nor give us a refund, old gross motel man who tried to charge us extra after the fact

– got lost at Lantern Festival

A lot of these, of course, were classic travel mishaps, adventures that – even at the time – seemed funny. Others weren’t quite as humorous. The mixing of the kids from the Island and the rest of the Program caused me some apprehension even before we got there, and the big group dynamic ultimately caused an anxiety attack enough that I had to go home. I’m comfortable with the fact that I have social anxiety disorder, even though I hate the name, and I’m okay with occasionally recusing myself from certain stressful situations; it’s something I’ve come to terms with. Other people, however, are not usually as used to this information as I am, and having to explain why I’m doing what I’m doing is not my favorite thing in the world. There were issues of other sorts as well; I’d love to be able to dish like a real anonymous blogger, to discuss the ups and downs of love, of emotional involvement, of relationships and entanglements and accidental, unintended heartache, the fact remains that this blog is only anonymous to a certain extent – i.e. most of the people who read it probably know who I am. So. Suffice it to say that things have been harder, but they have also been easier.

But the world spins madly on; there was a woman who befriended us as we searched for the subway in Busan, and ultimately told us that the next time we were in Busan we should stay with her and her family, and a restaurant owner who, seeing our sweaty and tired faces, plied us with weird creamy soups and kielbasa covered in mayonnaise, on the house. (Which is good, because we wouldn’t have paid for it.) I spent almost the entire weekend with G and E, and on the way from Jinju to Busan we traded music and watched the mountains.

So I’m not afraid of the future, and I’m not afraid of the present. Apprehensive sometimes. But not afraid.

*Just kidding.

**Not kidding.