Intrepid Girl Reporter

with love and squalor
November 26, 2007, 3:06 pm
Filed under: classes, lesson plans, life on Jeju, PCT, skool, students, teaching

Sample titles for more personal ads today:

“I am so lonely”

“You will be my boyfriend”

“Do you want a girl?”

1C (girls) personal ad (part 1)

  • unresponsive but not bad
  • quiz: what holiday was last week?
  • WotD: “ideal”
  • next week: finish PAs

1A (girls) personal ad (part 2)

  • quiz: describe your ideal boyfriend
  • no WotD
  • reviewed adjectives
  • practiced titles
  • each girl made ad, some read
  • more high-level girls

1D (girls) personal ads (part 2)

  • see 1C (same work)
  • significant progress: Field Trip*, Orphanage**
    • now volunteering ^^
  • Canada brilliant***

2D (girls) movie reviews (part 1)

  • mixed now (thanks)
  • made up lesson as I went along
  • discussed: why do we like movies?
  • got about 20 minutes into “You’ve Got Mail”

1B (girls) personal ads (part 1)

  • usually Tuesdays, got switched bc of conference
  • Eun Jeong and Mi Yeon came to class EARLY so I gave them the sarang hand sign (hands in the shape of a heart)
  • overall pretty good

It appears that all my second grade (read: eighth grade) classes are combined until the end of the year, which is a good thing in that it will allow the low-level students to work with the high-level students and stop them from being paralyzed by these ridiculously low expectations, and bad in that I JUST HAD LOW LEVEL STUDENTS and they made me want to pull out my hair piece by piece. Also, I had no lesson plan for a combined class; in addition to the fact that the high-level lesson I had ready was way too hard (um, making a new Mayflower Compact?), the low-level girls did Thanksgiving last week. Naturally, PCT didn’t tell me about all this until, oh, today, which meant that I had to make something up. I was going to let them watch a movie, out of spite, but I caved at the last minute and sort of improvised a movie-review lesson. I should have stuck to my vengeful guns, but fortunately for PCT, my nagging neuroses that I am actually a very bad and lazy teacher made me turn it into a Real Lesson. (Note: PCT also failed to tell me that I had an extra class today due to the workshop I’m attending tomorrow. DOES she do this on purpose?)

Anyway I made it to the post office but not in time to meet Soccer; we were supposed to meet to start writing a grant addressed to the Program, requesting money for the after-school program, but then I fell asleep on the bus (note: I also slept through my alarm this morning) and ended up near Soccer’s school, but several bus stops past Soccer herself, who was getting up to leave Holly’s just as I was arriving. The PO, of course, took forever, and I was not inclined to think favorably of Korea, but then, as always, I found myself across the table from Soccer and then later Scooter, eating doughnut holes and giggling. I hope that when I come back my friends are somewhere near as good as the ones I have here.

Africa came with me to yoga, where the teacher gave us a bag of kiwis for no reason – she always seems to have boxes of produce around – and then we went to a dive and ate, and I came home and talked to Oma. There’s this Tupperware of these Korean snacks next to me – the snacks are like Smacks, stuck into bars – and I swear I can hear them snapping, crackling, and popping. I may not have people here bending over backwards to tell me I’m beautiful, or even to behave in my class, but I think I get enough gifts.

*Field Trip: I was paired with her on the school picnic, after which she started talking to me (v. shy)

**Orphanage: I met her at the orphanage – at first in class wouldn’t/couldn’t even write name

***Canada: just got back from studying in Canada

TODAY’S THING I LIKE: this list. I sent it out to the J-crew a while ago, but then I forgot about it until one of the Program kids forwarded it today. Nothing describes my life better.


and NOW
November 14, 2007, 5:48 am
Filed under: okay seriously Korea, PCT, skool, the authorities

PCT told me I have 1K 6th period, which isn’t usual, but as previously mentioned I’ve already had one schedule change today, so I was banking on being home early and getting stuff done. I don’t have them 6th, of course. I have them 7th, which means that I had a two-and-a-half hour break in which I could have – at the very least – taken a nap. (Reading this sentence, I realize that I sound ridiculous. My life’s not all that bad.) PCT told me she was “confused.” Presumably, her confusion is also somehow my fault.

come here often?
November 14, 2007, 4:22 am
Filed under: ESL, PCT, skool, students, teaching

More lesson plan tales:

I redid the “fortune teller”/future tense lesson for my intermediate/advanced second grade classes. These kids are writing horoscopes for each other, and PCT has encouraged them to start by asking, “So, what’s your sign?”

If you’ve never seen a classroom of thirteen-year-old boys that sounds like they’re all trying to pick each other up, well, I recommend it.

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.

where the wild things are
October 23, 2007, 4:52 am
Filed under: ESL, games, miscommunication, okay seriously Korea, PCT, skool, students, teaching, the authorities

Some will win

Some will lose

Some were born to sing the blues

– Steve Perry sings about my lesson plans

My students are lurking – lurking – outside my classroom, which I am loath to leave until the bell rings and lunch is over, since my lock has mysteriously disappeared and I can’t ask any of the teachers where it is, as they’re all running around like crazed headless chickens in preparation for this gender-equality exhibition that’s being held here today. I don’t have to stay. As a matter of fact, I was told that I should not stay, because it’s all going to be in Korean, and nothing has changed significantly regarding my language skills since my last post.

I tried to move from describing places to describing ourselves today, which didn’t really work. We were supposed to play “I Love My Neighbor,” which is a lovely and affirming variant of camp favorite “The West Wind Blows,” but it didn’t work; in one of my classes I had Mr. Kang, who is lovely but who didn’t show up until halfway through, and in one I had Short Jeong, who is almost but not quite worse than having no co-teacher at all. This is proof positive that the problem isn’t in the interesting-ness of my lessons; I took Short Jeong’s advice and made them “more interesting” (who doesn’t like games? or running? or talking about themselves?), but the students didn’t KNOW, because they wouldn’t listen long enough to figure it out.

Right now I am wearing clothes that are too big for me; I’ve lost so much weight here in Korea* that I’m back to the size I was when I was sixteen, which is great, except that nothing fits. So I feel really gross. Actually, I feel like Mademoiselle Croket, my high school French teacher, who was always cranky and negative and who taught us French with a thick Midwestern accent. It was the rare Michigan dialect of French. Despite the fact that she was only in her late twenties, she always wore these really baggy and frumpy clothes, which is what I’m wearing today, as PCT called me at 7 AM and told me to dress up in case I ran into some visitor for the exhibition. So that probably contributed to my class failure today, the fact that I felt like a sack of sack sack sack. But I really need to figure out exactly how to deal with my low-level second graders; I’d like to rely on my co-teachers for discipline help, but I’m starting to think that they’re just not going to change, and that I’m going to have to do it on my own. At the workshop one of the Program extendees suggested that we learn our students’ names as a disciplinary tactic, and I think it would work – I’ve seen a change in the students whose names I’ve learned – but I can already imagine the conversation I’ll have when I try to get a photo roster of my classes:

IGR PCT, can I have a copy of the photo roster of my classes?

PCT What?

IGR You know, the paper with all the students’ photographs on it.

PCT You have.

IGR No, I just have a list of names.

PCT So you can learn from them.

IGR But that doesn’t have their pictures, so it’s much more difficult.

PCT Co-teachers, they should know students’ names.

IGR But they should not have to do all the discipline. I would like to help.

PCT In that case. There are so many students. It is very hard to learn the names. Even I have trouble. So maybe just call their numbers.

If our discussion doesn’t closely parallel that, I will be very, very surprised.

I’ll update more on the conference later, maybe. Despite the rough day, I’m still going pretty strong. Now I’m going to go watch “The Office” and take a nap before I have a dinner meeting with the teachers. Oh my.

*WHY I HAVE LOST SO MUCH WEIGHT:  I feel that today’s eating pattern is a good example. I woke up, wasn’t hungry enough to eat breakfast so early/didn’t really have time, got a bottle of 녹차 and some “chewy sesame bread” (about the size of a roll) during one of my breaks, and then took the students who won for their classes’ poster contests to get Popsicles. I ate one of those. Then I went to lunch, which was tonkatsu, which I like, but this was not good – it wasn’t pork, it was, like, pork patty. So that’s what I’ve eaten today. And later I am going out for dinner with the other teachers, where I will undoubtedly be coerced into eating lots of meat that not only has not had the fat trimmed, but actually appears to have had fat added. But that’s only one meal in the day.


This game is an excellent icebreaker, and it also works in any group discussion on tolerance, prejudice, and self-esteem.

1. Students form a circle, with one person in the middle.

2. The person in the middle says, “I love my neighbor who…[speaks two languages, loves the smell of cat food, is lactose-intolerant].”

3. Anyone to whom that characteristic applies has to run across the circle and take someone else’s spot. There will be one person left out, and they have to stand in the middle and start again.


A. Today PCT criticized me, in front of the class, because this student who already had a ticket* was upset because I wouldn’t call on him, because, you know, he already had a ticket.

  1. Other teachers have asked me to not call on students who volunteer all the time, so everyone gets a chance
  2. The students will not take me v. seriously if they see me getting called out by another teacher
  3. Given the emphasis on “face” and the saving thereof in Korea, I can’t help but suspect that she maybe did it on purpose

B. I locked my classroom and closed the windows when I went to lunch, only to come back and find out that my students know how to jimmy the lock and BREAK IN. One of them left me an empty Popsicle wrapper accompanied by the legend “Here is my gift. Hillary <3”

  1. At least it was in correct English?

C. I’m pretty sure that my vice-principal was making fun of my walk today.

At least the weather is still beautiful and I have yoga tonight. Then pizza, because Oma got a raise. I’m really sick of Korean pizza.

in which: my students break out the blazers, I can’t do anything right
October 10, 2007, 12:20 am
Filed under: Jeju crew, life on Jeju, miscommunication, music, PCT, Pop-Song, skool

The day is not mine, Trebek.

I hate to be off to such a bad start so early in the morning, but here’s the thing: I lost my classroom keys. Except they weren’t my classroom keys, they were PCT’s classroom keys that she had lent me so that I could in fact get into my classroom, which puts me in PCT’s bad graces, not that I wasn’t already there. I can’t find them anywhere, which means that a) I cannot lock my classroom, b) I look (am) extremely irresponsible, and c) PCT hates me. But I don’t blame her, because I kind of hate myself, too.

I think the PCT problem started when she told me that I had to cut the numbers for PopSong and that she would help me, and then told me the next day that she couldn’t help me because I didn’t understand how busy she was, without giving me any guidance as far as how to make the group smaller without a working knowledge of the Korean words for “If you’re slacking, you can’t stay here.” I was frustrated. It probably showed. But I felt like I was being given an impossible task, and I wanted them to know that it wasn’t going to be done well, because I didn’t know what to do. Now I have tried to make it up to her – even though I don’t feel like I should have to – by going out of my way to talk to her, to ask about her, to bring her pastries from Paris Baguette, but this is not the woman who grabbed me in the airport and told me that we were now sisters. Somehow, somewhere, I botched it. At least ACT still loves me – and that is a relationship I work hard to cultivate.

Speaking of PopSong: vacations have meant that we haven’t been able to meet regularly, and numbers have dropped for serious. I need to make a schoolwide announcement. I also need to get “All You Need is Love” into a key my kids can actually sing. I also need to stop feeling like all of this is futile.

This is, at heart, my fault, and I know it. I’ve been in a funk ever since the weekend, and I know what I’m afraid of: that what has been good can’t stay. We’ve got a rhythm here on the island, we’ve all gotten comfortable with one another, and I guess the return of the other Program kids reminded me how easily it can be disrupted, that maybe our little group is good enough for me but not good enough for everybody. And bending over backwards to keep it all together isn’t intuitive for me. I don’t know if I’m cut out for this friend captain thing, after all.

The fall uniforms are out in full force though. I kind of want one. And by kind of I mean a lot, specifically the jacket.