Sunday, March 1, 2009

Excuse the Ill-Matched Photos?

We’d been waiting to see it for weeks. The next term’s final schedule. Somehow, happiness from March through May was inextricably tangled up in two excel spreadsheets, spreadsheets that we would quickly cover with yellow or pink or green highlighter. The fluorescent filling exposed coveted break times and class levels and the names of future students. One six-class teaching stretch could ruin an entire day. No dinner breaks would oblige you to overhaul your eating schedule. One wayward student might make your life miserable.

Do you see why we’d been waiting? It came last week. Christine walked through the office, laying the photocopied sheets before each teacher, and the inevitable groans filled the room instantaneously. At first glance, for most of us, the bad overshadowed the good, I think, and some were better at hiding their disappointment than others. I myself was less than thrilled. Four days of six class stretches. That’s brutal.

But the student lists for each class are more grave than the time frame. It’s interesting to me that certain students inspire disgust in some teachers, while arousing affection in others, or that some kids can embody both halves of the dichotomy in a single teacher’s mind. It all depends on our mood, I suppose. When I’m energetic and in good humor, one of my lowest level classes (the young, young ones) is fun and exciting and stimulating. When I’m exhausted, or preoccupied, they’re unruly. Angele was assigned to a higher level course mostly full of students that I’ve taught, although never all together, and she’s dreading the blend. I think they might be wildly entertaining. Class composites are like chemistry: the perfect amalgamation might garner gold (again, like chemistry, impossible…), while shoddily constructed compounds catalyze small explosions.

We do, however, have to account for the effect of environment on a child’s—or anybody’s—personality. I’m eager to see what the kidlets do when released into a strange classroom full of unfamiliar faces. Will peer anxiety make little Wilson less weird? Probably not. Will Billy and Fred tear oddball Paul apart? Probably. Will being in a class of less rambunctious children spur to Vicky to verbal interaction? (I’ve never heard her speak). Maybe. It’s nice to switch things up like this, because the kids become too comfortable in their environments, the atmosphere somehow slides in a casual direction, and classroom management becomes difficult.

In October, I wrote a blog lamenting not knowing what the hell I was doing, most of the time, and while I like to believe that I’ve learned a bit over the last six months, I still have much to improve upon. I’ve been doing this for six months, now, and still, some days, I feel as if I’ve just started. I’ve touched on this subject before, but with a different perspective—a more naïve, green perspective. Teaching includes challenges I hadn’t anticipated, mostly in the administrative and discipline departments. I think sometimes my biggest problem is that I don’t understand children and what is fun for them. I was always an independent, test-loving, nose-in-a-book child, and so sometimes don’t understand the appeal of group work, or finding hidden images in a picture, but apparently, they love this stuff. A new sticker sends them into a paroxysmal state of bliss. I’m telling you: I don’t get it.

In the beginning, I lacked consistency—between classes, and far too often, within classes—but I believe I’m leveling off in that respect. If you don’t minus cents for only one page of homework missing, you must do that every time—not only when the mood suites—because they will remember the precedents you set. And if you’re going to minus cents for Korean talking, you must do it every class, for every student, as hard as it is not too excuse little angel Anny’s one-time trangression, and write her name on the board, because it only slipped, Teacha! Just that once!

I’ve become aware, too, of the subtle—and yet indelible—sexism engraved into our minds and actions. I scorn when class is almost over, and it’s time to call students to line up for the bus. Because they all want to be first. The sequence is best settled with a few matches of rock, paper, scissors, but we don’t always have time for this, and even then, which duo or trio of children do you call on for the first round? I feel that my voice too quickly calls the names of the more pleasant children, and that then, the misbehaved must think I’m playing favorites with teacher’s pet; or, if I call a girl first, the boys must think I’m a man-hater, favoring the girls; or, if I compensate for this anxiety by calling a boy first, I must be contributing to all the negative forces in the world convincing girls that they’ll always come second…

Perhaps I’m thinking too far into the issue, but there are many of them, those students, and only one of me, and so while I’m selectively discerning nine or ten sets of actions and attitudes and faces, each of them is looking at me, only me, and I hope my occasional negative actions don’t settle too personally with them. And I must struggle to shield my feelings, at times; I must be more conscious of it, because they’re only eight, or nine, or ten, and I am Teacha—the supposedly objective party.

I’ve made a mistake in telling some (most) of my classes the puppy’s name. Remember: the puppy’s name is Soju, which is Korea’s national hard liquor. Everyday, now, I have students stopping me in the hall, asking excitedly, “Did you bring Soju today?” and “Where is Soju?” and “Bring Soju!” Not entirely appropriate, as you can imagine, and now I live in fear that an angry mother will call and report that a boozer is teaching her children, and offering to bring the goods to school, no less. I suppose that in the excitement of Soju’s arrival, I might have left my common sense at home.

Perhaps, after being introduced to the new classes on Monday and Tuesday, my potential woes will disappear. Bring forth the positive thinking!

Speaking of positive...

I went to Seoul last weekend for the Jason Mraz concert with some gals from work. I'm not much of a concert girl—they’re expensive, and the noise is earsplitting, and standing, straining to see the stage through the throng is exhausting—but it was Mraz. One just doesn’t decline Mraz.

The concert was amazing. The weekend was amazing. Angele, Anna, and Annie were fabulous travel partners (none of this sleeping in 'till noon business, thank you) and I believe it was my most enjoyable trip to Seoul thus far. We contemplated strategies to get Jason to come back to Changwon with us, of course, but none of them panned out. Maybe he'll be back next year?

1 comment:

Cookie said...

I'm Sarah from Ontario, Canada.
I just found your blog when searching google for "Changwon". Your post have been helpful, especially the photos of the city (so difficult to find for some reason). Just wondering if I could get in touch with you via email to ask you some questions about Changwon, the process you went through to teach there, and any other info you may want to share about your experience.