The point system, one month on.

Don't have tons of time at the moment, as Busan is due to arrive in a couple of hours and I still have to wash the teenage boy grime off of me before he does, but I did kind of want to be redundant and talk about something I briefly mentioned on the other blog yesterday, and expand. Which is that the boys are kind of blowing my mind this semester. Specifically, B ban.

These boys don't know shit as far as English goes, it's important to mention. But they are giving it 110% so far this semester. The point system is a big pile of fail as far as using it for classroom management, because I can't seem to remember the concept of "minus points" when they're pulling any bull, and just auto-pilot into, "You better cut the crap or you're gonna be sorry," mode instead. But there hasn't even honestly been much of a need for that. My goal this semester is to not shout, at all. If possible. There are bound to still be Those Days with That Class where a little bit of the scare tactic is necessary, but I'm really going to try my best not to be a scary teacher unless I absolutely have to, and try to reason with them more instead.

They mostly don't start crap during actual class time anymore, and if they do, it only takes a few seconds to get them reined back in, but my real struggle is with that first five minutes when they can't seem to get it together and get sat down as soon as the bell rings. It drives me up the wall, mostly probably because our Western system (especially maybe the schools I went to) is so uptight about it, whereas my coworkers tend to not even be in the classroom at all until five to ten minutes after the bell. That's the time when I tend to shout most often. Because I really don't know what the fuck they are doing that they can't just sit down. They know it bugs me, too, so I don't understand why it's so surprising every single time. But that's teenagers for you. As my grams likes to say, every day they wake up in a new world.

But. But. The 'plus point' portion of the point system is like a fucking miracle. I don't know how much of their work ethic this time around is just them, and how much of it is knowing that if they get their assignment done before the last five minutes of class, they'll have a chance to use it to earn a stamp, but whatever it is, I've never seen the B ban boys so focused before.

The way it works is that, whatever we happen to be doing that day, the last five minutes is of class is for presentation. If it's an easy speaking pattern, or something that might be entertaining for the other students, I'll make the present to the class, but if it's something pretty ordinary (ie, this week's, "Although I'm tired, I must study. I must study although I'm tired."), then they just have to speak to me. There are usually two options: 1. Look at the paper and speak more (five sentences/two dialogues/whatever) or 2. Memorize it and speak less (three sentences/one dialogue/whatever).

In order to be able to do that, they have to finish whatever it is we're doing and practice speaking it with their partners or groups, like they are supposed to be doing. And they have been. At record rates. They're asking questions when they don't understand something, and calling me over to help them say what they want to say. Before, it was mostly just the bare minimum to get it done, and if they didn't understand, it was easier to just sit there and wait for me than to try to speak enough English to ask me a question. These days, I can barely get through one question before I'm being called over to answer another.

It's nice. And they all throw their hands up to speak in those last five minutes and are seriously proud of themselves after they do it.

In short, stamps for discipline.... meh. I prefer not having to rely on that. But stamps for motivation in the classroom? Best thing I've tried so far. There have been several students who have been convinced they can't do it. They'll wander up somewhere near the podium to wait their turn, falter, and turn around to go sit back down. But if I call them back up and give them a little extra push, they always come through and just beam and beam about that damn stamp afterward. Their whole group gives them props afterward, for being the one to go up and get them that much closer to their ten stamp goal. And I honestly don't even think it's about the candy, so much as the achievement of something they had no reason to put themselves out there and try before.

I'm happy with them, and I'm very happy with this system. I wouldn't be surprised if it takes the fear out of speaking English for a lot of boys this semester, once they give it a shot and see that it's not so bad.


Many teachers are very interested in you.

Tomorrow is our first official club day at school and, as most PS teachers will know, there are also teachers' clubs.

Today on the way to school, I ran into a teacher who I've had a lot of trouble with in the past. Nothing overt -- she's always very polite. But she struggles with the concept that I'm not in Korea solely to teach English. I mean, I am in Korea to work as an English teacher. But teaching English is not why God put me on this earth. She has a lot of trouble understanding why I don't want to spend hours of my free time giving free English lessons, and doesn't seem to realize that requesting such things (and persisting to ask, even after having been politely declined) is pretty fucking rude.

There's a big stereotype about that characteristic in Koreans, but I can honestly say, other than brief encounters with randoms who basically just instantly suggested I should teach them English upon being introduced, and who I obviously avoided afterward, she's the only one I've really had this ongoing struggle with. Most people seem to realize that teaching English is my job, and I probably don't want to do it outside of work hours. Let alone for free. Unless it's volunteer work, obviously.

But there she was today. Now, club day is a day when the teachers are supposed to be able to finish work early and enjoy themselves, either by participating in various activities or by going home a bit early. I usually choose the latter, although do occasionally join the "coffee drinking" club to catch up with the teachers I don't get to see that often.

Well. I'm sure you can see where this is going.

Apparently, a lot of the teachers are very interested in learning English, and also are very interested in me, so she wondered if I wouldn't start an English club. In which I would not be a participant, but a.... well, a teacher. Making lesson plans and doing extra work. As far as I know, no other teachers are expected to spend their club day in this way. And the way I see it, being interested in me, and interested in English, are two different things. Are they not?

I went with the most polite response to this I could think of, which was that if they were interested in me, they should join the "coffee drinking" club, because I often attend, and they would have ample opportunity to get to know me then.

She frowned. Oh, I see...

You know what? It's not even the extra prep time or the idea of teaching a club that bothers me. I would, for example, be very excited to lead a baking club, where I could teach the other teachers how to make Western style baked goods. That sounds like a hell of a good time to me, despite the fact that it would probably take a lot more prep than just conducting an adult English lesson, which I have done thousands of times before, and for which I already have the materials prepared and on hand.

It's just that notion of me = English that annoys me. Or me = English lessons, rather.

If you're interested in me, talk to me in the cafeteria at lunch time. Approach me at hwaeshik. Stop by and drink coffee in my office. The same as you would for any other teacher. We don't need to be starting any clubs in order to get to know the foreign teacher.

Once Busan decided to run something past me -- a good friend of his (female, Korean) was dating a foreign guy. Everything seemed to be going fine, until she started asking him for help with her university English assignments. About the third or fourth time it happened, he bugged out and dumped her. Busan was puzzled -- his friend was a good person who would never have been dating him only for his English.

I sat across the table from him visibly cringing: "You just can't do that to foreigners...."

It's not that it happens all the time. It's just that, no matter how long you're here, it still really stings when it does. When you agree to that coffee date with your new friend, and you're so excited to have made a new friend, and within minutes of being seated at the table, they haul out their textbook. Or when you're invited to dinner, and you think, how nice to spend some time in a family home, and as soon as you've got your shoes off, the parents are barking at the children to go and get their English books so the native speaker can review their pronunciation. Or when you constantly have to find polite ways to explain that, you're not an asshole, but it's just if you agreed to help every single person who ever asked you to assist with something English related, you'd never have a chance to live any kind of a life.

The last thing you want is to mingle any kind of relationship with your English speaking capabilities, let alone your primary relationship.

So I just smiled and said, "You can tell the other teachers that any time they want to, they are completely welcome to come to my office and drink coffee with me."

I'm really not expecting that to happen.


Sympathy for the students.

There's a lot of stuff going on at school, but I'm going to give all of that a week or so to settle before I get into it. HT is no longer HT (rejoice!) but is now Old HT. My new head teacher is now the artist formerly known as the mousey teacher, who I originally got totally wrong. If you don't remember her (and I'm not self-deluded enough to expect that you will), she was the one who I had a very awkward lunch conversation with at the beginning of last year, in which I assumed she was being subtly xenophobic. Which I will blatantly admit I read wrong, which is why I'm constantly trying to work on my perception of conversations that may make me a little sensitive, since I'm a foreigner. I do feel like I've come a long way in that regard this past year, and hardly see any ghosts at all in the shadows of my interactions with Koreans these days. My life is a lot easier that way.

Anyway, she's is mousey, though. And I'm a little worried about her in this new head teacher position, but nearly one fifth as worried as she is.

I'll get to that all later. Right now, I want to talk about the other thing which has taken over my life at the moment, which is studying Korean.

Bleck. It's horrible, and I seem to only be getting worse at it. Which is probably a complete exaggeration of the current state of affairs, but I can honestly say I do not think I have ever put so much work into something with so little return, at least at this point. My comprehension obviously continues to increase, but my speaking is so completely shit.

However, I'm continuing to learn and grow in my understanding of second language learning itself in a multitude of ways, especially in regards to how difficult it is for my students to do the things that I ask them to do on a daily basis, and also how important those things are. It makes me so proud to watch students who are at a lower level in English, technically, than I am in Korean, speak out and complete tasks and communicate in a way that I am still struggling with, especially considering the fact that they only have an hour a week to try, whereas my entire daily life is filled with opportunities.

I never again want to hear any NEST complain about how their students struggle to complete even one correct full sentence in English. Because, since I now have my tutor, I know how daunting that can seem, despite whatever technical knowledge of the language you have, when a teacher is staring at you and expecting an answer.

To illustrate, I'm pretty sure my tutor thinks that I have the worst boyfriend on Earth. We fell on the subject of White Day at my last session, and he asked me a series of questions. This is about how the conversation went:

Tutor: "Oh! White Day is coming up next week. Your boyfriend must be planning something special for you. Are you excited?"

What INP wanted to say: "No, no. I really hope that he's not, because I didn't have the chance to do anything nice for him on Valentine's Day. If he does something big for me, then I'll feel really guilty about that."

What INP actually said: "No..... I.... this year..... we do nothing. Maybe he will do nothing."

Tutor: "You don't think your boyfriend will do anything for you on White Day? Oh, that's right! Americans only have Valentine's Day. Do you mean he did something for you on Valentine's Day instead?"

What INP wanted to say: "No. We were having a hard time on Valentine's Day, because he had a lot of overtime at work, so I decided we just shouldn't do anything. Which is why I think we shouldn't do anything for White Day, either. Because that's really not fair. Anyway, my birthday is two days after White Day, and that's a lot to expect in one week. I would prefer that he just do something nice for my birthday, and we can just forget about White Day this year."

What INP actually said: "No.... Valentine's Day also we did nothing. He working a lot overtime. So we did nothing. So White Day also nothing. Maybe.... my birthday.... is two days after. Maybe he will do some nice thing my birthday."

Tutor: "So..... you did nothing for Valentine's Day, and you'll do nothing for White Day.... you must be angry at your boyfriend? Maybe he's not such a nice boyfriend....."

INP: "No.... I.... it's okay. I'm okay. I have a nice boyfriend."

Fucking idiotic.

Anyway, bitching about it is not going to make it better. I've got two more chapters to finish before Thursday, so I'd better get to it. I'm just going to pretend the free talking portion of our sessions doesn't exist for now. Ignoring things usually makes them go away, right?


Biggest compliment.

Tonight was 회식 and so I am naturally drunker than I ever like to be before 10 pm and even after a sobering coffee, and maybe after a good burrow down in my bed I'll be cohesive enough to cover what all is going on, but I had to make a blog entry especially to brag, because anyone who's been following this blog for a while will know that saving face has been my biggest obstacle in acclimating to Korean culture. It's safe to say I didn't have the first fucking clue how to even conceive of it. But I've been working hard on getting it and coming around to it. Tonight, my two longest-term coworkers told me that I'm better at saving face than the average Korean. It was within the context of a conversation completely unrelated to saving face, or me as a foreigner in Korea, which made it a bigger compliment somehow. Or, at least it felt somehow more genuine. And the one who said it? The very dear co-teacher of mine who I have considered my face saving mentor, since I met her and learned what the whole thing was really about.

I'm fucking pleased with myself. But mostly I just feel lucky to have them around to guide me. And on that note, I'm off to drink cheap beer in my pajamas and watch bad television until I pass out. Goodnight.


Foreign homeroom teacher.

Here's a story that evidently has been making the rounds fairly well in Korea today, as even my boyfriend, who is in no way seeking out information on the subject, has seen it.

Carlos is a foreign teacher who has been here since 2004. The long and the short of it is, last year he decided he wanted to become a homeroom teacher, and, after some initial (and understandable) doubts, his principal allowed him the chance. He took one of the lowest performing classes and took them up well above the average.

I hear a lot of talk about how we are not taken seriously, we are not given the chance to be effective teachers, and we rank so lowly on the totem pole. There are no doubt a multitude of ways that the system could be improved, and also, I'm sure, a lot of schools and coworkers who do more to hinder than to help their foreign teachers. But I wonder if this story will get as much play in the foreigner blogosphere as the one a few months back about how Koreans find foreign teachers to be useless. Because it certainly seems to me to be getting a lot more attention from Koreans. And if you're left with any doubt, take the time to read the overwhelmingly positive comments below.

One teacher, who decided to push his own limitations, those of his students, and also to challenge the expectations his coworkers, superiors and students' parents had for him. He volunteered for Saturday classes, took the initiative to put out an English newspaper, organized out of school English activities and field trips for the students (anyone else get interviewed in Insadong last year?). He learned Korean. He gave himself more and more and more responsibility. And, although he is only doing what every Korean teacher does on a daily basis, he's being praised beyond belief for it, not necessarily because people didn't expect him to be able to do it, but because he took the initiative to do the hard work which wasn't ever expected of him.

Busan's upset tonight, because he knows I've seen it. He's afraid I'm going to get ideas, and he's already seen me completely deflated from my Korean studies this week. I feel like Korean is definitely schooling me, and he's not used to seeing me like this. Last night he just sat and stared at my face: "It's not like you...."

Now he's worried. "Just study first. You don't need to hurry." I'm not in a terrible hurry, and even if I was, I'm nowhere near ready. But I'd be lying if I said Carlos hasn't set an example for me.

The plus point system: a trial run.

Let me tell you a secret about kids: My parent's were right -- they do actually love to be controlled. They do. I've talked about it before, in the sense that, while they may look forward to an "easy" teacher's class, they will actually grow to resent those same teachers, as teachers. Why? Because it's in human nature to desire to be dominated and roam the earth as pre-programmed automatons? Maybe, but I don't think so. Because control, when instituted as a caretaker, implies two things: 1. A greater knowledge and 2. the desire to guide, which presumably comes from a place of concern. It's why we have gods and kings and presidents, whose authority we accept, even though we don't really have to. Because the world is a huge, scary, complicated place, and we like the idea of someone who knows better than us laying out guidelines for us to follow, for our own well-being.

Over the course of the last year, I did a lot to improve the structure of my classes, as far as our daily routine goes. Once I figured out how to actually teach the material I was meant to be teaching, it became time to learn how to be a better leader of the class. This included breaking down my classes into set groups, which are the same every time, which was mostly brought on by the headaches I got every week I decided to do any activity that involved a group in the first place. It was just too much free choice for those boys to handle, and they spun out of control with it far too often. No, you cannot have ten people in your group, when I said four, and no, you cannot name your group "Ukkikki", because that kid over there resembles a monkey. Ukkikki is not English, and for the last fucking time, your team name must be in English.

Getting all of that out of the way up front solved a lot of drama for the rest of the year. One group, with set members and a set name, which are recorded and instituted in the same way every single time. I also did what I could to make sure we were following more or less the same routine every single class, so that the students always knew what to expect. Things went a lot more smoothly, there was a lot less chaos and pushing of boundaries, and I had a lot more patience left in my reserves by the last class on Friday every week.

This year I've decided to try something I swore I would never do.

See, I was not raised in a rewards-based household. You did what you were supposed to be doing, because you were supposed to be doing it, and your reward was not being punished. And for the most part, that's how I've run my classes up to this point. "Teacher, present?" after games, proposed by the winning team, has always been met with, "Your prize is your pride." The students have gotten used to that, and for the most part, it has worked well.

But I'm just curious. I just want to try this for a year, see what it can do for my classroom environment to introduce a plus points system.

The problem with a plus points system is that it takes a fair amount of consistency and organization, especially when you are dealing with over 30 different classes. That's a lot of information to keep in order and on top of, and when you stand up in front of your students and claim you are going to do something, and then it unravels, you lose a huge amount of authority. I know, because I remember being a student, and I remember thinking, the first time a teacher slipped up and didn't follow through on something, that I could officially start taking the declarations of that teacher with a bigger grain of salt. And I wasn't ever the only one.

Part of the reason why I haven't done it up to this point is that I've been too overwhelmed getting other things in order -- improving my teaching techniques and classroom activities organization, learning how to run the classroom in general, and getting my authority as a teacher established (learning how to establish it, and maintain it). Now, I feel like I've got all of that pretty much under control. So I just want to give this a shot for a semester, and see how it goes.

Today was my first day introducing the system, and so far, the students have responded really well. We're doing the teams in the same way, and the plus points will work on a team basis -- your team gets points, and your team loses points. This helps in two ways. The first is just that it's much easier to keep up with the points for six groups in each class than it is to keep up with the points for 36 students. The second is that it also relies on peer pressure, which is especially effective amongst teenagers -- if you fuck up, it's not just you who suffers, but your whole group. Even the worst behaved students have a tendency to fold, when five of their friends are going to be pissed off if they don't.

To me, I don't even think it's the idea of eventually getting a prize that's going to do the most good, so much as the feeling that the class now has more structure and accountability. I still don't see myself ever getting to the point of carrying candy around in my pockets and tossing it out to the kids like trained animals who have successfully preformed a trick -- that just feels demeaning to both me and the students. But I think the idea of acquiring a set amount of credit and making good on it could go a long way. The students now have more a goal that they are working toward, and everything feels more organized and settled.

I don't know if I will stick with it after this semester or not, but I figure it can't hurt to try.


Any suggestions for meeting people (non-idiots) in Korea? I'm new & having a hard time as I want to learn Korean & adapt but my Korean is almost nonexistent & the other foreigners at my school are disrespectful & think they're still in college.

Um. Haha.

Look, I don't think it's any real secret that I'm a bit of a social.... uh.... selectivist? That's a new phrase I made up to explain that I'm kind of a snob. Only, I'm not really, because I don't base my so-called standards on anything superficial or "cool" or whatever. I'm just picky.

To illustrate, actually, just yesterday Busan and I were on the bus together. I was feeling a little ill and therefore in a sunshiny awesome mood, as you can imagine, and I was having some trouble coping with the people around me. After watching the final (I'm sure highly exaggerated) pained expression cross my face, he burst out laughing. I opened my eyes wide and just barely managed to squeak out: "I don't. Like. Other people."

He almost choked on a much bigger guffaw: "What did you say?!"

"I just don't. I really don't. I don't know why. I try to hide it. But it doesn't always work. You haven't noticed?"

"I uh.... I.... a bit?"

The sincerity of this confession had us both muffling giggles on the quiet bus, but I only just managed to mutter a, "It's funny....but I'm not joking...." in between. And he, an, "I know," in response.

I just really hate bad manners, is a big part of it. Or people acting with blatant disrespect without having any tangible beneficial qualities to back it up. It makes me imagine them to be quite stupid, and the worst kind of stupid -- stupid, but arrogant. So I do really understand what you're going through. I understand it probably more today than I did when I first arrived.

There's a reason I don't really go out of my way to meet new folks, and that's because it's really difficult to find people who are going to view being a foreigner in Korea in the same light as you do. I'm sure -- I actually know -- that we folk who take it somewhat seriously are very irritating to the extended spring breakers, as well. The other kind of group that tends to find me obnoxious are the ones who are really into becoming Buddhist and learning how to make every single side dish in the exactly authentic way, and who speak whatever Korean they know at top volume every chance they get, even if someone is actually speaking to them in English. They tend to think I don't take things seriously enough.

The other phenomenon that happens are the ones who start out in category two and then slowly transform into really obnoxiously racist and bitter people. To me, they're the worst kind to encounter, because it can take you a while to detect them. They'll start out talking about their Korean class and their lesson plans and their favorite restaurant, or whatever. All good. How they really love Korea, they've been here for a while and they can't really see themselves leaving anytime soon. Right. Excellent. And then suddenly, it all takes a bizarre turn: But like you know just saying there's no diversity here. And they really love Korea, but you know like we are just always going to be foreigners here! (Which is true.... because.... well, we are foreigners.) Or they love Korea, but it's just like really soul-crushing how pathetically docile Korean women are and what big liars Koreans are and how superficial Koreans are and how shit and boring the food is and how bland the culture is and how racist they all are and how conformist they all are and...........

And there goes your evening.

It's taken me a long time to be able to spot out people who may be right on my level with things, and an even longer time to actually find those people. It took a load of trial and error, a lot of tense conversations and a lot of nights out that left me fighting the urge toward physical violence. But once you find those people who "get it" in the same way you "get it" (whatever way that may be), it'll be worth the effort.

I don't know you, so I don't know where your people are likely to be found, but to be honest, almost every person I've met over the course of the past 3.5 years I've met in Korea and am still in contact with came through this (or the other) blog. Blogging, and corresponding with people through blogs, gives you an opportunity to thoroughly vet the opinions and views of others, and what they do or do not find acceptable, and as a result, I've hardly met anyone from the blogs who I haven't really jived with. Because I already knew how they handled their shit before we even agreed to have dinner (or coffee or drinks).

Other than that.... just hang in there. There are others like you (however you are) out there somewhere. Try to stay open minded, but also learn how to listen to your gut. These days, I barely get past the, "But Korea's just so homogenous, you know?" before I've realized I just remembered something, and I really have to be going.

Ask me anything