June 18, Revival

Now that I’m actually (kind of) teaching again, I feel revived.

C let me plan and execute the full lesson for fourth grade on Tuesday which went over smashingly. For the first ten minutes of class she handed out a worksheet and instructed students how to glue it into their notebooks lest it get lost in their backpacks. The last fifteen minutes were miiiiiine.

I reviewed vocabulary rapid fire using various family photos from the internet; Hyunmin’s family was one of them.

Hyunmin is a famous Korean model, the face of No Brand Burger, and a child of a Nigerian father and Korean mother. He speaks only Korean.

Even though South Korea is one of the most homogeneous countries on Earth, it’s important for kids to see diversity and also have their notion of what is “Korean” challenged, epecially as demographics like their American-Korean and Filipina-Korean are represented in the classroom.

Then the kids tore out the family vocab cards from their book and I showed them members of famous families (Thanos, The Incredibles, Peppa Pig). Students had to look at the image, find the matching word card, and hold it up. This was a great tool to have everyone participate and understand who was struggling. I held up my own word cards so slower readers could match them. I don’t think this is a shortcut at all; even kids who needed word support had to look at the English word in my hand and find the word card on their desk.

One of the special students shouted “Peppa Pig” and “this is my grandfather!” for which I was very proud. He spends a fair amount of class singing to himself and wandering around but always absorbs much more than I give him credit for. He’s a good boy.

We then moved into their favorite game– duel. I found the general template on an English teacher website last year and modified it since we can’t move about too much during COVID restrictions.

Two kids stood and I showed an image. They had to say “This is my…” using a complete sentence and whoever said it faster was the winner.

I like this activity because it tests students on reflexive oral answering; we aim to ultimately create unconscious skills in students so that they access their knowledge without even realizing it.

C helped translate directions or support struggling kids throughout the day. She asked about one girl: “she looks like the other girl who’s good at English (American mom) but this student is not”.

Ah, that student’s mom is Filipina. I’m not sure when she immigrated here but I know that student also has trouble in Korean class.

C asked me for more info on back hugging girl today and I’m proud of myself for knowing students well enough to have some insight. I was surprised, though:

“The blonde one? I hear she’s a troublemaker. She got into fights at other schools.” C said.

Now, something about Korean schools (and possibly American schools, too) is that students with issues are labeled “bad” or “troublemakers” like my precious Tank Boy.

I told C that back-hugger, I suspect, has a young mother and not much oversight at home. I saw her playing with older girls and hoped their more mature influence would rub off on her.

“And sometimes outside of school she wears a lot of makeup. I’ve seen her mom, too, and that’s why I think she’s young– younger parents tend to treat their kids like friends instead of children.” C didn’t have a discernible reaction to this so I shrugged and added, “she likes to hold hands and hug. I think maybe she doesn’t get a lot of affection or attention at home.”

“Oh, she likes to hug you?” C asked in mild surprise.

Again, under G’s tutelage, there were no complaints about back-hugger (who shares the same name as my male Korean friend, actually). We can’t expect students to be mature enough to handle such problems like family dynamics. “Bad” students are rarely that way through their own fault. They often need extra care, planning, or intervention.

Why is it that teachers are telling other teachers “student A is a troublemaker” instead of “student A exhibits these behavioral issues so here’s what we should do”?

I told a teacher friend, I want to get more training for situations likes these: students with learning disabilities, students from low income families, students with behavioral issues. I never want a student to be dismissed over problems that we have the responsibility to alleviate. I can’t change my students’ home life, but I can certainly give them the type of support they need in class. Or at the very least, try before dismissing them as “bad apples”.

E and I tackled third grade today and their enthusiasm makes me feel buoyant. They love my theatrics and I had them answer “Yes, I like…” to gross foods like chocolate-covered onions, pickle cake, and banana pizza. However, being Korean and having no good sense of tasty Western food, too many students thought the banana pepperoni pizza and chocolate-covered fried chicken looked good.

Stop the madness!

When I entered S’s third grade class, several of the kids pointed out I am tall. I think is because S is especially short (I did make a height joke at her expense which she’ll probably discover later.)

The third graders do so well with repeating and reproducing sentences that I really wonder what happens by the time they reach sixth grade and forget how to write the alphabet.

The day was not over, however.

At 3PM, the new team of subject teachers had a tea party: ice cream, pizza, cola. Like every tea party before it, there was no English to be had.

I felt very awkward and judged by the female science teacher, C and E didn’t talk to me in English, and the young PE guy had an Englishphobia aura. I thought C might introduce me but she didn’t and then it felt like my window had passed (lesson learned: next time use that brash American charm, sweep in, and immediately announce myself to the crowd).

So I sat there, waiting for someone to introduce me or pull me in to conversation as I got sadder. I thought about part time guitar teacher, and how he leaned over to make conversation when he could see I was left out at lunch. I miss that guy and his social graces. PE guy was certainly not going to be a substitute. Then I wondered what kind of awkward recluse I had become and if I forgot all professional networking skills.

The time I told C that the office staff thought I was unfriendly she didn’t react and I assumed maybe she too thought so. In my awkward Korean misunderstanding bubble was I just confirming her suspicions?

Science teacher asked about me and my future and C answered in Korean. Isn’t this a conversation I can be involved in? Especially since C doesn’t actually know much about my future except that I won’t stay at this school. I feel like I’m the expert of me here…

She also asked if it would be more work for C when I left. I tuned out C’s answer but still got the sense she’d rather go at it alone, which I get. But also don’t— C went to the teaching college at an Ivy League and I’m a bit surprised the college doesn’t have more cutting edge teaching practices or classroom guidelines, at least from what I’ve seen from her so far. G is still the master of it all in my eyes.

The conversation turned to swimming and exercise. As a weightlifting Floridian, I have these topics on lock! I went from understanding 30% of the conversation to 80%.

Then I realized, I have to jump in myself. There’s no S in this group to tap me in. S used to tell me “we are a good match” and I didn’t realize how right she was until this week when I made a joke, looked to C, and she just looked back from side of the classroom. Not the comedic duo I was hoping for.

Last year during one of our tea parties the previous science teacher, who cheerily said hello to me the other day, said “it must be difficult for Abigail to sit here and listen and not understand “. I told her, via S, yes but at least it’s good listening practice! We all had a laugh.

Not with this group.

I turned to C and said something in English about swimming pools to indicate I did in fact understand part of this conversation. I then inserted myself and gave a short monologue about Florida swimming pools and beaches and my pullup training (I will never NOT mention that). After, I turned to PE guy whose face somehow struck me as Napoleon’s Pedro, and asked him if he lifted weights since earlier he talked about his diet or something and being a PT. He said he did and I said, “me too”.

I could see the respect grow in the science teacher’s eyes and knew I had pegged her dismissal correctly. Everyone at the table was following along with my speech like they were feeding a baby and making faces while navigating a spoon full of mushed carrots into my mouth.

I didn’t understand the rest but my stance was made. The science teacher said, “oh yeah you wrote a note in Korean at the beginning of the year with the candy” and I guess even though C has seen me studying for TOPIK no one thought I actually spoke Korean.

After we left, the female music teacher dumping leftovers into my hand, the PE teacher looked me straight in the eye and said goodbye several times. Witnessing my Korean, his shyness was magically gone. (It only takes me losing face to banish someone else’s fear.)

C commented after we got back to the classroom, “oh! Your Korean is so good!”

“It’s not, really, but in life I can either speak Korean or die.”

I told her about the postman, since I need to mail documents for an international driver’s permit today: I asked him in Korean, “how do I send–” but he cut me off to bring up Google translate on his phone. When he had finished typing after several minutes, the only word Google said was “what”.

“But didn’t you speak Korean?” She asked.

“Yes,” I replied and she laughed. That is indeed the joke (of the postman and beyond).

C is still convinced that he was afraid or nervous but I challenged her: “S’s husband also agrees that this post office is the worst.” She took a moment to be surprised I had met S’s family. Uh yes, when people agree to meet outside of work it’s possible….

Now C wants to try going to the post office herself.

“A bit of investigative journalism?” I asked to her laughter.

The evil tweed jacket postman wasn’t there today. In his place were two twittering women who looked on in fear even though I asked them a question in Korean, and to their left a different man.

He was much more helpful except that he spoke Korean faster than any person I’ve ever heard. Sigh. Luckily I picked up the important bits like “will take one month because of corona” “24,000 won” “is this a seven”. My European style sevens with a little line through the middle throw Koreans off.

Earlier C commented that maybe people are afraid because even though I’m speaking Korean they think I’m speaking English. I scoffed at first, that’s ridiculous.

But then I passed by one of my students and asked her in Korean “are you going home?” She stared at me in a panic and said in Korean “I can’t speak English!” I stared back and repeated the question.

“Oh yes. I mean no. I’m going to play with my friend.”

Englishphobia even ruins Korean! I need to come up with a term for a this. Doctor friends, any Latin or Greek suggestions for this new ailment?

From all this I took away that 1. I have to be my own social manager and also have I always been this awkward? And 2. I miss S. S is good peeps.

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