March 18

I think Yana will become my new S. She has the same shyness and optimism, and seems eager to bond. After our once-weekly classes together, where I found out 8 of my students do in fact come from the orphanage, we ate lunch and took a walk around our tiny school. We then spent a long moment in the teacher’s lounge where all the ladies updated me about the American woman Maria competing on Miss Trot, which is a musical competition featuring my favorite genre of Korean music. I watch a lot of Mister Trot reruns on cable because I don’t need a high level of language skill to guess what’s going on. And I also just love trot.

I mentioned going to Daiso and she offered to drop me off. Daiso is ten minutes away from her house but thirty from the school. It was just sweet and I look forward to our relationship growing.

Of course, being a small town, I had to wait 20 minutes for a 12-minute bus ride back to the center of town. I did take note of all the free parking around me– the perks of a city with limited public transport.

In the evening, I had class with a new online tutor. I’m not cheating on my Busan teacher but I need some time before I do another 6 hour round trip. We reviewed a news article which she had selected for the amount of loan words which she thought would be easier to read but ha! Loan words (and numbers) are my biggest weakness in Korean. I have a hell of a time trying to pronounce loan words because Korean takes English words, doubles the syllables, and changes intonation so that I am wrong every single time.

Diamond would be… die-mon-du, right? Wrong! It’s “dah-ee-ah-mon-duh”. How about “proposal”? Puh-ro-po-jul? Again, nope. Pu-raw-po-ju. Not even an L. I hate loan words so much: they are neither true English nor Korean, so I can’t guess the English origin or the Korean root word.

Foiled again!

I’ve scheduled class with her again since I am still essentially illiterate and need to practice reading official sources.

I didn’t want to use my travel school’s resources to make copies for my main school so this morning I was busy making 150 copies and cutting paper on my new paper cutter from Daiso. Helen noticed and asked, “so you ended up getting one?” I had complained to her about the futility of cutting paper by hand. Like a plebeian. I think she wanted to chat but I was neck deep in Peter Pan scripts with the clock ticking down to class time.

I think my coworkers may feel I’m working to hard, and not in a complimentary way. But I can’t help it; I arrived on the second day of the semester and didn’t have the two weeks of planning time they did, not to mention the full year of prior teaching with this textbook. Helen keeps telling me about a mystical drive for Korean teachers where there are PowerPoints and resources but I’ve seen many of those from my Seoul days and I am… not impressed. I know spending every afternoon planning for the next day is not super efficient but I enjoy making my own materials and organizing as I see fit.

4-1 was disappointing and I figured that since they are my first class of the day, and the guinea pigs, our time is never bound to be effortless. However, I remembered last week I felt the same way, so now I wonder if maybe that class is a little shyer and lower level overall.

The 4-1 teacher later asked me in Korean how they did and I stared for a moment. Was she not in the room? I genuinely didn’t remember. I don’t need the homeroom teachers there for classroom management since I’ve got that down, and thus never notice their departure. I tried my best to explain that they were shy because I didn’t have enough practice time.

4-2 was amazing and by then I realized it was better to write as a class together and read, repeat, and watch several times. A few Pororo stickers worked wonders to convince students to participate, to my great astonishment.

4-3 has one boy who’s very advanced in English and wants me and everyone to know it. He’s not a bad kid but he is an attention seeker, and I don’t like that his behavior might discourage shyer students.

He kept saying “I’m hangry” so I finally relented and taught 4-3 “hangry”:

“When dad doesn’t eat, he becomes… hangry. Korean dad, American dad… they are all the same.” I told them in Korean. They lit up with understanding and giggled. Hangry dads are a global phenomenon!

4-5 has the homeroom teacher who was an English teacher, at my travel school no less, and is the most involved of all the fourth grade teachers. He actually went around the room and checked their script writing which helped me cut down time when I walked around later. All the fourth graders know the alphabet and most have excellent handwriting.

Yana and I talked bad about the travel school’s textbooks and the kids’ English level. I don’t think any child should have to attend hagwon, for English or otherwise, but expecting students to learn the alphabet and also start reading fluently in the same year (grade 3) is too much. English used to be taught in first and second grade as well but budget cuts happened and now students struggle to write ABC. I would have loved a compromise where the homeroom teacher taught letters and phonics once a week starting in second grade.

Yana ultimately suggested I take over our Wednesday classes which I’m happy to do. It does mean I’m planning 22 classes per week (well, 5 different lessons but 22 class periods). It’s not a bother because I enjoy the work. I really do love lesson planning, especially now that I have near complete freedom over the content, style, atmosphere, and management.

Not everything is perfect, however– after my computer blue screened for the sixth time, something about recent Windows updates have set the whole school back, I went to our abandoned English room to borrow the computer. Only, there were already students there.

I had stumbled upon the Go club, or in Korean, baduk. Seeing as how I binged a 36 episode drama about Go during quarantine, then joined a discord server about that drama, and currently am writing fanfiction about that drama, I vibrated with excitement.

“Teacher,” I directed to the coach in Korean when only two kids were hanging out, “do you know Hikaru No Go?”

He looked at me like I had grown two heads, or was a white woman speaking Korean.

My confidence deflated as I tried again. “The drama called Hikaru No Go? Here’s a picture.” I pulled up a website as he had come to my desk to better hear through his surprise.

“No, I haven’t.”

I tried again. “Well then have you seen the Chinese live action drama?”

“No, I don’t really watch any dramas about Go.”

Well, that was unexpected. And disappointing. Thankfully, the two boys who were setting up a game were my students and they kept singing our class song “Hello, How Are You” almost offhandedly while the coach seemed to get more quietly annoyed.

Yes, children, use my evil ear worm to punish!

Now that I think about it, I might feel a bit bad for their homeroom teachers. I only sing that song with them once a week but goodness knows how many times their beleaguered teacher has heard it mumbled throughout the day.

I do love that they know the words– students have a bad habit of answering “how are you” with an unnatural “I’m so-so” or “I’m fine, thank you, and you?” to such an extent that they don’t recognize actually useful answers like “I’m happy/sad/hungry/angry” which yes, are all part of the verses of my song, and all part of my evil plan.

After another quick lunch with Jack, I got around to socializing with Helen. I told her that I finally used the InBody scanner at the gym and she was curious about the results.

“It said I have 20% body fat.”

She eyed me in suspicion and said, “Really?? I’m at 30%.”

Helen is short and thin, so if one were to look at the two of us, she would not be identified as the chubby one.

It reminds me of a week or two ago when one teacher commented about my interest in hiking, “You look healthy” to which I laughed and patted my thigh. “Wait uh I mean you look strong,” she amended.

I’m always the tallest, biggest woman in the room but I don’t worry about it. Height and weight have advantages, especially when I’m facing sixth graders who are almost as tall as me.

Big presence, figuratively and literally, have seemed to help my image in the eyes of my kiddos and for that I’m grateful.

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