May 7

My fourth grade lesson went amazingly. The kids responded well and were actively involved. It makes me feel on top of the world when my teaching goes well.

The kids were also incredibly energized from the long holiday weekend, and many of the homeroom teachers who normally leave stayed behind to reel the kids in. I didn’t mind– if their energy is directed towards participation I’m happy, as I explained to one fourth grade teacher in the lounge.

I can’t say the same for fifth grade. The truth is, I can’t be excellent all the time. There is a learning curve for me, too.

Unfortunately, 5-4 is my first fifth grade class of the day which means they are my guinea pigs. But worse than that, it is the class with the teacher who stays behind to help. I feel that I am being watched and judged and can never perform to the full potential since that class is my warm-up for the other five. It’s a shame it has to be witnessed.

Every failure or misstep feels magnified.

I asked Jack if I should start the next chapter and I know by now I may as well not ask because he simply says “yes” to whatever I ask, much like my Chinese TA for chem lab back in the day… Both of them share a lack of English speaking ability.

So I suppose the kids were completely new to the lesson– I teach sections 2 and 3 from each chapter, and Jack teaches 1, 4, 5, and 6. However, I don’t know when or what he teaches so to the kids it seems like we jump around.

The kids in 5-4 were lost when it came to the dialogue since Jack hadn’t started the chapter with them. I quickly gave that up in favor of spending more time on the food card drawing activity. After they drew and we had practiced holding up cards in response to target sentences, I draped a towel over my arm and went around asking students what they’d like to order.

It was a bit frustrating to feel like I hadn’t prepared well, especially in front of a teacher who already had thoughts about my lessons.

I breathed a sigh of relief when class was finally over and regrouped quickly during the five minute break. Things went a bit more smoothly after that.

When I finally made it to my last class of the day, 5-2 was already excited to see me. I had seen Seventeen fan doppelganger and one girl in the hallway– he had called me “Alligator teacher” and I chased him down the hall to where his friends ratted out his hiding position and playfully pretended to scold him. I saw him later and pointed my fingers from my eyes to his in mock threat.

I find playful, mischievous boys the easiest to handle, because I grew up with three of them. It’s a comfort rather than an annoyance.

The long straight-haired girl in the front, and her whole row, was very excited. Maybe because I had seen them all earlier and played around, or maybe it was my 1950s style outfit. I caught one girl drawing and asked what she was doing. She blushed and closed her notebook.

“Teacher, she’s drawing you!” Another shouted.

Doppelganger and his buddy mentioned my name and so did a lot of other classmates. I don’t know exactly what it was but it didn’t feel malicious, so I’ll choose to think it was positive. Since I was in a playful mood, I played them “Fruit Salad, Yummy Yummy” which they thought was ridiculous– and yet, they sang along.

At the end of class I sang, “fruit salad?” and they all sang back, “yummy, yummy” while giggling. Don’t say Koreans don’t understand sarcasm. These kids are hilarious.

I really love 5-2. It feels like we have a special connection, or at least a lot of inside jokes.

I later met up with Jenny, my co-debate teacher. She’s a single woman in her forties who teaches senior high school English. I was curious to get a firsthand account of high school English and she told me that she only teaches reading and writing in preparation for the Korean SAT. She confirmed: absolutely no speaking practice. I was appalled, but not at all shocked. Freshman had just come out of a decade of English education and couldn’t confidently string together a sentence in my presence.

I told Jenny I’ve seen the English SAT questions and they are terrible– clearly written by a non-native speaker, likely a SKY Korean PhD student who thinks his English is amazing because it’s indecipherable.

She nodded aggressively and lamented that she has to teach students how to answer these questions. Her hope is that since the debate team is optional, our kids will be confident and motivated

At any rate, they’ll probably be calmer than her regular students. She teaches at the girls high school now and is grateful. The students at her boys high school stole motorcycles and students at her previous co-ed school were absorbed by dating drama. I was surprised– they have time to date while also attending after school SAT prep for 8 extra hours a day? Apparently kids are the same everywhere.

Although, maybe not– two boys got into a fist fight after one’s girlfriend cheated on him with the other. High schoolers, are you watching too many dramas?? I felt a rush of understanding and remorse for all my high school teachers. How did they deal with us? Give them a raise.

Jenny seems like a cool lady overall. She’s been to Vegas and told me a funny story how she took a tour bus to the Grand Canyon, but only after sitting down did she and an American realize it was a Chinese tour bus and the guide was not going to speak English.

I mentioned that Helen is almost forty and lives with her parents. Jenny grimaced and remarked, “she should move out”. I thought about the time I needed more printer paper and asked Helen who said “I don’t know, Jack can get it for us.” Helen also told me she doesn’t drive on any routes she hasn’t already taken. Both Jack and Helen were surprised th I went to Suwon alone to buy a car.

I mean… who was going to come with me? But Helen lives with her parents and Jack has been married with kids since college so I feel that Jenny is a bit more understanding of the independent spirit.

That was further bolstered by the people I met in the evening. Someone from the local group chat reached out about having dinner and I volunteered. I met a very eclectic and independent group of people in their later twenties and early thirties which was a gift. They all have different dreams and goals and it was so refreshing to hear about while at an actual bar downtown. A real bar! When have I last been to a bar? I don’t even remember…

Anyway, I’m very grateful for all the cool people I met this week and the deepening connection with the people around me.

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