girls best boys in Incheon elementary school

18 12 2012

One day of teaching elementary school kids, and I’ve got phlegm.
Thank you, you little germ factories.

I’m substitute teaching 6-8-year-olds in Incheon this week.
This was my first experience teaching teensy weensies, and nobody died. Exhale.

They each have an English name, and we’ve even got a George, a Brooklyn and a Percy. “Simon Says” was a crowd pleaser, and we played Pictionary and obstacle course games that tied in their vocabulary. I can say that if Koreans are the most competitive people on the planet, that train has left the tracks by the time they reach first grade.


Surprisingly, I found the girls way meaner than the boys.

Of four classes of 1st or 2nd graders, my all-boy class was the best behaved. Boys in mixed gender classes however, were over the top. John started class by theatrically writing “STUPID JENNY” on the white board. Boys in my other classes ran across the room to slap their girl classmates playfully on their arms.

But where the boys were guileless, the girls were crafty witches. I see why we have movies like Heathers and Mean Girls.

During introductions, my 6-year-olds said, “Hi, my name is so-and-so. I like blah-blah. I don’t like yadda yadda.” Jane started a trend by ending her self-intro with, “I don’t like Derrick.” One-by-one, every ensuing girl in the coven class ended her introduction with, “I don’t like Derrick.”

We played hot potato with my 7-year-olds, where you pass a ball around and answer, “My favorite _____ is ______.” When we got to colors (e.g., “My favorite color is pink.”), the girls conspired to pass the ball between themselves over and over again, so the boys had no chance to answer. Not a word passed their lips in either game, yet the girls united against the boys. Those poor boys had no response.


Lea aka Heather

My favorite conversation of the day was with my 8-year-olds.

I used to think sharing personal information could lead students to be biased, given their cultural references here. Now, if a student wants to know my age or tax status, I tell them. I think these could be teachable moments but of course, I could be wrong.

Lea:     What centimeter are you?
Me:      183.
Lea:     How old are you?
Me:      39 in Korean age, 38 in American age.
Class: (silent wheels turning)
Lea:    Are you married?
Me:     No.
Lea:    Have you ever been married?
Me:     Yes. A looong time ago.
Lea:    (consults cell phone dictionary). You’re dee-vor-stuh?
Me:     Yep.
Lea:    Aren’t you sad?!
Me:     (smiling) No. Do I look sad?
Betty:  No. You look tired.

Teaching presentations at Korea Post

5 09 2012

This is my last week teaching at KEOTI, the training arm for Korea Post.

To hear KEOTI employees tell it, Korea Post is esteemed throughout Asia for their leadership in postal logistics. So KEOTI employees host international postal workers here in Cheonan and visit Thailand and other Asian countries to attend postal conferences. Guess what the common language is for postal workers throughout Asia?

Yesterday capped a day-and-a-half of teaching employees how to present in English, which reminded me of my project manager’s favorite motto,

“How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.”

We plowed through nine 50-minute classes, including Making Introductions, Presenting Visual Data, Closing & Summarizing and everything in between.

Not all of my activities scored, but after watching Oppa Gangnam Style and Pusan Vacance, my students used their Comparing & Contrasting language well:

  • In contrast to Gangam Style, which features choreographed dancing, Pusan Vacance features people freestyle dancing.”
  • Similarly, Gangnam Style and Pusan Vacance both have simple rhythms.” And my favorite:
  • Unlike Oppa Gangnam Style, which features sexy Korean women, Pusan Vacance features sexy non-Korean women.”


The prospect of teaching 25 students intimidated me initially, but we ended up having only ~12 students per class. I wonder if my feedback last week impacted which employees were able to attend class this week.

Mr. Yu, the head of HR, told me the goal of last week’s pronunciation class was to identify which students would be selected for professional development, including travel abroad. “Do not share your feedback with students,” he said.

Well, my students came to our pronunciation class ready to learn. They believed our class was professional development. I felt torn about how candidly to comment on students’ English proficiency. Sigh.

So last week, in two-hour increments, I taught 10 groups of students how to improve their pronunciation. How much do you think we can augment a lifetime of speech patterns in two hours? Not much, right?

So instead of making any difference, we identified which areas students needed to improve, I gave them exercises to improve their “arrs”, “ells” and “thes,” and we sang The Beatles. Not one student balked at standing up to sing All My Loving. It’s hard to overstate how deeply singing is ingrained in the culture here.

This Friday, I’ll return to KEOTI to watch my students present in English.
I hope I’ve taught them something useful.

Sometimes I question whether corporate camps are a waste of time for students. The class length is contracted, and students often don’t have a system in place to continue speaking in English once class ends, whether with a native speaker or a not-so-shy Korean friend.

But I’m here to save money not the world, and KEOTI was comfortable.

The staff’s been gracious.

I was given a dorm room and a cafeteria card and was able to use the company gym.

loaners @the KEOTI gym

Most important, my students were interactive and unique.

During the game Four Truths, One Lie*, my student EunKyoung told the class:

“Sometimes I want to be a butterfly.
I’d like to resemble a wild flower.
My favorite person is King Sejong.
I work in e-learning.
I don’t like swimming.*”

What a beautiful mind.

Eunkyoung is 51, directs e-learning for KEOTI and has received the second highest award from the President of Korea for her contributions to business. She also wants to be a butterfly.

Perhaps because Korea Post is a government agency and the training arm for every post office on the peninsula, we had a mix of men and women, ages and job functions in class. Everyone is unique, I’m reminded, even in a Confucian, 98.2% Korean society.

meta: post office inside Korea Post

Quantifying culture–an ESL activity

5 05 2012

Try this discussion activity to teach quantifiers to your students. Thanks, interwebs.

Draw a giant circle on your white board, label that circle “all”.
Within that circle, draw another and note it as “nearly all”.
Within that, “most” and so on until you reach the middle of the circle = “none”.

On the top of the board, write lifestyle verbs like eat, listen, watch, ride, live and so on.
Go nuts. Use smell, drink, love, wear, date, you name it.
Start the conversation with—

“In America, I think most people live in houses, but many live in apartments.
What about Korea?”

I think it’s human nature to enjoy talking about our lives and others’.
Here’s what HyoJung, my Friday night Toyota student speculated:

Most Americans are fat. (“I see fat Americans on TV.”)
A lot of
Americans eat at McDonald’s.
Americans watch baseball.
Americans are Caucasian, though some are Hispanic and a few are black.
European black and white people get married than Americans.
Americans were all shocked when Seal and Heidi Klum got married.

See, makes for interesting intercourse.

Moon fish

21 03 2012

I asked Hyeon Jin to give me one word to describe herself, and she picked moon.

I’m glad I didn’t make the mistake of asking for another word.

Hyeon Jin told me she dreamt of living on the moon, because she doesn’t like sleeping in a bed. On the moon, she will sleep on the moon floor and be able to fly. Her mother and aunts will live on the moon, and I can live there too. We will all eat moon bread and moon fish, but not earth fish which Hyeon Jin hates. On the moon, Hyeon Jin will wear heavy in-line skates to skate across. We won’t need airplanes, which take much money. We will fly.

Hyeon Jin told me this story as if she were describing what she ate for lunch.

Combined with her boyish haircut, orange specs, lanky frame and chapped lips, she is the most captivating person on the planet.

Tonight was my first experience teaching English to a 5th grader. I could not have imagined this sweet experience. For all the time I wasted worrying over running out of material, Hyeon Jin filled our 90 minutes with her questions and vivid responses.

I’m exhausted but wanted to share this name with you before I went to bed:
Yi Hyeon Jin.
We will see it again in 10 years, maybe less.


15 04 2010

was the lesson tonight at durham literacy center ESOL class. mother, father, daughter, son, brother, sister, so on…and then they throw in man, woman, men, women, parents, really is a lot of complicated material to learn.

i was flustered to be late to class (why can i never find lakewood baptist church? 3 mi from the hizzy already) and to have had a lovely (not) conversation with mom on the way over. well–

all cares melt away when i’m in there. it is so much fun. i may not do anything or much of anything, but i enjoy being around the people in that class. clearly, creativity factors into being a good teacher. shite! i forgot to get the syllabus from daniel, to prepare some for next class. i’m going to ask elsa if she will let me pinch hit teach a page or two. i have lots of ideas and wth, how will i know they are bunk unless i teach? part of the fun tonight included maria bringing her smart 11-year-old daughter to class. that + juan and hussam are on similar levels, so instead of me helping them, i asked them to check each other’s lesson and to quiz each other. hussam liked that, but then, he is eager to learn. tonight hussam and juan talked about their families. i like to hear hussam say he has a baby and another baby baby (extra small baby).

daniel told me the students are either newly arrived refugees or people who have been here for a few years, learned enough english to work and maybe now have reached a point where they need to learn more english.

my mother is scared for me to move to korea, i can tell. she called back to say there are so many car accidents in korea. then to say, oh there is so much pollution in korea. ok then, how much money will you make and can you get a job when you return home? just buy rosetta stone susan. blah blah.  she’s projecting her fears. they come from her wanting me to reconcile with tula. and maybe from me living far away. but i’m not letting her fears get to me. the best thing about having the worst thing that’s ever happened to you, er, happen, is it puts insecurities into perspective. i can let a lot of that noise go.

time for snooze…

ESOL in Dtown

10 03 2010

so excited so excited. yea yea yea!

i’m going to volunteer at The Durham Literacy Center which has (tada) ESOL teaching opportunities. the next orientation is in late August, by which time, I’ll have finished the TESOL certificate. so the good information i’ve learned won’t seep out of my head. teaching opportunities are one night a week for a two-hour class, 16-week semester.

but in the meantime, one of the volunteer teachers would like to have a TA assist, so i’m going in March 25th. Regina says it’s a fun class–only 10 students, some from Burma, Iraq…

i am so excited! this is going to be a good volunteer fit.

elissa’s esl advice

30 01 2010

benefits of teaching english in korea:

  • medical benefits. elissa believed they paid universal. wasn’t sure if it actually came out of her paycheck.
  • 2 weeks vacay + Korean holidays (how many are there? looks like 11)
  • routine schedule, 8/9:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.
  • paid apartment. make sure you negotiate an oven and a washing machine with directions up front
  • ~ $2,100/month is what elissa made. a cert could bump that up a few hundred bucks
  • pension at the end of the year. elissa had $6K at the end of two years
  • paid round trip ticket “home” once a year
  • better odds of getting time off at public schools, not 학 원
  • co-teachers at public schools, not 학 원

good to know…

  • if you want foreigners social life, best options are seoul, pusan and taegu in that order
  • if you can’t get placed in seoul, go south of seoul. 수 원 is a college town
  • there is costco in korea
  • there is a social circuit. check out also, adventure korea, but it looks young
  • monthly expenses (back in 2006) = $200, which includes phone, Internet and cellular
  • also, you could teach in a summer camp for 3 months to get your feet wet

this book is making me restless…