Just a tidbit from school today

A completely unrelated photo of my board after my first class of little sillyheads today.

A completely unrelated photo of my board after my first class of little sillyheads today.

Little Charlotte walks up to me in the hallway. She’s eleven and she’s the happiest kid I know. She bounces rather than walks sometimes.

Today she was getting a drink of water, and on her way she stopped to chat.
“How are you today, Anne?” she begins the regular routine.
We always give honest answers. “I’m a little tired today.”
“Why?”
“I don’t know. Maybe just because it’s Friday.”
I know.”
“You know why I’m tired?” This was a new twist in the conversation.
“I think.”
“Okay, why do you think I’m tired?”
“Because you speak English all day, and English is really hard. So you’re tired.”
I look at her satisfied expression and have another glimpse into the depths of the lives of my students.
“Maybe you’re right,” I say.

She smiles and bounces away, but her comment stays with me through the whole day. I hope one day she finds her L2 less tiring to use.

Far, Far Away: An interview

Recently, the iTDi blog issue “From the Teacher’s Family” came out. I highly recommend you read the posts in the issue. They show very clearly that teaching is not just about the teacher and the classroom, but affects those close to the teacher as well, especially the family.

I was especially inspired by Rose Bard’s honest and moving post in which she shows what her family has both gained and sacrificed from her being a teacher, the price she paid for those gains, and how they feel about it. And it made me wonder how my family feels about me being a teacher on the other side of the world, away from home for 13 years with visits no longer than a couple weeks every couple years. For me it’s sometimes very hard, and I miss them a lot. I feel guilty on important days when I’m not at home. But teaching overseas is a choice I made that my family have had to live with. It is time to ask them how they feel.

The interview occurred over Skype and I recorded and took notes. I used the questions that guided the iTDi posts.

1) What are three good things about having a daughter/sister who is a teacher?

My brother said it’s one of the most important jobs. He said he’s proud of me. He also said he enjoys traveling to visit me. My mom’s answers were a little different. She likes that it makes me happy. She can see that I like what I do. She also said, “I like the fact that you’re teaching kids because I know you care about them.”

2) Were there ever a moment in your life when you wished I wasn’t a teacher?  Please tell me about it.

At Christmas, when you’re far, far away.”

I’m so glad for Skype, you know.”

Are you going to visit this year?”

3) Was there ever a moment when you were very proud of something I did as a teacher? Please tell me about it.

This was a difficult question for them. I don’t share a lot of day to day stuff, I guess. My mom said that she is proud of the textbook proofreading work that I do because, in her words, “You went beyond what they asked you to do just to make sure it was done right.” (She is referring to pointing out social issues that come up in the CBs I proofread.)

4) How do you think me being a teacher has made life more complicated for you?

This question made my mom laugh. She thought immediately of mailing stuff. Postage costs more than what’s being posted. My younger brother had a different perspective: “You being a teacher makes my job seem less important.”

5) Do you think I am well suited to be a teacher?  Why?

My mom and brother were unanimous on this: YES. You like what you do. You have patience with kids. You establish rapport.

6) What other jobs do you think I could have done or should have done?

I can’t picture you doing anything else.”

Maybe a writer?”

7) Why do you think I became a teacher?

Because you wanted to go far, far away and travel.”

Because it’s an important job.”

Originally it was a good way to meet other people and gather experience traveling, but it because more than that. Because you stayed. You wouldn’t have stayed if it had been just that.”

8) Why do you think I am a teacher now?

Because you are good at it.”

Because you have a commitment to teaching EFL so that they are able to be proficient. You know your teaching isn’t half-assed.”

9) How would our lives change is I stopped being a teacher tomorrow?

I think you’d be sad.”

Our family collectively would not make as positive a contribution to society.”

10) Do you have a message you would like to give to teachers throughout the world?

From my brother: “You have the most important job. You probably should be the highest paid and most respected.”

From my mom: “Learn how to handle job-related stress so that you don’t stop teaching. Because we need quality teaching and it seems like the ones who have the higher stress are the ones who are the better teachers. Set boundaries for yourself because your employers are not going to do it for you.”

11) Do you have a message that you would like to give to other families in which a member is a teacher?

From my brother: “Appreciate the importance of that person and their role.”

From my mom: “Communicate, communicate, communicate!”

I learned some new things from this interview: I learned that my younger brother holds teachers in a very high regard, and considers me among them. I had no idea he felt that way. I learned that my family supports my choice to become an EFL teacher and wants me to be happy. I also learned that it has been difficult for them to have me so far away. Some of their answers stung because they were on point (“you wanted to go far, far away”) and touched my own guilt (“are you coming home this year?”). I so grateful for their continued support and love, grateful to be a source of pride for them, and grateful that they took the time to share their thoughts on these questions.

Thank you for reading.

A month of ‘Things That Happened Today’ – a cup of milk

Every month the Daegu Reflective Practice Group makes reflective goals for the month. And nearly every month, I fail to complete mine (or even remember what it was most of the time). Last month, we all committed to bring an incident to reflect on so there would be plenty of material for the workshop (which is tomorrow and is being facilitated by a guest: Mr. Bryan Hale). I realized upon making this commitment that I almost never remember a thing that happened at school without a lot of effort. By the end of a school day, I normally just want to crawl in bed and try again tomorrow. But I didn’t want to come empty-handed, so I made the rather ambitious goal of keeping a running log of at least one of the myriad things that happen each day… for each day. 

What follows is four weeks of things that happened, with edits for clarity where possible and a few pretty pictures that might be related.

Things that happened today:

3/23

What are students made of? What are teachers made of?

I took a picture of what happened when we talked about this in Esther’s class.

What is anybody made of, really?

What is anybody made of, really?

3/24

Sera’s story of Trevor’s stick up the dog’s butt joke. She also said he gave the finger to a teacher and ran away. And a lot of other bad boy things. She thought it was all hilarious. I asked him what he was playing at, and he said it was a comic he’d drawn and it didn’t really happen. I think I was most bothered by fact that they all found it so funny. Except the violent kid – he thought animal cruelty is horrible.

*Editor’s note: this came up again today in a conversation with another teacher about how Trevor tells stories.

3/25

I don’t remember.

*Editor’s note: I don’t remember what happened in class this day, but I have a very clear memory of why not.

3/26

Today I gave the M2s their new free writing notebooks and pencils to go with. Then we did free-writing in class to begin the notebooks and I took them away again. I wonder if that was the right thing to do.

*Editor’s note: they were very excited when I gave back their notebooks with comments for each of them.

3/27

I was reading a story about trolls who came and stole a sleeping baby while her sister wasn’t watching. While I was reading, Paul and Sera got into an argument. I stopped to see if they would resolve it. They didn’t. So I put the book away. Some of the other students were annoyed because they wanted to hear more of the story.

3/30

‘Tom’ walks in the classroom to the usual chorus of groans. I don’t know how to stop them from ostracizing him. I don’t know how to teach him acceptable classroom behaviour. Julie, who wasn’t paying attention anyway, interrupts the class to tell me that Tom has been sticking his tongue out at her. Tom says she started it. She says he started it. I wish they would stop it.

3/31

Ellen just flat out refused to work today. No idea why. She put her head down and wouldn’t participate. She wouldn’t speak during the group speaking task, even when her group members tried to engage her and I backed off. She wouldn’t read during the reading task. When I asked her if she had some reason, she said “no.”

Another thing that happened was I realized that kids don’t know how to look at pictures in a story book.

Editor’s note: since I discovered that, I started teaching them to notice the pictures (which are really where the story is).

4/1

April Fools’ Day

4/2

The Thoughts and Notions class Kakao Group. (I blogged this one because it was such an interesting experience)

4/3

Today I changed the seats in NP5 by lottery (pick a card and line up alphabetically according to your card). Ellie was so angry about it, she moped for the rest of the class. Her mood seemed to affect her group, who look to her as a leader (as most of the class does).

Editor’s note: I also remember that when the class ended that day, she came up to me to tell me that she wouldn’t do my homework. I told her to give it a try.

4/6

M3 debates: The first group worked out really well. The timing was almost perfect and their arguments were clear, concise, and well-prepared. They also used their survey tools. That was fantastic. The second class was not a train wreck, but not nearly as good. They spoke in Korean a lot, used their phones and dictionaries during the debate, and had a really hard time understanding not only their opponents’ arguments, but their own as well. Their topic was too hard, I think.

4/7

Total lack of clarity about homework in the M1 classes and I didn’t really remember either what had been assigned. One new kakao group made.

4/8

The mind maps from Junho’s class and Michelle’s class. Peter and Ben had a tiff but Ben didn’t know why.

They haven't generated this much language ever. Now, to get them to use it!

They haven’t generated this much language ever. Now, to get them to use it!

4/9

The kakaotalk group class. All but one did their homework. Seriously. And so since they’d done it we were able to make questions about the text and play Golden Bell. Max and Mike won the game – the two weakest students. Their next teacher reported that they came to class smiling and seemed more confident and happy and cohesive as a group than before.

4/10

Ellie refused to do the reading: “I skimmed it and I think it’s not interesting to me.” But she was clearly in an awful mood for whatever reason, so I asked her to read it again on Sunday and see if it was interesting then. Later I found out that she was in a bad mood because she had mistakenly told the other students in her class wrong information and half the class came unprepared and it was “her fault” in a sense. No wonder she was in a bad mood.

4/13

Katie and Heather’s compliments in other cultures. The difference between singular and plural compliments: Good job! I liked that song. Vs Good job! I like that song. Katie’s response: Oh, no. It was not good. It was just so so. Which led to a mini-discussion on how different cultures respond to compliments (In Korea brush it off; In the USA acknowledge it – we’d all love to know how you respond to compliments!).

*Editor’s note: This conversation might be related to the upcoming #KELTchat.

4/14

The M1 debate disaster – only three students talked and as it turned out, they didn’t understand their topic well enough or the information they had found well enough to explain it to the other team (or me). Six silent students, and in the end everyone had the same opinion anyway. What a fail. I wish I’d recorded it. But I think what happened is that they didn’t have clear enough tasks while they were preparing and I rushed them because they’re going to be off for two weeks. Next time I’ll remember this.

4/15

Somehow nothing at all got done in OW1 except a spelling test about the months and a memory game using “I want/ He/She wants”. And suddenly the time was over. I don’t know how that happened.

4/16

Homework charts finished. Most of the kids get gifts. And I’m the fool who lets them choose. Anyway, so little Paul says he wants o-gamja, the blue one. It’s a potato chips brand. So I went shopping and there were orange, green, and a sky-blue at the store. I got the one that was not orange or green, but was a little surprised because it said it was onion flavored. As soon as I pull it out of the bag, he starts complaining that it’s all wrong. And I overreacted. I just tied up the bag again and said, we’ll just do this later. And I was too angry to talk so I wrote a note on the board for him that said, ‘It’s a gift. Next time, just smile and say thanks.’ But then I changed my mind and gave everyone their gifts anyway. Now I realize that I had failed to leave my baggage at my classroom door and little Paul is in no way to blame (although he was, by my standards, a little rude – he had every right to express that he hadn’t got what he wanted).

4/17

I made amends with little Paul and got him the right snack. He said thank you.

I played pictionary with the phonics kids. I didn’t let them draw, though.

I found more mystery puzzles for the M3s because they love those.

Oh, and I took a picture of my graffiti wall. Three weeks of student art. One group asked for a new paper. I said no.

20150417_212137-1

What I learned from the process – lots of things happen every day and it is really hard to decide what is important and what isn’t. Also, writing stuff down isn’t enough. It’s important to go back and read it. Some of the things that seemed important at the time seem pretty trivial now. I wonder what that means. I wonder what I should have remembered about those days. For example, I remember now yelling at a student about his racist comment. How did I not write that down? What did I write instead on that day? I notice I wrote a lot about individual students and their feelings or attitudes, and less about lessons and successes and failures and challenges. This is just the beginning and maybe it would be more useful to focus on a single class each day next month and see how the posts develop. 

TL;DR – stuff happened. I wrote it down. Pretty pictures.

how can i help you remember? (a snapshot)

Here is a thing that happened today:

I have a few middle school classes that only meet once a week. In one of the classes, the students almost never do their homework at home. They find themselves doing it or trying to do it frantically in the first five minutes of class. The result is a waste of time, terrible quality, and incomplete work. And of course an angry teacher.

Today was no different in terms of homework completion. But it was different in terms of response. I was midway to shouting when I realized that maybe the problem was that they couldn’t remember it. I mean, I have a hard time remembering the beginning of a day at the end of it. It would be no wonder if the homework got lost in the sea of other assignments. While I know that it’s their responsibility to record and recall their assignments, it is possible that they need some support.

So instead of shouting, I asked them: How can I help you to remember your homework?

I really actually expected them to just look at their desks and not answer me. But they picked up that my anger had drained and I was asking a real question.

And they answered.

One girl said, “we can make a Kakao group and you can remind us the homework one or two days before the class.” Heads nodded. Other students agreed. They looked around at each other. I confirmed that they all use Kakao Talk and I passed my phone around. They input their phone numbers and names. I put my phone number on the board and gave out their phones. They added me, too. One of the students helped me find them all and create the group.

Our Kakao Group

Our Kakao Group

At the end of the class, I wrote the homework on the board. I also posted it in the chat room. I also took a picture of the board and posted that as well. The ‘thank you’s started streaming in (which was a good reminder to turn off notifications!), along with banter and friendliness. I promised to repost the homework a couple days before class next week as well.

Hopefully it works.

sometimes i need a turtle: outside influences post

I wanted to write this post because I love the idea of celebrating the people who have guided me in my life towards where I am today and taught me – in their own ways and by their own examples – lessons that have stuck with me. The hardest part is deciding who to write about.

Should I tell you about Mrs. B, the librarian at the public library who told me I was not allowed to read Clifford books to fulfill reading challenges because I should be reading books that engaged me? She taught me that reading goals are just numbers, but books deserve my time and love.

Or should I tell you about Mr. S., who only survived a year at our high school (I think he got into trouble for being too handsome), but lent me books from his personal collection and taught me meaningful ways to have conversation about books even though he wasn’t one of my teachers?

Or should I tell you about my mom, who reads every free moment she has, and always has? Whenever my brothers or I complained about being bored, her advice alternated between “play outside” and “go to the library.” Family trips to the library always ended in stacks of books, as many as the librarian would let us go away with, piled high in my arms. Those experiences gave me a good repertoire of books to recommend to my current teenage students who ask me what they should read in English.

Maybe I’ll tell you about Lalla. Lalla ran the office in the department of physics. She had that busy place full of vastly different personalities of everyone from Nobel prize-winning professors to graduate students to us lowly part-timers down to an art. There was always a lot of work to do – some of it seemed menial, like preparing for coffee hour every day, and some of it was really important, like organizing the applications for incoming grad students. No matter what it was, she asked rather than ordered us to help. I particularly loved running errands. I loved the trust placed in me. After I graduated, we stayed in touch for a while until she retired. We had lunch together (always with wine) and she told me about her recent trips to Venezia and I always brought her a turtle. I noticed early on that she collected turtles – figurines, charms, and jewelry. She said they were a reminder to go slow. It seemed impossible that anyone would be able to go slow in the kind of environment she worked in, but she made time for wine, for conversation, for compassion. She got everything done without hurrying and always had time for people. And now I find myself working in a fast-paced and responsible environment where I need that reminder. That there is always time for people – for the people who my students are – and there is always time to listen to their stories. I don’t always remember. Sometimes I need a turtle, too.

This turtle is brought to you under a creative commons license by mattoid-26 on deviantart: http://mattoid-26.deviantart.com/art/Enamoured-turtle-43275397

This turtle is brought to you under a creative commons license by mattoid-26 on deviantart: http://mattoid-26.deviantart.com/art/Enamoured-turtle-43275397

[This post is my contribution to the #iTDi not officially a blog challenge blog: Outside Influences. Because learning can be found in many places. Please visit the blog to read those wonderful posts.]

Happy New Year from livinglearning

As I have mentioned in the past, I celebrate my new year on March 1st every year. It’s also pretty close to the anniversary of this blog. Three years. Sometimes it seems like just a few months ago I took this turn in my life. Sometimes it seems like I’ve been doing this for thirty years. Be that as it may, it is time to take a quick look back and a glance ahead from where I stand.

Looking back

I recently had a chance to take a look at my professional life over the past few years through an application form for a Trinity Diploma.* I had never updated my CV with articles or talks, so it was really pretty stunning to me to see everything together in one place – it provided a kind of map of some of what I learned this year.

Highlights of the year: 

traveling to Japan with Michael Griffin to surprise Kevin Stein (spoiler: he is not easy to surprise). I also got to meet Chuck Sandy and quite a few other people.

Highlight of the year.

Highlight of the year.

presenting with the #KELTchat team at the Seoul K0TESOL chapter conference and the English EXPO.

Team #KELTchat. Rock on.

Team #KELTchat. Rock on.

seeing my family for the first time in three years.

Cousins for life. (Before you ask, it's a tutu.)

Cousins for life. (Before you ask, it’s a tutu.)

meeting Anna Loseva and  introducing her to my students.

making and reflecting on teaching videos for the Seoul reflective practice SIG (note to self: update website!) and attending RP meetings in three cities.

participating in several #iTDi courses, especially the summer school MOOC, and learning to be myself.

writing for the iTDi blog, becoming a mentor, and realizing I was already a mentor.

writing for ETAS.

the reflective practice blog challenge (it all began here).

my first guest post from a blogger who is also my best friend.

flirting with the world of materials development through proofreading and then writing.

helping to organize a reflective practice workshop with Tom Farrell.

fulfilling some of my own new year’s resolutions and doing a lot of biking.

*I was accepted into the program, but my boss nixed it right away because they just can’t see any way to give me time off without burning everyone else out.

Looking ahead

Welcome, 2015. My 13th year as a teacher in Korea and my 36th year of life (closer to 50 than 15 as someone kindly pointed out). I have some new goals for this year: spend time outdoors every day, give up some of my social media addiction, shop local, save money, read books, and ride my bike. I’m trying to cure myself of laziness and my tendency to be stuck to a computer screen instead of enjoying the day.

This year will see my first mini-conference type thing as an organizer. The Korea reflective practice SIG is having a ‘Day of Reflection’ this August. (Note to self: seriously. Update the website.)

This year will see a bike trip across the country (east to west). There are mountains. But I can do it.

This year I will learn a new language.

And with any luck, this year I will finally leave Korea. I know I say that every year, but this year I might really happen. I’m focusing my intention in that direction (learning a new language, saving money in another currency). I’m going to need help, but I’m going to give it my best try.

Gratitude

To my family, who I finally got to see this year after nearly three years away: thank you for making so much time for me.

To my coworkers, who work with me, reflect with me, play with me, and listen to me vent: thank you.

To my friends, who encourage me, support me, and never say a mean word: thank you.

Spiderman: a snapshot

His name is Peter Parker. He arrived as “Albert”, a name presumably chosen by his mother. Within the first week, he had changed it to Peter Parker and has asked to change it to at least six different superheroes since then. He brings their action figures in to show me and to play with during the class. He has never stepped into the classroom without a toy of some sort. He creates stories with his toys and acts them out on his desk or in his drawings. When we learned about family, he turned his family into superheroes and drew them kicking a$$ while using target language. He tells stories and jokes and shares his experiences. But open a textbook in front of him and this exuberant boy who dreams of saving the world and wiping out all the bad guys suddenly starts to fall asleep. His head is on the desk within five minutes. My coworker despairs because he can’t finish a vocabulary test – not because he doesn’t know the words (we don’t know whether he does or not), but because he loses his focus and literally turns away mid-test. (This is pretty much blasphemy in Korea.)

Now, I will admit that as a teacher I am ridiculously easy to side-track. Sometimes I suddenly get to the end of the class and wonder how it is that we didn’t get past the second item on my lesson plan sketch. During class last week, one of these side-tracks happened. We had opened the book and were looking at the cover photo for the unit we were going to be working on (promisingly titled ‘Toys’). I was just getting them to tell me what they could identify in the pictures (or #elicitingvocabulary, if you prefer), when Peter Parker asked for the word for cliff. I always keep a piece of paper nearby for this class because it makes more sense to draw or write there for them than to run back and forth to the board breaking the circle each time. So I wrote the word cliff and drew a picture. I drew a guy tottering on the edge of it, but gave him some water to fall into. And that could have been the end of the story… but it wasn’t.

Peter took a look at my picture and said, but there’s a shark in the water (he probably actually said something closer to water in… shark). And he drew it. His classmate Jack said, no way it’s just a friend pretending to be a shark and drew the person holding a shark’s fin. Peter retaliated with a real shark ready to eat the fake one and Jack drew a whale, which Peter insisted by driven by another stick figure. I added the steering wheel. Soon there was a man-eating dragon and an underwater volcano and a time bomb and a tank all interconnecting in this impromptu draw-and-describe collaborative activity that accomplished the goals of the lesson far better than I could have done with a two-page color photo spread in a textbook. Peter ended it by drawing Tarzan who has certainly come to save the day.

Picture Play by Peter, Jack, and Anne

Picture Play by Peter, Jack, and Anne

Ever since that day, I have desperately wished that I could provide what students like Peter need – space to play in English in a relaxed way, with stories, songs, games, and their own toys, and without any textbook at all.

Group work: a snapshot

Lately I’ve started doing a lot more group work with my teens, specifically the thirteen year olds. They’re starting to get that teenager stare that’s accompanied with a hefty dose of silence. So I’m thinking, “Okay. They won’t talk to me any more. Maybe they’ll still talk to each other.”

So I put them in groups. The first thing they do in groups is ask each other how they’re doing.

The second thing they do is check their homework. They check it together first, taking turns reading out the answers (or their writing, depending on what was assigned) and giving each other suggestions or negotiating correct answers when there are differences. They can ask me if they can’t agree.

Yesterday they worked with a listening text. They had to listen to a conversation between a boy and a girl about their weekends and fill in the answers to questions on their workbooks. To be honest, I was curious how it would go. The text included vocabulary from several units before that hadn’t really been recycled much (because how often do you find opportunities to say ‘costume’ and ‘parade’).

Most of the students started out uncertain, so I played the audio again in the class and they tried to figure it out in their groups. They compared answers and the strongest personalities won.

“Okay, group. What did Felipe do last weekend?”
“He dressed up in a car studio.”
“A car studio?”
*giggles* “Car studio!”
“Do you think you could draw that for me?”
*laughter* “Play again. It is car studio!”

So I played it again and one of the other students finally heard ‘costume’. The ‘car studio’ girl insisted I write both on the board, so I did (because teenagers). But I made sure they wrote ‘costume’ in their books.

Teaching teens can be pretty tricky, but this group of them at least is still making progress. One of the most valuable lessons I learned about teaching teens is that just because they won’t talk to me, doesn’t mean they won’t talk.

A car studio

A car studio. Image from wiki commons. 

A story is a picture in words

It’s the end of the year and a few of my classes have finished their books and won’t start anything new until January. So I’ve had a few lessons to play with and I decided to share one of my favorite short stories with my students.

This is a story by Kevin Stein that is titled “For One Picture.” It is the story of a girl who, in spite of her mother’s misgivings, sets off on a motorcycle with her camera promising to come back when has has found a perfect picture. Throughout the story, the girl sends her mother pictures she has taken and her mother begins to understand her daughter’s vocation, hoping, in the end, that the world really is full of beauty and feeling amazed that her own daughter is a person who can find it and capture it.

I hope you will read the story yourself because, even though I’ve already summarized it, the beauty really is in the way it is told.

I wanted to share a few things I have done with this story this week.

For my 13 year olds, I read the story to them. While they listened, they drew pictures that illustrated the story.

by Emily

by Emily

 

I read it again for them to fill in the gaps. They took their pictures home and rewrote the story based on their pictures.

by Lorraine

by Lorraine

A few of them chose to retell the story orally, and actually those were the most complete tellings. They ended by writing letters to the author. (And so that the author need not panic, I will say now that I have told them not to expect answers.)

2014-12-31 11.05.00

For my 15 year olds, I gave them the story first and let them read on their own. They were most interested in the photographs described in the story and we discussed the beauty that can be found in unexpected places. They took the paper home and chose a picture to write about. They invented short scenarios about the picture they chose. These led to further interesting discussions, especially where they told different stories about the same pictures.

by Alfred

by Alfred

by Chris

by Chris

by George

by George

by Nina

by Nina

by Dian

by Dian

All work shown here is shared with the permission of the respective students. 

Playful writing 8: I’m thinking about… (revisited)

Instead of moving on to a new topic this week, I had the feeling that I should revisit this one. It turned out to be a good decision because my middle school students had a lot on their minds. Normally they just write about food and sleep. Today, they wrote about hopes, dreams, expectations, worries, fears, and the future.

And since I’m thinking about them right now, I thought I’d write it down too.

I’m thinking about my students. I have a class of middle school third graders. They have been my students for two years. They are graduating this winter and going to high school. There are about 20 students in total. They always seem to be hungry (for fried chicken, specifically) and the boys love playing games. One of the boys is a pianist who hopes to play music for the rest of his life. You’d never know just by looking at him, but he has a passionate soul. Another one loves video and computer games and pays attention to how popular they are because he loves playing and interacting with people from around the world. He says he uses English for this purpose. One of the boys wants to make the most of his last vacation before high school and before he leaves the city for his new private school. One of the girls is also looking forward to boarding school with fear and excitement. She wants to make a lot of friends. They share their joys and sorrows, fears and frustrations every week with me.

I’m thinking about Sarah, my oldest student. She is finishing second grade of high school and doesn’t have a lot of time to study with me, but her mother insists she make time. I have never really known why – there’s not a lot that I can teach her with the time she has, but I suspect her mother wants to make sure high school doesn’t cause her to hate English and find it useless. I don’t think that could ever happen. She dreams of traveling and meeting people – thinks of the excitements and frustrations in her future, and shares all this. She is bad at logic puzzles, good at solving mysteries and asking questions, and excellent at talking about movies and music. She is highly empathic and says she needs to study harder. But she seems to sleep enough. I am thinking that she would like to watch the Dear Korea video that came out recently. I wonder how I can turn that into a lesson. I would like her to do more story-telling as well. She will need speaking skills for TOEIC and TOEFL when she travels. I hope she can go to college abroad. I will write her a recommendation. Maybe that’s why her mother is keeping the lesson.

I am thinking about Jim. He’s 10 and he’s tiny. On Tuesday he came to class with a sore arm. He couldn’t take his bag all the way off. He just let it drop to the floor. It fell with a thud. It was the thud that drew my attention. I came over to help him. I pulled out his books and notebook and pencil case, put his bag on his chair for him. It must have weighed 15 kilos. There were all his hagwon books inside. He is one of those little kids who attends hagwons for more hours than he attends school. He never does his homework for my class and he used to cut class so that he could play in the park. Now he comes (unprepared) and enjoys competition, games, speaking, but not writing or reading (unless it’s part of a game). At the end of the class, I helped him put his books back in his bag and put the bag back on his shoulders. Inside my heart was breaking for him.

 

I have noticed that my students’ confidence in writing is improving. When I assign them other types of writing work, they don’t complain or worry about how to do it – they just get down to it. Maybe it’s because they know that the words will come. Or maybe it’s because they fear mistakes less. I have also noticed that the higher the level of  the students, the less they write during free-writing. At first I thought they were tired, lazy, or just didn’t have as many ideas, but I’m beginning to notice that their writing quality is better and perhaps they are spending more time focusing on good writing. The project is nearly at an end – just a couple more weeks. I am not sure I will finish all ten of Chuck Sandy’s playful writing topics with them, but I will probably do them myself because sometimes, I just need a writing break.

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