A bilingual classroom missing a few walls

Okay, so I’ve been busy.  But busy is good, especially since its because I love my new job and coworkers!  Teaching 4th grade is a wonderful change from my crappy hogwon and I continue to be impressed by the professionalism exhibited at my new school.  Everyone from the administration to the teachers, students and parents are a joy to work with!

I have meetings a few times a week which helps make sure that I use my downtime productively but it also means I have an idea whats going on in the school.  I actually feel like a part of the team instead of an under-appreciated foreigner.  One of my favorites was when the English program director and some other administration sat us down to talk about professional goals.  Not just at our school but in life.  So happy to be in a job where I have educator colleagues and mentors.  I guess its probably a good time to start thinking about that Masters again.

Well for now I’ll just fill you in on how awesome my new gig is.  My 36 students are amazing, I love them all, even the nose pickers.  I’ve only got a handful with limited English and can have a conversation with most.  That being said they still have a lot to learn and certainly aren’t fluent but they work harder than any students I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with.

I’m still getting used to my 4 block schedule but love my full block daily prep.  By the end of the 2nd week I’d learned everyone’s name (although I do still mix up Hyun Jin and Jin Hyun among a few other tricky ones).  We started actual academics and its great to teach actual math, social studies, reading and writing again.  There were class elections followed by 6th grade elections for school president.

The long and short of it is I am teaching at an actual school and love it! (Have I said that enough?)  Life in Korea has certainly taken a big upward turn with my new job.  My new coworkers are a riot to hang out with and we’ve been exploring the new neighborhoods together.  Tons of great food and drinks make our new friendships even stronger.

The only bad news is being so busy means I have less time to write about it and even less to edit everything!  I hope there aren’t too many grammer mistakes in my most new post, as in this won that you are reeding rite now.

Goodnight for now.

Payday and stirring the hornets nest

Last time CPIS failed to pay us I went on what ended up being 6 days of “psuedo-strike.”  My coworkers and I had resolved that for as long as they were holding our paychecks hostage our “normal teaching” would halt.  It was an enjoyable time for my students since that meant we did minimal work and watched plenty of videos.

We’ve been continuing that schedule for most of January.  The shocking part is that the administration either is completely blind to it or doesn’t care.  After all we’re still talking in English and showing English speaking movies (unless its Wall-E).  This month I added to my striking by declaring that I would not do weekly or monthly parent comments until we are paid.

Well, today is when they are all due.  I walked into the teacher’s room to find my Korean co-teacher and a number of other Koreans including my principal.

“Mike Teacher, you know last week the parents did not get comments.”  Mary mentioned.  

“Yes, I know.” I responded loudly.  I wasn’t hiding anything and had even told them my plans 2 weeks prior.  “I told [director] and [principal in our whole school meeting two weeks ago that I would not send comments or complete any extra responsibilities until we are paid.  I will be in my room as a native English speaker but until we are compensated all that the school will get is my presence.”  

Nothing else was said and I went back to my room.  The last few weeks I am finding that my fuse has become shorter and shorter.  Ordinary student issues become a big problem and I have no patience for my administration, let alone a wise-ass student.  In some ways I think its good for them because I crack down more on negative behaviors.  Take yesterday for instance, I had some students fooling around and roughhousing.  They got immediate time outs which subsequently brought a waterfall of tears.  A few minutes later they were calm and had stopped pushing, shoving and putting each other in headlocks. Continue reading

Pseudo Strike Day 5

It has now been a full week since the teachers at CPIS were supposed to be paid.  No paycheck today but we were told “maybe Tuesday or Wednesday” so there’s a slight chance it’ll come tomorrow.  I could go on about how I’m not doing any work with my students but that would be a lie.  Its too tough to sit here and just give them playtime for a whole school day!

In a surprise move our school officially has a new name with the same initials.  They put up new stickers all over the school changing the words “primary” & “school” to “place” and “society.”  We suspect that has to do with the inspectors coming back a few times over the past few weeks since we know our school doesn’t follow the guidelines required to be an “international school.”  (I would love to post the name but need to keep this anonymous while I’m still employed here)

Continue reading

A Strange Day at Work

The good news is my class is going great.  They are taking to the new games I made to introduce sight words and work on phonics.  They love the money game so much that I wish we weren’t about to move onto measurement in math.

In all subjects there is quite a discrepancy in ability and I’m working on putting groups together to develop more directed lessons and start scaffolded centers in the upcoming weeks.  My coworkers are great and its nice to have some experienced ESL teachers to bounce things off of; I’ve introduced them to ActivInspire and they’ve shared some great lessons and websites like http://www.barryfunenglish.com/ or http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/.

Our “favorite” student is slowly making progress but likes to roll around on his desk and the floor instead of doing his work and I’ve had to remove him from class a handful of times for physical behavior.  I met with my administration today after his mom came in and we developed a plan that I’m hoping will keep him from continuing to aggravate his peers and teachers.  His parents are on board and I think this is the first time anything like this has been attempted for him.   He’s a sweet kid and one of my smartest;  I can’t wait to see him progress socially too!

Given my previous teaching experience the meeting wasn’t that out of the ordinary even though it may have been a first at this school.  In Korea students that need a little extra attention often slip through the cracks due to strong cultural traditions.  Some other traditions that made today more out of the ordinary were apparently related to an inspection we had.

In the afternoon I had two gentleman walk into my room and tell me they were “taking measurements.”  They produced a laser measure and quickly wrote down the dimensions of my classroom.  They proceeded to do this for all of the rooms and I thought nothing of it.  I tried to enter the teacher’s room after school to laminate some word wheels and sight word Uno and turned the corner to find the doors locked and the hallway dark.

“Can I use the laminater?” I asked

“Better not” the secretary with a thick accent


“He is in there.”

“Oh?  When can I go in?”

“Maybe 5:30?”

I went upstairs to consult with my coworker.  We both laughed at the absurdity of it all trying to figure out what the measurements could have been for and why a hallway would be dark and on lockdown.  I found out some windows & signs were covered up next to the Music, Art, Chinese classrooms along with a few other rooms.  It was all incredibly strange and she suggested I go talk to Colin.

Since I was still unable to use the teacher’s room I hopped down a floor to Colin’s room to try and puzzle this one out.  The only reason we could come up with for measuring classrooms was to put in a rug or some other flooring (unlikely given their financial predicament), maybe to paint? (also costly) or perhaps to sell?

There was plenty of speculation and it may all in fact be routine during an inspection but Colin let me know that we had an inspection about a month ago that left the admins unhappy.  He theorized our school may not be following all of the guidelines they are supposed to, for instance we are an “international” school by name but in Korea, International schools aren’t allowed to teach certain subjects, like Music, Art or Chinese.  We discussed some other less anonymous “sketchy” happenings and coincidences but we don’t really know whats going on.

We talked for a while longer but without any real evidence its all just theory so our discussion went towards collaborating on future lessons.  I helped him install ActivInspire and find flipchart about the Solar System while he gave me the school password for http://www.barryfunenglish.com and showed me his students’ favorite links.  He thinks the next paycheck may be delayed as a result of a sour inspection but I’m still hopeful it’ll be on time; frankly I don’t want to deal with the fallout of another tardy set of wages.

In spite of it all I continue enjoy my students and the work here.  Life in Korea is fun and I’m definitely progressing with the language.  I can read at about a Kindergarten level and can have a VERY basic conversation.  I am looking to start a conversation exchange class next month and am just waiting to take the placement test.  If something does turn south at this school it makes the silver lining is I can find a higher paying job with better vacation without dealing with a “letter of release” for my visa.

When two souls collide

When two souls collide any number of outcomes are possible.  Most often it is a glancing blow, a fleeting moment in the eternity of the universe and a small glimpse into a lifetime.  But every so often that collision generates an energy that is more than just a glimmer.  We have all met people who have profoundly impacted our lives: family, best friends, teachers, coaches and colleagues.  The people we remember most are those that are most profound, those who leave a lasting impression.  An impact we hope has been positive, but let us not forget that a negative impact can be even longer lasting.  The bully from elementary school who you remember more vividly than your once best friend who you haven’t seen in a decade, or perhaps that awful boss who just didn’t get it.

After a certain point in your life you come to expect that some people will fade in and out and others may never come back into your life.  The farther I look into my past the fewer people I still keep in touch with.  I was lucky enough to get lunch with my oldest friend earlier this week.  He’s one of those people that no matter what you are doing, you stop and take his call.  I’m glad I did since he realized he wasn’t going to make my going away party and insisted we get lunch. He just finished his masters, landed job, and will be moving in the next few weeks just like me; although not quite as far away was still enthralled by everything I had to say.  Its great to think about those people who will always be with you, a testament to that is the ability to pick up as if no time has passed even though it may have been months or even years.

Earlier today I bumped into one of my first students; he was a senior on the fencing team my first year as head coach and I haven’t seen him in almost 5 years.  It was great catching up with him and hearing about where life has taken him; he certainly enjoyed hearing about my latest developments.  Before we knew it the 3 hour wait at the DMV was over and I said my patented goodbye, “until next time!” as I shook his hand and realized that our previous collision may not have been as meaningful for me as it was for him.  I thought back to a quote I relate to often as an educator.

We are travelers on a cosmic journey – stardust, swirling and dancing in the eddies and whirlpools of infinity. Life is eternal. But the expressions of life are ephemeral, momentary, transient. Gautama Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, once said,   

“This existence of ours is as transient as autumn clouds. To watch the birth and death of beings is like looking at the movements of a dance. A lifetime is like a flash of lightning in the sky, rushing by like a torrent down a steep mountain.” 

We have stopped for a moment to encounter each other, to meet, to love, to share. This is a precious moment, but it is transient. It is a little parenthesis in eternity. If we share with caring, lightheartedness, and love, we will create abundance and joy for each other. And then this moment will have been worthwhile.

-Deepak Chopra

But what happens when two souls finally collide in such a spectacular way that they are forever entangled?  Some might call it love at first sight, others say that newly weds experience this after they say their vows.  We all hope that they defeat the American odds and are together for eternity.  I am at a crossroads in my life and feel that I have new friends and old friends who are forever caught in my web; I hope that I am right and that when I return, even if just for a brief visit, we will be able to pick back up as if no time has passed.

In my life I have encountered many friends, a couple enemies and even fewer lovers.  I have my family, and am fortunate to know and trust that they will always be here for me as I for them.  I wonder how many more souls will be added on this next adventure and hope that I can keep all my old friends who have made such a lasting impact on who I am today.  I hope that all of our moments have been worthwhile.

Deepak Chopra Son Doong Meme