Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Badger Blogging Blitz: Day 2

[This post is part of a weeklong blogging event, Badger Blogging Blitz 2014, during which myself and five other UW-Madison graduates are posting every day about living and teaching English in Korea. The original event was created by past Badgers in Korea in 2012. BBB Day 1 can be read here.]

Badger Blogging Blitz in Korea

7:25 - Alarm goes off (I changed my usual alarm time last night). Press snooze.

7:32 - Start reading some BBB Day 1 blog posts in bed, as I was up too late blogging to read them last night.

7:36 - Get up and brush teeth, grab a banana then back in bed for more reading.

8:05 - I should probably get dressed now. Throw on some clothes.

8:14 - Leave my apartment. Make it to the stairwell and realize I should have put on my belt with these jeans. Go back and grab it, put it on.  (Last year I'd always leave my house by 8:10 at the latest. Since winter break I've really been pushing it, because I discovered I can still get there on time even if I leave a bit later).

8:26 - While entering the school's back entrance, I see a student (maybe he's in third grade now) that I either had in daycare before or have now. I ask him "What's your name?" because I have no idea what it is. He audibly groans and doesn't say anything. I try one more time. Nope, he's not having it. Okay, I can take a hint. I laugh and easily forget that ever happened because walking past the first grade class to my office I get plenty of smiles and "hello"s! It's so great.

8:34 - My co-teacher YH comes in from next door and he gives me a small bottle of orange juice from my other co-teacher YJ. This is not an ordinary event - it's a lovely surprise.

8:35 - YH tells me that it's going to get up to 20 degrees (C) today, but it looks very cloudy and dreary out now.  It's still very cold inside the building, so he turns on the little space heater.

8:36 - Instead of email, Korean schools use a messenger program (think AIM) to communicate throughout the day.  I put today's first message into Google translate: 

"This morning in a shoebox
Yitaegyeong Grade 4 students had cell phones
Locate the owner". 

There were two attachments to the message that I didn't open. The Google translations are always terrible, but I do it just to get a general idea of the message's contents - to try to stay in the loop. Some fourth graders found or lost their cell phone(s). Delete. These kind of messages are becoming more frequent.

8:37 - I snap a quick photo of my schedule so I can post it here later.  This is what my weeks look like this school year:

8:52 - I go into the English room to prepare for our sixth grade classes today. YJ is in there working at the computer. She is still very sick - worse, I think. I wonder if she's been working in the English room these last two mornings because it's quieter.  Class starts at 9:00.

9:13 - One of the new phrases they're learning today is "Good luck". In the book's video clip the boy crosses his fingers (and holds them up) as he says the phrase "Good luck". So YJ has me demonstrate, and basically teach the class that when we say good luck in western countries, we hold up our hand and cross our fingers - which obviously isn't the case. But there wasn't time to get into it and explain to her while we're teaching, so I just go along with it. The book really hammered the (false) point home, as another character holds up his hand and crosses his fingers while wishing a girl "Good luck" in a later Listen and Repeat video clip.  The kids thought the action was funny and kept crossing their fingers during class.

9:41 - We dismiss the class, and then my co-teacher YJ says something quickly in Korean and three boys raise their hands. The class leaves. A minute later the three boys return with mops and start mopping the floor. Normally classrooms are cleaned by the students in the afternoon, but I wonder if our classroom hasn't been assigned cleaners yet since it had been occupied by second graders for the first two and a half weeks of the school year. Whatever the case, it must have notably needed a mopping, so those boys mopped during the break time.

10:12 - I think to myself, now was this the second class or third class? How many times have I taught this lesson already today? I thought it had been three times already, but the clock does not agree. I realize it's only the second class.

10:34 - I leave the English room during break and stop by my office to rip off some toilet paper from a roll in there on the way to the bathroom. I see these boxes in our office that weren't there before.

Probably stuff for first grade, I'm guessing. When I leave the office, this little first grade girl says "Hello" with her arms stretched out wide and the biggest smile on her face, and gives me a hug. I usually get hellos and some smiles, but never hugs - so that was great!  Again, the school year just started this month so the first graders are completely new. At first most would just stare at me, but now they're getting more used to seeing me around and many say hello.

10:39 - Our next class enters all sweaty. They had PE right before and are complaining that it's hot in the room (they're just hot). My co-teacher has gotten progressively worse and doesn't talk at all this class. She should be at home in bed.

11:15 - Somehow we've finished the last activity with five minutes left, so I have two volunteers at a time say the dialogue from our last activity for the class. We're on the third set of volunteers when the bell rings.

11:32 - I'm starting to get a bit hungry, glad that lunch time is coming soon.

12:11 - Lunch time! Here's what we ate today:

Three of the six dishes were new: The seafood soup, fruit-jello cubes, and the combination of greens/veggies. I'm not making this stuff up! So much variety, like I've said.

12:25 - Most of the teachers leave our table (homeroom teachers must sit with their students, but us special subject teachers and administrative staff sit together) and it's just myself and YH.

12:26 - He quickly finishes, and waits around until I tell him again that it's okay if he leaves and he does.

Who is at the teacher table each day varies based on what day of the week it is. This is only my third week of the new school year, so I'm still figuring out the schedule. For those who aren't teaching a fourth period class, they can go to lunch at 12:00. Those that teach get there a bit later, after 12:10. I fall in the latter category, so many teachers are more than halfway through their lunch when I sit down. My co-teacher YH can quickly catch up, but I'm not going to make myself sick by eating super fast when technically we have forty minutes to eat.

12:34 - I clean my tray by scooping any remnants into the soup bowl, then taking my tray to the trash/dirty dishes place. I dump my bowl into a big receptacle for food waste, put my spoon in the dirty spoon bin, my chopsticks in another, stack my bowl on the bowl stack (only teachers get bowls), and place my tray on top of the others.

Tuesdays are the only day of the week that I don't have afternoon daycare classes, so I use the time to plan daycare classes for next week and take a look at my regular classes for the rest of the week (3rd, 4th, and 5th grade).

13:22 - I sign my attendance sheet for yesterday and today (forgot to do it yesterday, daycare went right up to the end of the day). Every day I must write the number of regular and extra classes that I've taught, and then sign my name. If there's a schedule change or something that causes a cancellation of a regular class, I only write the classes I actually teach that day, and the number of cancelled regular classes in parenthesis.  At the end of each week I write the week's totals of regular (max. 22) and extra classes at the end of the line. And at the end of each month I need to get the sheet signed by my co-teacher, head teacher, vice principal, and principal.  This is also the sheet where I would need to get any sort of leave pre-approved (vacation, sick leave, etc.) by getting the same four signatures.

13:29 - My younger brother comes on gchat and starts chatting with me.  I'm looking at tomorrow's third grade lesson while we're chatting.

13:49 - YJ stopped in to return the English room key. I think she's either going home or to the nurse's room for the rest of the day -- good.

13:54 - Finish looking at third grade tomorrow -- hope YJ is feeling a little better by then. Younger brother signs off.  I start working on daycare lesson plans.

14:34 - A third grade teacher comes in and starts talking to YH. I heard the Korean word "coffee" which sounds like "coffee", and they leave and go to the next room for coffee.  I start writing one of my biweekly emails that goes out to a big list of family and friends every other Monday. I'm a day late, but it's okay.

14:55 - YH comes in to grab something from the office, then back next door where I can hear the voices of at least three different male teachers.

15:13 - Two first grade teachers came in to unload the boxes in our office (which was originally just their storage room. My last co-teacher and I moved in here during the winter because it was so cold in the English room where our desks had previously been). They're in and out for the next 20 minutes. At one point I think the guy has accidentally locked one of the cabinets with no key/code. The toilet paper I just bought is in there, so I hope it's not locked!

16:29 - I shut down my computer and ask YH if he's leaving now (my co-teacher last school year always started packing up at 16:25 and we left together at 16:30, not a minute later, but my new co-teacher YH often stays later -- but I don't think he necessarily has that much work to do). He says he's making a grammar worksheet for fifth graders for class tomorrow.

16:47 - I get to my apartment building and see I have some mail (thanks mom!)

And I'm in for the evening.  I eat a banana, do a quick French review session on Duolingo, read, journal, blog, eat dinner.  The blogging  spans a few hours. I finish blogging here on time to call my friend in the states at 21:40, when he's driving to work in the morning.

Moving on to today's questions:

Day 2 Questions:

1) How does your school experience at the age of your students compare to that of your Korean students?

I went to elementary school in Wisconsin, USA in the 90s but currently teach at a poorer elementary school in rural Korea. There are many differences between my school experience and that of my Korean students, so I'll just start naming them. Bare with me and we'll see where this goes.

My elementary school didn't have periods, bells, nor passing time, but my Korean elementary students have six 40-minute periods a day, each separated by a 10 minute passing time.  I didn't study any foreign language in elementary school, whereas English is compulsory here - like science and math.  Korean students clean the school, and they take off shoes and wear "slippers" inside every day.  Our students here get letter grades, but at my elementary school in the states our progress reports and report cards rated us on scales like "Needs improvement" and "Satisfactory".  Cell phones weren't even around when I was in elementary school, but here in Korea even the little first graders have smart phones; it's so crazy. And you see them out all day -- both in the hands of students and teachers. It's completely fine for teachers to have them out too, which is different from all my previous work environments.

School lunch is another big difference. In case I I haven't made it clear already, I love my Korean school lunches. They're delicious, healthy, and varied.  When I was in elementary school I almost always brought a lunch from home, but everyone has school lunch here (at my school, at least).  Also, the hot lunches served in my elementary school in Wisconsin were neither healthy nor delicious.

At my elementary school growing up the library had some TV/VCR carts that could be wheeled into the classroom if we were going to watch a movie. Most of our instruction was done with overhead projectors and chalkboards.  At my school here in Korea every classroom has a Samsung TV up at the front somewhere, which is hooked up to a computer at the front of the class.  We use chalkboards too, but the TVs are mostly used to show textbooks' CD-ROMs and PowerPoints (or youtube videos of songs if you're in my daycare class!).

Some of my Korean students (whose families can afford it) attend private academies in the evenings (more school). These could be extra math classes, English classes, or perhaps piano lessons.  There was no societal push in America for extra classes/tutoring when you're in elementary school, especially if you're "doing okay" in all areas. (I bet my BBB friends teaching in Korean middle and high schools will have more to say about this... worth checking out their posts!)

In the states the principal of an elementary school is usually in charge of discipline in some way or another. Teachers can send students to the principal's office if they're behaving really badly. I actually asked my co-teacher YH about this a few weeks ago, and he said Korean principals do not have that role.  Say that a Korean teacher were to send a misbehaving student to the principal for punishment, it would only reflect poorly on the teacher. It would mean that the teacher was not capable of controlling his/her students, a huge fail.

There aren't any special education instructors at my elementary school in Korea, and last school year I was instructed by my prior co-teacher to simply ignore a few students while teaching. Those students had some type of learning or mental disability perhaps, though I couldn't tell any difference between the other students. I was actually talking to a sixth grade boy (last year), trying to engage, when my co-teacher told me to stop talking to him - to just let him sit there and do nothing. That was a shock, but I haven't had any similar encounters so far this school year.

My mother is an elementary school teacher in Wisconsin, and she's taught at her current school for (over?) fifteen years now. But in Korea, teachers change schools every 2-5 years. The reassignments take place during the 2-week "spring break" between school years at the end of February, which felt quite last minute for me.

Oh, and my elementary school in the states was comfortably heated in the winter. I cannot say the same for my school in Korea.

2) If you had the opportunity to change 5 things at your school, what would they be and why?

  • I would put toilet paper in the bathrooms!  Yes, our bathrooms do not have toilet paper in them. My guess is that we don't have money in the budget for it, but who knows the real reason. So I bring toilet paper from home, leave it in our office, and rip off sheets to bring with me whenever I need to.  It's only a minor inconvenience in the grand scheme of things, quite easy to adapt to. But without getting into details, when all toilet paper must be thrown it into a small waste bin (that does not have a liner!) and not flushed, then sometimes you need extra to wrap around before tossing it into the bin. And sometimes you don't have enough toilet paper with you in your pocket for whatever situation happens to arise in the bathroom. But more importantly, what do the kids do?! I have been wondering this the whole year. I've never seen a student carry TP into the bathroom...
  • I would give us a bigger budget so we could build a gym/auditorium. Most schools in Korea do have gyms, but mine does not.  They have PE class outside in the dirt field in front of school, but availability obviously depends on the weather.  Young kids need to run around!
  • I would add recess. It looks like the students can go outside after lunch if they finish early (But there are never too many out there. Most are cleaning somewhere or back in their classrooms, I think), and they do have PE class - though I'm not sure how often. Regardless, many of my own elementary memories were of recess, playing outside with friends. Using our imaginations and playing games. Running around to use our energy. Kids need to move! So I would add some recess times to the school day.
  • I would put carpet on the floors, or rugs in the classrooms. I think the preschool/kindergarten classes on the first floor might have carpet, but every other classroom has cold tile (cement) floors.  Again, thinking back to my elementary days, sitting on the floor for a story or sitting in a circle on the floor for an activity/game happened quite frequently. I can't tell you how many times I've wanted to do an activity this year that would have worked so well if we could sit on the floor.  But our floors are cold, hard, and dirty - so that's out of the question.
  • I would minimize the paperwork that teachers need to do. I'm exempt from this, and I don't understand all that it entails, but apparently the higher ups constantly demand reports/paper work from the teachers with very little notice. So teachers at my school are usually quite busy working on this paperwork. Meanwhile their focus should be on teaching their students and planning those lessons, but it seems that most of the time it's actually spent on this extra administrative paperwork stuff.

If you made it all the way down here, give yourselves a pat on the back!  And now get ready for five more Day 2 posts by my fellow BBB bloggers! Yeah!

BBB 2014 Bloggers

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