Office highlights

I have two students who pop into the teachers’ office every day to say hello and make small talk.
The first one has been chatting to me for most of the year. I’ve recently made a breakthrough as he’s finally remembering to greet me before diving into a story about his many interests/obsessions (trains, the FBI, zombies, Home Alone 2…).
I had a slow start with the second one. He comes in at the end of every day to fetch his class’s cellphones. He’d always greet me (in Korean) and I’d greet back (in Korean). He’d then tell me my Korean is very good. Because I’m a total dweeb, I started saying it to him, too. For some reason this became a thing. After several weeks of this mindless exchange, he got a little braver and started making basic small talk. His vocabulary is limited, although he manages to express himself well regardless. He’s been getting increasingly more confident and it’s been fun to hear him practice new expressions. He’d ask my co-teacher for translations when he got stuck.
When he asked me “How’s it going?”, I didn’t think much of it. But then he explained to my co-teacher that he learned it from me, because that’s how I greet him every day. Apparently he picked up on it some time ago and has been anticipating the perfect opportunity to use it. He was very proud of himself, and of course my heart swelled, too!
Now excuse me while I go learn some new informal greetings 🙂

On scheduling toilet breaks and other daily highlights

So the new semester’s in full swing, or just about. After more than two months of the most frustrating non-routine, I’m more than happy to be doing some actual work again.

My new schedule is awesome. No, I mean it’s really awesome.

Let me explain. Native English Teachers in the public school system (that’s me) are required by law to teach 22 classes a week. Classes are 40 minutes each with a ten minute break in between. If you need to teach any more classes (up to a maximum of 28), you get overtime pay. There’s an hour lunch (mine’s from 12:10 – 13:10). And for reasons of safety and whatnot, we’re required to be at school from 8:30 to 16:30 daily. Classes start at 9:00.

Last year, I had a total of 24 classes, which wasn’t all that bad (I had 4 sets of repeats, so that made prep work a little easier). The sucky part was that my classes were scheduled all over the place within the 09:00 to 16:30 time frame. This was both tiring and made for some very unproductive time-killing. I still managed to get all my prep work done at school and I never had to bring work home. (Let me tell you, this is an amazing feeling. I taught back in SA, and there wasn’t a day that passed that I didn’t need to take work home.)

This semester I got a new schedule. Hellz yeah! My classes are slotted in back to back, starting at 9:00 every morning. I’m mostly done by lunch time at 12:10, and on Tuesdays and Thursdays I have one class after lunch and it finishes at 13:50. I mean c’mon, is that the best schedule or what?!

It gets better. Because our school is rather new, it has expanded quite a bit. This means that my entire schedule is filled with syllabus work (grades 3 – 6). No daycare, no reading classes, no phonics, and best of all, no kindergarten. Don’t get me wrong – kindie was fun, but I just wasn’t designed with the energy levels necessary to be a kindie teacher. I enjoyed it, but I wasn’t very good at it. I mean, it’s a far, far cry from high school maths.

So to find out that I don’t have to deal with those extra classes (which happen to be the co-teacher-less ones where the kids go wild) was so relieving. My new co-teacher also told me that the principal doesn’t want me to teach any extra classes this year. I don’t know if that’s an insult, but I’m super happy about it. I’ve since discovered that a contract teacher comes in and does supplemental English lessons. During that time I stalk people on Facebook. Fair trade methinks.

So, schedule-wise, I’m happy. I have all afternoon, every afternoon, to be as productive or vegetative as I want. Prep work takes mere minutes (seriously, those textbooks aren’t exactly rocket science, and hey, turns out I can read and correctly pronounce all the key vocab ~ win!) and then it’s just me and the interwebz.

***

But I know you’re just reading this to find out why I’m scheduling my toilet breaks.

So I’ll tell you.

Right, in the previous bit I mentioned kindergarten. And like I said, I enjoyed it, but I wasn’t very good at it. What made it worth it, though, was the kids. Well, most of them. OK, some of them. A few of them. One tends to find unique ways to build relationships with kids (all people, really) when you don’t have a language in common. I mean, we had the five new words I’d just taught them, but the colours of the rainbow and the numbers one to ten only get you so far if that’s all you know.

As a result, there was a lot of unique communication. This involved a lot of body language – them hugging me, hanging onto my extremities for dear life, lots of hair touching and face touching and well, any bit of exposed European skin, really. One tried poking her finger in my eye once. That was weird. They’d slip my phone out of my back pocket and take photos of themselves and each other and return it without with very self-satisfied looks. I could keep them occupied for most of a lesson by doing the Gangnam Style dance. Another trick was reciting my Korean vocabulary repertoire. One bow and “annyeong haseyo” and they were mine. So English aside, we had a lot of fun together.

And for that reason, I was *a teeny tiny bit* sad that I wouldn’t have that anymore.

But where a door closes, a window opens.

See, to walk from the English classroom to the staff toilets, I need to walk past the three grade 1 classrooms. And guess who’s in grade 1 this year? You got it! And if I time my breaks just right (in other words, in the ten minute gap between classes), they’re out in the corridors looing and drinking water and washing hands and being kids.

And every day – EVERY DAY – is like a great reunion. As soon as they spot me, they come running, ready for high fives and hellos. The ones who know me from last year latch onto me and don’t let go until the last possible minute. The ones who came from other schools were quick to join in on the fun and share with me their English repertoire. One girl’s lines include (whether I’ve greeted her or not), “Nice to meet you, too. What colour do you like?”. One of my favourites from last year (I’ve blogged about him), makes little horns with his fingers and storms away, shouting “I’m angry”, regardless of his mood at the time. A certain group of girls start saying Korean words (the ones they know I know) and giggle like children (yeah I know) when I repeat them. Another group bows and greets me, and practically cry with laughter when I do the same.

After a few minutes of spreading the foreigner joy, I attempt to enter the toilet. Now, you know that scene in <insert name of zombie movie here> where the damsel-in-distress runs into a room and tries to shut the door on the zombies while the bang and scratch away? Now, replace the movie name with “toilet break”, picture me as said damsel and instead of zombies, the cutest kids you can imagine. I’m yet to figure out why they don’t just come inside. Thank goodness for respecting the rules.

And now I have no idea why I took the time to type out this story. Oh well.

***

I’m having so much fun building relationships with these kids. A lot of them are now confident enough to speak to me, and many will drag friends along to translate for them if need be. I have nicknames for many of them (and now that I can read Hangul it’s a lot easier to learn their names).

Before and after class, many will come up to me and quiz me on their names, or teach me one or two new ones. I can keep them entertained for ages by switching their names around, or swopping the syllables around, or calling them by my name.

Last year, I christened one of my daycare kids ‘Tongajelly’ (which is how he pronounced “Tom and Jerry”). I used T&J as a reward if they all finished their tasks in good time. Tongajelly would come into the classroom, already whining for Tongajelly. He went through a few weeks of refusing to do anything else, sulking away while crumpling up worksheets or just sitting there. The sweetest part was when he saw that his classmates were having fun and enjoying the activity – he’d flatten out the piece of paper and do whatever activity, all the while whining for Tongajelly.

He didn’t realise that this was his nickname for the longest time, and when it finally hit him, he was so bashful. It was clear that he valued being singled out, but didn’t like a big deal being made of him.

This year, he’s in grade 3, so he’s in formal English classes. He’s turned into such a lovely kid. He chooses to sit in the front of the classroom, and he’s one of very few who have been on top of things since the very beginning. He participates like few others and he is just generally an awesome kid to have around. He’s picked up that I’m learning names as I go along, and he makes a point of telling me his name whenever he gets the chance. I’ve known his name for ages, so I comfortably switch out different syllables with ‘Tongajelly’ whenever we speak. One day soon it’ll wear off, but until then, Kim Dong Tongajelly will provide endless entertainment.

It’s moments like these that help me get through the day. I can’t exactly make small talk with the kids, so mucking up their names is about the best I can do. And as long as they smile and come back for more, I have no plans to change this.

***

Dull moment? Where?

If only I could have put every little anecdote to date into words…

Any teacher would tell you that there is never a dull moment when it comes to the classroom. Yes, there are those moments when you want to pull out your hair, but thankfully these are nicely neutralised by the times you can only smile and nod. Maybe even shake your head to disguise a smile that really shouldn’t be spreading across your face.

Two weeks ago, I commented on Facebook about teaching my daycare group the days of the week. Daycare consists of grades 1 and 2, so their English is just starting to take root – more so if they attend private tutoring (hagwons or academies).  A lot of them have been exposed to some level of English and their vocabulary is steadily growing, but pronunciation… oh, pronunciation, you evil, evil thing!

Back to daycare. So we’re going through the days of the week. As any Christian would, I naturally started with Sunday (so does the song they learned, so don’t you come lecture me). I say the day, they repeat after me. Easy! Sunday. Sunday. Monday. Monday. Tuesday. Oh dear. Chooozday is about as close as they get. I’m good with that. For some, it’s their first try. Wednesday. Wennnnnnsday. I try and get them to pronounce less of the letter ‘n’, but no luck. We move on. Thursday.  First-day. I let this one go. I’m just happy it’s not Pirst-day; at least we’re getting somewhere with phonics. Last one. How bad can it be? I’m all nice about it and break it up into syllables. Sa. Tur. Day. I make them say each syllable individually. No problem. Right? So let’s put them all together. Saturday. Sexurday. Saturday. Sexurday. Sa. Tur. Day. Sexurday. Over and over and over. Eventually I gave up, started singing a random song, just so it would be appropriate for me to break into a very entertained laugh.

Since then, we’ve made progress. Not only do they know the order of the days, but they can pronounce them well (for the most part).

Though I’m sure many would agree (and in fact many did on Facebook), Sexurday is the best day of the week!

***

Today something happened that stood out, too.

On Wednesdays I teach two kindergarten classes. Not my favourite part of the week by a long shot. 30 little kids running around (seriously, as soon as one is contained, five more jump up and go nuts). No English. No co-teacher. And they hit one another. And cry. All the time. I don’t do crying kids!

In the younger group, there’s this boy. The first time I saw him, I pegged him as, well, an energetic specimen. Spot-on. This kid doesn’t walk. He hops. He doesn’t run. He dances. He doesn’t sit. He momentarily pauses before embarking on his next adventure.

But I love him.

He’s a little bigger than the rest of the class, and a lot more confident, so I think he may be a year older. Not important. This kid. I never leave in a bad mood. Whenever he sees me, he breaks out into his English repertoire.

“Hello. How are you? I’m fine. I’m sorry.”

What makes it all the more amusing is his clipped accent. And his hand gestures. With each phrase he gestures with a pointed finger, almost like he’s scolding me. Just cuter.

Today he was walking around with four pieces of paper: pink, blue, green and yellow. He showed them to me. Instinctively, I threw in an impromptu lesson.

Here’s our little interaction:

Me: Ooh, different colours! Give me blue.

Him: (Gives me the blue piece)

Me: Thank you! Green?

Him: (Gives me the green piece)

Me: Thanks. Yellow?

Him: Hello. How are you? I’m fine.

Me: No, I mean the yellow paper. Ye. Low.

Him: Hello. How are you? I’m fine.

Four or five times. Of course I was just having fun, so I rung it out a little. I get to do these things, because they make me smile and remember that I love my job.

And who wouldn’t love their (teaching) job, if they got to have fun for 22 periods a week, with no back-chatting, no bunking, no marking, no invigilation and no admin. 🙂