Between Rains


Cicadas whir their wings among dark branches
and the wind prances along the lonely street

Insect noise like hollow bells
from deep within the tangle of green vine
cresting over the garden wall

street light yellow with dust
filtering through the night —

it only makes the dark places darker.

I am lonely but not lonely
sheltered in the tranquility
that is underneath buzzing, swarming, rushing
whispering dancing madness
but I’m okay.

I just need the right words.

The right words to open this dim sky
and call forth the starlight,

to show you that I was here all along
echoing your footsteps for fear you’d walk too far
hiding in your shadow for fear you’d see the distortion of my own

— for fear you’d already forgotten me.

The evening storm left enough debris
to cloak the sound of my feet,
left soft fruits
split upon the wayside in the gutter
and my heart threatening to do the same
all the way to the crossroads.

You have no hesitation about which way to go.
The wind itself guides you
straightens your back
lengthens your stride

and your footsteps disappear into the sound of oncoming rain
a gentle touch
and a cool hand holding me back.

Why is my heart always so full of things you must know
but no words for me to convey them?

Teaching, Week 1


I have now taught two classes at Geumseong High School, and while they have not been epic failures, they definitely both came with twists.

My first lesson plan revolved around two things: the students asking me questions, and me teaching them about naming conventions as a segue into choosing English names. I had a little handout and a painstakingly compiled list of names for this activity, in which they were to explain the meaning of their Korean name and then choose an English name based on the meaning that best suited them.

 

Q&A:

As I had to introduce myself, I had the first class ask questions first. No one wanted to volunteer. Fortunately I’d foreseen this and brought some paper squares, which I passed out. “Ask me anything,” I said.

Now, this is a high school containing 80% boys with gender-segregated classes. I knew what was coming, and had left myself open to it on purpose because I had to show them that it wouldn’t get a rise out of me.

The only reason this may have failed was because one boy asked something so utterly ridiculous that I had to laugh — probably leaving every dirty-minded boy in the class to think I was laughing at their “What is your ____ size?” instead the more innocent question that it was.

I liked my second class during this activity, though; I didn’t receive a single inappropriate question. The trade-off? They weren’t really paying attention to my answers. Oh well.

Other very popular questions: “How tall are you?” “Which Korean singers do you like?” and “Do you have a boyfriend?”

 

Names:

Again, this activity went a bit more smoothly in my second class, but by then I’d already had to change the premise a lot. Most of the boys had no idea that their names mean something (Korean names are chosen for meaning and are often meant to be auspicious), effectively ruining that “getting to know you” part of my lesson…

Class one: “Teacher, my name, no mean anything.”

Me: “I think it does. Do you know the Chinese characters?”

Class one: “No, teacher! No Chinese. No mean.”

Me: “Alright, well, just choose an English name.”

Some fifteen minutes passed while they worked in “groups” but actually don’t move from their seats. I walked around, helping out where I could, waking up students who looked like they haven’t slept in three days. When I noticed we were out of time, I told them to pass their papers up.

Blank.

Blank.

Other answers filled in, no English name.

So much for giving them name tags next week.

Take 2: Instead of even trying to compare English and Korean names, I went straight to the point: You’re choosing a name with a meaning that suits you. Fill out the paper, turn it in when you’re done.

This time I made my non-workers squirm. “You can’t find a name you like?”

“No.”

“Why?”

“No…”

“You don’t like English names?”

“Yeah…” (Meaning no, he doesn’t.)

“Should I pick a name for you?”

“No! Is okay!”

This worked on all but one, who somehow slipped away in the commotion of the period ending.

 

Discipline:

Oh my god. Each class really does have different dynamics. Where my Monday class was sleep-deprived (likely because it’s an afternoon class) and somewhat perverse, my first Wednesday class had a ton of energy and was never quiet — literally, not for ten full seconds. Thanks to yesterday’s typhoon, I haven’t taught my four Tuesday classes yet, but one of them is supposed to be a fair amount of trouble, while another is full of jokesters on jet fuel.

So, I did feel sorry for my Tuesday classes, since we’ll be meeting about 3/4 as much as any other classes this semester due to holidays… but I got over that soon. 😄 While I know I’m going to love my students, I am, unfortunately, still mildly introverted. So I think that in order to show these kids my best side, it might actually be beneficial not to meet too often, especially with four classes in one day sapping my energy. I’d rather make the most of the little time that we will have together than begrudge it every week.

That being said, discipline is my weakest point as a teacher, as evidenced both today and on Monday. Writing class rules is one thing, but there’s always going to be a situation I can’t prepare for, or that I just don’t know the proper way to handle. Sometimes I just want to laugh with my students instead of punish someone for trying to be funny. It’s a tough balance find, and the line between “fun teacher” and “mean teacher” tends to slide around in the minds of students.

Well, maybe with my next class I’ll get a better feel for it; they’re supposed to be very high-energy.

 

Update: I feel the need to reiterate this — BOY does each class have its own dynamic! My last class today was great. Lots of energy, but all I had to do was count down from five and I had their full attention for whatever I wanted to say. They are supposed to be a low-level class in comparison to the rest of the school, but they were absolutely wonderful at following directions. Only two or three look like they might require some more strict discipline. But their main thing will be having to overcome their shyness of speaking.

Naju


For the last week I’ve been trying to compile a post, adding a little here and there… only to look at it the next day and find it totally outdated already. In deference to this, I’m just going to skip most of everything that happened (for now) and talk about Naju!

 

Home-stay:

I found out where my placement would be a few weeks ago, but I only learned about my home-stay on Monday night. That gave me only one full day, Tuesday, before my ceremonial departure on Wednesday afternoon. I didn’t know what I would do if I got a huge family — I’d gone broke shopping for gifts in Seoul, and only had enough items for three people. I also hadn’t been able to turn up any gifts for boys. If I got a host brother, I’d be screwed.

Fortunately, there are three people in my family: my host father, Jino, my host mother, Jinheui (sounds kind of like Jenny), and a six-year-old host sister whose English name is Olivia (real name, I believe, is Kio). Olivia is still a bit young for the gift I bought, but I think she can find some use for it. : ) All of them are very kind and interesting people, and really good at English. Jino works in city hall by day, plays on a sports team by night, and built the family home by himself. Jenny is an archeologist who studies the local ruins in addition to doing all the household chores and much of the child-rearing. She’s also a really good cook. Olivia is an amazing little girl who loves, and is very good at, origami. She seems really happy to have me around after two years with only host brothers, and I feel like we already have a strong connection.

 

Geumseong High School:

Visiting my school for the first time yesterday, I found myself in the care of two male co-teachers, the first of whom picked me up with my principal on Wednesday but is in a different office, and the second of whom has the desk next to mine. I also made friends with one of the substitute teachers, Keumna, who is fluent in English and is studying Linguistics in order to pass an exam and become a certified English teacher.

I think the most outstanding memory I’ll ever have of my first day at this school is the students’ reaction to me. The student body consists of mostly boys, with only two out of eighteen classes being girls’ classes. Walking into the building yesterday morning, a fair number of the boys that were around stopped to stare; some of them even tried a few variations of hello.

But then I went to the cafeteria for lunch with Keumna. The boys were already waiting in a line that stretched outside. As each boy in the rear of the line noticed me, their conversations just shut down and a falling domino effect of “woah!” swept across them. Until I hit the cafeteria entrance, anyway. At that point the dominos were devoured by a deafening storm of the same exclamation. There wasn’t a single pair of eyes looking away from me.

“Ah,” I thought, “no wonder the school requested a female ETA this year.”

 

Teaching:

I was able to sit in and observe my second co-teacher in one of his classes, but all it did was confirm the lack of communicative learning in the typical Korean classroom. The fifty-minute lesson was essentially:

Lecture, IN KOREAN, on what three parts of speech can modify English nouns.

Turn to this page, answer these questions in Korean.

Check with your partner.

You two, come up and present in Korean.

Now write me a summary, in Korean, of this English text.

Check with your partner.

You two, come up and present in Korean.

And that was it: pure Grammar Translation, like studying Latin back in the 1930’s. I heard literally about a dozen English words the entire class, and the students themselves barely said a word, even to each other. A total of four boys got called on to speak before the class, and both times one of the pair just hung back while their partner did all the work. This, unfortunately, is the typical Korean English class, yet even my Korean co-teacher doesn’t like the methodology.

Seeing this, I’m more determined than ever to utilize TBLT to its greatest effect. I want to use the Noticing Hypothesis, Krashen’s N+1, even Robinson’s terrifying framework for task complexity.

But mostly, I want my students to know what’s it’s like to have fun with English.

 

Naju City:

My friend Jason and I went exploring today and discovered that Naju may be rural, but it’s also pretty awesome. They have the standard Lotteria and Paris Baguette, and the downtown area has two personalities: quaint and posh. The first part kind of reminds me of Goesan, with a true small-town feel, lots of wood structures, lost of restaurants and uneven pavement and a distinct lack of walkways. But it also has a charm about it. This is where the mom-and-pop restaurants are, as well as the bookstore, the Korean equivalent of a dollar store, and the bus terminal. The posh side is perfectly geometrical, paved with granite cobblestones and filled with high-end clothing shops with large front windows and a distinct lack of city grime.

Just between these two areas is a convenience store that sells real espresso for only a thousand won. The money I spend there will probably single-handedly fund the next upgrade on their espresso machine.

 

Future Plans:

Tomorrow I’ll be heading to Gwangju, the neighboring city, with the rest of the Naju Nine (of which there are five) to meet some of our fellow ETA’s there. We have no idea what we’re going to do, but today Jason coined the term YOLiKO — You Only Live in Korea Once — and now I feel that we must live by that!

Jino offered to take me hiking on Geumseong Mountain this Sunday. It’s become my favorite landmark when I’m out and about, so I’m really looking forward to seeing what the view is like from the top. Hopefully there’s a good place to get photos of the city.

My school kind of asked me to write a textbook for my class. I’m not entirely sure how legit it has to be or how long I have to do it, but I would assume “fairly legit” and “uncomfortably soon,” considering I teach my first class on Monday. At least I’ll be able to say that I’m a published author…

In the long term, I’m still hoping to keep up with my Korean through either self-study or a class, and to find an archery school in Gwangju that will take me as a student. I already know I’ll be doing a ton of traveling this year — no worries about that. And I set myself a completion deadline for the second draft of Ciphers. December 1 is the day I must have it query-ready. Just in time for the holiday rush!

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