Well the date is January 13th and it is a Friday.
Have I had terrible, terrible luck today? No. But I have basically had a terrible day anyway.
Today was the last day of the Winter English Camp I have been teaching for the past three weeks. The camp, in my opinion, went really, really well. Having just twenty students in the class, and having that class for 3 hours a day for 3 weeks has given me time to bond with the students in a way I have not been able to in my regular teaching semesters (where I would see roughly 600 students per week – around 120 per day for 40 minutes each). I know my students names (well, their English names at least –> Gal Do Hee and Kwan Min Seok and Park Eun Ju just DO NOT stay in my head, no matter how many times I repeat them) and I know their individual English levels and confidence and jeez, did you know? These little kids have actual personalities when you have time to get to know them!? Shocker.
Anyway I really enjoyed the first week of camp, and busted my butt to keep the camp enjoyable for week two and three. After classes I would work hard on preparing power points and games and activities and I would come in early in the mornings to put finishing touches on my plans (I know its hard to imagine me coming in early for work, but it happened). My friends have commented that I seem to have dropped out of touch. Why? I’m not on facebook all afternoon, I’m actually working at my desk instead of just warming it. Week one went well (except the day I missed due to food poisoning) and week two went even better! The momentum was on my side and I was an unstoppable teaching machine! The students were behaving perfectly, even when I was teaching with the new Korean co-teacher who is notoriously lacking in class disciplining ability. They were all participating in the games and doing the worksheets (in regular classes and even during my summer camp last July there would always be a few students who were not interested or did not want to participate) and they even seemed to be getting more comfortable around each other (the boys and girls were actually speaking to each other, which is rare in 4th and 5th graders).
Then week three rolled around.
In week three I was co-teaching with another Korean co-teacher, and this weeks co-teacher is the one who I really don’t see eye to eye with. Her teaching style and mine do not mesh very well and she is almost impossible to communicate with. I could easily fill seven or eight paragraphs with all the reasons this co-teacher is not fit to chew bubble gum unsupervised, much less put in charge of 20+ students, but you don’t want to hear about that. Suffice it to say each day fewer and fewer of my ideas were being implemented and more and more time was spent with her yelling at the entire class over something they did or said for minutes at a time.
Each day it became worse and worse until yesterday, Thursday, when we were supposed to do Sports Day. The students had been looking forward to sports day all week (we told them we’d be going outside to play soccer, dodgeball, ringtoss and more). Wednesday was movie day and we ran out of time (because a student was late getting back to class after the break and my co-teacher yelled at her for 10 minutes in front of the entire class). I wanted to give the little girl a high five for just taking it like a champ and not crying (often the co-teacher doesn’t stop until they cry) but I didn’t think that would be appropriate. So, because we lost some movie watching time the co-teacher decided we should finish the movie on Thursday. I worried about it cutting into sports day, but I wasn’t about to say anything.
On the average day we have 4 periods of 40 minutes each, with a 10 minute break in between. Usually the first period is a group meeting where we all sit together in a circle and introduce ourselves and then play some group games etc.. (refer to the video to see the class introducing themselves). Second period is usually the ‘work period’ I lead the class through a power point with that days key vocabulary (food, animals, classroom and jobs are a few of the topics we covered) we play a short game involving the vocab, then fill out a worksheet. Period 3 and 4 are reserved for games or arts and crafts. For example, when we learned about the body I had each team roll a dice once for each major body part – eye, mouth, nose, arm, leg, ear etc… Then the groups had to draw a picture of a monster with each number of body parts -> 1 leg, 6 eyes, 3 mouths, etc…
The plan for sports day was originally to do the morning meeting, then a sports related power point and worksheet in period 2 then outdoor games for period 3 and 4. The co-teacher decided that period two would be used for finishing the movie instead. I assumed we would either cut the power point and worksheet entirely, or just do a quick version and get out to play halfway through period 3. Turns out after the movie the co-teacher wanted to take up the movie question sheet (which ended up taking 30 minutes out of period 3: the co-teacher had to stop to dish some discipline on the class). Period four rolls around and the kids are starting to wonder when the games begin. The co-teacher looks at the clock and says to me: “*gasp* (as if she just noticed the time) Tom! No time! Maybe, we can’t do sports. So just power point and worksheet. Ok?”
I stare at her blankly. My policy when dealing with this co-teacher is to accept anything she wants to do and try not to think about the time and effort I put into whatever I had planned for the lesson. Starting an argument with her about the lesson plan halfway through the lesson in front of the class (and taking into account the language barrier) could not ever end up in a win, or even a compromise for me or her, so i just let stuff slide. I told her if she wants to do the power point and worksheet that is fine with me, but I was not going to be the one to tell the class that they weren’t going to have sports time.
Anyway things got messy after that and a lot of discipline was required. So much, in fact, that we never even got around to the worksheets OR power point.
Today the co-teacher’s mood hadn’t improved and I’d say it was an even worse class than yesterday, mostly because at least yesterday they got to watch some movie.
When classes go badly like this I usually just let it roll off me. Its rarely my fault and I almost always had a better plan or activity ready that got sidelined because of a new idea that popped into co-teacher’s head. I don’t let it bother me because I’m just here as an assistant to the Korean co-teachers (afterall, I have absolutely no formal training as a teacher, yet). But during summer camp these teaching disaster have really irked me, and the reason is because I can feel all that hard work and bonding slipping away. Who cares if the first and second week were totally awesome – these kids are 10 years old, all they are going to remember is getting cheated out of sports day and getting yelled out for basically a week straight. This third week is going to stand out in their heads and I’m worried it will overshadow the good times we had at the start of camps.
I guess this is what I get for caring about something. God, I’m 23 years old, I should know better by now!
Anyway the camp is over now and it’s time to look ahead. I’m chilling in Busan this weekend and will be leaving for a 6 days vacation in Japan on Monday morning. I’m going to stay one night in Osaka and then two nights each in Tokyo and Kyoto. It will be a short trip, because Japan is expensive and I will be going solo. I’m thinking of this trip as a warm up/trial run before I implement my awesome super mega giga plan at the end of February (stay tuned for more details on this plan in the coming weeks).
My time in Korea is really melting away quickly. I find myself enjoying little things more, taking more time to watch and listen to the sights and sounds and thinking about what I will miss and what I will not miss. It feels a bit like another does of culture shock, to be honest. I’m not complaining though, that first stage of culture shock is the greatest thing since sliced bread.
Anyway that enough for now. It’s time to get this vacation started! Stay tuned for updates from Japan!
Ps. Check out this link for a video of my students and school during the Winter Camp. Tip: turn the volume up when they are introducing themselves, their names are hilarious! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OUA9Ji8CyWo