bits and pieces

June 26, 2010

Its been a pretty busy but nice week.

My students will have final exams next week – so to get the 10 points they need for their class, the students either need to volunteer to give presentations or talk to me in the teacher’s lounge.  They have to do either 10 times before finals.  Many of the students already have their 10 points, but of course, this being high school, many students have not.  It has been very interesting – the rule is that they can talk about anything they want, but they are the ones who have to bring up the topic.  I’m really getting to know my students a lot.  I’m thinking of trying to get the same system for the 1st year classes (but the logistics may be a problem)

I feel I am now a real part of  my school. The teachers asked me to be part of the world cup betting pool. They like me, they really like me.

I finally enrolled in Korean classes – and figured out how to get there by bicycle. I only got lost twice. Pretty good if you ask me. (keep in mind I have no sense of direction and most signs although in English, are pretty hard to figure out)

I saw a play with the school’s dance teacher and my co-teacher.  I was surprised at how much of the plot I could figure out, even though the whole production was in Korean.  I was a bit saddened to realize the character that seemed most “my style” turned out to be the murderer.  I hope that doesn’t say anything about me.

Postings are going to be a bit light for the next week – I am finishing up a work book for next year’s classes.  I’m excited to do the project, but it is due at the end of finals. I will not be doing much else next week.


My father; a remembrance

June 20, 2010

There is a black and white photograph.  In it  my father  is holding me; I am a  baby.  The ocean is in the background.  My father’s expression is surprised; startled. Through time my father speaks.  He says: Now what do I do?

My father was a rough neck working on oil rigs off the gulf of Mexico when he met my mom. After they got married, he went back to school and became a court reporter. They moved to a small town in Missouri and my father never left.  He was farmer’s son through and through.

He taught me many things, from how to write cursive to changing a tire and the belt on a car. He never did teach me how to spell a point of contention between us.  The most valuable lesson I learned from him was his concept of making good money.  To my father the amount wasn’t good or bad. How you made the money was important.  He said he wanted to make enough to take care of himself and his children without taking away from anyone else.  He wanted work that gave to society and helped people.  He wanted to make good money. He taught me the concept of having enough.  It is the guiding principle that lead me to teaching as my profession.

My memories of him do not form a coherent narrative.  There isn’t one story I tell myself about him.  Instead I remember him in pieces, vignettes, discrete scenes from life,  like small glass pebbles, cut and beveled and stored in a box in my room. I take them out, and the hard edges have softened from time but they are still bright and clear.

I am sitting in the tall chairs by the kitchen counter as my father makes pancakes. He replaces the water with 7up to make them fluffier.

It is Sunday morning.  My sister and I wake up as he comes back from the donut shop with the Sunday paper and bear-claws and cinnamon rolls.  We spread the paper around the living room floor and my sister and I read the comics and Parade magazine. My father reads the rest of the paper as we eat, getting our hands and faces sticky from the icing.

My father bringing home computer paper ( the kind with holes in the sides and alternating stripes of light green and white ) and putting it up on the walls so my sister and I can color on the walls without messing anything up.

I colored in one of his books. It is the first time my father ever yelled at me. He was so angry – This is a  BOOK!  – in college I couldn’t make notes in my books because the taboo of marking up a book was so strong.  When we went to the mall, a book was the only thing my father could not say no to buying for me.

I’m 13.  My father asks me if I want a cup of coffee.  He has just made a pot.  He pours us both a cup, and lets me put cream and sugar in mine, and we share this moment before the rest of the house wakes up.  This is the moment I felt I graduated from childhood.

I’m searching for meaning in my life. My father gives me the entire 14 volume set from some comparative religion class or book series. He says to  me – “Here, find the god you feel is the best” – He was and I am agnostic.

The summer before I enroll in driver’s ed he takes me to the old clunker he has been working on for years.  He shows me how to change my own tire, check the oil, and change the belts.  He never did get that car running.

During the days when I was in high school, we would argue and fight. There was nothing either of us could say that would not start active hostilities  or cold war silences.  But.  When my step mother decided to decaffeinate the household, we both rebelled by waking up at one or one thirty in the morning and making the “good” coffee that he kept hidden in a drawer in his home office.  We couldn’t talk about any of the things that would start a fight, so we whispered about life and philosophy, not daring to raise our voices for fear of waking everyone up.

He listened to both Miles Davis and John Denver. His favorite TV show was “Rockford Files”- but he didn’t watch that much TV.  He taught himself to program a computer (way back when floppy disks actually flopped and every command had to be typed in). He loved airplanes and old cars. He was an environmentalist.  Jimmy Carter was his favorite president.  He could snark with a straight face long before the term “snark”  was coined. He tried to justify eating Reese’s peanut butter cups by saying  that because they had peanut butter they were a “health food”  He smoked Pall Mall cigarettes.  He didn’t tell us about the cancer until a few weeks  before the surgery.  He never woke up from surgery.

Each memory of my father is a glass pebble in a box in my room. I take them out and polish them and look through them, scattering them like  a kaleidoscope on the floor, then gathering them back up.

On not going up

June 16, 2010

I tend to be outgoing, and I really like doing new things. Ok, sometimes I get homebody-ish and I like my private alone time. But I love to try new things.  This part of me is often at war with the part of me that is quite frankly a major coward.

So after I signed up for a rock climbing clinic, I thought to myself- why???  Then because it is outside, I kinda sorta hoped for rain.  But of course it was a beautiful day.  So I set off for Daechi area, near Coex mall.  It is an artificial wall for climbing. Unfortunately (or fortunately) because I don’t finish school until 4, I didn’t get there until almost 5:30. By the time I got there, the clinic had already started and although everyone was friendly, the instructor didn’t have enough experienced people at the time to take a break and show me how to get geared up. So I waited and watched other people climb the wall.   I was saved!

I’ve decided that if they do hold the clinic next week I’ll go. I’m foolish that way. Perhaps I’ll be able to gear up this time.  I watched some of the others — and guess what, the well muscled young guy, didn’t go very high– the kind of chubby guy, got all the way to the top of the medium high wall.  I think I won’t feel too foolish next week.

On coffee, chocolate and good friends.

June 14, 2010

I love coffee.  There isn’t a coffee product on the market that I dislike, although chocolate covered espresso beans are not my favorite. They should be. They are a combination of both of my favorite flavors.  However, a hot mocha with whipped cream, and chocolate sauce on top, well that is a bit of heaven right here on earth. I’m so happy that Korea as embraced coffee and cafe culture. The first time I came to Korea I lived in a small town called Mokpo.  Mokpo is well worth visiting, because it is a very charming port city. I have a lot of good memories from there.  Anyway. At the time Starbucks hadn’t penetrated the Asian market.  I think that right as I was getting ready to leave for Taiwan, a Starbucks opened in Seoul. Seoul was far from Mokpo, not just geographically,  but mentally and spiritually.  What I’m trying to say is that the search for a good cup of coffee required the skills of Indiana Jones.  It was quite the adventure.  There were two kinds of coffee shops. One was usually on the second floor of a shops building. It usually was well decorated and had sofas instead of chairs and served tea and coffee and “Western” food.  The coffee was usually very expensive and was very weak.  I think black tea looked stronger than the coffee they served.  The other kind of coffee shop did serve stronger coffee, usually instant.  But it was always served by a pretty girl who wore even more make-up than most of the girls in town.  They were usually in the basement, and although the one time I wandered in, they treated me well, it wasn’t the most comfortable place for a western woman to hang out in.

Things have changed.  I’m living in Seoul now, after some other adventures.  And Seoul, as well as most of Korea, has thoroughly embraced coffee. I’m not that surprised. Bally Bally (hurry hurry) is a joke among the Koreans.  Now you can’t go 3 feet without hitting a coffee shop. They have the old-fashioned ones that are on the second floor, and the sofas are just as comfortable, but the coffee and western food has changed for the better. There are the chain coffee shops. And if you go to Ehwa Women’s University District (e-dae) they have one of the most wonderful places. A chocolatier  that is also a coffee shop. They make one of the best cafe lattes in the universe.

I love e-dae.  And that is why, when I finally had a chance to catch up with one of my best friends here, I wanted to walk to e-dae.  We met in Sincheon, mostly because that is where we almost always meet, and it is easier to just meet at our “place”–  I don’t know why Kim and I have become such good friends. We really don’t look like we would be. She is about 10 years younger than me, and she is very beautiful. I’m very average looking.  She is also one of the most stylish women I’ve met, and here in Korea that is saying a lot.  I’m  usually wearing teacher frumpy clothes, or blue jeans.  She is Korean, and I am American. She is very, very smart. I’m average.  But we have been friends for quite a while. I think the reason we get along so well is that we think a lot alike.  Therefore when I suggested a walk to e-dae, I did not have to sell the idea.  Instead her face got all bright, and she asked if I wanted to go the ‘secret way’. Who can resist the secret way?

So we wandered along small alley ways filled with small store selling jewelry and fashionable clothes.  We wandered until we got to the best chocolatiers slash coffee shop in the universe. Where we sat and ate ice-cream and watched the people go by.  True, not a particularly exciting evening as evenings go. Yet soothing to the mind and soul.  Because in the end, sometimes nothing else will do. We all need a bit of coffee, chocolate and friendship.

What am I supposed to do with this?

June 11, 2010

I want to continue on the how-to-get-ideas theme or series or whatever I’m doing.  I promised a friend that I would write a post on how to adapt an advanced lesson and materials to a basic class.  Another friend said she wished she had a book for that. So do I. Maybe I’ll write one – but not today.  Today I will talk about how to change things around so that you – the beginning teacher, or the experienced teacher that can’t think of one.more.lesson. today.

I decided to use “Instant Lessons 3 advanced” by Deirdre Howard-Williams, Mary Tomalin, Peter Watcyn-Jones and Edward Woods. It is from Penguin English Photocopiables series.  I chose this book because it is on the bookshelf in my school. I am going to adapt Good Manners around the world.  Good manners are alway a good thing, and my students would probably find other countries customs interesting.

I’m going to be paraphrasing and shorting the instructions quite a bit.

The introduction should take 5 minutes:  We are to tell the class an embarrassing story about and tell what it shows us. If we don’t want to tell a story of our own, we can talk about a “friend” who was in Greece and went to a friend’s home around 3 in the afternoon. Imagine his embarrassment when he realized he had gotten his friends out of bed where they were having their siesta.  Then introduce the idea of different customs, habits and ways of life.  Ask if anyone else has and amusing story.

This introduction would not work in my class.  Getting three sentences in a row is a major achievement. Instead of a story, I would get some pictures, probably off the internet, of people greeting each other (bowing, shaking hands, hand on heart, kissing and hugging), and eating (chopsticks, knife and fork, hands) If I had a computer with power point or prezi in my classroom I would put them on that, if I didn’t I would print them out and laminate them or use clear tape to protect them.  With the computer I would show a picture and ask the class what they saw.  Of course I would accept one word answers. If I didn’t have a computer I would put the students in small groups, and have them present the pictures to the class. Of course  I would help them with the language.

The Presentation (10 minutes) has Activity A- a quiz:

1. If you are invited to a British home for dinner at 7:30 p.m. it is polite to arrive…

a) at about 7 p.m. for drinks b) at anytime after 8 p.m. c) at about 7:35 p.m

2. If a Japanese man gives you his business card, you should

a) not read it in front of him and put it in your pocket b) read it carefully and put it on the table in front of you. c) memorized the name then throw the card away

3. When you are introduced to someone from the Middle East, you should..

a) shake hands b) bow formally c) embrace the person warmly

4. If you are invited to a French friend’s home for dinner, you should…

a) take chocolates or a bottle of wine b) take nothing but thank them warmly afterwards c) take a bouquet of red roses or chrysanthemums.

Now my students would not be able to read this quiz. They certainly wouldn’t be able to complete it in 10 minutes.  So what could I do?  Well, Activity B is about Do’s and Don’ts.  I don’t think my students would be able to do Activity B or read the excerpt that they provide.

So instead of doing having each student do a quiz for 10 minutes  or read the paragraph and do the second activity, I would make a worksheet that would have:

Continent                                         Do                                                                                Don’t





I would then give them a word list and go over the word list in class– bow, shake hands, on time, gifts, etc.  Then put them in groups of 4 or 6 and have them fill out the form with the words from the word list.  This should take 20 or 30 minutes.  I always make my students do a presentation, so I would then use the remaining time having the students give a presentation on their findings.

There –  easy peasey.  It just takes using part of the idea, adding something you saw a long time ago (or yesterday) and a little creativity.

Next post is going to be about something fun.

Balance pt.2 (or prep vs play)

June 7, 2010

One of my young friends spent the entire weekend preparing for one class.  I asked her “Why?” She said she didn’t want to just get stuff off the internet.  Now if she was the kind of teacher that took a worksheet just off the internet and made photo copies and said “that’s it, I prepped my class”- she would not be my friend.  At the same time, spending all your free time preparing for a class is a quick ticket to burnout.

I don’t want her to burnout. I think she has a lot to offer her students. So I promised to write this post to tell her how I do it.  I refuse to work on the weekends (although I have on occasion done just that in an emergency) I also understand that sometimes in the teacher’s lounge it is hard to concentrate enough to do a proper lesson plan. That said, there are ways to get things done, and still have enough free time to enjoy your evenings and your weekends.

One thing- the internet is your friend. Google is awesome. True, just taking something off an ESL website is lazy.  But there are a lot of ideas there, and with some modifications, you can make a plan for most of your classes.

I will give you next weeks lesson as an example.  This week we are having a speaking test, and in two weeks we will have the final exams. I kept this in mind while I started my prep.  I went to several ESL websites and browsed around.  I found several worksheets for scrambled words. Now, I don’t want to use those worksheets in my class just the way they are; one was for owls, another was for a book my students hadn’t read, and another was for the solar system.  These, although fun, wouldn’t be appropriate for any of my students.

However, the idea is a good one.  So I got the vocabulary that my students will be tested on. I made my own worksheet by scrambling the vocabulary words that they are supposed to be studying for their test. That is a good start.  Then, since I’m still working with vocabulary, I decided that they should also work on the definitions.

I will make a worksheet that has the definitions, with a blank for the words.  I will then have the students use the words they un-scrambled to fill in the blanks for the new worksheet. This will work for my intermediate (both high and low) classes. For the low intermediate classes I will put them in groups for both the activities.  For the high intermediate classes I will have them do the word scramble individually or maybe with partners (I haven’t decided yet) then put them in groups to finish the second worksheet.  But, I also have advanced classes and basic classes.

For my advanced classes, I will add a story worksheet that will use the vocabulary they are working with. The worksheet will start with a story beginning, and I will have them do a write-around to make up stories. The only rule is that they have to use all the vocabulary from the worksheet. Then they can do a presentation of their stories. I will put them in groups for the write-around ( or maybe I will have them do all the worksheets as a group, I haven’t decided yet).

For my basic class, I will do several scrambles as a class, and then put them in groups to finish the scramble worksheet. Then when they are all finished, I will hand out the definitions worksheet and have them do 1/2 of them as a class, and the other 1/2 in their groups.  10 minutes before the bell rings I will have the groups make a presentation of their answers.  (for the basic and low intermediate class, they can use their books to help find the answers– for the high intermediate and advanced classes, I probably won’t, but if the students really are struggling and won’t finish in time, I will revise my classroom rules)

I can put everything up on the computer through Power-point or Prezi, and I can add cool graphics on to the worksheets if I want. But the basic plan for next week is done.  I still have to finish the worksheets, and make sure they are photocopied.  But even without a computer or power-point, I can still have a decent class that will help my students do well on the test.

I have 4 levels of students in my 1st year classes.  I have a total of 20 classes a week. I could make every single class different. Use totally different materials for each and every one.  And spend every weekend and every evening in front of the computer. And wake up a few months from now hating my job, hating my school and hating my students.  And how is that going to help anyone?- I think that taking one idea for all the classes, and modifying that idea so it is challenging for the advanced students and doable for the basic students is a better idea.

I think taking an hour to surf the internet for ideas is about right– and a willingness to use and change whatever you think might be interesting.  ( one of my best ideas- the one for the 1/2 a proverb worksheet that I do and my students love; I got from a humor article from a cheesy magazine that I have since unfortunately forgotten the title of. The point is that it wasn’t a teaching website. It was a kids say the darndest things humor magazine. But it gave me the idea and that is the important thing)

Then take another hour to transform the ideas into  worksheets or guides.   Another hour to modify the class plans to make sure there is enough to do, but not so much the students can’t finish.  You have your basic prep for the week.

I do believe a successful class is a combination of inspiration, perspiration and preparation.  But the inspiration can come from anywhere, and you are not a bad teacher if you use ideas from other teachers, if you find a cool website or cool worksheet that you think your kids will like and use that, or if you think of something totally random.  If someone says all their ideas are totally and completely original; they lie.  Even the greatest scientific and creative minds work from the past and from the work of others.

In other words, if you find a good worksheet on the web, for goodness sake – use it!! If one of your friends or colleagues has a great game or idea, for goodness sake – use it!!! If you find a book that has great material, for goodness sake – use it!!   If it is a great idea or you think it would be fun, but it wouldn’t work for your class as is, change it around a bit, but you can still use it.

You still have to do the perspiration of  working to make sure all the vocabulary and grammar points are appropriate and understandable, and you probably will want to change a few things around and make the material yours. You will also probably want to add some other things you think your students will like. Just getting ideas and modifying them is only the beginning.

Teaching is hard work. And a good teacher knows most of what makes a good class isn’t what happens in the classroom, it is the preparation and perspiration before the class even begins.  It is hard work. But that doesn’t mean you have to struggle alone  make it harder than it has to be.  One of the perks of teaching is that you can be creative in the class can have some fun.  You can’t enjoy that perk if you are frazzled and burned out.

Buck up, little buckaroos.

June 6, 2010

I’ve never been one of the cool kids. I’m a bit bookish and although not exactly shy, or exactly socially awkward, I’m also not exactly a social butterfly or in with the “in” crowd.  I’ve always felt a bit of an outsider throughout my life.

That said, I do know Korea and Seoul especially can be a bit tough for the other non-cool kids. I would make a bet, that most people feel that way.  It can seem cliquish and unfriendly. Sometimes it seems everyone is having fun with everyone else and you are the only one who doesn’t have something to do with someone else.  Everyone else seems coupled up.  And then, once you do find some friends to hang with, who seem like they are your kind of people, their contract ends, and you are alone again.

It sucks.

But before you go straight to despair, I’d like you to think about a few things.  Do you think most of the writers you admire felt they were part of the “in” crowd (before they became famous and made their own crowd)? Do you think most of the singers/musicians did? I would bet not.  I would also bet that even in their most nerdy, most awkward  and most lonely periods in their lives, they had a few friends who were there for them.  And I think that is something we all forget.  You don’t need hundreds of friends. You just need a few people who are good for you and good to you. We are social animals, and I think it does hurt a lot when we feel rejected or just in a time where we don’t seem to be able to meet many people.  And not all the people you meet are the people you want to spend a lot of time with.  It isn’t that they are bad people. Many of them are perfectly nice. It is just they like to go roller blading every weekend and you don’t know how to roller blade, nor do you wish to learn. Especially if it means scraped knees and other injuries. ( for example)

Now it is true, the search for people who are sympathetic  and who will accept us for who we are is a lifelong search.  And sometimes we don’t find those people where we are.  We have to keep up the lifelines of our past and through mail, e-mail and phone calls back home. The people who love us and we love we can help us remember that it isn’t as bad as we are thinking right now. We need them to keep up the strength we need to keep going during the lonely times.  I don’t care who you are and what is going on in your life. I don’t care how old you are or what you do. Everyone I have ever known has lonely times.  And these times do indeed pass. Life is like that, with its ups and downs.

I would also leave you with this video of the bumblebee girl. But embedding is disabled by request. Sometime YouTube is not your friend.  Or mine.She was quite popular in the 90’s – mostly because most people could relate to her and her search for other bumblebee dancers.  The song is No Rain by Blind Mellon – and you can search YouTube for yourself. It really is a cute video.