I’m in

June 22, 2011

Yes yes yes yes yes yes

omg– I’m so happy

University of North Dakota has accepted me to their ELL program. I will start in August

OMG!!! YES!!!!

can you see me jumping up and down?

June 18, 2011

I am not a Christian, despite my name.  I like the message Jesus gave, but then it is a very similar message Buddha, Mohammad, Krishna, and other peaceable sorts have been giving for, well, forever. I am also not anti- Christian, as many people in my family are quite devout and although most just try to live their lives the best they can, and take comfort in their church and community.

One of the reasons I am not a Christian is the concept of hell as preached and written by most churches. I found it horrifyingly un-just, and the result of a fevered imagination from an evil entity. That a loving God would condemn people to an eternity of punishment and torture for finding the argument provided by preachers unconvincing, or being born in the wrong place, just a monstrous proposition.  I remember asking one of the mega-church leaders in my community about this, I asked, if I convert to Christianity, become a Christian, and I go to heaven,  but my friends, family and loved ones don’t, and they go to hell, how is heaven, heaven if I know my friends and loved ones are suffering?  The answer: God will make you forget them.  I was appalled. I turned my back on the church at that time, and so far I haven’t found a new one that has made me feel comfortable.

According to the theology I am most familiar with, Gandhi is in hell, because he wasn’t a Christian, but the spewers of hate and vile misogyny  and homophobia are in heaven. I would choose to spend eternity with Gandhi.

I read Fred Clark at Slacktivist  and I find his theology quite compelling. That is where I heard about Rob Bell’s “Love Wins.”  It is a very easy read. The words are simple, the paragraphs small, and even though I am not a speed reader, I found it quite a quick read. That isn’t to say that I found the thesis simple or uncompelling

Rob Bell believes God loves everyone. The saints and the sinners alike. He makes a case similar to C.S. Lewis, that hell is the absence of God. That the earth can be heaven or hell depending on how we treat each other and how close we follow the words of Jesus. His Christianity is very inclusive, and he makes a case that since God is love, we humans will always have a way to heaven.  An all roads lead to Rome view of spirituality that I agree with.

Rob Bell’s God is not Jonathan Edward’s Angry God, quick to condemn, and quick to pass judgement.  I read somewhere that the final battle between good and evil will be won, not by force of arms but by the forgiveness of Satan and his being embraced by God. I don’t remember where I read it or I would attribute it, but I like it a lot better than the usual sermons on the end of times.

Although Bell makes sure to be clear that rebellion and rejection of God’s love has consequences, the end result is that God wants us to be with him, but he does give us freedom and infinite chances to embrace his redemption. He would have Gandhi in Heaven, and the vile spewers of hate no matter how they identify themselves, given another opportunity to find love.

Although I don’t necessarily believe everything Bell has written, I find his theology of redemption, love and forgiveness quite comforting.



readin’ writin’ and ‘rithmatic

June 15, 2011

The three Rs that everyone says we have to get back to in education.  And I agree that we need to teach reading. No matter what the platform, whether a book, a magazine or a blog, you are probably going to need to read. And writing really helps not only to communicate your thoughts, but to organize them as well.  And despite the trauma of middle school math, I think being able to do even advanced mathematics is important. One of the reasons it is so hard to understand economics and policy is that we really don’t understand numbers, especially big numbers.

That said, I think that the basics are just the start.  Now, all of these skills must be integrated with even more skills, like co-operation, verbal communication, and how to work with very diverse and international groups.  These are soft skills and difficult to assess. Yet I would say they are just as important as the hard skills. I would also add critical thinking, and the ability to navigate the new technology that right now we can’t even imagine.  We need to teach our students how to learn, not just how to study.

I think that is something I’m thinking about right now, because my students just finished a practice SAT test, still have more on the speaking test, and then will take their final tests.  All in the next three weeks. I can see the strain.  And that is why I want to change things a bit.

On the good news side, I”m grading papers that my students have been writing. We started a writing program as an experiment at the beginning of the school year, and I’m really happy  with the improvements I’m seeing. Yes a few still use Google translate, and although I think it is a good tool, in the end, for this program, I want them to use their own language.  They have a lot more creativity and imagination than they are being encouraged to use.

We think that education should prepare students for the jobs of the future, but how can we do that when we don’t even know what those will be?  Why don’t we instead prepare students to think for themselves, to learn from others, and to develop all their talents? (even the talents that won’t turn into their career)

Why don’t we teach our children how to be good human beings with the skills they need to learn the skills they will need for the future.

Sir Ken Robinson has laid out the problem and the solution quite well.

Myeondong ho

June 13, 2011

Korea is crowded. Seoul is very crowded. Myeongdong is super very crowded. It is also where you can get just about anything, including the very famous Myeongdong noodles. Since the line is always winding around the block, we decided not to go there. However we did walk around seeing the sights. Myeongdong is noisy, crowded and has more sparkle stuff than you can shake a stick at.  There is everything here and everyone is there, the crowds close in but on some streets they thin out a bit. We were even able to find a nice street with outdoor cafes and small restaurants and a fountain, though the street was a bit off  Myeongdong proper. I must admit, I’m not a big fan of Myeongdong. Yes it is something you have to experience, but I find it a little too crowded. But this Saturday I found a nice fountain and a quiet street with a cool street cafe, so I”m pretty happy.

You can always meet interesting characters:



Eat interesting food:


and of course sparkles:


If it doesn’t sparkle, it has to be cute or colorful:



And when it all gets overwhelming, go get some coffee:



I like the idea of Myeongdong much more than I like the reality. The crowds, smells, and noise gets to me sometimes. But it is a great place to pick up scarves, belts, sparkly things, dresses, socks (although I didn’t find the ones with Obama on them – I think you have to got to Ewha or Hongdae to get people on your feet) food, singing rooms, and with the street vendors and high-end shops it is a bit of old and new Korea.

Raymond –  I promise more food soon.



The Adventures of Benjamin Skyhammer A review

June 10, 2011

The Adventures of Benjamin Skyhammer is a delightful little YA adventure, science fiction story.  I had the pleasure and honor of being one of the first readers.  One of the things I loved about this book was Nicole Sheldrake’s ability to build a believable world. As you read along, each country and each place is real, even if quite fantastic.  The story opens with an Indiana Jones-ish relic hunter, but quickly evolves to a magical realm where the world is not safe and nothing is what it seems.

Many science fiction and adventure stories have plausible worlds, but the world here is one I would want to visit again, and again.  World building is not easy, and making  a magical place is even more difficult.  Yet I felt that this world was a real place.

It is an easy read, but not a simple story. There is mystery, and the plot does thicken quite often,  and lots and lots of adventure.  I also liked the characters.  Higgins is of course my favorite, but there were quite a few, some that only showed up briefly, that were memorable and compelling and much more complex than the average young adult novel characters.

I want to go into detail, but then I would probably spoil it for you.

Go to Amazon http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=the+adventures+of+benjamin+skyhammer&x=0&y=0   or smashwords http://www.smashwords.com/books/search?query=benjamin+skyhammer  or go to the author’s website and read some of her great short stories as well.


Congratulations Nicole, it was a great story.

More on testing

June 9, 2011

Well, the trauma and drama continue in during the speaking test. I feel like a monster. So many of the students are shaking so hard they can barely speak.  I had tried to make it easier by having students give presentations in class, and usually the kids don’t act frightened when they see me in the hall, or even in the E-mart. They often see me first at the store and come up to me to try to talk.  But this week I turned into a major ogre.

I am on some internet discussion boards and of course whenever teachers get together they talk about teaching, and one of the topics is the emphasis on testing. Not just here in Korea, but in America as well.  I will concede that presentation skills are good to have. To be able to communicate in front of people is useful. But taking multiple choice tests? Not so much.  We are teaching our students how to succeed in taking tests, not how to succeed in life.  As a foreign teacher, I have a lot more freedom in my class, but twice a semester, I have to teach my students something I don’t agree with.  I still am not sure the best way to assess so many people in a way that is fair and showcases the students abilities, but I’m working on it.

Meanwhile, even most Koreans agree that the Su-neung, or University Entrance Exam is not the most optimal system.

And they have some very good suggestions from making entrance exams and school less competitive to making university  easier to enter but harder to graduate.  I also agree with the guy who said high school should focus more on helping students find what they really want to do.

Education and learning should be fun, not something that makes you cry.

But teacher… I did prepare…. honest.

June 8, 2011

This week is the speaking test for my students. Last year the students memorized a script, but this year I talked them into just asking questions. So I gave the students 10 questions to prepare for , and one question that I ask that they did not get ahead of time.  The students pick a number that corresponds to the questions, and I ask them 4, and the last question is the ‘surprise’.

So far I’ve  had two nervous breakdowns, and 4 complaints.  I also had one student I hadn’t noticed much before because she was quiet and didn’t speak out a lot,do excellent, and a student in my lowest level class surprised me.

Personally I don’t like tests. I agree that they don’t always show the potential or abilities of students. They can be helpful for putting students in a leveled class and for assessment of progress, but they shouldn’t be the only thing students are judged on. The Korean educational system is very test dependent and the stakes are very high. Traditionally the English tests were on reading and listening, but they Korean government is revising The Test— and it is The Test here, to include speaking and writing.  Students get one shot to do well, and it doesn’t matter how well they did in class or how hardworking or smart they are. This test is the only thing that matters.

Which is why even though my little test is fairly low stakes, students are very sensitive and stressed out about it. From middle school till high school graduation, their lives revolve around testing.

My co-teacher and I were talking about it at lunch. We both agree that the emphasis on testing is not beneficial, but we were unable to come up with a solution in the 45 minutes we have to eat.  It is impossible to untangle the Gordian knot that is the Korean testing culture without also untangling quite a bit of culture and history.

When King Sejong commissioned the creation of Hangul, he did a very radical thing. He made literacy something attainable for everyone, not just the nobles.  At the time, there was a test for government service, and it opened up the bureaucracy to anyone who had talent and brains. It was a good system and allowed a little bit of upward mobility.  Even now, a lot of Koreans believe the test is a way to keep university entrance open and honest. Yes rich kids get the tutors and academies, and the academies are generating their own controversies, but in the end, having The Test is, in theory, a good way for students from poorer families to get into the best universities and gain upward mobility.  In theory.

So I am still trying to figure out how to change a system that isn’t my own, that I see causing a lot of pain for my students, and that I can see the justification for.  And lets face it, right now the US system isn’t actually working very well either.

I think though that education here and in America really does need to be reformed, and we need a better way of assessing students to truly reflect their abilities and their strengths.

If you want to know more about King Sejong, a personal hero of mine:



I mean the man even has a UNESCO award in education named after him


Well, I WANT to go back to school… honest.

June 7, 2011

I’m applying to graduate school. It is very stressful. VERY.  The school I want is University of North Dakota, because although it is online, it is the same course as if I were on campus. And I think the ELL program is very good. So I sent everything out, only to find out that I need the transcripts to a community college course I forgot about. (It was only one class, and I transferred the credit, oh, a long time ago) So I faxed the community college and asked them to both mail and fax my transcripts to University of North Dakota. Fast forward one week later, and I get an e-mail that my application is still incomplete. I knew that because I’ve developed a mild case of obsessive compulsive disorder and have been checking the application every day.  (yes, I know it is 3 am on a Sunday there, but maybe they will have something new!)  So I called the community college, and they said they faxed and mailed the transcripts on Wed. last week.  I am stressed.

So I signed up for a speed reading class from http://www.ed2go.com/ in the hopes that it will help me when I start and keep me from being quite so obsessed.  It is all online, and you do have to pay, and it probably won’t count on my professional portfolio, but if it helps me when I go back to school, that would make it all worth it.  I’ll let everyone know how it turns out.

Meanwhile I’ve gone online and found some cool educational links to occupy my  time as I wait.

http://www.openculture.com/freeonlinecourses has what sound like some great courses.  I am really interested in Introduction to Nonviolence and Philosophy for beginners.  But first I will have to finish the Harvard lectures on Justice with Michael Sandel: http://www.justiceharvard.org/  and a friend introduced me to http://www.khanacademy.org/  so I should be able to stay busy this summer before I start back to school.

I really hope that I can start grad school in fall, but if I can’t I have a plan B.  I will take the CELTA course, and work on making my application as awesome as possible, and save some more money and maybe even apply to a school in New Zealand or Australia. (except Australia has mutant zombie spiders– I’m not sure I want to share an island with mutant zombie spiders– http://www.termite.com.au/spider-identification.html


Because Dinosaurs really are kind of cool

June 6, 2011

I woke up way too early for a Saturday morning. It was drizzly and kind of sad. But I wanted to get out of Seoul for the weekend and a good friend had planned a trip to Goseong to see the dinosaur footprint museum.  It was a 4  hour bus trip, and we would have left around 9 am, except for the unfortunate fact that there weren’t any buses until 4:30.  So we re-convened and discussed our options. We were already at Nambu terminal, at 9 am with a lot of time to kill.  So we started walking and went exploring the Ganam area. It was almost cold and overcast and the area was a bit more quiet than it usually is in the afternoons and evenings, but it was still kind of cool to look around. I usually just go to my knitting group and then leave, so it was nice to see what was there. We stopped for lunch in a nice little Japanese place and ate outside, enjoying the air and watching the people passing by.

We got back to the bus terminal with plenty of time, and tried valiantly to stay awake for the ride. The scenery outside the window was pretty fantastic. The mountains were seriously over-verdanting themselves.  Even in Seoul itself, Korea is very lush in spring and summer.  The trip was the full 4 hours, and we slept through half of it, so when we arrived at 8:30 it was too late to take the one hour bus to the dinosaur museum area. So we walked around the cute little town, got a nice room and walked around some more to get dinner. We ate a little place that had a pork and kimchi dish that was quite tasty.  We went to bed early and got up to take the 8 am bus to the museum.

To be honest, I didn’t have very high expectations.  The museum was built because on the rocky coast paleontologists found footprints of several dinosaurs. And my friend really loves dinosaurs, and why not?  So we get off the bus, and an old guy makes sure we get to the entrance. At the entrance we try to find out when the buses going back would be, and a very kind couple helped us out and suggested we go to Samchun po instead.  So armed with that info and a ticket, we proceeded to the entrance. Right away a woman came up to us with English brochures, and although her English was a bit spotty, her enthusiasm for helping us more than made up for it.

The museum itself is quite small, but the displays were awesomely excellent. There were a lot of signs for no pictures that everyone else ignored, and I found out later that my illegal pictures were quite legal, because they just didn’t want you to use flash.  Anyway. We moved through the museum and enjoyed the displays and then took a quick detour to the movie experience.  In 3D no less.  And it was really cool. The story was cute, and the special effects were surprisingly well done.  They had an interactive area and then we walked out to a dinosaur garden, with lots of well done dinosaur sculptures and a Triceratops that was made to climb, but there were pretty graphic warnings against it. Everyone did obey this one.

After walking through the dinosaur garden, we went to the beach walk.  It wasn’t really a beach but there were some rocky areas that could be walked on, and a wooden walkway around the water and close to the cliffs.  Along the way were some signs about what kinds of rocks and when we finally got to the footprints they were quite visible. We were a bit worried because the website said they sometimes were covered in water.

After walking the wooden path there was a small beach area, but it had a no swimming sign, and it really was a bit cool for a dip.  We then made our way to the bus stop, but after a while we realized that this bus stop may not be the right one, because no buses were coming. So we decided to walk up to the entrance where the adventure all started, but half way there, we saw a cute little restaurant. The people were very friendly, and we were told to wait a bit and the bus to Samchun po would be there shortly. It was, and we almost missed it, because it didn’t stop  for long, but we made it, made it to the terminal, and made it back to Seoul, with enough time to get home by bus and subway.

A truly awesome adventure. Except the sunburn. I could have done without the sunburn.


The scariest words

June 3, 2011

Today I taught with a major tooth ache. So I canceled my dinner date and instead went to the dentist. I heard the scariest words that can be uttered. ” You need a root canal treatment” Sigh. “on two teeth” – double sigh. I like my dentist, he is in Nowon, but I’m seriously not happy.

So he wanted to start the treatment today, and my mouth is still a bit numb. I will go next week to finish one tooth, and in two weeks to finish the other.  I want to cry.

My students were awesome today though. They really are good kids. – and one has started blogging– should I introduce her to twitter?