Well, it has been a long time

August 5, 2012

I’ve been thinking about this blog for a while. It is like an old friend you haven’t e-mailed or called in a while, and every time you don’t call or write it seems more difficult to get to it.

I am finished with the epic mistake of taking 4 classes at once. I did pretty good on three classes (but I’ve emotionally and intellectually made peace with the fact that I will probably have to re-take the Literacy class. It makes me sad, but I’m still standing.. barely.)

I am also thinking of re-taking linguistics. I really enjoyed the class, but right now I couldn’t tell you what I learned. I think the recommendation of only two classes a semester has some merit.   I’ve never run into my wall, I’ve always been the one who does a bit too much, but then I like being busy so it is a good thing.

With that, I will say that I’m taking two new classes, and a class on rock climbing (even though I’m a little more than a little  fat, and I’m old and out of shape) – and I’m back on my bike, with a new plan for a long term bike ride.

I’ve decided to take it a bit easy this semester, because I’m going to be starting something new. Elementary school. eeek.  The little ones scare me a bit, and I’m just now starting to look at lesson plans and materials for them. I’ve decided to have fun, and to get in touch with my inner child.  (since I’m really a 12 year old in a 46 year old body, it shouldn’t be too hard)

And that is me, and I’m going to try to get back, and be a better blog hostess or whatever we are called.



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.

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.


On Certification

April 25, 2011

A guy named David Deubelbeis has a very good blog: http://ddeubel.edublogs.org/ and I agree with a lot of what he has to say about teaching, and he has some very good ideas for the classroom. I really liked his blog, but I’m going to have to disagree with something he said.  I feel  a little bad, because he does have more credentials than I do. He is a Master’s of Education with a TEFL emphasis. So he has a lot more certification than I do.  ( I”m still in the application, waiting and hoping stage of my Master’s degree)

However – I started reading on his poetry class idea post, and then because I liked it, I thought I’d read more from the blog, and got to this post: Hype that’s not my Type http://ddeubel.edublogs.org/2011/04/17/hype-thats-not-my-type/  and he talks about the new paradigm in teaching and how these are just hype and not part of the real teaching world.

The first myth he busts is that the world is changing so fast – and I agree with him “Education still is about people, communication, knowing, doing.”  I’m thinking – right on

Then he talks about testing, and I’m thinking – preach it brother  – testing itself isn’t evil, but it is important how they are used, and should be used as a disposable assessment of the learning process. Yeah.

Then he talks about information vs. content and says something really true: “No matter how quick you can google something or how perfect the retrieval of information. Students still need stuff in their head to mix and churn and access in the quiet of their mind.” and I’m reading this saying YES! I agree totally. Awesome

THEN he says: “The onus should always be on what a person can do, not what they did in a course . Credentials by default create barriers to real learning and to real discourse. They divide and create cliques”

And here I part ways.

Because I do think credentials are important, they do divide those that want to be professional from those that don’t care enough to do 100 hours online or take a month-long CELTA course, or even get a degree. Yes there are financial barriers, but I would say instead of getting rid of credentials, why don’t we make getting them more accessible to talented people through scholarships or grants?

ESL as a  profession, especially in Asia, have a serious problem with professionalism. Right now the demand for native English speakers is huge. In Korea, the hagwon or private academy business is booming, despite the governments efforts to put native English teachers in the public schools. Many of the teachers hagwons employ are not really teachers. They don’t have any qualifications other than they were born in a country that has English as a first language.  They are not professional (although many of the hagwon teachers I’ve met have been, and they really try to teach their students, and work very hard to learn more and learn how to teach)   My problem is that just because you can speak a language, and even more importantly speak correctly, doesn’t mean you can explain the language, the rules, or explain how your students can get their message out.

I am a teacher. It is my profession, and I’m very proud of it.  And it may be elitist of me, but I don’t think just anyone off the streets of America (or Canada, England, New Zealand, Australia) can walk into a classroom and teach English. And I don’t blame any school for asking for some proof that a teacher has the basics – and that proof is credentials.  I don’t think getting credentials, or a degree or going to a seminar or a training session is the end. No, these are just the beginning.

I ask a lot from my students. I expect them to do the best they can in the classroom. I think it is only fair that I do the best I can in the classroom, and that includes continuing my education, reading educational blogs, going to seminars, going to training weekends, and yes getting more and better credentials.

Other than this one paragraph that stuck in my craw, Mr. Deubelbeis’s blog is very good.

The circus is in town.

April 17, 2011

Last night I went to see Cirque du Soleil.  The performance was of Varekai,  It was amazing.  The costumes, the story, the props, the acts… it is still a bit of jumble in my mind, images superimposed upon other images. I should have taken notes, but I was too busy being wide-eyed and open-mouthed in wonder.

The story was of Icarus falling down in a jungle full of fantastic creatures.  He couldn’t touch any of them, but he did kind of fall in love with a sentient plant like woman.  Then the games began. I’ve always loved the aerial acrobatics, and the 4 girls on a single trapeze like thing were fantastic. There was one part, where two guys swung around over the audience on a bungee cord the held on to by their wrists and hands. Just watching it made me fear heights. Fortunately no one died. That I know.

I liked the comedy sketches, and the actors even spoke a little Korean for us. There was a chubby little girl who was amazing, who did a fantastic little comedy dance.  My friend loved the juggler, and he was fantastic. Fun fact: I can juggle. Ok, ok, only three balls for three minutes, but ….. I had dreams once of joining the circus.

Did I say the costumes were awe-inspiring? They were.  The use of color and pattern fit each performer and performance. Just having the performers parade with the costumes would have been worth the price of admission.  I think if Michel Park got a hold of a traditional circus the end result would be the Cirque du Soleil.  If you don’t know Michael Park, you are missing some seriously beautiful, dark and surreal paintings and etchings.

angel interrupted by artist michael parkes


The show reminded me of his paintings: Surreal, dark, erotic and beautiful.  I felt like a child full of wonder.

They wouldn’t let us take any photos, so I looked up some performances on YouTube. Unfortunately I couldn’t  embed any of the videos, and I must be a real tech-tard, because the links don’t work. Go look them up yourself, and really try to go to the show if you can, it is truly gorgeous.

Beauty is real

On moving to a new country

April 16, 2011

My old hagwon is hiring some new teachers, so I let them have my e-mail address to give to their prospective people. I think what most people want is reassurance that they aren’t walking into a horror movie set.

I understand. Moving to a new country is really difficult, you are leaving behind all your old friends, your family, and your safety net. It really is hard to trust that you will land in a good place.

I told the very nice youngster that one of the biggest factors for enjoying your stay is how well you get along with the people you work for and with. A lot has nothing to do with them or you, just chemistry. It’s a bit like going on a blind  date, only much, much longer. If it works, it is awesome. If it doesn’t, it is endurable for the duration. Although sometimes you are very unlucky and it feels like a small chunk of hell spit itself out and landed next to you.

I still think that most schools, even the hagwons are basically decent and most people are basically decent. But then I’m disgustingly optimistic.  But. I have worked in schools where everyone else seemed to be having a good time, without me, and I didn’t feel I could do anything right. It sucks.  That said, I think if you talk to the people who used to work in the school, talk to the manager, and talk to people who work at the school now, you can find a good match.

Even if your work is a small chunk of hell,  Korea is an awesome place to live.  The food is really good, and even when you crave western food, you can find it.  Seoul is a very international city with a ton to do, and even if you live way out in the country, going from Pusan the farthest south-most city to Seoul, the farthest north-most city, will only take you 4 1/2 hours on the KTX, so a weekend is very doable.   Most of the cities have a lot to do, from sports to mountain climbing (the national pastime here) and knitting groups, photography groups, art groups, and just about any hobby you want to explore. There are several places to get English books, Koreans are generally friendly and most will go out of their way to help you.  The cost of living is reasonable, and because they have single payer insurance, medical costs are reasonable.  The public transportation is awesome, and with a bus or train ticket you can get to: Cherry blossom festivals, mud festivals, kimchi festivals, fireworks festivals, and water festivals ( those are only the ones I know off the top of my head, I’m sure there are many more)

So I would say to those contemplating a move to Korea – dive right in, the water is fine.