Monday, September 13, 2010

900 Korean Schoolchildren Are All Yelling Your Name

Hey all,

So I guess this is going to be a frequent posting week, mostly since it's Tuesday. On Tuesdays I have one class, and it's already done, so I'm killing time in the library. It occurred to me that I haven't really talked much about my actual school, which is a large chunk of my daily existence here in Korea, so I thought I'd give you all a sneak peek into the goings- on of Daewol Middle.

I suppose I'll start with the 'scenic backdrop': Daewol is basically this country area outside of Icheon City Proper. (According to the tiny tourist map, it looks to be generally southeast of Icheon itself, where my apartment is.) Every day I get picked up by Miss Ha, the adorable, super-nice Special Ed teacher here. At Daewol, the English translation they have on the door is the "Love Class". So, Miss Ha picks me and two other teachers up in her tiny red Matiz, and we embark on the 25-30 minute ride out to Daewol. It takes like 10-15 minutes just to get out of the city and pass the major highways, and there are a lot of small mountains and little villages in the area. The actual road that gets to my school, (I think it's called Ch'oji-ri, don't quote me), passes Konkuk University and also goes by the Daewol Elementary. I've met the guy that works as the Native speaker there, Mark, who is from Vancouver and gives me advice on the futility of certain Korean beauracratic systems. He's been here six years, so he's sort of like my Icheon "Yoda". Very wise.

Once you actually pull up to the school, there is this gigantic, pristine soccer field right in front. Our kids are very good at soccer, and some are just generally uninterested in anything else. I don't think they usually play games here, but sometimes I watch them practice after school. The road that the teachers drive up rounds the right side of the school and there is a back parking lot that leads right into the back entrance. (The front one is a little more grandiose, but nobody really uses it.) Right when we get in the door, there is a big wall of little wood cubbies, because you don't wear your street shoes in the school. (It's kind of funny- there are all these rows and rows of Korean names, and mine just says "JENNIFER".) In school here, all the kids wear these rubber sandals that look a lot like those Adidas black and white striped jellyish sandals that kids in the U.S. used to wear. The teachers sometimes get sort of fancier ones, but I just wear the ones the kids do. They're comfier. Korea really embraces the socks and sandals combo.

So, Daewol is in the public school system, but the kids all wear uniforms. The basic get-up is a light-blue checkered shirt with an embroidered nametag (the nametags are different colors depending on their grade level) and navy blue pants or navy plaid skirts. Some of the kids seem to do anything to not wear their uniform shirts, and I can't say that I really blame them. They all look pretty cute though. A lot of them have these gigantic, black plastic Harry Potter-esque glasses that I have fallen in love with. Actually, in my afternoon conversation classes (which are pretty small) there are these three boys that all sit right in a row with these glasses, and it's adorable.

The school itself is a big rectangle. The 3rd grade (8th grade in the U.S.) has classrooms downstairs, which is also where the Love Class, music room, science lab, admin office and cafeteria are, and the 1st and 2nd grades are upstairs, with the library, nurse's office, and "broadcasting room". Still no further details about the broadcasting room. It's a mystery.

The way that most schools operate is that the teachers all have desks in large room, with low partitions so that you can see everybody. Some schools have specific "English rooms" where all of the signs and stuff are in English, but we don't have one at Daewol. And the really big difference from U.S. schools is that here, it is the teachers that move around to different classes, not the students. Every class has one room that they stay in for the majority of the day, and the teachers just haul their laptops and materials around everywhere. May have to invest in a messenger bag sometime soon. Although my school laptop is still being fixed, so I guess it's not an immediate thing.

Even though the school is generally pretty modest, every classroom has these giant flat-screen TVs that the teachers can hook their laptops up to for powerpoint presentations and showing movies, etc. I use these a lot. We also have a lot of whiteboards, but they aren't white. They're greenboards. So you use these sort of paint-markers. The kids all have desks like in the U.S., and little cubbies at the back of the room for their books. The shoes are all kept in these shelves outside of the classroom. (Sidebar: A student just looked over my shoulder to see what I was typing, and started shaking her head in disbelief at all of the English and how fast I was typing. Haha. They keep trying to ask me questions in Korean, which is sort of failing.)

Ah... what else... the classes are pretty standard, 45 minutes long. The bells are a little different here; they are sort of this weird melodic Korean music. Interestingly, the kids have a bell at the end of class, 10-15 minutes in-between classes, and then there is another bell. The teachers don't leave to go to the classroom until AFTER the second bell. Seems kind of strange to me... like all of our set-up time takes place right at the beginning of class.

안녕하세요 (One of my students just typed this for me. It says "annyang haseyo" which is "hello" in Korean.) :) She just asked me if my friends would read this, and I said yes. We're in-between classes at the moment, which is why there are kids running around.

The students are kind of funny here. The range is amazing, because some of them clearly haven't hit pubery yet, and are super-short. But there was a kid in my last class that was taller than me with a very deep voice that the other kids get a kick out of. A lot of the kids are really energetic, but some of them are too cool for school, and really don't want to learn English at all. It's definitely a delicate balance trying to get an entire class to stay with you for a whole lesson. I guess it's only the second week and we're still working out the kinks. Even though they get squirrely in class sometimes, in the hallways they are all really nice to me, and a lot of them will yell out "HI JENNIFER!" when we're in the halls. I guess we have to expand the vocabulary to include more chit-chat, but for now it's fine. If I ask them how they're doing, a lot will just say "Good!" and run away giggling. There are a lot of giggling children in my life these days.

Well, I guess that's about it for this installment of "Really Long Descriptions of Jenny's Work Environment", but maybe sometime I'll tell you about the cafeteria, which is often a lot more humorous.

<3 from Korea. Jenny.

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