Tag Archives: teaching

Teaching from the Bottom of the Totem Pole #4: 6 Months Down (6 More to Go)

3 Mar

Yesterday was the official start of the new school semester and the (unofficial) halfway point of my one-year contract.

I’ve been here 6 months. How do I feel about it?

The end of last semester was fairly  confusing, to say the least. My sixth graders took off for middle school and while there was a big ceremony commemorating their time elementary schoolers, many of the teachers seemed to take it pretty lightly. I brought a camera to possibly take some photos with some of my students before their departure and hoped to shake their hands and wish them good luck. Instead they were promptly marched out of the auditorium and out of the school to the sound of applause and cheering from their families and fellow classmates. As far as I could tell, most of the other teachers in the school went back to their rooms or to the teachers’ office to finish out the rest of the day. I took no pictures, shook no hands and congratulated no one. The ceremony, it seems, was mainly for the students’ families. Not that I have any problems with this, but I would’ve thought that many of the teachers would be little sad to see their students go. I certainly wasn’t shedding any tears on the matter, but over the course of six months I have developed a fondness for my students and admittedly (cue the violins) was somewhat sad at their rapid departure.

It then dawned on me that in Korea teachers and administrators move from school to school quite frequently and are very used to these sudden changes. They come and go almost as much as the students so when it’s time to move on, the goodbyes are short and everyone continues on with their assigned tasks. Sorry Mr. Dreadlocks. There is no time to dwell on your previous kids. We must prepare for the new semester.

As is the norm, change brings about confusion and this situation is no different. New textbooks are being used (though much of the material is the same), I have a new co-teacher (my former one moved to a new school), and my schedule has been jostled a bit. Surprisingly I’m taking it all well. If the past 6 months have taught me anything, it’s that in Korea it’s best to roll with the changes and (as much as you can help it) let the stress fall by the wayside. To do anything else might drive you into a state of depression.

A few thoughts about my first six in the classroom:

–Getting used to my completely illogical teaching schedule didn’t take as long as I expected, but I still have problems understanding how they came up with it. Why am I only seeing my third and fourth graders once every other week?

–Classroom rewards can be useful to foster participation, but they’re a pain in the ass to manage. I’ve written about this before.

–What is the benefit of placing special education students into my classes if I’m expected to completely ignore them? Everything about this seems unethical. *Chris (now gone from Korea) over at Kimchi with Eish wrote a good post on this a while back.

–Playing soccer with the students outside beats desk warming any day of the week.

–Instant coffee isn’t so bad…especially when it’s all you got. I just close my eyes and pretend it’s hot chocolate.

–I never expected to be told that I look like a “strong African warrior” during my time in Korea; let alone be told by someone at my school. Truly, the assistant principal is my homeboy.

–Soju hangovers will not improve your teaching ability, but it will make your breath smell like the inside of a Korean squatter toilet. Never again.

–Teaching my students how to beat-box and pop-lock (in addition to teaching a few hip handshakes) are some of the best ideas I’ve ever had.

–Simply put, the old textbooks were horrible and the new ones show little promise of being any better.

–Dong-Chim was created by satan.

All jokes aside though, the first half of my teaching contract hasn’t always been a breeze, but I have thoroughly enjoyed it and am looking forward to another six months of last minute staff dinners, desk warming and perky Korean students throwing up the peace sign as I pass them in the hallways.


Kimchi Dreadlocks

* On a side note, welcome to all the new EPIK teachers who just started. Words of wisdom for the “newbies” in Busan: KSU on Saturday nights can be bad for your health. See you there.



18 Jan

For the past week and a half I have been entrenched in Winter English camp. To say the least, it hasn’t been quite what I expected. True, I only have nine students (a godsend considering I have upwards of 3o in my normal classes) and most of them are fairly high level, but thus far during winter camp I have noticed something that seems to have slipped under my annoyance radar until now.

My winter camp students are extremely obsessed with receiving rewards for every tiny task they perform–almost to the point where I can’t get them to do anything without promising payment in the form of candy, or some type of token that can eventually be redeemed for a prize.

I’m not a complete rube.  I understand very well that for many teachers, offering rewards is an easy way to get students to participate in classroom activities, but when when it gets to the point where students are throwing tantrums  because they didn’t get a Chupa Chups sucker after answering a simple question, the system needs to be re-worked.

Earlier this week I had a student disrupt the entire class because I wouldn’t give him a paper dollar bill (used by my co-teacher and I during games and vocab drills) after he correctly guessed the topic of the day’s lesson.

He stands up, holds his hand out and says “Teacher, give me dollar! I right!” I tell him to have a seat and continue the lesson when he stomps his foot on the ground and again demands payment for his classroom efforts.  I almost slip and tell him “tough shit” before I decide to ignore him. Truthfully, I couldn’t give in to his demands even f I wanted to. I haven’t been teaching with my normal co-teacher this week and don’t have the keys to the stash drawer. Still, I’m not about to explain that to a third-grader. Is “good job” not sufficient enough?

Maybe I’m just bitter.

I remember when the only reward a kid got in school was a lousy gold star on some chart posted in the back of the classroom, a system I still feel is was rigged from the get go. For a full week of homework assignments handed in on time and perfect classroom compliance, you would get half of a star. After accumulating 30 or so stars, you’d get a “prize.”  Now, the prize might be anything from a  fancy eraser cut out in the shape of a heart to extra free time after lunch, but it didn’t matter. The stars could just as easily be taken away for misbehavior, which happened to me on a regular basis.

Here in Korea elementary students get rewards for everything short of breathing. Show up to class? You’ve earned a new pencil. Finished your homework? Have a piece of candy. Good job class. You all remembered to bring your notebooks to school! Ice cream for everyone! I’m beginning to feel like we’re just passing out treats to little puppies who have learned how to sit, lay down and stop pissing on the carpet.

I’m not at all against bestowing prizes when we’re playing classroom games or fostering healthy competition in some other way, but I can’t accept  the feeling that I’m somehow buying my students’ participation with goodies purchased at the local 1,000 Won store. These kids are going home with pockets full of candy and other treasures, speaking whole sentences of perfect English, without a clue of what they’re saying.

Maybe I’m exaggerating. and I’m sure not if all waygook English teachers employ bribe tactics, but it does seem like a popular trend and I remember several lecturers at the EPIK orientation mentioning how useful it is to offer treats to students who participate during lessons. I still have yet to see how this is more useful than encouragement and praise.

The way I see it, “teaching” and “training” are two totally different concepts. If you want to teach put in the effort don’t rely on candy currency. If you want to train, head to your nearest pet store and buy a parrot.


Kimchi Dreadlocks

Eat and Be Merry

22 Nov

*First off, I should apologize for not posting in nearly two weeks. I wish I could say it’s because I’ve been busy or because I temporarily lost use of my fingers, but this would just be a lie. The truth is I’ve been having a stint of writers block and thus have been spending more time outside of my apartment during the week as opposed to staying in to write. No worries though. The juices are flowing again. Enough said.

Among the perks of teaching in Korea, one of my favorites is the mandatory staff dinners. Unfortunately, I’m not lucky enough to have co-workers that regularly get plastered and spend weeknights slaughtering songs at the local noraebang, so I have to take whatever opportunities I can to cut loose with my fellow teachers.

In my situation, the staff dinners occur with no regularity and–as with everything else that goes on at the school–I’m almost always the last to find out about them, usually just minutes before I make my escape for the day.

Still, I look forward to them. Why?

For starters, we always eat Korean barbeque, but for me it might as well be crack because that shit has me hooked. Ever since my first run-in with it shortly after I arrived in Busan, I’ve been chasing the high.  It doesn’t matter whether it’s bulgogi, samgyupsal, or kalbi; if I go one week without my fix, I damn near experience withdrawal symptoms. My fear is that without it, my co-teachers may have to pay a visit to my apartment after I don’t show up to work and they’ll find me laying naked on the floor in the fetal position shaking, fists tightly clenched around a pair of meat tongs and a clove of garlic. It’s that bad, people.

Additionally, I never have to pay. Not that I’m a cheap bastard, but a free meal is just that–free. There’s no point in shelling out several thousand won (or more if you’re a moron like myself and decide to grocery shop and cook your own food) when your school is more than happy to feed you at their expense.Well, i assume they are more than happy to pay. Usually when the meal is winding down I put a dumb look n my face and try to find a ride home as quickly as possible.

Even for it being free Korean barbeque though, staff dinners have a dangerous side to them as well, and as most of us already teaching in Korea know, that dangerous side is the amount of soju you consume, not by choice per se, but because you usually feel obligated to due to the fact that all of your co-workers (principal and vice principal included) are knocking the shit back as if they’d loose their Korean citizenship if they didn’t. Friends, if you never head any of the bullshit advice I spew on this blog, head this: never attempt to go shot-for-shot drinking soju with Koreans.

This is somewhat hard for me as I rarely get to interact with the men in my school because most of them are homeroom teachers that I don’t see on a normal basis. The staff dinners are really the only time I get to split off from my c0-teachers and other women I work with and shoot the shit with the males. It seems nothing brings them more joy than to plop down next to me with a bottle of soju looking to exchange a few simple words in english along with a few doses of the green bottled monster. Even the principals get in on the action.

During the last dinner, one of the homeroom teachers– we’ll call him Mr. Boastful–decides to come over to my table and share a few shots. Before doing so he announces to the other teachers that he feels like I am a global citizen and that he is quite fond of having me in the school. Naturally I cannot refuse his accompanying offer of soju, right?  After all the man has just given me a compliment. Immediately after we toast and drink, the Vice Principal comes over, holds my hand and proceeds to give his own speech before pouring several more shots. Again am I supposed to tell him no? I’m sure it’s written somewhere in my contract that if the vice principal of your school holds your hand and gives a speech about you in Korean, you have to join him in a celebratory toast of Korea’s most potent adult beverage.

Eventually my co-teachers stand up to leave and tell me they can give me a ride home, when Mr. Boastful interjects, assuring me that help me fetch a cab later if I would opt to stay. Because I’m still a bit hungry and there’s still meat on the grill (and because the soju has me feeling jolly), I accept his offer.

Almost two hours and several soju bottles later we’re at a completely different restaurant eating clams and loudly professing that we are indeed brothers from different mothers.

Through broken Korean and English we discuss some of the reasons I decided to come to Korea and his reasons why Korea is a far better country than China or Japan–boisterous  and a bit crude, but endearing nonetheless.

Before deciding to take off, we finish off one final bottle, and for whatever reason, I decide to pay for the meal which we barely ate. He was quite pleased and my gesture, and I was out 30,000 won–so much for the free meal.

We split a cab and the entire way home Mr. Boastful continuously reminds me of our new found fraternal connection, and that we should soon go mountain climbing as he is an expert.

The next morning I wake up earlier than usual, almost fully clothed, with breath that smells like kimchi sautéed in raw sewage.

Should I be embarrassed by all of this? Maybe, but I’ve since written it off as nothing more than enjoying a Korean cultural experience. Though next time I’ll probably fill my shot glass with water and spare myself the morning poo-poo breath.


Kimchi Dreadlocks

Teaching from the Bottom of the Totem Pole #3:Truths

2 Nov

With just over two months teaching English in Korea under my belt, I’ve come to realize certain truths about my place of employment. A couple are probably native only to my school, but I imagine a few are fairly general as well. Either way, I’m no stingy bastard. In an effort to preserve these truths forever. I’ve decided to share.

#1 TRUTH: “Maybe” means Absolutely.
This is someething I figured out right away. If your co-teacher says you should “maybe” do something. Your ass better get on it.  Maybe you have to wait for your paycheck? You can forget about getting your money that day. Maybe you’ll have extra lessons that week? Expect to work like a damn slave. Maybe one of your students is sick and brought an infectious disease with him to class? You get the idea.

#2 TRUTH: Any Korean I Speak Will Elicit Laughter from My Students
Rather it be a simple An-yeong-haseyo in the hallway or some classroom command, when it comes out of my mouth, my students crack up laughing–sometimes while rolling on the floor. Sometimes after lunch I’ll get students who come to my desk, slowly say a word in Korean, then wait patiently for me to repeat it. I haven’t the slightest clue what I’m saying but I do it nonetheless and sit there while they laugh hysterically at my shitty accent. My feelings suffer, but I do it for the kids.

#3 TRUTH: The School Janitor is My Pal
The man speaks almost no english, yet everyday he greets me at the door and and we have our daily thirty-second conversation. Because of he language barrier, it’s strictly delegated to one of three topics: How beautiful Korean weather is (regardless of the season), How beautiful my co-teacher and her twin sister are (yes, I said the “T” word), and how beautiful I am while wearing my sunglasses. Anything other than those three topics usually comes in the form of some classic song that I’m sure the poor fella rehearsed the night before. He only sings the chorus though. The latest was “I Did It My Way” by Frank Sinatra. After our morning routine we say “have a nice day” and go about our business.

#4 TRUTH: Come Lunch Time, I Either Have to put Up With the Slurping and Loud chewing, or Simply Starve
There’s no getting around it. It’s the Korean way. Soup and noodles will be slurped. Food will be chewed with an open mouth.Particles will be shot across the table. I just have to sit there and bare with it. I’ve written about this before. It kills me a little everyday.

#5 TRUTH: Get Caught Dropping a Deuce, and the Whole School Will Find Out
This is the latest an most important truth to date.

I’m sitting at my desk two hours or so before work is over when suddenly I need to go drop a deuce. Normally I maintain a strict no-pooping-at-school policy. Why?  I’m still scarred from my elementary years. Then, a child could be pushed to drop out of school in grade five if some heartless bully recognized his sneakers underneath the stall door and ran back to spread the news. Believe it or not fifth graders can be quite evil in this regard. It’s a fear that still plagues me as an adult.

At first, I think I can hold out until I get home, then I look at the clock and am faced with the reality that I’m not going to make it. My school only has one teacher’s bathroom but it’s on the first floor and something tells me it’s really only reserved for the principal and vice principal (plus I’m lazy and don’t really want to make the trip). Most teachers use the same bathroom as the students and my office is right across the hall from one. I look at the clock and notice I have 10 min before the next class lets out and all the students come pouring into the hallway. No problem right? Just hurry in, do my deed and get the fuck out of there. Only I didn’t expect it to take as long as it did.

Before I’m able to finish the bell rings and I can hear some of the boys filing into the bathroom. Suddenly I’m back in the fifth grade, only the stall door goes all the way to the floor so I think I’m in the clear to just wait it out. Then one of the kids knocks on the door and says something in Korean. Shit. What do I say? If I say anything They’ll know it’s me.

I mumble a “just a sec” and they immediatly know who I am. I hear him run out of the bathroom saying my name. Surely he’s going to find his friends and broadcast the fact that Dreadlock teacher was just going number two in the fifth floor bathroom. I return to my desk hoping I will hear nothing about it.

The next morning some of my students stop me in the hallway and one of them gestures like their sitting on a toilet trying to poop. They all burst into laughter. I tell them to go to their homerooms then I head to my office desk to cry a bit. Why didn’t I just go to the downstairs bathroom? You live and you learn.


Kimchi Dreadlocks

P.S. Feel free to share your TRUTHs as well. Comments feed my desire to feel important.

Say it Ain’t So!

28 Oct

Yesterday I’m scrolling through my rss reader when I come across a post by good ole Mr. Dubs. It seems  he’s decided to call it quits on the k-blogging scene because of some threats he received from alleged Korean netizens looking to rid the peninsula of  ESL teachers who stray from the pack of conformity. In other words, Mr Dubs said some shit they didn’t like on his blog, An Idiots Tale, and now they’ve threatened to rat him out to his employer. Because I can no longer link to the specific post here’s some exerts from the comments he received:

I am the member from an organization of concerned Korean to clean up ESL industry…

…I think you should be very careful from now, as some member want to find the school where you work to tell about your blog…

You have wife and children, you should respect. You know about Korea right? You know it is danger to use internet in irresponsible way. If many Korean see this blog, it can be a danger for your future and family…

At first the old man shrugged the off the threats and kept doing his thing, but now after possibly receiving more threats, he’s decided to pull the plug:

The internet is anonymous. So the guy who made this evil promise might actually be a white dude pretending he’s a netzien.

Who knows?

If he is Korean, his anger is ironic.

I have the most pro-Korean blog on the peninsula.

I enjoy living on the peninsula. Plus I’ve always had a healthy affection for Her people.

Shit! I married a member of the tribe.

I think my twisted love-affair with the ROK comes through strongly in my blog.

But let’s face facts. Netziens are crazy bullies who have literally driven people to suicide.

Furthermore, I have a family. So I can’t take these threats lightly.

It would be different if I had the talent of Ernest Hemingway. Then I would have to continue writing for the good of mankind.

But I don’t possess that type of skill. I’m just an entertaining hack killing time between classes.

I have no right to put The Dragon Lady and The Children of the Rice in jeopardy over a stupid website.

Some of you might call me a pussy. And maybe I am.

But there’s no way in fucking hell that I want to face the ire of the Korean internet community. They’ll rip poor old Mr. Wonderful a new asshole.

I’m scared. Plain and simple.

Nobody is more saddened by this sorry state of affairs than me.

However, all things must come to an end.

And I’m afraid it’s time to kill An Idiot’s Tale for the well-being of my family.

I’m not 100 percent certain. But I don’t see any other option.

This isn’ the first time something l this has happened in Korea. So Why do I bring this up now?

For starters, as a journalist I’m always saddened when a fellow scribe gets pushed around to the point where it becomes dangerous to keep writing. Angry comments are one thing , but threatening a man’s family is crossing the line.

Secondly, I’d like to point out that while Mr. Dubs talked a ton of shit  (garnering friends and enemies alike) I would never say that he had an “anti-Korean” blog. There’s far worse shit being written by Korean haters who have been here for years. Hell, just drop by Daves ESL Cafe and read some of the malicious statements being slung around the forums comprised of nothing but grumpy expats. It’s downright sickening. Sure Mr. Dubs picked fights with other expat bloggers but he kept things cheeky in regards to Korean affairs–correct me if I’m wrong.

Lastly, this is a good time to give a heads up to newbie or would be bloggers in the R.O.K. Keep your scribblings tight my friends. I’m not encouraging you to sensor you shit by any means–fuck that–but know that if you post even slightly controversial material, and someone gets a hold of it at your job, there could be consequences. Again, If you got something to say, don’t be a punk, say it and own it, but know that there’s risks involved. This is not a game for the faint or weary people.

I can’t speak for Hagwon teachers, but if you’re teaching for EPIK, there’s a specific clause in your contract that prohibits you from making defamatory statements about your school or the people in it. I’d hate to think that this could include a sarcastic or cynical anecdote about a crazy day at work, but this is Korea, you never know. I recently was faced with a dilemma where someone at my school read my blog and took offense. I was able to successfully defend my writing, but it could have easily gone the the other way. And I’m not trying to scare any potential bloggers out of posting  their critical thoughts on life in Korea. A great number of blogs out there are as harmless as they come. I only mean to inform those bloggers who choose to walk the line. As a friend of mine said recently, Freedom of Speech is one thing, but Korean sensitivity is something totally different.

As for Mr. Dubs, if you’re truly calling it a wrap, you will be missed homie. I didn’t always agree with your point of view, but I did appreciate the laughs and your anecdotes about life on the rice paddy. Some may call you a pussy for kicking the blog to the curb, but as far as I’m concerned there’s nothing wrong for wanting to do right by your family. The internet is a hellish place and there’s no telling what these freaks might do. I fear for my dreads even now, and my shitty blog garners no where near the amount of traffic yours did. Anyways take care of yourself old man, and we’ll be waiting for your return, even if it’s only to shoot the shit.

Ciao, and Blian Golden Balls to you as well.

Kimchi Dreadlocks

P.S. To the stupid fuckers who sent the threats, Korean or otherwise, kindly do me a favor and fuck off. You’ll never get rid of us all.

Fresh Breath

27 Oct

No doubt,  I talk a lot of shit on this blog.  I can’t help it. There’s so many quirky Korean oddities to comment on. However not everything I come come across in the land of soju and shiny suit ajosshis is a mindfuck. Sure, I don’t get the public toilets or traffic lights, but there’s a lot still plenty about Korea that makes perfect sense.

An example?

After a few weeks on the job I begin to notice that all the teachers in my school disappear after lunch. Five minutes before the afternoon classes start I’m the only adult in sight,  then all of a sudden teachers seem to be dashing from random corners, making it into their classrooms just seconds before the bell rings. The students don’t even seem to notice. I started thinking I was missing out on some daily post lunch party. For all I knew my co-workers were taking off to slam shots of soju and huff paint in the back parking lot. Whatever it was, I wanted in. Not being invited made me feel like an outsider. I love a good workday buzz as much as the next man. Turns out that after scarfing down lunch, all the teachers ritually head off to the little boys and girls rooms to brush their teeth.

This, my friends, is shear Korean brilliance.

For those that don’t know, a great deal of Korean cuisine–as good as it is–can leave ones breath smelling like a poo paper bin in a subway station. Take kimchi for example–fermented fucking cabbage. This is served everyday at lunch (and damn near every other meal for that matter). I eat in in small servings whilst holding my breath. The smell is just that bad.

Once on the subway, I was accosted by the kimchi breadth of an ajosshi who insisted he hold a conversation with me while standing several centimeters from my face the added rank soju stench only made matters worse. My eyes teared up every time he exhaled and it gave me the bubble guts for close to an hour after I reached my destination.

Now imagine being a poor Korean student held hostage by his english speaker’s stank ass breath. The kiddies would sing harsh playground songs about you. Everytime you leaned over to help a child one-on-one, they would quickly cover their nose for fear of inhaling the toxic fumes coming for your mouth. They’d probably even run home and explain to their parents that their learning is being hindered by your lack of dental hygiene.
“What did to you lean at school today Sang Jun?”
“Not a damn thing. Teecha’s smelly breath make my head hurt!”

My co-workers clearly  want to avoid this dilemma, which is why they take the time to address their kimchi ladened breath everyday after lunch everyday before returning to their classrooms.

I now follow suit with the post-lunch ritual and keep my desk drawer fully stocked with a toothbrush, toothpaste, Listerine, floss, and gum. After eating I retreat to the fifth floor bathroom and go to work on my pearly whites. It’s a routine I expect to take back to the states. My mother would be so proud.


Kimchi Dreadlocks

Teaching from the Bottom of the Totem Pole #2: Attempted Dong-Chim

8 Oct

I received so much traffic from my Teaching from the Bottom of the Totem Pole post that I’ve decided to make it a series that documents all the bizarre shit that goes at work.

In the last week I’ve realized my students are becoming more comfortable with me.  Some of then now sleep during class or otherwise check out mentally from the lesson, others sit and chat like my class is the hang out spot– not meant for actual learning, and I swear one of my sixth grade girls tells me everyday to “fuck off” in Korean.

The Best though is playing “Kung-Fu” with the 5th graders. In between classes we hold fake sparring matches where Mr. Woodson displays some fancy matial arts whilst making punching sounds and crazy facial expressions. It’s quite dramatic.  I’m pretty sure it pisses my co-teacher off, but I couldn’t care less. It’s fun as all hell and it breaks up the monotony of teaching boring lessons. It was during one of these kung-fu matches that I experienced an attempted dong-chim or “kancho,” as the Japanese call it.

Here I am pretending to snap a kids neck (the ultimate fatality move while playing kung-fu), when all of a sudden I feel a sharp pointy jab on my the left  side of my buttocks. I turn around and find one of my students grinning with his hands clasped together in the classic dong-chim stance. The little bugger missed my ass hole by mere inches.

I look around to make sure no adults are watching before issuing a quick chop to the culprit’s throat–hopefully ensuring the incident never happens again.

I’ve been told that the attempted dong-chim is a sign that the children like me and are comfortable with me as their teacher.

My response? If dong-chim means the students are fond of me, then I would like to return to a time when they hated my fucking guts.

I contemplate asking my co-teacher to tell the students in Korean that Mr. Woodson will promptly drop-kick any student that tries dong-chim on him, but instead I shed a tear and start the next lesson.


Kimchi Dreadlocks

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