While talking with one of my brightest students about her high school and college and job plans, her hopes and dreams, I told her to just find the thing that makes her happy, and try to do that as a job. She looked a me for a moment, a look of confusion on her face before saying:
"I don't have that."
In our whole conversation about job goals, I never once heard any hint of what she would enjoy doing. I know what her dad wants her to do, what her teachers want her to do, and she certainly knows which jobs are most difficult to get and which pay the most. But apparently there's nothing she loves to do.
This makes me really sad.
I know it's rather old hat to complain about the harshness of the Korean school system, but I'm going to jump right in regardless. These are the things I witness on a daily basis. This is the stuff I talk with my students about. I don't know how to fix it, but I can at least give a view from the inside.
Today I received a wonderful compliment from one of my high school students. To give some context to the essay snippet below: I teach at a public boarding school where the students stay on-campus 5 or 6 nights a week. Most of them are from the area, so they can easily go home on the weekend. But some, like the student in this story, have to travel 4+ hours one way by bus, so they don’t go home nearly as often. It’s hard on all of them, but especially so for those who only see their friends and family once every few weeks or months.
It's finally the first day. In theory vacation is something you're supposed to enjoy, but the allure fades after the months drag on. I'm not great at self-motivating, but I also hate feeling as if I'm not accomplishing something, so vacation always ends up either driving me crazy or making me gloomy. Or both! Such a lovely combo those two make.
Proper classes don't start until tomorrow, so I get one more night of fitful sleep before I face the students once again. Today was just the entrance ceremony and a chance for the students to collect their textbooks. The one stressful thing about the ceremony is that they bring all the teachers up on stage, in groups of about ten, to introduce them to the new and returning students. Last year I didn't realize this was going to happen until I was being pushed onto stage, but fortunately this year I was more prepared.
One of the most amusing things about teaching middle school is the constant marriage proposals and date invitations I get from my boys. Today was the first day back after vacation, and within minutes of walking out of my office, the barrage began.
Student 1: Teacher! When we together date? Me: Sorry, it's impossible Student 1: I am so angry! My heart is devil.
Student 2: Teacher! Marry me! Me: Why? Student: Teacher very pretty. Me: Sorry, I can't.
Student 3: Mother fucker!
He suddenly noticed I was there, and after looking scared for a moment, put his arm around his friend and, as they walked off down the hall, continued to call out "Mother friend! Mother friend!"
Student 4: Teacher! Please marry me. Me: I can't. You are too young. Student 4: No, no, not young. Please. Me: Okay, fine. When? Student 4: Tomorrow. Me: Awesome. Where?
Next month, I will buy my first car. While this is an exciting and very grownup-feeling thing to do, it's also a bit terrifying, for a variety of reasons. Not only will this be the most money I've ever spent in one go, but my future 2005 Chevy Kalos has...a manual transmission.
So, I recently started learning to drive stick. We started simple, in one of the few traditional student driver locations: a semi-abandoned parking lot. On the way there the friend I'm buying the car from gave me the basic walk-through. This is the clutch, this is when you should shift, that's the noise you don't want to hear, etc. I'd also been given plenty of advice from friends and family, so I felt...entirely unprepared and marginally terrified.
Last Friday was a very good day for me: it was the last day of Winter Camp at school, and the start of a 5 week holiday. So it’s not surprising that I was in a pretty good mood. But, distracting me from my happiness was the horrible feeling of an entirely achey body, eyes which would barely stay open, and a general ill-feeling. Why? Because after 10 days of Winter Camp, I was exhausted.
There’s been a pretty negative atmosphere at school during the last week, and there’s one reason why: exam week. It’s the students’ final exams before the end of semester, a time when stress levels peak for pupils and teachers alike. Luckily for us foreign teachers, we are only in charge of one written exam. Apart from that, we’re not too involved in the tests, even the English one. But that doesn’t mean we’re completely removed from the drama when it’s exam season. During our time at the school we’ve seen students crying, parents crying, arguments, breakdowns and complaints.
Brief note: Back in 2012, during my final year of university, I took a class on literacy in the US that really broadened my mind. For my final project I researched the ways that language and culture interact in the ELL classroom, and since I feel like I actually made some good points, here it is, slightly edited for your reading pleasure.