Wednesday, March 5, 2008

So, I'm guessing I've lost my readership by now

Yes, I understand that it's been three and a half months since I last posted. Christmas was crazy, with a trip home that really took more out of me than I realized at the time. January blurred by as I read more and more about teaching and attempted to fix some of the mess I'd made because I didn't know any better. Over the past month, I've been working to retool our curriculum, trying to find tools that are more useful for the us and the kids. It's kept me busy and frustrated. I keep running into the same conflicts between business and education, quantity and quality, idealism and realism...

This past month, my seven year olds graduated, my six year olds turned into seven-year-olds whom I'm being allowed to keep, and I'm finally hitting a stride as a teacher that has a solid foundation. I hope.

So much happens here, and I chronicle so little of it. Part of me wants to get to the other side of the rough spots and pretend as though I was unscathed by it all. I guess I've been avoiding looking at it for what it is. I'm not sure of my reasons, except that I'm not sure what perspective I'd take on it all even if I were to look at it. I'm hoping that the future will provide the context for these experiences, and I'm working now to build something of this that will be future enough to justify it. All of this is probably exceedingly elliptical, but it is what it is.

I'm no longer working for that spark of recognition in a child's eye. It took me a while, but I finally realized that that spark was what I ought to have turned into a flame within the first month. It's a depressing realization, but an honest one. You live and learn, I guess. Time ticks on and I am pushing so hard, perhaps working against the past. It's a battle I understand is impossible to win, but because of all the times in my life that I've been fundamentally unmotivated, it's nice. Momentum is always appreciated.

I'm not going to try to get it all down right now. There's so much. From the look in Daniel's eyes as he asks me if we can watch Bob Ajosshi at lunch, to the two twelve hour days that started this week, it's all been a bit messy. I would say, though, that this place is becoming home in some serious ways. The job, too, is feeling like home. I can't imagine how I ever worked retail.

Anyway, I'd best be on my way. Life continues to tick-tock, and there's been so much time lost in the past few months that I can't begin to pour it all out of my head in one go. I might get separation anxiety.

Love to all of you, and prayers that you all are well,

Monday, November 19, 2007

Stretching myself

Ok, so I left my book at home today, which might be a good idea from now on if I want to update this more regularly. School's been great. It's tough to describe it on here, because so much of my life in Korea necessitates body language. Ashley, one of the most unique girls on earth, has begun wearing a winter hat that looks like the head from a stuffed animal. It's her husky hat. She has an odd preoccupation with huskies which I have yet to understand. It's amazing to me how much Kiwi class has progressed since I got here and how little Banana class has. My greatest handicap is my ability to explain things. I always considered it a strength, but when teaching English to people who are too young for a logical system, repitition is far more effective. I'm learning that more and more on a daily basis, but explaining things is one of the toughest habits to break myself of. I see it most in Banana and Cornell classes, and little bit in my fourth grade class. They're all at a level where they can understand a little bit of my explanation. This little bit is all it takes to confuse them to the point of mental meltdown. Again, I'm slowly breaking myself of it.
Outside of school, I'm doing well. I met an awesome girl named Meghan who I've been spending at least a night of every weekend with. We have similar interests and a lot of fun together. It's been nice to have a friend I can just be myself with in Korea. I've also just started doing yoga and I continue to read more than I ever read at home. I've started drinking a lot more milk as I've been exercising more, and the milk here is probably altering my chemical makeup because I really have no clue how many hormones and chemicals are in it. Anyway, I'm still doing well and I'm feeling like a cog that turns rather than a cog that is turned again. I wouldn't say it's a good thing or a bad thing, but it's nice to be more active again.
I love you all and hope all is well back home.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Kafka on the Shore

So I've now finished Nausea. It was a rough go and took me longer than I thought it would. I'm about 350 pages into a new book now. It's called Kafka on the Shore, and it's one of the most amazing books I've read, but for different reasons than all of the other books I've read here were amazing. It's somehow taken the place of the cartoons I watched to get out of my last funk. It's taught me an important lesson, and I decided I ought to jot it down here while I have it in my head. The lesson of Nausea, it seemed, was that one must be for a reason, rather than merely existing. One must change things, affect things, and somehow be something to others. It is through these actions that one can know himself, but I'm already allowing Murakami to leak into my memories of Sartre. This book is full of Hegel, Haydn, Greek tragedy, and Arabian Nights. It creates a universe in which it can make sense, and a comfort in finding sense there. It's strange, because so much of the book, when looked at squarely from a normal context, is utterly absurd. Every time I try to talk about it, I lose it and end up trying to justify it all.
But, I suppose, I must now get to the lesson it's taught me. I've learned that sometimes I must feel the cogs turning. That's where I was for about a month. Other times, I must be the cog that turns, effecting change and driving the machine. Still other times, and this is one of them, I must be the cog that is turned. I must feel the universe, feel God changing me, using me, and let it pass through me. The only way I can explain this feeling is to call forth memories from when I was acting or singing or running full speed through the woods. It's like taking my hands off the steering wheel for a while, except that now I understand that it was not me taking my hands off the steering wheel and sitting in the driver's seat. I was ceasing to be the driver, and starting to be the car. I'm learning to do that now. Perhaps this is what they all meant when they prayed that God help them to accept the things they cannot change. That never really made sense to me. I still think it's a silly way to live, but I think I've found something similar that works for me. When you can't be the driver, be the car. When you can't be the car, it's best to be the driver. And on long, lonely trips from Philadelphia at midnight, it's sometimes just good to be along for the ride.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Busy busy busy

So, today's been rougher than the past few, which were rougher than the few before that. Not entirely sure why, but I've just been having a tougher time of things. The old tension I sometimes feel inside is surfacing for the first time in Korea, and I feel the withdrawal that typically accompanies it as well. I'm tempted for a moment to blame it on Nausea, but I think it's just happening to coincide with the book. It's been a really long week, and I think that's my problem. It's not that the weeks been long, it's that I know that the longness of it is completely subjective. It's as though somethings churning below the surface, and it is this churning that makes me anxious. The anxiety, of course, is self-perpetuating, and I need to take the off-ramp this weekend so that I'll be able to get going again on Monday.
The nice thing is that in Korea, detoxing is pretty easy after a long week. I'm going to go to KFC tonight and have some good food, and after that I'll be going to the sauna to try and soak the week out of my tired bones. I'm finding it tough to be positive, but I'm also laughing at myself for not being able to. I guess, in all honesty, that I'm feeling homesick again. Remember about two months ago, when I couldn't tell you whether the things I felt were here or there? Well, I'm there again, or here, or whatever. So, anwyay, I'm in some nebulous space for the time being, and hoping to shock myself out of it, or ease out of it, or write my way out of it. I'd like to be out by the end of the weekend, but I'm not setting a time limit, just taking a day at a time. For now, I teach, and try not to be a monster.
Tomorrow, I'll do my best to live as though I weren't in a funk. That's always worked best. If I try to figure out why I'm feeling like this, I'll inevitably have to go onto the turf of the monster to do so. I've been there, and don't plan to visit. It's a pretty useless place. I'll just move fast, make do, and hope that it can't keep up with me as I go for bike rides, relax, and read all weekend.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Banana Class

Ok. So here goes, the description of my life teaching. My first class every day is Banana Class. They're 6 year olds, Korean age, which means they're five year olds by our standards in the West. Koreans start at one and get a year older every new year. They don't really celebrate birthdays. To them it's an interesting day, but they get older each year at the same time that their friends do. Banana class is the toughest for me because they are my youngest students, and they haven't really reached the age of true pattern recognition yet. This makes it tough for me to teach them because I see the entire universe in patterns, logical or chaotic.
In the class, there are a wide variety of levels. Eric was my nightmare child when I first got here. He's probably the lowest level student, and he has a lot of trouble focusing. Within the past month, however, I discovered his artistic abilities. He's got an amazing artistic eye for a boy his age, and is also much more quick to retain information if he's doing something involving crayons. He's really latched onto me, too. He was the first student who clung to me and told me he liked me. I hate to say that it's because of this that I tried so very hard to get through to him, but it's true. I knew he was my biggest problem, and I've tried my best to get him back on the level of the other students. It's a bit of a fruitless venture in many ways, but I get so much pleasure out of seeing him get even the littlest answer right. He's really one of the best parts of my day.
Daniel is quite a character. My first memory of him is him coming to the teachers' room to return the pencil I'd lent him. He'd slyly slipped it into his pocket. He does things like that. We often have growling matches when I tell him that we're doing phonics instead of free-coloring, and he's a bit of a headache to handle sometimes, but if you could see the kid you'd understand.
Amy's a sweetheart, and has pretty good English, compartively. She and Jini can sort of be grouped together as the girls in the class. They keep me accountable, and were really the ones who showed me the ropes when I first started here. They know the rules and hold the other boys to them. It's funny how the class controls itself.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Another day

So it's been nearly a month, and I apologize. I've been reading too fiercely, living too much to pause long enough to write things down. I've finished three books, all of which I'd gladly recommend to anyone who feels like reading something that makes the mind spin round on itself. The first, I've already mentioned, was Foucault's Pendulum by Umberto Eco, an Italian writer whose literary essays I've sampled recently as well. It was an immense book in so many ways, and there were only about a hundred pages in the middle that got terribly cumbersome. I'm sure they would fascinate a grail legend afficionado, but I am certainly not one. It was a story about intellect striving to find happiness, about the tendency of human beings to complicate rather than simplify their existences. It has led me toward a more profound contempt for my more complicating notions of self and toward a more nebulous view of self. I am not yet sure whether this is a good or a bad thing, but it is interesting nonetheless.
The second was, without a doubt, the most incredible book I have read in years. Jonathan Safran Foer's Everything Is Illuminated taught me a new reason to laugh and to cry each time I opened it. It taught me to read myself as a stranger, taught me to escape my language. I don't really know how else to describe it. It was profound, counfounding, and illuminating all at once. The words were like delicious crumbs on a meandering forest trail toward truth. It left me both hungry and satisfied.
I then turned to Vonnegut, whom, I must admit, I have not read thoroughly enough. Cat's Cradle was quick, smart, and relatively light. I read it so as not to lose the pace I'd accidentally discovered, to propel me through my current venture: Nausea. It's dense. It traps me as only a void can trap, but it is so perfect in so many ways. At times I can barely pick it up for its weight. At others, I open it to find myself unable to stop reading, as though it is dragging me toward heaviness itself. I will let you know when I've come out on the other side of it.
Teaching is wonderful. I don't know how else to describe it. I have to go do it now, and then I will write more to tell you why.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Cogs turning

So it's an eternal oscillation between gratification and the undermining of confidence. On any given day, I can't be certain whether it is I or my students who have changed. My perspective seems to shift a bit and suddenly I've made loads of progress, established repor, and am gaining traction. Then it shifts back and I see what massive quantities of work lie ahead of me. On a good day, the shift happens within a single lesson. During a bad week, the days drag and I'm wading through a swamp with memories of running on dry land.

Yale class seems to be understanding more lately. A lot more. Method helps loads, and so long as I don't occupy myself with the disciplinary issues (I've started to come up with and borrow new tactics for regaining control of a classroom), I can make significant headway within a single period. Today we reviewed an entire month's worth of lessons and made progress into new material.
Cornell class today and everyday is just a little bit wonderful. They react a little better to my intstruction every day, and I'm beginning to understand that the boys are just being boys their age. The quick ones completely zone out, and I can't and probably shouldn't do anything about it. They get most of it. The slow ones, Billy in particular, have a little more trouble, but I'm finally connecting with them, and Billy is really trying as hard as he can to catch up and exceed the work of the other students. Once I get him past James (if it's possible) I might be able to get James' attention agian. The girls, on the other hand, are wonderful, and I'm making great progress with them. Their pronunciation and listening comprehension has gotten much better since I came, and I love teaching them.

My kindergarten classes will require another entry at some point to go through my relationship with each student, but Kiwi class continues to be an interesting little comedy hour. They're my favorites, probably, and I love the days when we get to color and talk a little bit. Because of the number of personalities in the class, they tend to get a little unruly at times, but because of my co-teacher, they're pretty easy to get back under wraps. Laura (one of my coworkers) took an amazing video of Ashley dancing today. The girl could dance for five minutes straight without noticing anything else in the world. She is impossible to discipline because she frankly doesn't care, but only because she's pretty happy wherever. When she's on my side, I have no need to discipline whatsoever because she's constantly telling the other students to sit nicely and be quiet. At some point, I'll try to explain why she's so incredible and what she's teaching me about life. The rest of the class is great as well and I love watching Danny perfectly finish his coloring in half the time it takes everyone else to sloppily do it, because it doesn't end there. He is immediately willing to walk around and help each other student in the class. I would probably be best off describing each student through the way they color. They're such amazing tiny people, and I haven't quite wrapped my mind around that yet.
Banana class continues to be a struggle, and while I at first was ready to blame it on my co-teacher, I'm now wondering if it's me. I know in my head that kids need discipline and consistency, but I'm starting to internalize the fact that I must have discipline and consistency in order to give it to them. They're wonderful kids, but I'm afraid I'm perpetually confusing their universes as I learn to teach them. They're both behind and ahead of Kiwi, but their age makes it much tougher to level with them and explain new concepts. I'm not the greatest at teaching without some thread of logic or mechanical reasoning. It's tough. I need to get more creative.

My more private lessons are all unique and less difficult to track. The one that's frustrating me the most right now is Prodigy G4. They're two fourth grade boys who I have an incredibly tough time getting to speak in real English. They can read and form English sounds very well, but they're too lazy or too poorly taught to comprehend anything they read. They're good, smart kids, but they are my greatest point of oscillation. One day, they're great, and the next they're down below my kindergarteners.

Well, I have to go teach now. I wish I could write more, and might late. For now, all is well and I've really settled in to Korea in so many ways.

I love and miss you all. Hope to talk to you soon.