Thursday, March 12, 2009

"Yeah, I teach at Brown...and Cornell..."

Where I work (which we'll call Sherlock Academy, for sake of brevity as well as anonymity) goes to some weird extremes when it comes to creating, for lack of better term, atmosphere.

First of all, most of the rooms are named after prestigious American universities. I've been assigned to rooms Brown and Cornell; I've shadowed classes in Dartmouth as well. There's also UCLA, Berkeley, and of course Yale and Harvard.

Others are named after locations: Washington (presumably the city and not the state), New York, and then there's Pennsylvania (alas but one of the Kiwi teachers works in that room instead of me). And then there's the throwaway rooms, "Library" and "Play Room." ("Library" is not actually a library, though it once was, and I don't think there's anything fun to do in "Play Room.")

There's also pictures in all of the hallways of random universities, some of them American but not all of them. Some of them aren't even Anglophone universities (Seoul University, Tokyo University, etc.) And as far as I know, the only language available at Sherlock Academy is English.

The rooms, in a fit of non-sequitur reasoning that I don't quite grasp, also have pictures, but instead of their respective universities (like a picture of Brown in "Brown"), they're just random snapshots blown up to rather large proportions. One of the rooms has what looks like someone's favorite vacation photo at Disney World, with the castle in the Magic Kingdom. Another one looks slightly more professional (photographed from a better vantage point and better rate of exposure etc), capturing some kind of school or neighborhood fair, with a bunch of 80s-bedecked teenage girls playing with some 80s-bedecked children. Maybe they're meant to make the room feel more American? Or to make the foreign teachers feel more at home?

The other decoration in the halls are a bunch of metalsmithed aphorisms that looked like they were originally conceived with WordArt. Some of them I can only assume are less-than-aptly translated Korean expressions because they're just sort "A flying crow always catches something," is one that comes to mind, but there are others. And some of them do make sense, even if they're rather trite ("A teacher is someone who learns twice."). Sherlock Academy shares a building with another school, one without a language focus, and while our "lounges" are on the same floor, we don't share any classrooms. So you also see what are (presumably) similar expressions, just in Hangul instead of English.

On the second floor, there's a borderline-artsy map of the US. It's obviously not an actual reproduction since all the lines are stylized to be jagged and edgy instead of rounded, and some detail is lost (like the chimney on top of PA), but it mostly gives a sense of how big the states are in relation to each other and (more or less) where they are. Except that instead of just being some kind of blip on the East Coast, D.C. is this giant amorphous blob that's maybe a third? a quarter? the size of Pennsylvania, and Maryland is just a tiny little sliver of a state.

The cherry on top of this sundae are the bells they have, the ones to signal the beginning and end of class. The end of class is a bizarre little jingle that sounds like an ice cream truck or a an early 1960s sitcom; the beginning of class is techno-ized, synthesized, full orchestral version of Mozart's Rondo Alla Turca. Not the whole thing, just the first few phrases.

Back to the teacher's lounge. The lounges are really more like offices. Unlike American schools, we don't stay in our appointed classrooms during the school day, even if we're more or less assigned to them. There's no desks or closets or any space for us to work; all the grading papers and lesson planning we do happens in a long narrow room with little desks and a shelf for books, lesson plans, etc. It's pretty much like something you'd see in an anime, and I wish Google Image Search would yield a good example to explain to anyone reading this who has better stuff to do than watch dumb Japanese cartoons, but alas. Also, the students wander in and out of there largely at whim. I mean they don't randomly run in and out but they have no qualms about just walking in to ask RJ-teacher a question or give Jinny-teacher a present. I remember being in school and the teacher's lounge being pretty much verboten, so it's a bit weird.

It's also common to refer to people by their profession in Korea when you're being formal (sort of like the "Herr Doktor" stuff in German), so I'm never just "Katherine" but "Katherine-teacher" (or if the students are just talking to each other, sometimes "Katherine-simi"), if I'm lucky; most of the time it's just "teacher." I am contemplating giving up the battle for the "th" dipthong and instead just shortening it to Kat-teacher. One student declared Katherine a "very difficult" name.

The students all have English names so we can remember who is who. Some of them seem to have been assigned at birth (one boy's mother insists that his English name is not Moses but just Mose), others have no English name until we get a hold of them. Here are some of the better ones, and by better I mean rather weird:

the aforementioned Mose(s)
Juno (a boy, I assume it's an attempt to Anglicize Joon, which is a boy's name in Korean, I also have a couple of boy Junes, too)

and my personal favorite so far:


I've only had a chance to name two, both boys. Or well, I shouldn't say that we get to just decide their names, but we come up with a list of names for them to choose from. The options I provided had some great namesakes, if I do say so myself:

Vincent (Price)
Peter (Lorre)
Boris (Karloff)

but alas, they didn't want any of that. I think the next pool of boy-names that I use will be philosophers: Immanuel (Kant), Daniel (Dennett), David (Hume), and Karl (Popper). Or maybe directors: Kevin (Smith), Quentin (Tarantino), Francis (Ford Coppola), Stanley (Kubrick).

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