Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Song Festival

My school just finished up the much-anticipated Christmas Song Festival, which was heartwarming in all the ways that seven-year-olds singing "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" can possibly be (and more).  Behold, the festival program!  (Warning: there is loads of YouTube embedded in here, apologies in advance if it chokes your computer.)

"Happy!" by Mocca

This one was performed by two classes.

First, my youngest and lowest-level class (except the girl in the back, Pisa, who is an English genius and also Travis' best friend at this school).

And from the second round of the older elementary school kids (who ended up winning their "division").  At the line about "life is a bowl of cherries," they actually threw cherry candy into the audience.  A cute idea, but also a potentially deadly one.

"Santa Claus is Coming to Town," by Mariah Carey or Justin Bieber

The version performed depended on the class, two of them used Mariah Carey's version but one class used (grudgingly) Justin Bieber's version.

For the full creepy effect, here's the Mariah Carey video they used (they set up a laptop with a projector to display the video and lyrics for the students to sing along to).  I apologize in advance for the nightmares this is about to fuel.

One of my younger advanced classes, they're all adorable students and very chatty.  They won their "division" on the first day of the festival.  One of the girls (not pictured) also sang Mariah Carey's "All I Want For Christmas Is You."  Alas, I don't have a picture of it.

One of my "intermediate" (the school calls it "Step 2") classes.  They also won their division, for which I am thankful, because I think Travis (all the way on the left) may have had a meltdown otherwise.  He came close to one after a very awkward solo and a cappella performance of "Sorry Sorry" (individual students could also opt to perform as a sort of talent show, if they wanted).  From left to right: Travis, Sophia, Jasmine, Timmy, Diane, Cindy, Lina.

But look how happy Travis is during it all!  And he's a pretty good little dancer.  Just not a very good singer. Plus contemporary K-pop doesn't sound all that good without synths and such.

The other boy in that class, Timmy, also did a solo a cappella performance, which was much less awkward.  I think it was my favorite piece of the entire day, because Timmy is a consummate performer.  Bonus points: one of the slightly incomprehensible quotes that are showcased all over the building: "After death, to call the doctor."

Two of the girls from that class (Cindy and Jasmine) also did a duet of Avril Lavigne's "What The Hell."

"You say I'm messing with your head / Because I was making out with your friend....You say I'm messing with your head / I like messing in your bed"  Think about those lyrics, and then go back and look at the picture to see exactly how tiny they are.  But Cindy is funny little diva (and English genius to boot), I wish I had a picture of this performance. Another picture I'll have to wait to borrow from the school's website.

This class used Justin Bieber's version of The Worst Christmas Song of All Time, which is basically the same as the Mariah Carey version.  They were miserable the entire time, though, so instead I opted for a picture of them during the talent show: recreating a skit from a Korean variety show (in Korean), which they did VERY well.  I about peed myself laughing.  The smaller girl, Alice, however, is a pretty good little dancer and got a special spirit award for doing such a good job with it during their otherwise lackluster dance routine.  I didn't get a picture of that (but I hope to gank one from the school's website some time next week).

"Jingle Bell Rock," Bobby Helms

Two classes chose this song.

And here's the only class who performed it that I actually teach:

From left to right: Albert (who showed off his hula hoop skills), Tom (who gave a solo recorder performance of "Roly Poly" by the K-pop girl group T-ara), Mark (who acted like a crazy banshee the whole time, to the point where the other boys actually took it upon themselves to restrain him), Leo, Paul, Alex (number one nose-picker), Sally, and Amy.

"I Like to Move It," Reel 2 Real

Though the video they used was from Madagascar, the song sounded like the original and not the version from the Madagascar OST so who knows.

One class performed this, and a few of the boys from one of the basic classes (that I don't teach) also did a tae kwon do routine set to this, for which they won first place.

Another intermediate class. The little boy in the big coat in the back is Harry, and his enthusiasm for everything is absolutely uncontainable.  His Korean teacher said he got into a fight with one of the other boys the day before because he wasn't being excited enough.  He's adorable.

But really, the winner for "most awkward" performance had to go to the only older advanced class to participate.  Or rather, "participate":  One of the kids actually sung (and rather enthusiastically) while the rest hung back and looked embarrassed.  I guess middle school is too old for anglophone pop song talent shows?

Maroon 5, "This Love"

Again, think about the lyrics to this one: "I tried my best to feed her appetite / Keep her coming every night / So hard to keep her satisfied..." and "My pressure on your hips /  Sinking my fingertips / Into every inch of you / Cause I know that's what you want me to do..."

And then instead of Adam Levine singing, you have this:

The other teachers and I couldn't contain ourselves.  Giggle fits ensued.

And here's what I wish they had sung:

"Father Christmas," The Kinks

John Lennon, "Happy Xmas, War is Over"

(Not the original music video, since that one's kind of NSFW with gory war images and all.  You can watch in public at ease.)

The Jackson 5, "Santa Claus is Coming to Town"

(The only version of this song I actually enjoy, because it's funky enough that I can ignore the creepy/emotionally abusive lyrics, though there's no small amount of irony in the fact that it comes from one of the most exploited child stars of all time.)

Now I'm off to LotteMart, as I owe some people my trademark "way too much whisky" whisky chocolate truffles and I need to get cracking.

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

More winning quotes from Lina

We've finished their book early (somehow?) so the last few days have been just bullshitting about celebrities and me occasionally blowing their minds.  Lina started off ragging on Justin Bieber's fashion sense.

"His pants are terrible! can see his panties!"

And then just him in general.

"I hate Justin Bieber.  He's racist!"
"Racist? Why?"
"He loves Japan!"

Lady Gaga is racist, too.  But her clothes are better.  Also, Lindsay Lohan is a lesbian.  And crazy.

We spent a very productive half hour talking about why Japan is horrible.  (I am inclined to agree, or at least agree that the Japanese government has not taken the moral high, or even middle, road recently, but played neutral party to carry on the discussion.)  I also proceeded to explain the sad state of world (especially non-European) history in many American schools. The fact that we have "AP American History," "AP European History," and then just "AP World History" pretty much says it all: we privilege dead white men.

"Many history classes in America don't talk about Korea until America goes to war in Korea," I explained.  Stunned looks all around.  It's hard to convey in someone's second language that your country gets glossed over not because it's insignificant, but because our perspective is extremely myopic. (Hopefully that has changed/is changing/will change soon?)

"I don't think Korean women should marry American men, or Japanese men.  Only Korean men."
"But what if the American man is very handsome?"
"No.  Handsome is not important."
"Then what is important?"

At this point, a student named Christine interjected: "Money money money."  But Lina and the other girl in the class (Rosa) sort of rolled their eyes.  They came up with a list:

1. Loyalty
2. Kindness
3. Money
4. Diligence

These were ranked in order of importance.  Just for a laugh, I gave them my top four considerations for a man (four traits which my boy possesses in abundance):

1. Kindness
2. Intelligence
3. Sense of humor
4. Personality

"No money? You don't care about money at all?"
"I can make my own money."
"But raising a child! It's expensive."
"Well, maybe I won't have children."

Jaws dropped.  I could have told them I was a lesbian, or a space alien, and they could not have been more shocked.  Lina could not deal with this.

"Your family!  There will be no more!"
"I have a brother.  He'll probably have children."
"It's good to have a family, though.  It brings happiness."

Sometimes I don't know if she really means the stuff she says, or if she says it just to fool me into thinking that she really thinks it.  I can no longer distinguish the difference between earnestness and irony.  Her parents also don't believe in eating fast food or (if I understand today's discussion correctly) shopping at LotteMart (it's that Japanese thing again).  I'd be curious to meet her mother, I'm sure the two are very similar.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Multimedia Monday (On Tuesday)

Since I now have a "wired" classroom (meaning: I have a laptop that connects to a sizable flatscreen TV), I can for the first time in my teaching experience SHOW VIDEOS. (There was the one time I brought in a Twilight movie to a class of middle school girls because we were way ahead in the book and they had just had a test, but I had to bring in my laptop to do that.) I AM SO EXCITED ABOUT THIS THAT I WILL SHARE EVERYTHING I USE WITH YOU. Mostly because they make me happy, but also on the off chance that other ESL teachers stumble here.

One of the topics in my advanced students' textbook was about "green profits": businesses switching practices to be more environmentally friendly and marketing new products based on the current trend of YAY SAVE THE PLANET. I found four relevant (and funny) TV commercials. I'm sharing them in order from (what I think) is the easiest for ESL students to understand (and for them to verbalize their comprehension).

If you want to use these videos, but don't have Internet in your classroom (like me), there are plenty of programs available that will rip video off of YouTube. The one I use on my laptop at home is the Google Chrome Youtube Downloader extension; at work, since the extension doesn't work (I don't know why?), I use Youtube Downloader HD.

GE's "Househugger" ad

"The Sky is Falling" PSA about CO2 emissions

Audi's "Green Police" Super Bowl ad (with guest star Cheap Trick!)

Green Planet Network's "Do Time With Green" ad

The kids (and my coworkers) responded the best to the "Green Police" one, but all of them went over pretty well.   The animation on the "Househugger" commercial also elicited some "OMG!"/"Aw, cute!" reactions, as well.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Obligatory KJI Post

Despite knowing fuck-all about international relations, I do have some thoughts on the Kim Jeong-il brouhaha. That's for later.  I just thought that where I was and what I was doing when I (and the rest of South Korea) found out was kind of funny:

I go to a jjimjilbang three days a week to use their "health room" (super-small gym) and get the rare hot shower  whose length isn't dictated by the size of my water heater.  The shower is the bigger attraction than the gym, but I use the gym to justify it financially (7,000 won just for a hot shower seems rather dear, but add in the weight training and cardio and it's cheaper/just about equivalent to a real gym, which may or may not have a sauna).  I had finished in the health room (and technically I do it backwards by doing the health room first and THEN the sauna, but I'd rather finish off by relaxing in a hot tub instead of panting on a treadmill) and was getting ready to shower when I noticed there were way more people hanging around the TV in the locker room than normal.

So there I was, naked and glasses-less, squinting at the TV with maybe a dozen other naked Korean women, sweaty from my workout and the heat in the locker room. Before us, a never-ending parade of North Korean footage and propaganda with South Korean commentary on top of it.  Periodically it cut back to well-groomed news anchors discussing something.  The only Korean in the headline that I could understand was Kim Jeong-il's name.  I tried to wrack my brain for the verb for "to die" or "to kill," but came up short.  The footage had all the unmistakable tinge of "this person's dead now," and as soon as I saw it, I knew.  I posted a question on Facebook to be sure, and I saw a few other women texting furiously or calling people—never mind that some of them were still wet and sweaty from the sauna.

That's a memory I'll probably carry around the rest of my life: me, and the ajummas, and the weird naked solidarity we shared watching the lunchtime news.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Relevant to my Life

I've been reading this webcomic since high school.  This latest one struck a particular chord with me (click the image to see it full-sized) in an "I take myself too seriously, hah" kind of way:

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Student Profile: Travis

Travis is a weird kid. He's also incredibly smart. He is one of my favorites among the younger set that I teach, but some days he really breaks my heart.

It's clear that Travis is not developmentally normal. I think he's a pretty good candidate for Asperger's Syndrome/high-functioning autism, but that's only my armchair opinion. Whatever it is, my coworkers have assured me that his mother insists that her son does not need therapy or anything of that kind—even though his outbursts could potentially hurt other children and already mark him as a weirdo to be preyed upon.* It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that South Korea does not handle mental health issues all that well.

NOW THAT I'VE SUFFICIENTLY DEPRESSED YOU, let's get back to the happy bits. Because these are supposed to be happy entries for me.

I cannot overstate how smart he is. He is also, despite the meltdowns that will strike at random, very self-possessed and mature. Yes, he's obviously still an elementary-school aged child, but there are aspects of his mannerisms that are much more like an adult.

One of the public school districts had an English speech contest last month, and part of my job was to help them train: correcting pronunciation and intonation errors, helping them memorize, and so forth. Travis participated and gave a wonderfully non-sequitor speech on pollution, and saving the environment from pollution, because pollution caused his neighbor's leukemia. I don't know how he performed (he didn't get first, but he rated pretty high), but while he rehearsed with me, Travis performed with aplomb. He was impassioned and serious as you don't normally see children get, both in his performance and in his practice. After he handed me the paper with his speech on it, he said to me (in Korean, my boss translated it for me): "Please listen carefully and correct my mistakes, every little thing." I'm pretty much convinced that the only reason he didn't nab first place was because his speech wasn't "rah-rah Korea!" like everyone else's.

Also, he has these awesome pastel plaid pants that just melt my heart every time he wears them. And a perm.

On good days he is sweet and affectionate to boot. None of my kids now are as huggy as my last group (tears and lamentations!) but sometimes Travis will play with the ends of my bolo tie, stroke my hand, or rub my back. The downside is that if he's angry, he will be just as apt to try to hurt me.

Since his mother seems hell-bent on insisting that her son's "special"ness does not require assistance or input from a trained mental health professional, I can only hope he figures out a way to deal with his issues on his own. I love him to death and I don't doubt he has the potential to go far in life. It's just a question of whether or not he self-destructs.

*There's no way to read that sentence without it sounding like victim-blaming. What I mean to say is this: in class, the students are tolerant of Travis up until he has an outburst of some kind that actually interrupts whatever it is we're doing. They're still too young (and, perhaps, too Korean?) to understand that Travis is processing a world that is a lot different from and a lot more intense than theirs; instead they read it as him being selfish or spoiled and react with disdain accordingly. If Travis had help in dealing with his frustrations in a more productive way than shrieking (full-on shrieking) or hitting students, he would get less negative feedback and more POSITIVE feedback from his peers. That's what I mean by that.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

A Typical Day

I still think that teaching is pretty much the least "blog-worthy" part of my life, but since my dad has been asking and since the school is a bit different than most other hagwons, I figure a brief rundown of my day isn't entirely vacuous narcissism.  BEHOLD, MY LIFE:

My day officially starts at 2, but I try to get to work at least ten minutes early because I dislike arriving later than the Korean teachers (who all start at 1.50).  It just makes me feel privileged and pampered.

The first hour of the day is given over to time for lesson planning.  If I have to, this is when I hammer out the Power Point presentation I'll be using for the next couple of days.  Otherwise, I correct written assignments or plan activities for my more challenging classes: making worksheets, generating puzzles,  downloading relevant videos from the Internet, etc.

At 3, we all have lunch.  One of the moms or other relative of a student prepares lunch for us, presumably in exchange for a discount on tuition.  It's pretty good, there's a nice variety (though it's obviously always Korean), and there's plenty of it (as opposed to Cassandra, which always had the same lineup of kimchi, jjigae, and rice, and never enough for the teachers).  I do miss my daily dose of Kimbap Cheonguk and dolsot bibimbap, but I'll gladly take a free lunch!  Especially when the free lunch has a good chance of being budae jjigae, as done properly by a Uijeongbu ajumma.

After that, it's back to planning until my first lesson, which is anywhere from 3.40 to 4.35.  The curriculum at this school is largely based around pop music and American movies.  They watch one movie every two months, for November and December it's been Elf.  My job is to review scenes of the movie with the students and make sure they understand what's going on.  Since the clips are never longer than like ten minutes (and mostly falling in the three- to six-minute range), there's not a whole lot of content and I teach in short twenty minute blocks.  With most of the classes, I put together a Power Point with screen captures from the movie and questions from the students' homework book, and then tag on a Power Point game at the end, usually Bingo but I'm always on the lookout for something else.

I have two of these movie classes that are forty minutes in length, so I spend a bit more time prepping those.  It can be difficult to stretch out a three minute movie scene for that length of time, but on the other hand, it's nice to have the time for proper warm-up activities, giving feedback, etc.

Three of my classes are advanced beyond the point of the movie curriculum.  Instead, I teach them from  a "Speaking and Writing" textbook.  It's a pretty low-budget affair (typos, no proper bookbinding, WordArt graphics) and the topics can be hit and miss.  "Identity Theft"?  Not really that interesting or relevant to a 13 year old Korean.  "Green Profits"?  Lots of  stuff about the environment to talk about.  "One Laptop Per Child"?  Great time to talk about charity, poverty, and the ethical and moral obligations surrounding wealth.  These are the classes I show videos in: first of all, they're forty to fifty minutes long, so there's plenty of time.  Second, sometimes the topics are boring, so the videos help maintain interest.  And sometimes I think they're just good for cultural awareness, like the ad campaign for One Laptop Per Child.  The more access Korean students have to other cultures and accents, the better.

My last class ends around 8.50 or so, depending on the day.  I go home at 9 or 9.20, depending on the day, but I usually stay a little later to finish marking written assignments I've accumulated through the day or to brainstorm lesson plan ideas for the next day.  Again, I feel like a huge jerk leaving at 9 when everyone else is stuck there until 9.30.

Everyone takes turns washing the dishes from lunch.  My day to do that is Tuesday.  Sometimes other miscellany comes up but it's never unmanageable: help some of the students practice for an English language speech contest, proofread and edit my boss' son's essay for his SAT prep hagwon, etc.  Then I come home, eat dinner, go to bed, and do it all over again the next day.