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Sunday, 27 May 2012

Herbs in a Cup

A few weeks ago one of my classes planted some herbs (fennel, cilantro, basil, and chives) in some cups; here you can see the progress:

It's something of a miracle that the kids haven't killed off half of the seedlings by over-watering them:)

About Taking Students' Stuff (or Being a Bad Teacher)

I don't like to take students' stuff, but sometimes I do.

I have to.

Give me a break: you're a middle school girl, sitting at a desk, with your bookbag on your lap and your two hands inside the bag (along with your attention) . . .

"Is that my cell phone?"  I ask.

Startled student: "What?"

Do students really think we are that stupid, that we can't tell when they are using a cell phone in class?

My pattern--so far, though this may change--has been to confiscate the phone and, during a lull in class, take it to the front desk.

"A present for you!" I tell the receptionist, which is always met with a smile.

Meanwhile, back in class, daggers dart at me from not-so-veiled eyes.

The end-of-class bell rings.

"Teacher!  My phone!"

I pretend not to notice the urgent voice.

"Teacher! It's important!"

One student this last week, on Wednesday, said, about another student--bless her--"Give it to her on Friday."

I usually relent and say, "Go to the front desk, apologize, and ask for your phone back.  Nicely."

Ogre that I am, I also confiscated a younger boy's toys during another class.

He had been warned not to play with they during class time (we are talking small, eraser-sized toys).

The boy had adhered to my warning but his desk-mate didn't, so the toys went into my pocket.

Tears ensued.

Concerned classmates--and this is truly endearing--went over my head to the owner of the school (who happened to be in the hallway) to ask for the toys back.

Students who have things taken away once seldom have them taken away again.

Surprisingly, they still like me as a teacher.

There must be some psychology in all of that, but many teachers would say it all comes down to one simple rule: "You use it, you lose it."

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Classical Greek Mythology Website

Check it out:

Watch all 4 of the stories, especially since they have different animation styles, and note that in the "Orpheus" one you can click in the upper left to get a voiceover from Hades.

Rude Students

I'm starting to hear more and more--from other teachers--and to read, in the news, about a trend in Korea: students being rude.  Apparently, public school teachers, especially for middle schools, are taking early retirement in large numbers due to dissatisfaction with teaching.  They feel that they are not able to manage students' behavior, and the consensus is that things are only going to get worse.

We are seeing some of this at the private academy where I teach.  Overall our students are nice and well-behaved, in part because we have small classes (10 students max.), so they receive more individual attention (vs. public schools, where the class sizes are usually 30-40 students).  Clearly, it is also harder to "get away" with something in a smaller class, such as using a cell phone.

Having said that, in the past month or so I have had two cases where students have told me "No" when asked to do something, which is quite shocking for Korea, at least in a traditional sense.  Also, last week, perhaps for the first time in my entire teaching career, a student yelled at me.  In all cases I took the students out of the classroom and to the office for a bit of counselling.

Unfortunately, some of my co-teachers are also experiencing rudeness in the classroom, and, while it originates from a small minority of students, one worry is that it will affect other students' behavior (or "infect").  I have zero tolerance for such behavior, since I firmly believe that no single student has the right to disrupt the learning experience of other students.

I am strict with new classes/students, but, once they learn rules of conduct (no shouting, always say "please" and "thank you", do your homework, etc.), my students find they can have a lot of fun in class, such as joking around with English and playing games.

Since I have heard and read that public school classes often lack order, I asked some students of mine about what goes on in their elementary and middle schools.  (Let me make it clear here that I teach at an "after-school" private English academy, or "hagwon".  All of my students attend public schools.  They come to our academy in the afternoon or evening for English instruction.)

The students told me that often only a few students listen to the teacher; most chat or use their cell phones in class.

One student asked me what school is like in America, and I said that I thought students in many schools learned more than Korean students do, but, because of that, most American kids do not attend academies.  I have come to realize that the reason most Korean kids attend academies after school--some for 4-5 hours--is that they do not learn much in their public schools, so the knowledge has to be retaught, which has a huge societal and economic impact.

That thought is just the tip of an iceberg, as Korea is beginning to realize it has to change its educational system.  I read last month that the government proposed putting two teachers in every middle school classroom (vs. 1), but that is clearly placing a bandage on a sore instead of addressing the cause of the infection.

I'm sure I will post more about this topic in the future.

Truck English

Here are two pics I took when walking today.  They show some of the common use of English slogans/phrases in advertising, in this case on the side of trucks:

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Helpful EFL Website

Last weekend when I visited Gangneung, my teacher friend Ken introduced me to an EFL/ESL listening website called "Listen a Minute".

I have used it twice in my middle school classes already (we have internet/video connections in 3 classrooms).

Basically, the site consists of an alphabetical list of several hundred subjects (Accidents, Babysitting, Calories . . .), each of which links to a page with a paragraph that you can read and listen to.  Then there are printable worksheets (gap fill, survey, etc.) that relate to the paragraph.

One very nice feature (aside from the fact that the author--Sean Banville--did all of this work and it is free) is that you can open the materials in MS Word, which mean that you can quickly edit them if you want.

The same author has another website called "ESL Discussions" that contains hundreds of subject discussion questions, in the form of "Student A/Student B", all of which can also be edited.

Nice resources and time-savers!  Thanks Sean!

Saturday, 12 May 2012

The Teaching Week

Tonight--Friday night--I ended with my lower-level middle school class, a class I usually stress about, which is not uncommon.  Middle school classes tend to have more problems--especially with respect to speaking Korean in class--than our 1st grade beginner classes.

However, for some reason, they were great tonight, which ended my week on a high note.  Cheers to them! (I did tell them that they did a super job with English, and I gave them candy.)

A few notes on the week:

Yesterday one of my students, a young, advanced, very talkative girl (she manages to say "Mr Spencer, . . . ." followed by a question, many times in each lesson), announced at the end of class that she wanted to drink some water.

"Why?" I asked.

"Because I'm thirsty" she said.

"Why are you thirsty?" I replied.

"Because I talk so much" she responded,  quite forthrightly.

In another class I showed some videos about animals' defensive measures, as well as methods of attack, as that is what they are reading about.  We also watched a video about ants' nests.  Check these out:

Pretty cool . . .

A co-teacher's student had a bloody nose for the second time this week, and it was a mess.  Ick!

My students' plants are sprouting nicely, which is great to see.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Planting Seeds in Class

One of my classes is planting and watering herb seeds (basil, cilantro, chives, and fennel) that my dad sent me. After they grow a bit (if they sprout and survive), I hope to get the seedlings planted on the roof of our building (8 floors; we're on the 7th).  I've already asked for and received permission to use some of the space on the rooftop.

Delicious Dinner

After a tour of Gangneung's Anmok beach (see last post), including a unique, peaceful 5th floor coffee/beer joint

we headed to the Ponam-dong area to find a dinner restaurant.  By then it was cold and windy at the beach.

A taxi drive took us to our destination, where we looked for a suitable place to eat; we finally decided to try a meat restaurant near the Charisma night club.  The outside looked inviting, and there were a number of patrons inside, which is one of the best recommendations for a Korean restaurant.

We ate a superb Korean grilled meat (beef and pork, in this case) dinner, and enjoyed the new experience of having scrambled egg cooked on the outer rim of the grill.

I don't eat them often, but I really enjoy Korean grilled meat dinners!

Monday, 7 May 2012

Saturday Outdoor Lunch

I went to visit some friends in Gangneung, over on Korea's east coast, and, since the weather was so nice and they have a nice big 2nd floor balcony/patio, we decided to eat lunch outside.  It was a very delicious meal: 2 kinds of fried fish, a variety of vegetables, rice, and soup.

After lunch we took a long walk from their neighborhood--which is next to a river that flows down from the surrounding mountains--to the beach.