Friday, February 16, 2007

a fine Thor's Day

Thursday, which went nonstop for me, marked the first time I had ever cooked for back-to-back classes with two completely different meals (by the end of the second hour, the classroom smelled... interesting). For my 9:40am Freshman English class I did the American-style breakfast: bacon, sausage, eggs, cheese, and pancakes with butter and maple syrup. The girls did most of the actual cooking, and they thoroughly enjoyed the food. The 11:00am Frosh class got fettuccine alfredo with shrimp, along with food the students had brought: salad, hors d'oeuvres, and fruit.

The students were great. Both classes were very helpful about cooking; we had three burners going in the first class, and I labeled each sector of the class The Pancake Department, The Meat Department, and The Egg Department. The girls got right to work and took over the cooking; that was a load off my shoulders, as I had had to trek back to my place twice in order to bring all the necessaries-- the food, the utensils, the pots and pans, and so on. I found myself wishing that I had one of those two-wheeled, wireframe carts I associate with the beachfront homeless in America. Carrying all that crap in plastic bags (and one large travel bag) is murder on the fingers.

The girls are still high schoolers, and as with American teens, it's easy to see that development doesn't happen at the same rate for all of them. Some of the girls were rather timid in their approach to cooking. One student in particular had no idea how to remove the breakfast sausage wrapper. She had my meat scissors in one hand and the still-wrapped sausage in another (yes, this can all be read in a very Freudian way), and had no idea how best to free the sausage from its vestments. I had to go over and help.

The girls working on the pancakes were hyper-literal in following the instructions on the bag of pancake mix. The result was nearly perfect pancakes: round, firm, and well-tanned.

The 11 o'clock class didn't have as many challenges to face (I was cooking the main course, and it was the only hot dish), but they all brought an incredible amount of food. They set to work making hors d'oeuvres-- "canapés," they called them. These were essentially saltine crackers with globs of tuna or potato salad on them, topped off with half a cherry tomato. Very cute, and actually quite tasty.

The final class was devoted to movie-watching as well as eating: the students had all turned in their film projects, and each class had given me two films. We had to watch the films on my monitor in the teachers' room, which made for a rather cramped experience, but the students shrieked in delight as they watched themselves performing. Three of the four productions truly were hilarious; the students had had to learn-- on their own-- how to edit their footage, overlay it with music, and tack credits (opening and closing) on either end. They had also been asked to document their experience; some students showed this by tacking on Pixar-style "outtakes" at the ends of their films; others showed me a PowerPoint slide show. In all, I was wowed. One production was pretty lame, but I had compassion and gave that group a middling "B" for their rather poor effort. They knew it was poor, too, once they saw the magnificent job the other groups had done. Funny thing: one girl in that group had boasted, weeks ago, that she had a brother in film school who could help out with editing and all the rest. When I saw the production, I did notice that the transitions from scene to scene were quite smooth, but I couldn't see what else the mysterious brother had done.

Cleaning up the mess of two classes' worth of eating was a royal pain in the ass, but here, too, the students were great. While I organized and packed away what I could in the classroom-- various containers, gas ranges, and so forth-- the girls spirited away the dirty pots and pans and spatulas and gamely washed everything for me. Still, the process took a long time, and I had to interrupt myself to give three scheduled student interviews. By the time everything was finished, and all the sad goodbyes had been said, it was time for my 1:30pm class in Greco-Roman Mythology.

The students in that class put on a very good skit about Theseus, and even managed to involve me, much to my surprise, in their production. Theseus, as you know, is the dude who slays the minotaur, the horrifying bull-human hybrid condemned to live trapped inside a labyrinth, eating the flesh of those unlucky enough to get lost within. At one point in the skit, Theseus and the minotaur were chasing each other around the classroom when Thesus suddenly stopped beside me and boomed, "Gods! Another monster in the maze!" I cracked up.

The class went well, all things considered, and by 4:30pm I was one tired half-Korean mutt.

There's one more week of class to go, but because I no longer have to teach the freshmen, I don't have to be on Smoo premises until 1:30pm. However, I will be interviewing some students earlier on Tuesday (Monday is a day off because of the Lunar New Year), so on that day, I'll come earlier.

My final day of classes, Thursday, will be spent with the Greco-Roman group. We'll be watching "The Matrix" together and parsing it for mythological tropes. I'll probably drop in a reference to Plato's analogy of the cave, and we'll talk a bit about the Oracle. I've also asked my students to be alert for Jewish, Christian, and Buddhist tropes in the film. As we'll be snacking down on... something or other, I expect it'll be a fun, relaxed class.

My Intensive 3 Reading/Writing class will suffer through a final exam on Tuesday, then we'll have our party on Wednesday. I might bring in some games and order some food.

And then: a week-long break. Ah, bliss. This hasn't been a bad semester. Freshman English, in particular, strikes me as having been quite a success. Students were happy to be free of the shackles of a textbook, and because I had settled upon a basic philosophy-- namely, Freshman English is less about teaching English than about introducing these girls to life at Smoo-- things went fairly smoothly.

What a contrast with the awful Level 4 group from the previous FroshEng session, eh? This group was, on the whole, more competent in English than the previous group, and that helped matters. We did have a couple unmotivated duds this time, but they proved more harmful to themselves than to the overall class dynamic. This group was also much more motivated than the previous group. I have to wonder whether part of the reason was the way I had chosen to teach this class. I'm hopeful that that's true, but I'm also mindful that groups of people always evince a collective temperament. Sometimes it's just the luck of the draw that you're served a group of zeroes. This time around, fortune favored the foolish.



Anonymous said...

I'm curious... did you use Korean pancake mix? We usually get our pancake mix at Costco (an American brand that I think is called something weird like "Krusteaz"--not sure about that spelling), but last time we went they were out and we had to settle for a Korean mix. I think it's 오뚜기. I can't stand it. It tastes like (pardon my Korean, but this didn't show up in the dictionary) 카스테라. I mean, if I wanted to eat 카스테라 I'd go down to the bakery and buy some.

When we finish up the mix I'm going back to making pancakes from scratch.

Kevin Kim said...

Our brand was the very cocaine-y sounding 백설 핫케익 가루 (for my readers who don't read Korean: Baek-seol [White Snow] Hotcake Powder), and it seemed perfectly serviceable to me. I actually got a good impression of Korean pancake mixes from the first package I ever bought, sometime last year. I had no idea what to expect, and found myself pleasantly surprised by the ease of use.

In the States, we usually use Bisquik, which Mom jazzes up a bit.

I've seen the "Krusteaz" (crusty ass?) brand before, but I can't remember what product I was looking at. I think they do more than pancake mix.


Anonymous said...

Round, firm, and well-tanned. Mmmmm.

I'll bet the pancakes were good too. ;-)