Monday, August 26, 2013

forgot to take photos

I had hoped to take photos of my first two groups of students today, but in all the turmoil and confusion* of my first day back at a job I hadn't done since 2008, I neglected to take them. That may be for the best: if it's true that the composition of my classes will change next week as students do the add/drop shuffle, then I probably won't take pictures of my kids until my class rosters have stabilized.

My first class, at 11AM, was so-so. There were things I could have done better and things the students could have done better. I was able to keep the pace that I planned on maintaining, but for that first class, my mixer activities didn't go over that well. Korean students can be remarkably shy and conservative when it comes to meeting new people; they quickly form small cliques and clusters into which it's difficult to enter if you're a newbie. Breaking up those clusters and having the students move freely about the classroom is harder than it looks: Koreans don't naturally mingle unless circumstances absolutely scream for mingling. It could also have been that that first class, being a morning class (albeit a late-morning class), simply lacked the necessary energy to go along with the exercise. In any event, leading that class through my exercises was an uphill battle. I sensed that the students were somewhat passive and unmotivated, and that initiative was a foreign concept to them. They preferred to stare into their smartphones and to speak in Korean whenever I was on the other side of the room. I told several kids to put their phones away—this after having reviewed my in-class rules with them, which includes a rule about turning cell phones off during class. No, you can't use your smartphone's dictionary. Tough it out.

My second class, at 1PM, was much better. Light-years better, in fact. These students (also intermediate-level kids) grasped right away what I wanted them to do, and for the most part they did it. Again, my pacing was spot-on, but I didn't feel as if I had to push hard to get these kids talking to each other. There was still some shyness and inertia at the beginning, as was true of the first class, but that hesitancy rapidly evaporated within just a few minutes. I did have to tell a few kids to stop speaking Korean, but most of them voluntarily spoke in English. All in all, a much better performance by both the teacher and the students. There's something to be said for synergy; when people click, things go smoothly.

My ideal language classroom, at least when I'm teaching low-level conversation, is a noisy one. Students move easily from social cluster to social cluster and perform their work proactively. Quiet means death: it's conversation, for God's sakes, so people need to be talking. I hate quiet, and I hate zombie-like behavior. In fact, I joked about the zombie thing with both of my classes; the second class took my jokes in stride while the first class looked as if I'd accused the students of leaving a turd in the punch bowl. I do hope the first class wakes up and gets used to me soon; otherwise, this semester is going to drag. Maybe next week, if the class's composition really does experience an upheaval, the morning class will be more responsive.

There was one bright, if confusing, spot at the end of that 11AM session: a skinny little guy marched up to me and declared, "I want to join your class!" I took this as a compliment, but I wondered what made him think he hadn't joined the class already. Then it occurred to me that this kid might have been the one kid whose name I hadn't called after calling roll: there were nineteen bodies in that class, but in my list of twenty people, I had marked two people absent. Eighteen on paper, nineteen in the room. All signs pointed to a communication breakdown. I hope this administrative gaffe won't have much impact: if the rolls for my classes are reworked next week, perhaps this error will be washed out of existence by the tide of new names. In any event, I asked the kid to write his name on my roll.

My classes were hot, too. Air conditioning, especially in the first class, was awful. I sweated through my 90 minutes despite having an electric fan, a hand fan, a handkerchief, and two small, cold cans of Gatorade at my disposal. The fact that Koreans insist on opening all the public doors and windows of their buildings (by which I mean the doors and windows not related to offices or classrooms, e.g., the main front doors, the windows at the ends of the hallways, etc.) didn't help matters; if anything, all those open apertures had the effect of raising the building's average ambient temperature and humidity. In my head, a whispered mantra: end of October, end of October, end of October. In Seoul, temperatures tend to drop around mid-October; in Daegu, one of the hottest, most humid regions of Korea, I'm betting that summer will have a hard time letting go, hence the end of October.

Many of my colleagues hail from places like England and Ireland and Canada, so talk of temperature is in Celsius. Despite eight years in Korea, I still think in terms of Fahrenheit, which makes expressions like "it'll be 25 next week!" nearly meaningless to me. I'll have to get on the ball and relearn my temps. Old dog, new tricks.

Tomorrow morning, I've got one single class, from 9AM to 11AM (well, 10:30AM, really). It's beginner-level English conversation, which doesn't bode well: I'd already heard stories from colleagues about the lack of energy among their own 9AM students. I had originally wanted to change my mixer exercises to something more tailor-made for these beginners, given my difficult experience with my Monday 11AM class, but in the end, our office closed at 5PM, and I still hadn't done up a new set of exercises. With the office closed, I took my original packet (syllabus plus mixer activities) to a photocopy store and had twenty copies made for tomorrow morning. I don't want to make a habit of using such places, but my office's photocopier jammed three times before I gave up using it this afternoon.*** I also knew that our office wouldn't be open until 8:40AM tomorrow morning (I asked), so I'd have no time in the morning to make copies. If photocopying is going to be such a dicey, time-consuming business, I'm going to have to figure out a better strategy. Quite likely, I'll buy a printer somewhere local (I'm pretty much resigned to getting an inkjet; I've heard from commenters and colleagues that they're cheap**) and make my own copies from that. Much easier to do at home, despite the expense in terms of paper and ink.

Fingers crossed for tomorrow.

ADDENDUM: Ah, one other amusing thing: my students were shocked to learn I'm 44. I could see the horrified look in their eyes—Christ, he's ancient! They all thought I was younger. Such is the advantage of being fat: fewer wrinkles.

*I also lost a W1000 butt pillow I'd purchased. Dammit. I'll check and see whether it's still in Room A2-404 tomorrow.

**The huge disadvantage with inkjets, aside from inferior-quality printing compared to laser printers, is that their cartridges run out disconcertingly quickly. Ultimately, you end up spending far more on inkjet cartridges—which aren't cheap—than you do on laser-printer toner cartridges. What attracts people to inkjets, I think, is the initial low cost of purchasing the printer.

***To be fair, this wasn't entirely the copier's fault: at that point, my original packet was dog-eared and had been drilled with a staple; I'm sure the staple holes and the dog-ear contributed to the jamming problem. I knew, though, that a copy shop's industrial-strength photocopier would scoff at such minor obstacles, and sure enough, I had twenty copies within three minutes.



John McCrarey said...

Well, if it was easy they wouldn't have to pay you the big bucks to teach...

Sounds like it went pretty well overall.

Charles said...

"There was one bright, if confusing, spot at the end of that 11AM session... "

To put your mind at ease, I just thought I would let you know that this was neither an administrative gaffe nor an error--the student had simply not officially registered for your class. Students sometimes do this in the first week, and they attend a number of classes before deciding which one they actually want to take. That this student told you he wanted to join your class on Monday is a pretty good sign--apparently he was impressed enough that he didn't need to mull it over any further or sit in on any more classes.

It's also likely that the two absent students registered for the class but then changed their minds. This is usually, although not always, the case with absences on the first day.

John from Daejeon said...

"The huge disadvantage with inkjets, aside from inferior-quality printing compared to laser printers, is that their cartridges run out disconcertingly quickly."

You obviously haven't bought an Inkjet printer in South Korea during this current, teen decade. A new type of "piracy," or ingenuity, is now going one here. One that involves bypassing the need for buying expensive ink cartridges. Instead, people are now hooking up the printer to vast reservoirs/tanks of ink outside the printer for a very reasonable fee. It helped that our copier technician was able to use some grey-market products to transform all of our inkjets for us, so we didn't have to buy the new, now ready-made CISS systems.

Here's a link to one such system, but I'm sure if you look around some of the offices, you will find many examples around campus or English hagwons around town.

Here's one in action.

Kevin Kim said...


Do you have one of these?

Still seems like a pain in the ass compared to the typical laser-printer cartridge. All that set-up to do.

One of my coworkers told me that many Koreans just take their used inkjet cartridges in for cheap refills as opposed to buying all-new cartridges. Given how quickly the regular cartridges empty themselves, this also seems like a pain in the ass.

John from Daejeon said...

Yeah, I have one. There isn't much in the way of set-up to do. Only, I went the "piracy" route. Someone was tossing out their old system for a newer one and I plundered it. They had a cheap HP all-in-one model that was no longer printing/copying (it was put through hell), so now it is a stand-alone scanner. As it is finally cheap enough here just to buy a new one instead of repairing it, I lucked out.

Using syringes to fill them up would be a pain in the rear, but I have the bigger system where I just pour it into my ink jars every few months as I don't print too much. Also, if you this route, get the biggest bottles of ink you can get instead of the little puny ones.

Your best bet is to go on-line and order a system from Seoul or maybe get one from a departing foreigner for a decent price.

Anyway, back in the states, you can now order dirt-cheap generic cartridges (sometimes even factory ones) that are even shipped to you for free if you spend over a certain amount (like $30 for one site and $50 for another). My aunt finally went this route when she found out that she could get ten cartridges for the store/Dell price of one factory cartridge. I know this because I placed the order for my aunt and made sure they worked (or I never would have heard the end of it). The only problem with ordering too many at one time is that the ink is only good for so long.