Thursday, April 30, 2009

A Typical Day

Diz-claimer: There are needless and minuscule details about my Korean life cleverly hidden within the following 7,955 words. Read at your own discretion. I would recommend reading this on nothing less than a six-hour car ride to Oskaloosa, Iowa, the dirtiest town in the Midwest.

A Typical Day in the Life of a Mok-dong Poly School English Language Instructor:

At 7:45 AM my alarm goes off. In the past two or three weeks, I have already been awake for an hour when this happens. Last Wednesday night, I had already been awake for three hours. I just haven’t been sleeping well. Who knows. Anyway, I get up, try to keep my eyes shut, stumble across the room, turn on the water heater, and return to my bed, where I lie for another thirteen or fourteen minutes. At 7:58 my alarm goes off again. This time I rise to shower and brush my teeth at the same time. Such are the joys of a bathroom unit that is entirely within range of the showerhead. I get out, put on some music and some clothes (they usually match, unless I choose to listen to Enya, in which case…they don’t), and either journal, check the net, or just sit and stare while eating my usual breakfast of bread with peanut butter and water. And sinus wash mix.

When the clock strikes 8:30 AM, I put on the shoes and head downstairs to meet the others. I generally run into Rob or Sam; we share the elevator and complain about how tired we are on the way down. When the clock strikes 8:35 AM, whichever teachers have made it down by then head off. We keep our eyes peeled for a cab headed in the direction we want to go, but our street is usually void and empty when it comes to those. It does, however, have a tiger bus (for the layperson: a bus that has stripes and a giant tiger face on the front; sorry I couldn’t score a picture, but you know how big cats are when it comes to photography) that brings some kids to a school near our place. We started watching for it; Rob, who is usually the one walking on the street and not the sidewalk in search of a cab with our name on it, keeps his eyes out for the tiger bus, too (“We’ve got a tiger bus on our six”) because he is allergic to cats…not all cats, but ones that can reach speeds of up to one hundred kilometers per hour and are bigger than a regulation-sized shed. Come to think of it, I am not that fond of those, either.

Having been disappointed yet again by not being able to land a taxi, we hang a right at the 7-11 and walk a quarter mile to this busy one-way street (the one way being the complete opposite direction of the one Poly School is in) to hitch a ride. The stresses of taking a cab to work while being linguistically-challenged in Seoul are many; giving directions and taking the most direct route to our school ranks high on the list (right below being robbed at machete point and right above the possibility of being in a level seven car accident). Usually the trip transpires without incident; every once in a while a variable occurs; sometimes Michael Jackson is on the radio, sometimes the driver gets out once or twice to curse and nearly fight other drivers (this only happens to Bernard, and only when he doesn’t have his camera handy), and sometimes we hang the left and the right that we need and assume that the driver knows where to go from there until he takes another right to plop the vehicle right back in the slough of cars that we sought to avoid, thus rendering us late for work and out several thousand won extra. Sometimes.

But! On a normal day, we arrive across from Poly School at about 8:50. Most of the Taxi Takers (those members being Rob, Cindy, Sam, Min, Ray until he moved, Paul until he moved, Bernard once in a blue moon, and myself) go to Starbucks or somewhere to get some coffee. All the other teachers live either in the building next to the school (which means sometimes they get up at 8:50 AM) or within two minutes of the place, so they don’t have to deal with cars in the morning. The price for being late to work, however, is quite high: the pre-school and kindergarten buses arrive on the fifth and sixth floors between 9:00 AM and 9:10 AM, so the elevators and stairs get congested, and so on and so forth (like the running of the bulls, and trampling). Most of the teachers do make it before the nine ball rolls around, so when the kids arrive, someone is always present to groan out an “Oh, God!” or an “Already?” or something, because apparently it is still a surprise that students show up at that time even after a month and two-thirds.

Anyway! Enough of the boring morning tidbits…let’s get to the good part: stuff I get paid for! At 9:00 AM the work day officially starts. The teachers all file in, each wearing a different degree of enthusiasm on his or her sleeve. I shall briefly mention the roster that we are and have been blessed with since I got here. At first it seemed like a cold, dark place, but I think there has been better chemistry of late:
…Richard…Canada…just married a nice Korean woman.
…Allyson…Canada…generally acknowledged as the best teacher at Poly.
…Ray…Chicago…lives to travel, which is unfortunate because Poly doesn’t really allow one to do that.
…Mercy…Reno…Bikram yoga instructor.
…Stefan…Louisiana…until recently had a big ol’ beard.
…Sophia…Phoenix…tantalizes me by bringing whole meals into the staff room and letting the aroma drift over to where I sit, next to her.
…Matt…Phoenix…last name is Jolly, so, as you may have guessed, he is Mr. Jolly.
…Jay…Toronto…one of the most crude yet most entertaining people I’ve ever met.
…Sam…New York…is in love with a student’s mother.
…Rob…New York…huge Lebowski fan.
…Cindy…New York…just bought a puppy.
…Min…D.C….worships Michael Jordan.
…Paul…Seattle…good friends with the singer and members of “Fall of Troy.”
…Scott*...Seattle…has a borderline-unhealthy crush on Brandon Roy…but who can blame him?
…Sarah*…Detroit…told the Walruses to call me “Mr. Cry Baby.”
…Jen*…Toronto…allegedly hated Poly from day one.
…Sam Y*….Canada…said he was going to give me a suit he didn’t wear anymore.
…Bernard*…Baltimore…huge movie buff; there have been certain movies that I mention I haven’t seen, and his reaction is, “What!? I ought to punch you in the ____!”
…Reuben*…Iowa…once threw a student through a window and to the street six stories below to prove a point about prepositional phrases.

All these teachers, present and past, get ready for their five pre-school or kindy (kindie?) classes between 9 and 9:35. At first that seemed like an inadequate amount of time, but, as I got acclimated to my pre-school curriculum, I could be ready in ten minutes or so. If you want to make worksheets or any supplements, or if you teach kindergarten, where the kids are a lot smarter and more ambitious than the pre-schoolers, the thirty-five minute slot might be a lot more rushed.

At 9:35 AM, I enter the Willow classroom to teach Action Time to the Elmos. I despise the first class of the day; it could be any class and any kids, but that transition from prepping/not having done anything substantial/greeting the students to teaching something is just really difficult for me. It’s worse when I get done prepping for the pre-schoolers and start getting ready for the afternoon classes in that pre-9:35 prep time, because then my mind looks forward to actually teaching grammar or something, instead of the mundane activities that take up most of the morning. But, I digress. Action Time is supposed to be a “vocabulary class,” according to a senior teacher. At first I struggled with what to do with Action Time; the curriculum revolves around sets of themed flash cards. Initially, I didn’t know how to milk these things, but in the weeks before my departure from Poly, I got good at dragging the lessons out. And actually, for a week or two, I didn't even know there were flashcards. Or a guide. There is a guide for Action Time, but the guide takes into consideration neither the insane behavior and limited attention span of five-year-olds nor the quite-limited prep time with which we are cursed. Additionally, some of the lessons are just stupid (once we were supposed to take a day and just mix drinks, and I’m not talking about gin and tonic. Milk and soda, juice and water, etc.). As is, I usually throw up some flashcards, give some high fives to kids who can remember them, or sometimes play this dual game where two kids get a card, walk it off, turn, and see who can identify the opponent’s card first. It’s not as cool as trashball, but you know what? We’re talking about kids who still sometimes have trouble opening the door to the room. The necessary motor skills for trashball do not develop until the third or fourth month of being under Flip Saunders’ loving wing.

Teaching Action Time, or any class, to the Elmos is not easy. They are a wild crew. I must point out that they would all be awesome youngin's to just hang out with, even/especially the most poorly-behaved of the bunch. They are super fun kids! But it is definitely in my job description to tame these beasts and keep them at bay in the classroom, so. They were worse earlier on but have been getting better, kinda. Some of the unruly students have showed a lot of improvement, but, at the same time, some of the quiet, peaceful children have started screwing around a lot more. The cream of the crop is Diane. She sits down, pays attention well, and engages me in conversation all the time; she always tells me what certain words are in Korean. Her English is the best in the class. There is Renee, who has dance moves from these Korean girl bands that no five-year-old, east or west, should have. She gets bent out of shape easily, makes weird faces day and night, and wants hugs. She is funny. There is Judy, who is really smart and really consistent with her ceremony of kissing my hand at the beginning of each class. There is Patric, who is the cutest Korean boy in…Korea and gets my attention by yelling “teacher!” like he just got his hand caught in the wood chipper but really he just wants to show me something he drew. He also has this obsession with my elbow; he always rubs it on the way to the buses and asks, “What’s this?” Maybe because “Elmo” and “elbow” sound similar? Who knows. There is Kevin, a chunky, rowdy, smart kid who just got back from a two-week sabbatical in America. He went to Disneyland. There is Eric, who is, as many teachers are fond of saying, a “space cadet”; he seems to have little to no clue about what is happening most of the time, including when everyone else in the room has got their lunch trays out and are lined up, or when everyone else in the room is working on their writing books but he is hanging hangers on other hangers in the back of the room. Once he was blowing spit at these girls behind him, so I leaned down and said, “Eric, turn around, please,” and he did turn around, but then he blew spit into my face. He had to go talk to the vice-director for that one. You can probably guess how fond I am of Eric, but at the beginning of a recent day, he jumped out of his seat, wrapped himself around my leg, and yelled, “I love my Mr. Haggar!” There is David, who lives in the Hyperion Tower and wanted to know how to spell it when we were drawing cottages in arts and crafts. Ha. There is Chris, who is the bane of my existence as a pre-primary instructor but who has been growing on me lately. He gets out of his seat and speaks Korean more than everyone else combined, but he has redemptive qualities that have helped balance his behavior out. I play Scatman and the theme from “Rocky” in arts and crafts sometimes, and he always belts out the tunes. He has this high-pitched sigh that he lets out when he is particularly amused, too; when I can solicit that from him, I feel accomplished. There is Jason, this new kid who likes to grab my arm and says that “English is very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very good.” There is Lucy, who wears comically-gaudy jewelry at the drop of a hat but who would receive first prize in a hand-raising contest here, or up in North, or in China. There is Anne, whose grandmother comes and picks her up everyday, and whose idea of showing affection is by hitting. Anne is also very fond of raising her hand and saying, “Your mom is ugly.” And there is Ansley. She is very moody and independent; when she is having a bad day, she is untouchable and fights with everyone in this squeaky/chirpy voice and takes entire assignments, cuts them, and tapes them into different shapes. When she is having a good day, her smile is two million watts bright and she is funny. Occasionally, she will give me her paper or the pencil sharpener or whatever and do a very stiff, formal bow from the waist. And once she said something, and I didn’t understand and said, “What?” and in response she hit her head with her hand and made a bell sound like she had just rung her head. I didn’t pursue whatever the issue was.

There is also Jessie Teacher, the Korean woman who matches the Elmos. She agrees with me as to how bad the kids’ behavior is, but I suspect that the administration matched up the worst students with her because she knows what she’s doing, even though apparently that meant dragging me into the fray as well; Paul said she requested to be partnered with me because she’d heard that I was a fun teacher. This fact makes me feel like I am letting her down by leaving.

So. Action Time with the Elmos lasts until 10:15 AM, at which point Jessie returns and the kids all yell, “Hola, Jessie Teacher!” So, really, there are a bunch of five-year-olds in Korea who know some of three languages. Get on your horse, American education system, or you and your country will be left behind. The teachers get their only ten-minute break at this point. As you may suspect, all the teachers just sit in the teachers’ lounge and shoot the crap, or go smoke a cigarette. A few smoke between every class, on breaks that are only five minutes long. I can’t imagine that; the stress must hit some harder than others. Whatever.

10:25 comes along, and I get to teach Action Time again, this time to the Cookie Monsters. Upon reading their name, I imagine that you picture a fearsome, daunting class of truant maniacs, but don’t judge them too quickly. If the Elmos are Jay, the Cookie Monsters are Silent Bob. To sum their behavior up, I will generalize by briefly mentioning that one of the Cookie Monsters soiled himself quite thoroughly one time, and I had to spend three minutes out of the classroom finding help (and laughing), but when I returned to the Cookie Monsters classroom, every single student was working quietly on the envelope houses that I’d assigned in the pre-poop moments of that period. Studs.

I would say that the Cookie Monsters stay more engaged during Action Time than the Elmos. There are some kids that are absolutely glued to what I am doing. I think I’ve decided that Julie is my favorite. Her behavior is perfect, she is the cutest Korean girl in…Korea, she is smart, focused, and participates often. Most of these things are straight out of the repertoire of phrases to use on my report cards. Sometimes she repeats everything I speak to the class, which I figure will help her English along nicely. Sometimes she tells me that she and her mom are going to eat hamburgers for supper, and when I respond enviously, she says I can come, too. Sometimes she tells Eddie to stop it. Because Eddie needs to be told to stop it often. Eddie is the smartest pre-schooler I teach. He doesn’t talk a ton, but he has an almost sickening grasp of English. However, he nullifies this with his atrocious behavior. Eddie came to Poly School on behavioral probation, which is insane for a five-year-old (I mean, I know that Orvis had that stigma for a long time, too, but this is Korea). My partner teacher with the Cookie Monsters, Mercy, absolutely despises Eddie. I have come to tolerate him. We think he does not have the same respect for females as he does for males, of which there is not much anyway. Early on Eddie could be seen throwing all of his crayons everywhere, swinging this jagged metal rod (formerly the coat hanger rack) in an attempt to kill and maim, climbing everything, hiding in this crevice behind the wall, and just generally bothering everyone. However! As I reported on Eddie’s report card for April, he has gotten his act together...somewhat. I no longer see his actions as malicious, and he no longer acts in as angry a way as he did initially. Now it is obvious that Eddie just wants attention, and usually just from me. Not a profound discovery, but he has been wanting attention for more positive things lately, like getting his work done, instead of negative things, like making his neighbor cry. So. Good luck, Mercy. I think Eddie will be alright. Two other noteworthy things: he likes to just grab my arm and rub his face on my arm hair, which is odd and makes me think maybe his father isn’t really in the picture. And once he had a bloody nose and so the Korean teacher stuffed a rolled-up piece of tissue in his nose, and when he took it out, he just said “teacher…?” and showed me this giant three-inch bloody snot booger that hung from said tissue. It. Was. So. Gross. But I laughed.

What’s that? No, you idiot! There’s many more Cookie Monsters than just Julie and Eddie! There’s Tony, who, if his teeth weren’t super dirty and he hadn’t arrived in mid-April, could give Patric a run for his money on the title of cutest Korean boy. Tony is the most pleasant kid I’ve gotten to teach; he thinks everything I do is golden. Early on the only thing he would ever say was, “Pencils away?” in this high little boy voice. Despite his dental state, which isn’t really noticeable anyway, he has a smile that makes my day get better. He likes when I wiggle my fingers near him, and he will wiggle his fingers back. My favorite is when we read “Bears, Bears, Everywhere,” the last story we’ve been reading. I put the book down and swing my arms to and fro and say, in rhythm, say, “Bears, bears, every-where!” and the whole class does the same, except that Tony does it the best; he just has this carefree smile on his face like this is the best thing we could possibly be doing in the whole world right now, and he just throws his arms to the left and the right. Tony wasn’t even the latest addition to the Cookie Monsters, though. Darby recently showed up; he pays attention great and has a cool name. He wore a tie on my last Friday. There is Emily Shim, who, early on, threw up a whole bunch and who likes to raise her hand and say I’m very handsome. There is Emily Park, who always knows that is going on and who likes to raise her hand and tell me I’m a prince. Shouldn’t I be devoting more text space to the kids who compliment my physical appearance? There is Katy, who has an awesome laugh, awesome behavior, and is great at coloring. There is Zeus, who originally had the name Jeus but insisted on being called Zeus; he hammered this point home by erasing or crossing out the “J” from his name and replacing it with the appropriate letter. Mercy says he looks like a little old man, and she is right. He leans against the wall with his hand in his pockets. Sometimes when he comes back from the bathroom, he knocks on the door and hides around the corner so he can scare me when I answer the door. There is Matthew, who is tiny and has loose bowels but who loves Spiderman. The happiest I ever saw him was one day he ran up to me and pulled up his gym sweatshirt to show me this Spiderman t-shirt. I said, “Matthew, this thing is awesome! Way to go!” and he beamed beamed beamed. There is David, who has hair from the 1980’s and is very affectionate and is the first to greet me every time. Lately he has been hitting people a lot. Early on any project that involved scissors would end up with him cutting some of the paper into a million little pieces all over the floor. He loves sky blue. There is Nicole, who gave me a card on my last day that had this picture of her with a French fry and ketchup on a fork on the front. And inside were some baseball stickers. She is smart but distracts everyone around her, and she loves to pass out or collect the crayons. And there is Ashley. She probably uses the best English in the class. She knew the word “triceratops,” for some reason. Ashley is awesome. Once she was going to the bathroom, and I told her to be careful, and she asked why, and I told her that there were dinosaurs in there. When she came back, she said, “All the dinosaurs are dead!” I said, “What?! How!?” And she said, “A volcano.” End of discussion. This class is sweet. I tell them often that they are very chill, and they give me blank looks.

During March the Cookie Monsters had Linzy Teacher, who was the teacher who Eunice said was in love with me but who was also dismissed (or quit…who really knows) without Mercy or I ever really being informed. Her replacement, Camilla, is more strict and less clothed. I am astounded (or maybe that’s not the right word…) at some of the outfits she wears. She seems to be pretty good with the kiddies, and I have no problem with her, as I had no problem with Linzy. Except that once she forgot to get me envelopes that I needed for Action Time. The whole week. Oh well.

At 11:05 Action Time is over for the day, and we enter Inanimate Time at 11:10, or, if you want, reading class with the Elmos. For the pre-school classes, there is no curriculum for reading class until six months into the semester. Until that point, we are just supposed to read books to the kids, but that is hard because five-year-olds do not sit still and listen while you walk around the room with a boring book for forty minutes. Early on, I dreaded this period. But the Lord smiled his face down on me and revealed online books to me, and now I kind of like reading class. First we studied the Pig-Moose. The kids liked that. Then I moved on to this series of animation-heavy stories that were accompanied by different activities. The best one is the fire fighter story, at the end of which you get to choose what Fire Fighter Fran needs to wear; your choices include swimming tube, boa, tiara, Hawaiian shirt (I always think of Harley when I click that one), flip flops, boots, flippers, coat, tu-tu (I always think of Sunshine when I click that one), and, helmet, flower hat. Yup. The kiddies also like to yell that there is a fire in the room. There is this birthday cake with all the kids’ birthdays on the candles, and so they say there is a fire there, so I take the candles out into the hall and pretend to put water from the drinking fountain on them. Very educational.

At 11:43ish I take the Elmos to wash their hands. They are terrible at this: they push, they dance, they get out of line, they fight and speak Korean and make me look like a terrible teacher, they go in the wrong bathroom, they don’t wash their hands, they run around. I might have had a great morning but then after washing hands, I am usually pissed. But I bring them back to the room, where Jessie feeds them, and they tell me to “have a good lunch!” and I leave for the 11:50 AM to 12:30 PM lunch break.

I usually eat with Ray. We usually go to “Dragon.” We usually get fried pork cutlets. Why is it called “Dragon”? They used to have these “dragon balls,” which were allegedly delicious, but that’s all I know. Various other teachers occasionally accompany us here, and occasionally we go get Chinese food or I go to the “Blue Octopus,” which is so named because a one Scott Hourigan proclaimed it so, for no reason other than to counter the arbitrarily-named Dragon. They have really good shrimp fried rice at the Blue ‘Pus. Ray won’t go there, though. Lunches are either silent, due to fatigue, frustration, or feelings of fruitlessness (count it), or everyone complains about the school. At 12:20 we head back.

I go back to the Cookie Monsters for Shared Reading at 12:30. Shared Reading is what reading class should be. There is a short story in book form and an accompanying workbook. I am generally satisfied with the curriculum for this class; perhaps part of it is that the Cookie Mon-stars are so compliant. We have read “We Play on a Rainy Day,” “Hi, Clouds,“My Car,” and “Bears, Bears, Everywhere!” I liked the bear story. It is basically about teddy bears; page one has “One bear in the air”; page two has “Two bears on the stairs”; and so on. On the last day, I didn’t give the kids the book and just asked them what one bear was doing, or what three bears were doing, and someone remembered each one. I was impressed. Smart class. At 1:10 PM the smartness ends, however, and the real energy-sapper rears its juvenile head.

At 1:15 PM I return into the grips of the Elmos. On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, we have arts and crafts, for which Jessie prepares a finished product and I simply have to administer the supplies. Arts and crafts isn’t that bad; I have to set the guidelines very clearly (“Do. Not. Leave. Your. Seat.”). There is a wide range as to how quickly students accomplish the crafts. Patric has gotten certain projects done in less than four minutes, while Chris regularly does not get done, whether it is because he is distracted or because he takes so long to color, and needs me to finish for him. The time after completing the project is where disaster strikes, which it often does. When students get done before the others, they can draw in their sketchbooks. This is a fairly efficient pacifier, but when it fails, it fails miserably, and there are kids running around the room, climbing the computer podium, crawling under my legs, and play Korean rugby with warheads.

On Tuesdays we have to go to gym. I hate gym, because these kids go absolutely bonkers. The first three or four sessions always ended up with me screaming at the top of my lungs, kids crying, punches being thrown, students strapped to my legs, what have you. Typical and uninteresting things. After a while I started being very clear about what we were and weren’t going to do, and things got better. Once, I told them all that we were going to go in and sit in a circle. I paused and asked them, “What is the first thing we’re going to do?” and Diane knew, so I jokingly told her to circle everyone up when we got there. You know that when I went in, she was yelling at everyone to get in a circle. I was touched, as futile as both of our efforts were. The circle probably tipped you off to my game of choice: “Duck, Duck, Goose.” Everyone wants to get up and run around all the time, so we can’t play this the whole time. About two-thirds of the way through, we play “What Time Is It, Mr. Wolf?” The Orcas showed me this. Three cheers for that crew! Basically I chase the kids around and they laugh a lot but don’t listen for crap. And we are all about laughing at Poly! Ha! Ha!

On Thursdays we get to go to the computer lab and play a designated game. This is the counterpart to gym; computer class is very chill, and the students are, to quote Brad Pitt, “as docile as Hindu cows.” I troubleshoot a little bit, tell some jokes, check my e-mail.

At 1:45 we get all our coats and backpacks on, and Jessie Teacher leads us to the elevator and to the buses, a trip during which we have to cross a major highway. The body count is still at zero, though, so. I take Kevin, Patric, Renee, and Jason to buses 10, 8, 9, and 3, respectively, and Jessie takes the others in the opposite direction. Usually this is the part of the pre-school day where I feel decent, because I just have to hold hands with Patric and Renee and joke around with them, and I usually see all the old Orcas and Walruses, who are invariably ecstatic about seeing me. The kiddies get put on the bus, we all wander back upstairs to recuperate and start getting ready for the next six classes, and life goes on.

Okay. If you are still reading this, take a break, stretch a little, shoot up, go to the restroom, file your taxes, do what you need.

From whenever the teachers return (round about 2:05ish) until 3:00 is prep time for the six afternoon classes. Before the schedule change, there was plenty of time to get everything ready and done before 3:00, but now there is less time and I feel the pinch. Homework needs to be entered online, explanations need to be mentally figured out, activities need to be thunk up, agendas need to be written down, stray students need to be avoided, copies need to be made, and so on and so forth. At certain points each month, report cards also need to be done. And Step Up Writing. And the monthly test writing section. And conference sheets. And meetings with the vice-director. And career batting averages against lefties on days above 65 degrees.

Then we grab our riot gear and head into battle. The first block, from 3:00 PM to 4:45 PM, consists of two fifty-minute classes with first graders of some sort, at least for me. My partner teacher for the first and second blocks each day is Ms. Cindy Peli, a blonde New Yorker. We basically each teach a class during the first period of each block and then switch classes in the second period. Generally, one teacher is the reading teacher and the other is the vocab/grammar/writing/torture teacher.

First, GT1-C gets me. They are rambunctious but fun. They ask a lot of questions, many of which don’t have anything to do with the subject at hand. Ellin always asks if I have a girlfriend. Eric always says he has a question but really he just makes some absurd claim, like that he won’t die if he doesn’t drink water for three days, or that he inhales sand and can use it to breathe. SoYeon always tells me where and when she thinks I “poo-poo-ed.” I don’t know who taught TaeYoon English, but everything she says always comes out in a very indignant tone, so I call on her whenever possible. Brian always tells me that I’m ugly and crazy. Joseph always says “I have a question!” before I call on him. It makes me want to hit him. Sara always speaks very slowly when she asks questions, and she asks a lot of them; for instance, “Why is the ocean so salty?” I have to yell at them a lot, but they are pretty fun. It is just a matter of channeling their energy into something fun.

I think I like the other first grade class in the first block, GT1-B, better. They always have these snacks that they can never finish within the parameters of the five minute break, so they always give some to me and are still eating at the beginning of class. Which I didn’t really care about, until the vice-director started poking his head into the room, unprovoked, and telling them to put it all away. So then I had them set their books upright on their desks to hide their snacks. And then Alice’s book slipped and spilled all her chocolate milk everywhere. Whatever. Each day Grace, this girl who has professed her love for me, always runs up and sticks between one and five stickers on my hand. After class I put them above my desk on the shelf. I hope they stay there forever. Michelle frequently wears a tutu to class. Roy makes absurd faces, Jamie wears his coat as a cape, this guy William changed his name to Neptune on the first day, Linda sends me notes that say such things as “Hagger is noun,” Alice never has her book but tells me that she is going to have a party when the teacher dies, Tony raises his hand for every single question ever and gets pissed when I don’t call on him, and Jay is always ready to either say “gus” or try to poke mine. You can figure out what “gus” means. I might add that probably fifty percent of this class does not have a full set of teeth right now. I might also add that one day before class started, Michelle and Sandy saw me and told me that they were playing trashball in the room and that Sandy was winning. No wonder I like them a little better. GT1-B also needs less prompting to get to work and does things faster. They get along with each other better and ask more sophisticated questions, ones that I am often somewhat stumped on, especially in science.

But, overall, both are pretty solid crews. On Tuesdays and Thursdays I teach them science, and I probably dislike it more than they do. There is not time to come up with anything fun to make learning the material more interesting. Vocabulary class is on Monday, grammar class is on Wednesday, and writing class is on Friday. Sometimes material from writing and grammar overlap, and we have a kegger instead of class. I like vocabulary the best; as much as I like grammar, sometimes the concepts are…just…too…dry.

As each stage of the day ends, I look forward to the coming of the next set of classes because each one is more mature than the block before. I long for the afternoons because I will not be managing pre-schoolers. I get excited when the third graders come because I will not be staggering through the headaches of first grade. And the fifth graders, many of whom are completely fluent, are sweet to talk to. The real line is drawn between first and second block, or, if you want, between the first grade and the third grade for me. Of course, there are exceptions, but, generally, I enjoy third and fifth grade the most each day. Very little classroom management, much more interesting discussions.

Another noteworthy difference between the pre-school/first grader half of the day and the third/fifth grade sections is that I see the former every day of the week and the latter only two or three times a week. On Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, the second block consists of one class each with R3-2B and R3-3, and then the third block is with fifth grade classes. On Tuesday and Thursday I see some combination of three classes with GT3-3A and GT3-2, and there is no third block. Are you confused? Try planning classes for this mess of classes, especially when, instead of being designated separately by being vocabulary, or writing, or grammar, all of them are reading classes and each day’s activities are a general mystery. And then try doing that while listening to the person next to you eat and everyone else telling funny stories. And then try doing THAT so close to Pyongyang (Reuben: "I think I'm making too many jokes about North Korea in this post. Mike: "You can never make too many jokes about North Korea."). And all of this is done in a time crunch.

So. Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, R3-2B reads and studies stories with me from 4:50 to 5:30. They are a good class. They pay attention well and say the appropriate number of funny things and intelligent things. They give me energy; they stay engaged. There is a girl named Fizz in the class. They are cool.

If R3-2B is Clinton, their counterpart, R3-3, a class that meets from 5:35 to 6:15, is G. W. Bush. I will defend the girls in R3-3; they are great! Cindy, Julia, YeonSeo, HeyLin, and Sally are absolute angels and they put in more effort than anyone in any of the classes I teach. We made leadership awards for the unit on Mulan, and Julia made one for me. Cindy wrote an extra poem about cats just cuz. But the boys in R3-3 would make (sorry) Kim Jong-il blush. They pick up the chairs. They fall out of chairs. They give each other the finger in class. They tattle. They wander out of the room without a word of explanation. They yell. While Julia was making a leadership award for me, Anthony drew a picture of a person taking a dump. While Cindy was writing her cat poem, Tony wrote “pooh is dirty” and drew a pile of feces on the page. I realized immediately what kind of students I had on my hands and so, mentally, I am rarely affected by their antics. I feel kind of bad for the girls in the class, though, because I think that they hate it.

On Tuesday, the second block consists of two forty-minute classes with GT3-3A and one with GT3-2; on Thursday, the tables turn and it is GT3-2 who is in submission for two forty-minute reading classes and GT3-3A for only one. GT3-3A is alright; they work and pay attention decently. There are times when they seem completely bored, and that saps my energy. But I have never had a boring class with GT3-2. They get excited to see me, and I get excited to see them. Lisa and Jeanny are these two awesome girls in there; I taught Jeanny’s brother last semester, and he was really cool, so we had this immediate connection. The boys in there are cool, too. There is this dude named Henry who sits in the front row all the time and has these giant two front teeth. Sometimes they ask, “Mr. Haggar, why are you so funny?” Other times I tell them that where I live is great and full of corn, and they seem happy about that, so I say, “Shut your books! Let’s go to Iowa!” and they all yell, “Yea!” and I run out of the room. They want to come. They really do. Maybe, just maybe, I will bring them over sometime. But. They bring a different energy than their partner class, that is for sure. More enthusiasm, more engagement. They know my first and last name, and, all jokes aside, when we were reading about where George Washington Carver went to college (give yourself two points if you know this), most of them looked up and said, “That’s where you’re from, Mr. Haggar!” And afterward, I asked them if anything had struck them as particularly interesting about G.W.C., and Henry said, “He had a haircut like this!” and pointed to this collegiate photo of the protagonist. Ha.

Reading classes with these third grade classes are okay. Sometimes a story lends itself to fun and interesting activities; sometimes it leaves the instructor stumbling blindly into the cold void. Usually we read a story and spend a week or two on it; there are also [very simple and easy] practice book pages that “correspond” to the story we are working on. The practice book wastes everyone’s time; it wastes the students’ time when they have to do it and it wastes my time because I have to check it. Other, more interesting supplements have included writing our own “Good Things” books, making a quilt of memories, listening to music (Sinatra, Miles Davis, Bury Your Dead, Semper Fidelis, to name a few) and noting the emotional impact, and eating peanuts. A lot of times, though, I walk out of reading class feeling like I was the one wasting everyone’s time. Sigh.

Come with me, if you are for some reason still interested (Lord knows that at this point in the day, I am usually not) in continuing. The last block consists of classes from 6:20 to 7:00 and from 7:05 to 7:45. I get to teach different classes of fifth graders, both of which are quite smart and quite entertaining in quite different ways. I also enjoy this last block because Mr. Robert Boyce is my partner teacher for it. We exchange jokes, information, complaints, and snack parties, or lack thereof.

At 6:20 I teach vocabulary, grammar, or writing to R5-1A. In my opinion, they are at an American high school learning level; they are fluent in English, when they take their time they write error-free, and they understand sarcasm. And run it into the ground. There are four boys and two of them are very loud but very good-natured. There are six girls, most of whom are also very eager to voice their opinions but are more civil about it. Early on this class realized that I more than ready to laugh at myself, so what they take away from my class each day is who had the highest number of and most clever insults aimed at yours truly. Some days they are funny; some days they are annoying. I let most of it slide, for the most part, because these kids are smart and they put in enough effort for my liking.

At 7:05 we switch and I get GT5-2. The difference between a “GT” class and an “R” class is that “R” classes are full of “Returnees,” or students who have lived in some English-speaking nation somewhere. Poly School was originally founded in order to cater to these students. But eventually Poly got bigger and bigger and, like any private capitalist business, expanded; they started taking smart kids from Seoul, or Gifted and Talented students. The “-1” or “-2” or “-3” at the end of the acronym indicates the level of the class; “-1” classes are the smartest, and you can figure out the rest. My most sincere apologies for having omitted this explanation earlier. But I knew that if you knew about this, nothing would hold you captive on this page any longer. In your face.

GT5-2! They are much more laid back. The worst thing they have ever said about me is that I am a merman. This class puts in as much hard work as my other class but, not having lived in an English-speaking country, most of the class’s English is not quite as fluent as R5-1A’s. But it is still really good. The kids in the class just laugh at all the stupid things I do. Sometimes they say that I yell too much when I teach, so then I open WordPad and just type everything I want to say, and they read it aloud. Sometimes when there is reading to be done in the book, I turn the lights off and they all “relax and just listen,” even though I know, I know they try to sleep. We watch Mr. T. videos at the end of class. They take pictures of me on their cell phones. One girl tells me that she loves me at the end of each class period. Not like in a cute, pre-school way, either. Whatever. They are the only class I have in the Sycamore classroom, which happens to be next to the office of the owner of the school. And Paul’s office is in there, too. They probably both think I am an idiot.

At 7:45, the place clears out. All the teachers who live at Taesong where I live make a beeline for the other side of the block to get a taxi and go home. Getting a cab at this point in the day is not nearly as stressful as getting one in the morning. Everyone is calm. Various post-work activities have included: Monday Night Fried Chicken (duh), Korean barbecue (the best Korean food I have run into so far), Pizza Etang, Thai food, soup, going back to my apartment and doing nothing, hanging out in front of Family Mart with beers and teachers, and going to meet up with Ten-Mile-Britt and Megan “Green Eggs and Ham” Schwartz.

When I initially got to Poly and was more enthusiastic about working there (pre-March 2009), I would try to get to bed around 10 or 10:30. Lately it has been more like 11:30, especially since, as both the weather and the other teachers have gotten nicer, I have been doing more stuff after work. That schedule does not make too much sense; you’d think more sleep would be needed with the more brutal schedule. I once verbalized such a thought when Bernard told us he was going to a birthday party on a weekday. He gave the response I try to agree with when faced with the options of going home to bed or staying up and being tired the next day: “Dude, do you know where you are? This is Korea. I’ll go celebrate on a Wednesday…I’ll celebrate anything on any night of the week.” His certainty impressed me, but! The record must also show that Bernard missed his 9 AM flight home because he and several others were out “celebrating” his departure until 6:30 AM the evening before. But. This is Korea…

So. Let me know if you want the trophy that you receive upon completing this post sent to you via the quick, air route, or the slow, ground route. It's a long day, and that's the main reason I am leaving. The longness. Maybe some day there will be a post specifically dedicated to the weekend. But not now. Not today.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Talk to Me

Warning: if you are Professor Tim Essenburg or Professor Karen McKinney from one Bethel University, you may disagree with a handful of the following sentences. Consider yourselves warned.

Before I came to Siz-eoul, I was told by both my recruiter and someone who’d been to South Korea that random people might come up to me on the subway or wherever and want to “practice their English” with me. For the first couple months, this did not happen at all. But in the past month or so, things have picked up. One Saturday this old dude came and sat by me while I was waiting for the subway and just started talking to me. It turns out that he had written part of a book about how students learn the best that had been published by a reputable university in the area, taught himself very passable English out of a book, decided to carry a mammoth-sized commentary on the book of Luke with him, and vowed to get my e-mail address before he got off at Seoul National University. I gave him my e-mail address, but you can let go of that breath that you’ve been holding; I haven’t heard from him. Another dude started talking to me while I waited for Ten-Mile-Britt and Megan “I Fought the Law and the…Law Won” Schwartz after one of the most exhausting and depressing days at Poly that I’ve had. His English wasn’t very good, and he ignored the questions I asked him and persisted with inquiries of his own, but, nonetheless, he wanted my phone number. I told him I was going back to America in a month, so no number was given. I tried hard but I can honestly say I didn’t give that fellow my A game. Another dude, whose English was even more broken, started telling me about his band and the different instruments he played. I told him I played tuba. Another dude flagged me down in this big ol’ market and asked me about fashion and wanted to recommend a certain place to shop, but he wanted to meet in a coffee shop nearby, which was the point in the conversation at which I said I was on my way to meet someone (I thought about saying that when I noticed the massive blistering rashes all over the guy’s face and neck and the homeless person aroma that was his baggage, but you know what they say about judging a book by its cover). Because I kind of was. There was also another exchange which I will describe in the appendix to this post because it bears little relation to the rest of the post’s content (see Appendix A).

Some observations from this: first, obviously, and coming as a surprise to no one, the casual reader no doubt noticed that none of these random encounters were initiated by ladies of any sort. Secondly, I like the idea of people just coming up to other people and saying “Hi, my name is _________...what is yours?” All these encounters have been super friendly ones, and, though I was fairly uncomfortable during each “conversation,” I always walked away smiling. Nobody seems to have any qualms or reservations about asking for a cell number or an e-mail address, or just starting up a conversation out of the blue. I like that. I wish that would happen more often. People, myself included, have too many barriers up. Third, if I ever learn Korean to any degree, is it okay for me to do this to people (read: cute girls) just to “practice” my “Korean”? Cast your vote now. Fourthly- and this is a statement that is comparing two completely different cultures, a fact that eliminates any validity this statement may have or any reason that one would even offer this statement- imagine if you went up to a/an [insert any ethnicity here] person in the U.S. and started trying to speak to him or her in what you assumed to be his or her native tongue, which is what happened to me in the aforementioned situations. That hasn’t happened much, at least not in Rock Rapids (where, according to Wikipedia, 99.14% of all residents are Anglo-Saxon) or at Bethel University (where, according to the possibly-outdated site at Minnesota’s Private Colleges, 90.08% of students are Anglo-Saxon), where I’ve spent most of my waking hours (and- sit down before reading this next part- a lot of sleeping ones, too). I could see it being offensive, something based on stereotypes. In Seoul it is generally assumed that foreigners speak English, for the most part. In the States, one can find a slough of different languages. Somewhere. Not where I’ve been, maybe. I like to think it’s vaguely comparable to when Scott and I were getting barbecue and a ninth of the way through the meal, our waitress brought us forks. We smiled and indicated that we were okay with chopsticks. She left, and I said, “If you saw a Korean person eating at Applebee’s and brought that person chopsticks, do you think that that would go over well? Why does she assume we can’t eat with chopsticks? We’re in Korea!” Scott did not say anything; he merely pointed to the splotches of grease and other fodder matter that covered the table because of all the food I’d let slip from my utensils. Which perhaps reflects a major difference in American culture and Korean culture...not the part about dropping my food...before that. Or something. The United States might be considered a “melting pot” of cultures, but it is generally assumed that if one is to live there, one probably knows English to some degree and has some sense of the culture there, for whatever that is worth. In Korea, on the other hand, it seems like the foreigners- not all, obviously, but this applies to many who I know- do not invest much time in learning the Korean language or picking up much knowledge about the culture. It is sort of arrogant, really. Why would I come here and not know the language? I often feel dumb for knowing a mere hundred [mostly-useless] Hangul words, but I feel stupider for making little to no attempt (at least since the beginning of March) to learn the language. Typical American, that is me. Making me feel even more stupid are the students I teach, who know more of two languages at age five than I do. And I get paid, sons. I get paid. Anyway, to recap the cultural difference: In general, in the U.S., foreigners are expected to know English and, in general, in Seoul, foreigners are assumed to not know Korean. Is this good or bad? I will leave that up to you to decide. All I can say is that I still haven’t eaten any McDonald’s since arriving.

Appendix A (an appendix wherein I simply paste what I wrote about three months ago, when this actually occurred, a fact I only mention to defend incongruence in verb tense and general voice): So Megan and I were standing around, drinking our hot chocolate, when this old Korean with a bunch of books sidled up to us and was like, “Good day, good day!” So we greeted him. He started talking to us about how God loves us, and so I figured he was going to try to witness to us. Then he started talking about how the different races should not intermingle and how they should just marry their own kind, (so I said, “Haha, what about Megan and I?”) because that was what Jesus taught, and then he started talking about how all the Americans come over and get with Korean girls, and then that turned into how American culture is awful and how Americans are forcing their culture on other parts of the world. We were just standing there; Megan occasionally was trying to say, “But God wants us to love everybody!” and I was just kind of smiling to myself. This guy was your typical opinion-sharer, he was just on a tear with what he wanted to tell us, so finally he started getting around to how American culture was so bad again and how we marry other races and how our nation or culture or whatever has this astronomically-high divorce rate, and how all the women get black eyes from their husbands, and I said that Korean men sure don’t seem to treat their wives all that great. Then he said, somewhat heatedly, “That is none of your business.” I said that at least we have laws in America that will send you to jail if you beat your wife or kids, and here it seems to be completely okay, and he told me again that that was none of my business. I said that if he was going to condemn American culture, then surely I could point out flaws in the Korean culture, and then, in typical opinion-sharer fashion, he kept ranting about how our culture was wrong and then, of course, as he was leaving, he was like, “God bless you, God bless you,” like he had just gotten done sharing a nugget of spiritual truth with us. It wasn’t as much racist as it was infuriating that he said western culture was so bad (which I agree with, for the most part) and then cut me off when I brought up the Korean marital state.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Introspective and Informative

As lame as it might be, I keep trying to find these little clich├ęs to live by all the time that can sum up a good approach to life, but each one has so many in’s and out’s and what-have-you’s that it eventually doesn’t hold water.

Lately, the one I have been throwing around is that “the successful man does as he pleases.” The phrase originated from a moment in Rock Rapids. A few of us were at Nasty’s, waiting for a one Ryan Ross to show up so we could depart for wherever our destination was going to be that evening. Someone called him, and he said he’d be there in ten minutes. An hour later, he hadn’t shown up, and someone called him again and he had not left. Snyders remarked, “Well, the successful man does as he pleases.” No, no, please hold your applause. There are better stories to come. Anyway, Ryan Ross did not bow to the wishes of the mere mortals who were at Nasty’s house. He did what he wanted.

I am jealous of those people. I am not the decisive, independent, perhaps emotionally-detached individual that I often find myself in the company of. There is almost always the opportunity to do something or go somewhere here these days, it seems. Perhaps I am keenly aware of this because while I type, many of my coworkers are socializing at a bunch of picnic tables outside Family Mart in the glorious April weather. I am sitting in my underwear in my room, lights dim, August Burns Red blaring, window open, next to an open container of Pringles. But there are many nights where it is in my best interest to go home and rest and go to sleep…two hours after arriving at my apartment. These are the times where I am torn, the times when the aforementioned “successful man” doesn’t really know what he wants.

Even on the weekends, this obstacle rears its ugly mug. I balance the scale: if I stay out late (evoking another, lesser-known phrase: “sleep when you’re dead”), it might be fun, I might laugh some, feel accepted, share camaraderie with those whom I teach with, and not experience that feeling of missing out, which is a huge factor for me. I hate the idea of missing out on something sweet that may have been going on. But, if I stay out late, I will undoubtedly be tired the next day, and probably not motivated, and I will not get to check up on the Twins, or on friends at home via e-mail, or not get to read, or keep my place from becoming a sty, which it will become if I arrive back at some ungodly hour and throw my clothes in a corner and hit the hay.

On the other hand, if I sit in my apartment, or just take it easy, I get the satisfaction of writing some e-mails, reading a chapter, cleaning, feeling rested, being ready for the next day, and having updated fantasy sports lineups across the board. but, when this happens with any sort of frequency, I start feeling useless and disconnected from whom I am with and where I am. I would be completely ignoring an idea I aspire to cling to: “be where you are,” a phrase I stole from my cousin’s blog.

However! It’s difficult to be where I am when I don’t have time or energy to be there or enjoy it. Perhaps where I am could be better defined as Mok-dong Poly School, where I am almost half of every twenty-four hour day. I suppose it’s a matter of perspective; I feel like I should experience everything in Seoul because I am here and have never been here and might not be back, but I am kept in by the hours of my school. And, thus, after work each day, the temptation to go somewhere, to do something, to experience something new, or at least to be out with some friends, always is a temptation/option. It is not always what I need. I know that, so then it turns into being not what I want. I flit between two agreeable scenarios. I want to “seize the day” but am too often afraid that doing so will prevent me from being able to seize tomorrow. Sigh.

All that being said, I did a whole bunch of stuff last weekend, even though most of the time I just wanted to go back to my apartment and sleep. On Friday, the pre-school and kindergarten programs went to this zoo in Ilsan (town motto: Come on Vacation, Leave on Probation). The teachers were warned beforehand that it “wasn’t a good zoo”; the chimps had been seen eating fur off of their own arms. Undaunted, we plowed ahead and took our kids to monkey shows, farm animal feeding frenzies, reptile dorms, cow cages, and various other stops along the way. The weather was beautiful, people. I smiled a lot. It was fun.


You know it, Judy.

Monkey Show, complete with a blazing white orb that was some lady's hat:

Patric feeding a captive speckled pig:

Patric feeding a free speckled pig:

Patric feeding a white goat:

I do not know what diverted Renee's attention from this hog, but Lord knows it was probably something sweet:

Lucy and Anne enjoying baby tomatoes and crackers:

Mr. Kirby and ex-Orca Clara hanging out:

Tony, one of the latest additions to the Cookie Monster class...he looks somewhat reluctant to be in this photo, don't you think?


David and Eric:

We spent all morning looking at many, many animals, but at the end of the day, Chris insisted that I take a solemn picture of him with the plant life he harvested from the day's journey:

Bus ride home:

That night this new teacher named Min, Rob, and I spent an uneventful night out, a night that included a cave bar, an airsoft gun shooting range, tons of indecisiveness, intravenous bags of mixed drinks (don’t pretend like you don’t know), a small bar crowded with really aggressive, really inebriated, really old, really Korean women (eyewitness: “I looked over and saw Reuben peeling this lady’s hands off his face”), fortunately no photos, and zero hook-ups. Count it.

After going to bed at 4 AM and waking up at 8 AM (which is another reason why I sometimes want to throw in the towel early even on the weekends; I wake up at the same time everyday, bar none), Rob, Ray, and I headed off to the prestigious Cherry Blossom Festival. Words fail where pictures succeed, so I will let my camera (and Ray’s; I stole some of these from his Facebook postings…sorry, chief) do the talking.

I will say, however, that last weekend, Rob and I walked around this area for two hours or so and never found the cherry blossoms. We told everyone that they hadn’t blossomed yet, but, really, we just never found the festival. Don't tell.

But Seoul has so much more to offer than a brigade of blossoming beauty! Our next stop was Mok-dong Stadium, where the Woori Heroes (“Woori” as in “their pitching staff will make loyal Heroes fans woori”) were to do battle with the SK Wyverns (don’t ask me where they get these names…probably they got together with the brilliant minds who named each of our current kindergarten classes a different kind of nut…macadamias, pistachios, etc.) in a 5:00 showdown. The Heroes ended up losing 10-3, but at least they let you bring your own food and drink in, at least the cheerleaders were wearing short skirts, at least they passed out sparklers between the fifth and the sixth inning, at least the visiting team’s crowd was way louder than the home team’s, at least the weather was gorgeous, and at least the game lasted until 8:30 PM.

The beginning minutes of the game:

The final minutes of the game:

Visiting crowd:

Home crowd:


After that we went and got Mexican deliciousness, and that was that. The three of us parted ways at about eleven, having experienced a full, solid day in Seoul. Some of us went home and went to bed, some of us went and got bombed and blew 50,000 won on the drink, and some of us went home and flooded a large apartment. Figure it out.

Sunday was Easter. Ray and I had a sweet brunch at Suji’s in Itaewon, despite having been ditched by some who shall remain nameless. I went to an Easter service at Dongsan English Worship which was, as always, enjoyable, especially when afterward it turned out that the entire congregation was going to be subjected to an Easter feast in a neighboring building. Sweet! I pulled myself free of said feast to re-attend the Cherry Blossom Festival, this time with Ten-Mile-Britt, Megan, and their friend Lee. We paraded up and down the place; it was different to see it at night. Again, “a picture is worth a thousand words,”or maybe, given the quality of some of the pictures, eight hundred words, so get ready for a 5,257-word essay, courtesy of hijacked photos from Megan “I’ll Snap You in Two” Schwartz, in addition to my own:

My weekend concluded as I fell asleep while taking the online Driver Defense Course that is a pre-requisite for working at YouthWorks! The next two days would prove that perhaps I had overdone it during the weekend, but I was pleased with how much got packed into those three days. The balance really boils down to experiencing a lot while getting just enough sleep, I think. But, speaking of sleep, I can hear Hypnos beckoning me. Or is that Anne Hathaway? Either way, I am going to bed, lest I be too tired to grab tomorrow “by the horns.”

Friday, April 3, 2009

Bits and Pieces: March Edition


The following is reminiscent of the stories I think I tell quite frequently. You may recognize similarities between this post and my reports on the day if you've had the misfortune to have hung out with me before. By that I mean that most of them are funny in context, to me, and I feel obligated to try to share them, but I know that most of them probably aren't funny to anyone except me.

I haven't done the math (because I teach science instead) but I think that this post is longer and more tedious than other similar posts. Plan accordingly, you dingbat.

*During the first week of new classes at the beginning of March, I was teaching [the single most boring edition of] first grade science, and a paper airplane fell to my feet from somewhere in the room. It said, “For Mr. Hager.” I opened it later and it said, “Your so silly.”

*The five new pre-school classes are named Ernie, Bert, Cookie Monster, Elmo, and Big Bird. I, for one, thought it was a travesty that one of the classes (preferably the least intelligent one) was not named Snuffleupagus. It must also be noted that I typed that name into Google to see how it was spelled, and I got it right on the first try. Count it.

*The student who understands me the most: Sara, from GT1-C. After only two and a half weeks of teaching her, we had this exchange: I was joking around with them about what day of the week it was; I said I’d thought it was Friday and hadn’t been planning on coming to work the next day, and Sara raised her hand and said, “But you are not wearing a tie.” I didn’t know what to say.

*Students here believe that if a person’s name is written in red on a whiteboard, that person will die.

*Tiny little Ashley, a pre-schooler, asked if she could go to the bathroom, so I said she could but that she should watch out for bears, because there were a bunch of bears in the girls' bathroom. She came back a few minutes later in this mock frazzle; her eyes were huge, she was waving her hands, and she had on this fun grin. She came into the room and said, “Bears! I saw bears!” and ran to her seat. She’s five years old.

*This pretty Korean woman who has been giving three Vietnamese guys and me pseudo-Korean lessons after church told me that my hair looked like a nest (“you know…like a bird’s home!”) and that she liked it. She makes us buy her ice cream and coffee when we fail tests. I might start implanting her ideas at Poly School.

*Science worksheet:
Question: Does your animal have something that keeps it safe, scares other animals away, or helps it get food?
Ellin’s answer: The puppy is very cute.

*During the first week of new classes, Renee (who had to use the bathroom no less than two times every single class period) couldn’t figure out how to open the door to the classroom.

*Reason #3284 that I am no good at teaching little kids: every so often I will do something that I don’t want the kids to do, but as soon as the pre-schoolers see me do it, they will do it every day until the kingdom comes. Exhibit A: I was having the Cookie Monsters repeat some phrases or something, and on the last one I rolled up my book and used it like a megaphone, so then they all immediately did that to their nice, new books and continue to do it all the time. Exhibit B: there is this girl Ansley in the Elmo class who is smart, distant, and independent from the others. One day she got up on a table and laid on it, face up, like she was a corpse or something. I said, “Ansley, you can’t be on there, dude,” and lifted her off of the table by her hands and swung her around a tiny bit before bringing her back to earth. But then immediately two or three other little pre-school girls saw that and came running, yelling “Me! Me!” Sigh. Exhibit C: in my first grade classes we were studying common and proper nouns. I said, “Okay, everyone pick something up off your desk and hold it in the air. Take a good, long look at it…it is a common noun!” I picked up this big blue chair for myself to hold up and look at and realize that it was a common noun, and so a couple of the boys picked their chairs up, too. One boy wasn’t strong enough to hold his chair up and so he accidentally dropped it on another boy.

*Early in the day we were discussing the word “evening” in pre-school and some kid called me evil. Then the same day some girl in fifth grade said that Ms. McCarthy was an angel and that I was the devil, and a villain.

*The Elmos often get out of control during arts and crafts, so I wrote “Stay in your seat!” on the board. I was pointing to it and looking at it when Patric got up out of his seat, took both fists, and simultaneously punched me in the crotch and the butt. It hurt a lot, so even though I wanted to laugh at his audacity (or lack of comprehension), I just stared him back to his seat.

*I had this “great” idea for a unit on shapes in pre-school; the kids would color eight different shapes, cut them out, and paste them on this bigger piece of paper on which they had already pasted labels for each shape. One class got done completely in two days; the other one lagged, and so I had a metric ton of colored shapes, scraps, half-cut labels, ‘67 Rod Carew rookie cards, B4-sized papers, and miscellaneous other paper products in this very organized pile, where I could easily hand back each student’s shape collection without much trouble. At some point when my back was turned, someone opened the window next to said pile; the first sign of movement was detected by my superior peripheral vision, but by then it was too late, and all the work was blown fifteen feet across the room by a gust of wind that could only have originated in Pyongyang. I let out a howl of despair, gathered the entire pile of debris, took it to the teachers’ lounge, and recycled it.

*I was talking to ex-Orca Jane and she was telling me about some other school she’d been going to, so I asked her if it was better than Poly, and she said, “Just a little bit.”

*During our prep hour, I was doing something in the computer lab and three first graders who I used to teach were by the door. I could hear them saying, “There’s Mr. Haggar,” “You say it to him,” “No, you say it.” Eunice, the girl who says I’m pregnant, came over and said that one of the Korean teachers was in love with me. I laughed. Then later I was sitting in the teacher’s lounge and Eunice tried to peek in and say something else, but the Korean teacher in question was pulling her away and saying, “No, no!” I laughed. I put absolutely no stock in what Eunice is saying (let’s be honest: she said I was pregnant with ten twins), but I felt bad for the Korean teacher who shall remain nameless; she was new, defenseless, and very meek. I also feel bad for her now because at the end of March, she was either fired (more likely, given how our administrative fellows had been talking about her) or quit (less likely, given how much she seemed to enjoy the C.M.)(but smarter on her part). She was pretty cool. The stupidest part was that neither Mercy nor I were ever informed of this event; Mercy, this Korean teacher's home room partner teacher, overheard someone mention it on the day of the quitting. Mercy told me. The Korean teacher never told us. The higher-ups never told us. In theory, she could have been at Poly on Monday and there could have been a completely new person there on Tuesday, with no explanation.

*Dabin, an ex-Orca, saw me and reiterated that she was still going to cook me and eat me, but then a few minutes later she explained that she wasn’t even going to cook me; she was just going to right to the eating. I live in fear everyday.

*In the Cookie Monster class, I come into the room and say “Hello, Cookie Monsters!” and some of them think it’s funny to say “Good-bye, Mr. Haggar!” So sometimes I pretend to leave, and one or two kids will come running after me and pull me back into the room. Which, if you’re wondering, is really endearing. And sometimes Eddie tries to keep pushing me back out. Which, if you’re wondering, is funny, too. On the first day I had to carry him out of the class and yell at him in the hall. There is no order in the classes that I am in charge of. Then I started telling the Cookie Monsters to greet me with, “Get out of here, Mr. Haggar!” So now they say that.

*When I tell first grader Alice to have a good day (because she is always the last one to leave class), she responds by telling me to “have a silly day.”

*This first grade girl who has verbally expressed how big of a crush she has on me brings up Iowa all the time. It’s awesome. Take notes, Sunshine.

*I forgot my keys at school one day, and so I figured the landlord would think I was a moron, but he was really drunk, so I don’t think he cared that much. But I know he probably decided that all the foreign teachers were morons two days later, when Rob, the latest edition to the Mok-dong Poly School staff, left his keys at Smokey's Saloon overnight. Rob's mind was less on his keys and more on his new $2,000 Mac laptop. I told him to forget about it, because Macs are junk.

*At the end of February/last semester, I had some of the kids write down Korean phrases and words that I would find useful in my time in Seoul. I came across one a sheet from the notebook a in mid-March, and there were some phrases that jumped out at me: “Don’t lay many egg,” “Dad, pick your nose!” “I want to die.” and “????” I will probably never use the last one. Then I got out the original notebook, because I had never really looked at it, and some from there that struck me included, “die,” “I am a pretty girl!!!” “horse,” “pencil case,” and a whole bunch of baseball terms from my smart fifth graders. It made me miss them all.

*In my pre-school classes, there are a couple of kids who are…mmm…hard to handle. Every so often the mother of one of these cretins will bless the teachers with coffee or some nice bread or something, as if to say, “I know my child gives you a headache…have a drink on me.”

*One of my first grade classes will respond to things I tell them throughout the class by responding, “Because you are so ugly.”

*I was at the front of the room talking to a student in the back, and a girl in the front row was tugging on my arm, so I barked loudly at her, but as I did that, this cute lady from the front desk entered the room with some handouts that needed to be handed out.

*In my third grade class, in the middle of some other discussion, this kid ByeonChan said, from the back of the room, “Look.” He held up this picture that was in our reading book, and only I could see it. No joke. I could not understand why this picture was in the book. But I laughed.

*Ray said while he was checking homework in a first grade class, he watched this some kid pick his nose and eat whatever he found for ten or so minutes. Then Ray asked him if it was good, and the kid smiled and gave him the thumbs up.

*This pre-school girl named Emily did a sweet job on some worksheet, so I held out my hand for a high-five. She looked at it for a second, grabbed my hand, and matter-of-factly kissed it. I laughed. David, who sitting right to her, grabbed my other hand and kissed it as well, which was where I drew the line.

*I have been playing a lot of Hangman in my pre-school reading class, because a) there is no curriculum for the reading b) when I read them story books, they struggle to listen or even stay awake c) I like Hangman. When we play, Renee won’t tell me the letter she wants to guess; she just points at it and says, “this.” So I tell her I can’t see where she is pointing, but ultimately I have to go over and hunker down by her, and she grabs my whole ear and gets ready to whisper the letter of her choice into my aural canal. I can hear her breathing excitedly, and then she says, at normal pre-schooler volume, “A.” Ah, it’s funny.

*Perhaps some of you saw this coming somehow, but I have been listening to a lot of Disney songs lately. And the Rocky theme.

*I probably raise my voice to shouting volume at least once in every class, every day, for emphasis on some mundane grammar or vocab point. This cute little first grader named SoYeon, who has pigtails (thus answering the question all of you were asking whoever was nearest you just now: “Is SoYeon a boy or a girl?”) and no front teeth responds to these loud outbursts by solemnly and gravely staring me down and saying, “Mr. Haggar, don’t yell. I will give you…one chance.”

*Another time, I was showing the firth grade class some animal pictures, and I showed a mouse and said something earth-shaking, as I typically do: “Look how small it is.” From the back of the room, I heard SoYeon say, “Just like your arms.” This individual is eight years old and Korean, but I could swear she's somehow related to Mike Moravec.

*Each month Poly School conducts an aptly-named Monthly Test in every class. It was an absolute madhouse trying to teach my rookie test takers how to fill out the OMR test cards and be quiet during the test, but the test itself posed as many problems as the first graders themselves, as one multiple choice question had the same answer twice (which isn’t the end of the world until you have to explain eight different times why there are two of the same answer, an explanation that is still fairly unclear to me) and another demanded that the test-ee choose the grammatically correct sentence from the four options even though I, a college graduate with an English education degree and a license in the state of Minnesota, could not find a single mistake in either choice (b) or choice (c). Fortunately, whoever had taught these kids grammar hadn’t done a very good job at it, because only one kid really asked which one I thought it was. Additionally, did you know that every year an award is given to the writer of the longest sentence in Asia? Bring it.

*These ones go way back. First, this is some unnamed dish that we accidentally ordered and consumed before Scott left.

*Here we have a visual re-enactment of how Scott and I spent his last Saturday afternoon in Seoul, an afternoon on which he'd been expelled from his apartment in favor of Sam and on which we watched/slept through the Blazers demolishing the T-Wolves. It made me miss going to Pizza Ranch and passing out in the darkness of my basement in Rock Rapids while watching Seinfeld with Nasty Nate. Although I should clarify that Nasty and I don't share a couch.

*These are from this show we went in the wee hours of March 1. I have very little explanation for either of them.

*At some point, a point that some of us would probably consider to be too early in the calendar year, Ray, Sam, Paul, and I attended a Korean pre-season baseball game Mok-Dong Stadium. The Woori Heroes let us down, falling to the Doosan Bears 3-2. The final stats:
- Dropped fly balls by Woori Heros: 2
- Runs resulting from dropped fly balls by Woori Heros: 3
- Beers kicked over by Paul: 2
- Original cast members who stayed for the whole frigid game: 3
- Dingers: 1
- Fans in attendance: not more than a thousand
- White ball players: 3

*I went out to scope out Cheonggyecheon, which is this man-made stream that runs for six kilometers through downtown Seoul one Saturday. By myself. I suspect it will look even better as the days grow warmer.

*The moment we've all been waiting for: new pre-school pictures. These are the imps who have been running me weary. Some of them are pretty cool. The latest outing with them included a visit to a giant green house and a 3D dinosaur movie...a childhood dream of mine to experience.

*Patric dragging his abnormally-sized, abnormally-colored umbrella around the Bucheon Botanical Garden.

*Diane, Ansley, Judy, Kevin, and a triceratops.

*You know it.

*Patric, Mr. Haggar, Kevin, Renee, and a triceratops.

*Renee had this bandanna around her neck stylishly, no doubt put there by her equally-stylish mother. Everybody knows a dinosaur field trip will cause even the best-tied bandannas to come undone; I did "my best" to recreate her mother's handiwork. Renee dug it.

*As cool as the other side of the pillow.

*Lookin' good, lookin' good.

*Mercy and Emily P. held at bay on a Poly bus. Let the record show that neither of these upstanding individuals are members of the Elmos class.

*Matthew (also not an Elmo) was recently convicted of ripping out the throats of three living men who had families at home and of showing no remorse.

*This picture is my favorite of all I've seen or taken on this side of the globe.

*You might want to sit down before reading this next line: despite what the title of this particular blog post reads, the next five or so pictures were not taken in March.

*This photo was stolen from Sarah. It is from the Christmas pageant. I am not one prone to outright mockery, but exceptions can be made occasionally: these are the costumes that the Walruses had to wear. Serves them right?

*This photo was also stolen from Sarah, along with forty pounds of spaghetti and a bunch of DayQuil. It is old. I think it is from after a "field trip" that we had in our library. From left: the late Joanne Teacher, the late Orcas, and Mr. Reuben, toting a strange smile. Rate it from 0 to 5. There are four puppets in the picture, too; please do not confuse them with Orcas.

*One Friday I woke, showered, and dressed in my normal somber morning mood, only to find the city of Seoul shrouded in a blissful blanket of snow. In the spirit of the moment, Ms. McCarthy captured this photograph.

*There was a great big moose.

*And he drank a lot of juice.