Transitions commence new adventures. Make 'em last…
A few weeks ago while I was in the middle of teaching a class alone consisting of about twenty students from 2nd & 3rd grade (AKA “the wild bunch”), I sort of lost my cool and tossed the pencil sharpener in the garbage. Some students were a bit shocked, whereas others merely chuckled as they thought I was simply playing basketball. I had never done anything like this before. In fact, I’ve actually never really yelled or lost my temper in front of the students before, and for those of you that know me, can probably recognize that this would be an extremely rare oddity. I certainly felt like giving an earful to a few students, especially “spiderman,” whom despite my best efforts and impeding his erratic behavior by using the “three strikes” rule-system (the head teacher would be informed about a student’s misbehavior upon receiving three X’s on the board), in addition to attempts in rewarding good behavior, “spiderman” had not consistently listened to my demands in English, nor to those few Korean commands I actually know. His mutinous comportment constantly rallied many other students to follow suit and wreak havoc in the classroom. I had enough.
Due to the fact that their head teacher and all Korean teachers were in a business meeting of some sort that afternoon, the next day my co-teacher and I escorted four boys from “the wild bunch” to their head teacher, who then gave them the worst verbal beating I’ve ever witnessed. Actually, I felt bad for the kids. I felt their sorrow and grief. Their tears almost brought a tear to my eye. I honestly hate witnessing these types of ordeals and I purposely avoid them if I can. I mean, they are young kids and I love them, and while they had continuously disrespected me, I never wanted them to undergo any such harm. The Korean public education system can be quite mentally brutal, and up to a few years ago, it was somewhat physically brutal as well. The majority of these kids have no life except for school and study, and sometimes I feel that my after-school English class, while they are required to participate, is somewhat of a pleasant lull from oppressive school-life. But, it was the last straw. I couldn’t teach the class at all or conduct any activities.
While the kids realized their mistake and have since been very good in my class, it made me realize my limitations as an English teacher who doesn’t know much Korean. In many of my classes, my co-teacher, who of course speaks fluent Korean and pretty good English, greatly assists in teaching English concepts in Korean, and the students avidly listen and communicate with him. He also rarely has student discipline problems. For me, without speaking Korean, it’s quite difficult or almost impossible for me to teach English concepts in detail to these young countryside students (1st-4th grade), and I normally must resort to English-related activities and CD-books to instruct. My class is normally fun, but these activities can only go so far and has made me realize, as my girlfriend Michelle briefly mentioned to me, that I’ve hit a “glass ceiling.” Step-by-step, I’ve been climbing the staircase in learning how to effectively teach English in Korea, but I’ve hit a glass ceiling on the way to top as I can see how I can be a better elementary school English teacher in Korea, but must take on extra skills to break through it. With 2 1/2 years experience teaching Korean elementary school children, I’ve learned and conducted multitudinous things in educating them, but I was always fairly limited in how I could teach. I’ve seen how my co-teacher instructs and I’m simply amazed on how fast the students have learned under his teaching. His mix of Korean and English amid instruction greatly assists the students in learning, and I desire the same skill. Learning Korean, in addition to perhaps learning how to play the guitar, can greatly assist me in helping to educate elementary school children in Korea.
While I’ve had the intention of learning Korean for quite some time, I never actually started studying consistently because of the strenuous daily sacrifice and deep desire that’s needed to become proficient. It took me quite awhile to become proficient in Spanish, and even then, once proficient, I had to continuously study and practice so that my language ability did not atrophy. My Spanish ability, while still good, has atrophied quite a bit since my university days, and that is quite bothersome. All that time and sacrifice in steadily learning it now feels a bit futile. After adolescence, learning a language becomes much tougher as it’s essentially stored in memory and utilized from a different part of the brain. Thus, it basically acts like a muscle that must be worked out in order remain strong and reliable. Spanish has not been worked out consistently due to its impracticality in Korea, my desire to relearn language concepts, and just business. Teaching a beginner Spanish class to Korean students has given some desire to keep up my Spanish, but it’s nothing compared to the great desire I now feel to learn Korean. I hadn’t totally envisioned myself in Korea for more than 4-5 years, thus, as I previously explained and experienced, sacrificing a lot of time in learning Korean would be practically in vain. However, I’ve grown to greatly enjoy Korea. It’s starting to feel like home and I can see myself here for a long time, perhaps forever. Meeting and falling in love with Michelle has supremely fostered this sentiment, and without her I may not have ever felt this. Love is powerful. My love for her and my heartfelt desire to communicate with her and her family in Korean, in addition to becoming a better educator in Korea, has prompted a profound, unrelenting yearning to learn Korean. I’m excited and not afraid as I stare this challenge in the eye. Lucky for me, I’ve already picked up on Korean the last few years and have a fairly good grasp on grammar concepts and vocabulary, that I can then utilize in my daily practice to be able to communicate quickly and effectively. Much sacrifice will be needed to take on this task, but I’m more than willing. In the future, I may be writing less blogs, and when I do write one, they may be quite simple for awhile as I will be attempting to write them in Korean with English subscript so that I can practice as much as I can and receive much needed encouragement and feedback from you all.
It’s time to break through the glass ceiling and learn Korean! Wish me luck!