Monday, November 4, 2013


A few things happened today that would have astounded me when I first began teaching, but after a year and a half of experience with the Korean school system, I hardly batted an eyelash.

First, my schedule changed. This was completely expected; my class schedule is adjusted several times in the beginning of the semester, and then once more towards the end of the year once most of the second-year students have been admitted to various universities. Instead of teaching each of the four second-year homeroom classes once a week, I will be teaching one section of the early-admitted students five times a week. I did the same thing last year, and it was actually quite fun. Being able to see my students every day and to build lessons upon other lessons (the way I was taught English and French in high school) was a positive change that yielded some good results. What's different this time around, though, is that there are more students who have been accepted to university, so although my section is currently about twenty-five students, it's going to continue to grow as more admissions decisions are announced. Eventually, my class will either become too large to hold in a classroom and we will move into the small auditorium, or I will have to take over two sections, which will mean five more classes per week. We'll see how that turns out.

The second thing that happened was unprecedented and slightly unwelcome, but not at all surprising. I was looking forward to teaching the third-years again after the schedule change, but it looks like I won't be doing that. Instead, however, I was informed right after lunch today that the head teacher of the third grade wanted all his students to be administered speaking tests (sort of like a short oral exam) by tomorrow. Again: he wanted all the students to take a speaking test in twenty-four hours. I haven't even been teaching the third-years all semester! What the heck was I supposed to test them on? I argued a bit with the co-teacher who relayed this message to me, protesting that the idea was absolutely ridiculous and that there was no way for me to make this fair for my students. Apparently, though, there was some deadline for grade submissions that the head teacher had to meet (and had probably forgotten about until today), so the tests had to be this week at the latest. I managed to push it back to Thursday -- the day of the 수능, by the way, which a few of my students are taking -- and then threw together an assignment and rubric to guide the students as they prepared for what I hope will be the easiest 3-minute conversation with Andrew ever. I'm so sorry to drop such a load of bricks on my students' heads, especially because I really like my third-years and it's completely unfair to do this to them... but what else can I do?

Lastly, a funny story: every student was called to the auditorium today for a hastily-announced assembly on school violence during fifth and sixth periods. Consequently, my afternoon classes were canceled. I found out, however, that there was an ulterior motive to the assembly. As our vice principal lectured for two hours about nothing, essentially, the homeroom teachers and class captains went through every student's locker and dorm room to look for prohibited items (like snacks, electronic devices, pets, etc.). The second- and third-year students totally saw it coming, but my first-years were in for an unpleasant surprise. My co-teacher confiscated a few granola bars and brought them back to his desk. I thought the whole thing was hilarious, but also just a bit unethical. What about students' rights? I suppose they're waived when they decide to enter a school with a reputation for being like a prison. (I mean that in jest!)

Ah, the vagaries of Korean education. It's funny how lightly I can take all of this when the hyper-task-oriented and inflexibly organized me from one year ago would have taken the collapse of his meticulously-planned curriculum, the delivery of one shiny new pile of extra work, and the flagrant disregard for privacy with utter alarm. On the contrary, teaching here has never ceased to entertain. This is just one of the many reasons why I love my school and my job.

P.S. The title of this post comes from class today, when I played the "Six Degrees of Separation" game with my students. They had to link two random words using semantic associations with other words, like: Roy Kim/music/iPod/Apple/fruit/Jamba Juice, connecting the singer to the smoothie. I challenged my students to come up with the most difficult words they knew, and long story short, one poor student ended up having to connect "Marxism" with "anthocyanin". Those nerds. I love them.