Thursday, June 5, 2014

"Teacher, you look tired."

Several students and my co-teacher have repeatedly told me this past week that I look tired. I don't take offense to this (1), but it's happened often enough that I'm really curious now if I actually appear physically worse than normal. I feel fine, to be honest. But it's true that I've had a lot of work to do.

Speaking tests for my students are just around the corner. Like a true 일벌레 (workaholic), I've committed to having my students write an outline and multiple drafts of their speeches before giving them in class so that they can present polished work. Yes, my students groaned when I told them how much I was going to require of them. Their second drafts are due on the same day as their big math exam. But I didn't suffer their complaints. A quick apology for the unfortunate timing and then I set them loose for an in-class work day. Like the little angels they are, they (mostly) all proved their diligence.

But my work begins once class is over. My inbox has been like a canyon prone to flash foods this past week. First, I got eighty outlines from the first-years, followed by eighty first drafts from the second-years. When I finished the first-years' outlines, there was a five-day reprieve before I received their first drafts. Eighty of them. And today, just before I left the office, I was inundated with my second years' second drafts. Hello, three-day Memorial Weekend, meet my blue pen of correction.

On Monday, when I return the second-years' second drafts, the first-years will turn in their second drafts. It never ends.

I've done this for my speaking tests for the past three semesters, but it's never felt so hard before. I think it has partly to do with wonky scheduling this semester that is forcing me to administer 160 speech tests in five days (2). But another part of it is that I'm just... tired!

And I can feel my teaching persona slowly going to seed. Since my latest classes have all been free working periods, I prepare next to nothing for them. It's just show up, tell the students to be quiet, show them all the major mistakes everyone made and how to fix them, pass back drafts, then put on some working music and meander the rows to monitor students for the last half hour. Yet this is still exhausting. I've found myself getting annoyed when students keep asking to use the computer to look up translations. I find them too loud when they are simply figuring out tricky syntax with their peers. And I've begun to lose my grip on both my slow teacher's speech rate and my penchant for sarcasm.

"English only in my classroom," I warned two chatterbox students today, before the starting bell had rung. They looked at me blankly. I fixed them with my teacher stare.

"Did you know," I shot at them, "that if you try to speak in English, then you will improve your English skill? It's true!" And without waiting for a reply, I turned my attention back to my classroom setup.

- - -
I've come to understand myself a bit better over the past few months, in that I can now tell what my general mood is by how I feel after taekgyeon practice. During the months of March and April, when I was very stressed out about graduate school decisions, I found myself acting very irritable after evening practice. Our weekly indoor soccer games were like torture. My mental disposition was clearly affecting my physical condition (3). In May, the malaise almost magically dissipated. Well, not magic: correlation. Once my graduate school decision was made and a few other issues were resolved, I had fewer mental burdens in my life. Nothing about the weekly routine at taekgyeon changed, but I found that I was cheerful, swimming in endorphins after each practice.

Having managed to notice with my own, usually blindered eyes how pronounced a change I had undergone, it makes me a bit embarrassed to realize that my students and colleagues have undoubtedly been observing me and can tell when I'm not my usual self.

Well, when my students finally work up the guts to actually tell me I look tired (and also proclaim their awe at how I can manage to correct eighty pages of shoddy English every few days), I'm torn between affection because they demonstrate their care, annoyance because I shouldn't be so noticeably tired, and self-consciousness because, well, to be noticed is to be seen.

Anyway, what I want to say is, I'm extremely busy, and the month of June is probably going to be a complete circus, but through it all, I've just got to stay focused and committed to my job. I have to serve my students and help them as much as I can. They care about me, after all, and I in return have so much affection for them. I don't know how to begin telling the students that I won't be here for much longer, but some have already found out. Sigh...

And the Sisyphean task of correcting drafts begins (once again) tomorrow!

- - -
(1) Should I though? Is the taboo against telling people they look tired a Western thing?)

(2) I am already calling June 16-20 the week from 헐.

(3) Can anyone explain how the Konglish word 컨디션 ("condition") gained its notorious present-day status as the umbrella for all ills and the go-to buzzword for hypochondriacs? If someone is feeling under the weather, dizzy, hungry, tired, achey, stuffy, bored, sad, or desperate for sympathy, they'll tell you, "Oh, my condition is not good today." I'm almost used to it by now. But not yet. I want to tell everyone to simply say, "I'm not well", or even "I'm not in good shape", but Konglish will do what Konglish will do.

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