Thursday, April 05, 2007

elementary ecosystems

See Jennifer cut out strips of paper and paste them in a notebook.
See Jennifer clean the classroom.
See Jennifer serve lunch to hungry 1st graders.
Run, Jennifer, run!

Ah, yes, welcome to school in Korea. Each class here is, as my friend Becky says, its own "ecosystem," self-contained and self-supporting. Which means, in practice, that the moms do everything. The last few weeks have been full of stressful meetings to determine who will be the class leader (mom, not child), who will serve in the crossing guard corps, who will serve as a volunteer teacher (that's me), who will make the rotation delegating lunch-serving and daily classroom-cleaning duties, etc. As we gather each afternoon (they're finally having lunch at school now, whahoo!) to wait for our children to emerge, the moms from each class huddle together to reveal that classes 1, 2, and 3 have already done their "big cleaning" of the class, and we're looking bad because we haven't done one yet. This is followed by a flurry of pronouncements and text messages to the effect that everyone better show up on Saturday after class (because we have class on Saturday) for the "big cleaning," and someone needs to bring equipment. I haven't done any cleaning yet so I'm not sure what this entails, but since it is supposed to take at least an hour and utilize all the moms who come (of 29 in a class, how many will that be?), we must be cleaning every nook and cranny of that classroom. I will try to take some pictures.

I had my first volunteer teaching class today. You can choose what you want to teach, so naturally I am teaching English conversation. I have 18 6th graders; some of them speak quite well and have lived abroad and some are less comfortable with English. I'm used to teaching little kids (between 2 and 8) so this was a nice change. I asked them what kinds of topics they wanted to talk about, and got everything from euthanasia and the death penalty to computer games and whether they should be required to go to school on Saturdays. For the first class we played "two truths and a lie," and then I broke them into two sides and had them debate why one should or shouldn't learn another language. It seems like a silly question here where everyone takes as a given that learning a language, especially English, is important and useful. But in the U.S. it is not so obvious. I asked them to pretend they were trying to convince me to learn Korean (or not to bother). I wanted them to think about the various costs, benefits, and motivations to learning a language, and to consider all the different kinds of ways and in what environments one might use a language. It was a lively and interesting discussion. Then I asked them to talk about what were the most useful methods for learning a language. I'll be teaching them twice a month for a year.

Between all these new little tasks and duties I have I feel a little frazzled each day. Aiden comes home from school with his assignment book in which he has painstakingly recorded all his homework assignments, the items he needs to prepare for class, and any other messages from the teacher, all of which are completely illegible. I then spend an hour or so calling other moms from his class, trying to collectively decipher our children's handwriting and figure out exactly what the teacher wants. (I have learned to call the parents of the girls in the class; they tend to have better handwriting.) The other day not only did I not understand what he had written, but then once I found out what the assignment was I found that he had brought home the wrong book. He was supposed to look at the pictures in some book and make up a story to go with them. Aiden's friend's mom was kind enough to explain each picture to me, and then she took photos of the pictures with her cellphone camera and e-mailed them to me. Quite a bit of mommy ingenuity. Luckily my husband came home early so I could make a last-minute dash to the 문방구 (kind of like a office supply/stationary store) to buy Aiden a P.E. outfit. There are always things on his assignment sheet that I need to acquire before class the next day which I find quite annoying. But now I understand why these stores open so early in the morning.

Things are only going to get crazier. I just posted my response to Mallon's silly questions for the discussion we've been having over at printculture, not as well-edited as usual, and I couldn't come up with a good title. A few of the really cool bloggers (I won't say who they are because I haven't asked them if its ok) and I have formed a writing group, which I'm really excited about, and my online class starts next week. And it just occurred to me that we only have about a year before moving to Shanghai, so I'd better get off my ass and start planning the move. Or at least put Aiden on a waiting list for school. Any Shanghai ex-pat bloggers out there who want to give me some advice?


1 comment:

Cat said...

"the death penalty and euthanasia"? zowie.

Sounds like you came up with some creative and challenging things for the class to do in English conversation. I'm sure they appreciated it.

I'm curious to know what they thought of the persuasive argument exercise.