I fell asleep on my 50-minute bus ride home today. It was me, the driver and 2 elderly women. Near the end, when we were pulling into Sunchang, I woke up to a woman’s voice on the intercom, “Did you sleep well?” The Koreans were giggling. Apparently, they had been typing sentences into Google Translate and had been blasting the responses on the intercom for quite a while. Today was a good day, LOL.
I knew it was going to be a good day the moment I woke up. I had some really fun lessons planned because I finally knew what I was supposed to be doing and what type of activities my students would positively react to; every class has had very different reactions to certain activities. For example, my elementary students LOVED the video clips I showed; the clip about classroom rules with the Minions from “Despicable Me” resulted in the only 5 minutes in which I had undivided attention and smiles throughout the room. The high schoolers took “video time” as their cue to nap.
Over this past weekend, I met a few English teachers in Gwangju. I asked them what their teaching tactics were for keeping their classes engaged since I had been having problems with a few students. They told me, “Teach the ones that want to be taught. You can’t do anything about the ones that simply don’t want to learn, and you just have to accept that. Don’t waste your energy on them; you’re not going to make a difference.”
That didn’t sound right to me. So, I thought about why it wasn’t right…
My job isn’t to teach; my job is for my students to learn. If they don’t learn, I failed at my job. And nobody likes to fail.
So, with this perspective, I started thinking about what my students like, and how I could build an added benefit of learning English into those things so that they would want to be engaged and therefore be learning during my lessons. What did I like in high school? Drinking games. Flip Cup, Quarters, King’s Cup, and etc… It’s pretty easy to make them into fun learning games!
Well, I know I can’t play drinking games all class every day, and I have to do some lecturing at some point… so, how do I get them to stay awake? I know from my college days that one monotonous voice is sometimes sweeter than a lullaby, and during writing activities, the sleepy silence is unavoidable. When I studied or did schoolwork in college, I had to listen to music, or I’d fall asleep, too.
The high schoolers love Kpop bands and music, so why not play music in the background to liven the room up? I don’t know any of the music that they like, so I’d need to ask them. I realized that I could use this in some sort of rewards system. I could reward good students with opportunities to be the class DJ. Instead of just relying on their sheer desires to learn, I would be rewarding them with things they genuinely want in exchange for participating. And it’s been a hit!
My elementary and middle schoolers are a little easier. They just want to move around and eat candy. Today, we played musical chairs in my 3rd-, 5th- and 6th-grade classes. (The 4th-graders didn’t show up to my class. I’m assuming that the teachers forgot to tell me something about the 4th-graders, just like they forgot to tell me that all of my Tuesday morning classes were canceled due to a nationwide test…) Musical chairs was such a hit that the teachers walking by were laughing and taking videos of the students because the students were having so much fun with it. Nobody even noticed that I forgot to give out candy at the end.
After my last class, one of the teachers came up to me and told me that the 1st- and 2nd-graders want to learn English now because they heard about how fun my classes are. Although Korean students don’t start English class until the 3rd-grade, all the younger ones want to have classes with “the pretty teacher.” No words can express how that made/makes me feel. 🙂
Another one of the teachers came up to me in the teachers’ lounge and told me she saw me running in Sunchang. It was the 5th teacher or student this week who had told me that. I stick out as a foreigner, so all of my co-workers and students in Sunchang notice me when I’m out and around the city. It’s kind of cool because it makes me feel like I’m part of the town, but it’s kind of annoying when I just want to blend in and go on my merry way in my pajamas to the 711 down the street for a quick errand.
When I take the bus during the days to switch schools, usually only the elderly people are out on the town. Oftentimes, one of them will get so excited to see me at the bus stop (because I’m a foreigner), and they’ll ask me where I’m going and where I’m from. I’ll tell them which bus stop I’m headed to, “Meegook,” and, “No Korean.” They will continue to try and have a conversation with me, and I’ll just nod apologetically for a few questions until they realize I only know “hello/goodbye” and “thank you” in Korean, and then they’ll look a little disappointed and stop. They want to be able to talk to me so bad because they’re so curious. However, they’ll still take it upon themselves to make sure I get to where I’m supposed to go. I’ve gained a lot of grandparents in Sunchang already. 🙂 They’ll make sure I get a spot next to them on the bus and make dramatic gestures when it’s my stop, and then they’ll wave goodbye with huge grins on their faces. Their sweetness melts my heart.
What other niceties have I experienced here that I don’t experience back in the States? Gift-giving. Like, at stores, after buying stuff. I’m the type of person that makes lists and typically does few, large errand-runs. The first errand I ran here was for apartment supplies, which I spent about $100 on. The store owner was so blown away by my purchase amount that she threw in 2 gift sets of different kinds of cakes, and she had her husband personally deliver all of my items to my apartment. I’ve noticed that if you even just purchase a few items at a store, they’ll throw in a freebie. Pens, bakery items, candy, whatever’s near the register. When I went to get a cheap Korean flip phone, the store owner threw in the following items: a screen protector, case, lanyard, and an 18-pack of toilet paper – I’m not kidding LMAO.
If you take away anything from this blog post rather than just a few wasted minutes, I hope it’s the feeling that the world is a good place. You can choose to settle for “it is what it is” when something doesn’t go as planned, or you can choose to see the good in that and strive to improve your situation for the future because when there’s a will, there’s a way. Positivity is contagious, and even just a little effort to do something good, like being better at your job or helping out a stranger at the bus stop, can go a long way.