Tuesday, July 3

South Korea: Mass e-mail #6

Hello once more!

I hope this e-mail finds you all well. Happy July, happy summer, happy rainy season! Yes, it's true. It seems that the end of June through mid-July brings overcast skies, thick humidity and constant rain showers. Unpleasant as it may sound, I actually find the weather refreshing most of the time. I just went for a walk in a drizzle, and I think that was a good way to end another busy day.

Life at the school has been busy and full of deadlines these past weeks. We finished up written evaluations last week, prepared, gave and graded the monthly tests, and then we had parent-teacher conferences last weekend. Overall the conferences were positive and informative. I really enjoyed meeting the mothers (and a few fathers) and telling stories about their kids. I was very nervous to meet the parents of my students. It is hard to know what Korean parents expect from a foreign teacher, or what they want their children to learn. Cultural differences feel very real to me here. Something I might consider positive could be taken offensively, and it is important to always listen to any cultural clues.

Sometimes these differences work to my advantage though! It's amazing what is acceptable and encouraged here as far as discipline and classroom order. In Korea it is completely common for teachers to hit their students with rulers or spank them. Obviously my fellow Americans and I do not find that punishment appropriate and we never physically discipline any students. But that seems to leave a lot of room for creativity when it comes to discipline. I'm amazed by my co-workers and their ability to come up with new methods:

For example, my friend sold me his phone a few weeks ago. As I was going through the phone book I saw that he had "Santa Clause" listed as a contact. I asked him why he had Santa's phone number. He told me that around Christmas time when his students were being disobedient he programed Santa's number so he could tell Santa not to bring the student any presents for Christmas. He said it worked amazingly, and he had very few behavioral problems until after the New Year.

Another time I came back from lunch to find half of my class lined up in front of the front desk, sobbing and crying out, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry!". The Korean teacher who watches them at lunch had a phone to her ear. I asked a student what happened and he said, "We were bad and Sarah Teacher called the police!". Another teacher said they heard sirens out front, and the kids' eyes got even wider. Ultimately the students apologized quite earnestly, and Sarah Teacher "called the police" again and told them they didn't have to come after all. Needless to say my afternoon was rather smooth after that.

In all, I feel like I am finding more confidence as a teacher lately. Between the parent conferences and being observed by my boss, I feel like I have a better idea of what works, what doesn't, and how to keep a 6-year-old's attention.

Outside of school I have been spending more time in Gwangju lately. My exploration continues, both on foot and by bike. Plus I have invested more time in reading, which is always enjoyable. However, I am really looking forward to a ten-day vacation coming at the end of July. A friend and I will travel to Jeju, which is a beach island just south of the Korean peninsula. We are hoping to hike, swim, eat good food and sit around as much as possible! It'll be a nice, much-needed break after working 10.5 hour days since February.

I miss you all. I think of home, and dream of people there quite often. So in many ways it's like you are very close.
Can't wait to hear from you when you get a chance!
With love,

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