Tag Archives: Teaching English as a Second Language

How Chung Dahm Students Get their English Names

Before my first day teaching at Chungdahm, I fully expected I would struggle with my students’ names, but as it turns out, most students use English names when attending English Academies. This was a relief  since Korean names can be really difficult to pronounce properly. In fact, all of my first term students used English monikers so I did not have to embarrass myself mispronouncing their names.

Still, I noticed that a lot of students had rather unusual English names. Elvis, for example. I figured the kid just saw the name in some name book and liked it enough to use it as his own. I also figured he probably didn’t know a thing about the famous Elvis Presley of America, who is always the first person that comes to my mind when I hear the name Elvis. It seemed very likely to me that the other kids in the class would make fun of him if they new he shared a name with an American rock icon from the 50s. So,  I didn’t bother bringing it up.  I figured it didn’t really matter anyway, and certainly I didn’t want cause him any embarrassment. Besides, I further figured, what were the chances the matter would ever even come up in class?

Well I’ll be damned if the last unit of the terms wasn’t “The Roots of Rock and Roll” and who did we talk about but none other than the King himself. My god, the poor kid, who was often the subject of teasing anyway, was harassed practically to death. Turns out the odds I had bet against where greater than I suspected, I guess.

Other names that I have heard and wondered about include: Jelly, Chocolate, Cream, Drac,  Rooney, Jack Sparrow, June and some kid that names himself after a different letter of the alphabet each term.

Most kids choose their own names, but often enough they are given their names by English teachers who don’t want to try and pronounce their Korean names, so arbitrarily name them. Sometimes it’s kind of obvious that the kids were in a class together when they were named because you’ll see a group of kids with names like Peter, Thomas, and Paul. Or Christina 1 and Christina 2.  Other times, as in the examples above, naming just seems random and thoughtless. I don’t know which was the case with Elvis.

Since my first term, I have had several students who use their Korean names and I do my best to pronounce them correctly, with some success. The most difficult time I had with names was when I had Jung Huan and Yang Hawan in the same class. The pronunciation of their respective names have subtle, but important differences, which I was only able to appreciate after much tutoring from the students. Jung Huan sounds almost like John Juan, and Yang Hawan sounds similar to Young Ha – wan. I could just about pronounce them correctly by the end of the term.

I have a few more new Korean names to learn this term, and I will probably butcher the heck out of them before I get remotely close. Fortunately, most students are patient, at least in my sight. The most surprising name so far this term, surprising in that is was unexpected rather than odd, is a girl named Eugene. I guess this is a rather common English name for Korean girls to take.

So, If anyone out there ever finds themselves in a position of giving a student an English name, I implore you to do so with consideration.

I mean, it seemed very likely that the other kids in the class would make fun of his name if they new he shared a name with an American rock icon from the 50s.

Teaching Masters Classes at Chung Dahm

Well, the first week of my third term is complete and I have met all my new students.  I am not teaching any Memory classes this term, rather all the classes I have been assigned are mid- to upper-level reading classes (Par and Eagle) and, this is most exciting, three different Master Level classes: Masters Comp. 100 & 105  and Lit. Project 100 (Wartime Literature).  This first week has been a real challenge since I am prepping for so many different levels (Par is the only class I have previous experience with) and I am scheduled to teach 27 hours a week (as opposed to the usual 24) this term. I feel confident one moment and completely incompetent the next. Ah, but such is usually the case when facing difficult but worthwhile challenges. I only wish I’d hadn’t had a head-cold all week; it’s the third one in six months! Everyone says it’s the poor air quality. Still other people tell me it’s due to the change in seasons.  I believe another contributing factor is the exposure to so many different people, mostly kids, in a week’s time. Suffice it to say, I am pretty tired and am looking forward to a Sunday afternoon nap.

Comp. 100 is fundamentals and very similar to Expository Writing. Even though my students are Middle-school aged, they will be responding to college level texts. Sometimes I’m not entirely sure they are mature enough, intellectually or emotionally, to respond to some issues, but then they always surprise me. The students will be writing a variety of short essays and learning about different genres of writing.

Comp. 105 is all about argumentation and is taken only after a student has had experience with Comp. 100. Ethos, Logos and Pathos, here we come!

Lit. 100 involves Wartime Literature and includes the following on its book list: When My Name Was Keoko by Linda Sue Park,  Hiroshima by John Hersey, The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane, The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien and The Book Thief by Marksu Zusak. I can’t wait to sink my teeth into some of these books, some for the second or third time.

Did I mention our terms are thirteen weeks long? With all these books to cover, I think this third term (second to last one here) is sure to go quickly.

When I’m not prepping or teaching, I am writing. My current writing schedule (which was on a semi-hiatus this week) involves writing, free-writing and generating new work in the mornings from approximately 10:00 AM to noon Monday through Friday, with one “floater” day to be used for miscellaneous unexpected events that necessarily come up. I used to spend one hour on Monday and one hour on Friday nights, previously my evenings off, to work on revisions. However, since I no longer have Monday evening’s off, I plan to work on revisions for two hours on Friday nights this term, as I have all day Fridays off.

Sometimes I do a little writing on the weekends – usually blogging – if so moved or inspired, and have begun a writers group here in Pyeongchon, by request. We’ve only met once, but plans are underway for another meeting later in March. Since April is National Poetry Month, I am hoping to recruit a couple of fellow writers to participate in the Poem-a-Day challenge with me.

I’ve been reading voraciously since arriving in Korea, but this has lately been slowed as I try to work my way through Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook, a read I admittedly am  undertaking more because it is an “important” work than for pure pleasure – though I find parts of it interesting enough. The political backdrop is actually more interesting to me than the interrelationships among the characters, surprisingly enough. It does inspire me, however, to make notes and observations of the various individuals I’ve met here which I believe will make great character profiles for some novel that could be written at some future date. The novel in my head is of a group ex-pats living and working in Korea and the tales of their travels, relationships and escapades.  Sort a modern Hemingway/Fitzgerald-esque novel with bared secrets and slightly dysfunctional ways of looking at the world. Of course, the novel in my head is interesting and great. Getting it onto paper is another thing all together, isn’t it? Character profiles will be enough for now, though.

Third Term Masters Class, Chung Dahm (South Korea)

It’s hard to believe that I have teaching for Chung Dahm for six months now. I am much busier than expected and have barely enough time keep up with my blog. Everyone I ever talked to before coming to Korea who had taught here said they had a lot of extra time on their hands. All I can say is that they must not have worked for Chung Dahm. Either that, or they were here before the Hogwong industry really took off and became so competitive and high pressure.

With that said, I have to say that my second term here has been considerably less stressful than the first. For one thing, I am more settled  and established now than before, am no longer a newbie, and  feel like I am hitting my stride in terms of teaching. Track “B” is also a considerably more manageable curriculum than Track “A.” It didn’t hurt that I had a great schedule – half-days on Mondays and Fridays. I will miss that.

In other news, next week is the beginning of the new term (no break between terms here) and I will have a new schedule. Though I’ve not received confirmation yet, its about 99% certain that I will be teaching a Saturday class this term from 2:30 to 5:30 PM. But, it is a Master’s Reading class, so I will get to teach literature to high-level reading students, and I look forward to the opportunity. So far, there are only five students enrolled, so I really think it’s going to be worth the trade off. It also means I will get a day off during the week, and it’s so much easier to get to places like Itaewon on the weekdays. Saturdays on the subway is always mayhem. The image of sardines always comes to mind when I consider riding the subway during the weekends, because that’s usually what I feel like when standing in a cram-packed metal subway car.

The Master’s Reading class is in addition to the Master’s Writing class I was asked to teach earlier, so I will need to go through some additional training. Master’s Classes instructor training is scheduled for this Wednesday in Gangnam, which means getting up early to travel on the a fore mentioned sardine container. After training, I will  need to rush back to my branch by 3:00 PM, then teach until 10:00 PM. In other words, it will be a long day.  Since Gary has to attend the first training session with me (he will be teaching a Master’s Writing class next term), and doesn’t teach until 7:00 PM Wednesday, he said he’d wait for me to finish the second training session so we can take the subway back together, as sardines (yea!).

In any event, as I will be teaching what I have know how best to teach, writing and literature, I am very excited about teaching Master’s Level classes this term.

I am thinking of everyone back home and unfortunately blogging is the best way for me to keep in touch at the moment, and even that (I know) is spotty. Please keep checking in whenever you have a minute and always feel free to leave a comment.

Second Term Teaching at Chung Dahm (South Korea)

View from Classroom Window

View from Classroom Window

My second term here at Chung Dahm Peyongchon Branch is already two weeks underway. So far, “Track B” has proven to be much easier to prep for and teach, just as promised. I am only teaching three levels this term, which is so much more manageable than five. On Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, 4:00 pm class I teach Memory Tera. I am teaching Par Reading at 7:00 PM on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and Birdie Reading Wednesdays at 4:00 and Thursdays at 7:00. I get off early on Monday and Friday nights, which I am loving. I also have my own classroom this term.

My Wednesday 4:00 pm Birdie class is composed of elementary students. Because Birdie is a fairly high-level reading class, this means I have a class of very smart students. I really enjoy them and get to bring in extra information to challenge them. The first week we met, the students encountered two new terms; tangible and intangible. I explained that tangible is something you can touch or experience and intangible is something like an idea, something you cannot touch. They seemed satisfied with my explanation and we went on with the lesson. However, about thirty minutes later, one student (Jimmy) wondered if air is intangible; a pretty good question for a fifth grader I’d say. After a few minutes of discussing this rather complex idea, I think I convinced him that air is tangible because it can be experienced (we can feel it when we take in breath). Intangible things are more like beliefs and ideas, like love or whether we believe in God. He seemed satisfied once again.

The experience made me realize that I will really have to bring my “A” game to Wednesday Birdie class, but I am so looking forward to the challenge. Folks at Chung Dahm call it a perfect storm when you have a higher level reading class filled with elementary aged students.

Bridge Reading, Fall 2009

Best Friends to the end

Even with the new term proving to be so promising, I cannot help but miss my former students; even the ones who were difficult. Still, it’s fun to hear from other instructors that this or that student is in their class and how they are doing. It’s funny, it’s after you no longer have these students that you learn if they liked you or not. I hear it second-hand from my students’ new instructors that this or that student really likes me. It works the other way too; I hear from my students how much they liked (or sometimes, disliked) their former teachers.

Door Decorations

“Merry Christmas”

A majority of my students “leveled up” last term and the few that did not really could use another term at their current level. I took a few pictures on the last days of classes and will post them here (if I figure out how). This new camera of mine is very smart; it will sometimes ask if you want to keep the picture you just took if it detected that someone moved or blinked their eyes. Because of the nature of Korean eyes, my camera almost ALWAYS asks “did someone blink?” and I wonder if my camera is racist (or just made by wide-eyed westerners).

This past week I made and put a construction-paper Christmas tree on my door and have had my students add decorations to it. The elementary aged students are eager to partake in coloring and adding things, though, so far the middle-school students have not contributed anything. Our branch is sort of having a contest and other instructors are decorating their doors as well. So far there is a snowman with snow flakes on one door and student-drawn Christmas scenes on another. I was pleased when the Chung Dahm staff came to my room the other day and complimented my on my door. I can’t believe Christmas is less than two weeks away. Christmas in Korea will be something to remember, I’m sure.

Great Week of Classe at Chung Dahm (South Korea)

This week, I think, has been a particularly successful week at Chung Dahm; maybe because the term is coming to a close, maybe because testing is over and the students are more at ease, or maybe I’m actually seriously getting the hang of this teaching Chung Dahm style. Whatever it is, I am thankful to whatever beneficent entity aligned the planets of teaching in my favor.

My Mega kids are learning about “Unsolved Science Mysteries” and we’ve been considering the possibility of life in outer space, particularly on Mars. I’ve supplemented the in-class readings with internet images of Mars’ surface as well as images of the various space vessels that have been propelled to that planet. The kids are not as amazed by these realities as I was when I was a child and space travel was still very new. They seem to have every confidence that scientists will in fact find life on another planet or at least discover a planet that is compatible enough for life that we earthlings will be able to immigrate to it before global warming fully destroys our earthly climate.

One of the “Critical Thinking Projects” involved envisioning life on Mars and drawing a picture of a creature from that planet. Most of their illustrations were based more on fantasy than fact and proved to be very imaginative. One group of students depicted alien life looking very much like Sponge Bob.

Monday night’s Bridge class only consisted of four students this week. Our subject was “Prehensile Tails.”

I started the class by asking the kids “if you could be any animal at all, what would you choose.” The answers were bird, dolphin, whale and cat. I showed them a couple of videos of animals with prehensile tales, namely a pangolin (a kind of anteater). Later, during the post reading (which was about prehensile TONGUES) I showed them a video of a chameleon catching a grasshopper with its tongue in slow motions, which quite impressed my students.  I then accused my students of hiding their prehensile tongues and tails from me, which they though quite funny.

The “Critical Thinking Project” for Monday’s Bridge class  involved considering attributes non-human animals posses that are useful and imagining what two attributes would be neat for a human to have. Everyone picked the ability to change colors, like the chameleon, but no one picked prehensile tails. We all drew pictures of our ideas and taped them to the wall. One student thought wings would be nice (the same student who said he’d like to be a bird), another student chose smelling as a preferred attribute because then she could easily find chocolate cake, which sounded like pretty sound logic to me. Two other students chose the ability to run fast so they could shop quicker and easier. I chose a turtle shell and wings, which my students found pretty fascinating. That way, I explained,  I could go to fa- away places and still have my home with me.

Tuesday’s Tera class involved the “Roots of Rock and Roll.” During this unit I played a number of youtube clips of Fats Domino, Chuck Berry, the original movie trailer for “Blackboard Jungle”  (which they really disliked) and finally a clip of Run DMC on “Reading Rainbow” (mostly because our text makes a connection between the rock movement of the 50s and the hiphop movement of the 80s in terms of cross-over music). They thought Fats Domino was ugly and had a hard time believing Chuck Berry was really black. DMC seemed to be their favorite clip. I showed the kids some 50s and 60s dance moves. They loved it when I did the twist.

I have two Birdie level classes, one on Tuesday one on Wednesday nights. My Tuesday night Birdies are a surly, sullen bunch, but I am starting to get through to them. I have of late been rewarded with a smile or two from some of the most surly. My Wednesday night Birdies are all girls and the atmosphere of my Wednesday night class is quite the opposite from Tuesday’s. I spend more time trying to get the girls to stop talking and focus on the lesson. But we all really like each other and, amidst discussions of pop music, shoes and movies, manage to get our work done every week.

I work really hard for Chung Dahm, and Chung Dahm demands it of me, but because I love the students it is worth it and I am thoroughly glad I’ve come to S. Korea.

There is also a chocolate museum and factory, where one can purchase Jeju Island chocolate. The area is famous for it’s orange chocolate, which make sense when you realize that the island is also famous for its delicious oranges.

Sunday Again: Prepping for a Week of Classes at Chung Dahm (South Korea)

For four weeks now we have been living in our little officetel in the Tres Belle building in Anyang City and for five weeks teaching at Chung Dahm. The term is half over and soon we will  be giving our students exams to determine who will “level up.” Outside the weather is beginning to change. The hot sultry days and nights of late summer are giving way to sultry days and cool autumnal evenings and mornings.  I miss home daily but find the challenge of living in a new country while also meeting the demands of a challenging job quite satisfying. At times, I am even downright content.  Now that we have internet in our home, I can finally get back to the business of writing regular blogs.

There are so many things to write about and yet I’ve no idea where to begin. I have journal entries and blog drafts about many of my experiences since our arrival here in late August, yet the task of organizing every bit of information and putting it in chronological and coherent order is a bit daunting to think of at this moment, a Sunday evening. Since prepping for the coming week’s classes is foremost in my mind, I think I will write about my classes.

Chung Dahm is one of the better established English Language academies in S. Korea, which basically means its employees can count on getting paid regularly. The Pyeonchong branch, where I work,  is located on Hogwanga Rd. It is called Hogwanga Rd. because it is lined with Hogwangs – or cram schools, of which Chung Dahm is a variety. And not only are their Howangs on both sides of the street for several blocks, they are als stacked one above the other for several stories.

Every night on my walk to and from the school, I see hundreds of Korean School children being dropped off in cabs or shuttles or getting off of city busses to rush to class. I also see a fair amount of foreigners too, who are almost always English teachers.

I teach five different levels of English classes. Two of the levels I teach are known as Memory Classes and are geared for elementary school students. These two memory classes are Memory Mega and Memory Tera. There is one level between these two classes, which I do not at this time teach; Memory Giga.

Since children in S. Korea do not begin school until age seven or even eight, elementary school students here are a bit older than elementary school children in America. I sometimes have difficulty remembering I am dealing with eleven and twelve-year-olds, especially when they are so petite of stature, and find the personality of most Memory students to be a curious mix of precociousness and naivety.

Memory level classes are generally fast paced, have several components and involve a good deal of student management. As a result, I am getting a crash course in edutainment. My Mega students are reading about Elian Gonzales while my Tera students are reading about “Extreme Science Jobs.”

The reason these levels are called “memory” is that a large component of each class is dedicated to memorization. I have my memory students twice a week, and each time we meet, they have a model summary they are expected to memorize. The first class period of each week they are tested on their memorization. Memory students also learn about skimming, annotating and scanning.

My memory classes begin at 4:30 PM and end at 7:30 PM sharp. There is one five-minute break every hour, the first of which I am required to take each students temperature (Chung Dahm’s response to fears over S1N1).  My Memory Mega class meets on Mondays and Wednesdays while my Memory Tera class meets on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I do not have a Memory Class on Fridays.

I also teach three reading classes, which are geared towards middle-school students (ages 14-16), and meet from 7:30 to 10:30 PM. Monday nights is Bridge Reading, in which we are learning about symbiosis, Tuesday and Wednesday nights are Birdie Reading, in which we are learning about immigration, and finally, on Friday nights, PAR reading, in which we are discussing the fascinating subject of Global Communication.  I do not teach a reading class on Thursday nights.

The other reading levels available to students are all above PAR and include Eagle, Albatross and Albatross Plus, none of which I am teaching this term.

Students in reading classes are notoriously tight lipped, sullen and self-conscious, as may be expected from any group of people in this age group. It takes a considerable amount of silliness to get a reaction out of many of them, yet they are able to smile (though they prefer teachers not know this). There are also a few charming, gregarious and bright middle schoolers who make working with middle schoolers all worthwhile.

For all my classes, I use stickers as bribes, which works on all but the most stubborn of sullen students. We can also award “Bonus Tickets” for perfect scores and completing all homework. Students can use Bonus Tickets to increase their test scores by a few points.

The staff at Chung Dahm is composed entirely of Korean people who are good enough tolerate us foreigners. They try to help us, though I suspect we are mostly hopeless. They speak primarily Korean, which can make it difficult to get one’s point across, but with enough pointing, pantomime, drawing and a few key phrases, we all manage to get the kids where they need to go and see that their parents are well enough informed.

Our Faculty Manager is, in my opinion, Pyeongchon branch’s greatest asset at this time. He is conscientious, gets things done and has so far been a pleasure to work with. I have found in him exactly the level of support and freedom I have needed to learn my job and get along at Chung Dahm these past five weeks. While there is still much, much more to learn, I am eager to meet the daily challenge and am every day glad I came to South Korea for this adventure.

Until next time…