Yellow dust

So about this time every year, dust from the Gobi Desert area starts blowing through most of East Asia. I didn't really know about "yellow dust season" before I got to Korea, but boy have I gotten an introduction. While I haven't actually SEEN the dust, I've definitely felt it. Started last week with some wheezing -- I've used my fast-acting inhaler about once in the last year. As severe as my asthma was in childhood, it's mild to nonexistant these days, and I was naturally surprised to find I had breathing difficulties. I developed a slight cough and the breathing worsened, so Monday I went to the hospital.

Korean medical care is interesting. I go see the general doctor, who speaks enough English, tell him I'm having breathing trouble and am asthmatic and all he does is listen to my lungs. It sort of freaks me out how they prescribe anything without taking a medical history, asking about possible interactions or even doing a real physical. Anyway, he gave a "Turbuhaler" to take twice a day and two doses of prednizone and that was that.

My wheezing did get better, but I got sicker. I went back on Thursday and I've progressed to full-blown pneumonia. This time my "physical" consisted of listening to my lungs, temperature and a chest x-ray (this is the nice part of Korea: a $10 chest x-ray!). I got lots of drugs (they don't tell me what they are, and it's a convoluted process of looking up the insurance number on druginfo.co.kr and then googling the active ingredients). Hopefully, they're working.

I did get Friday off work, though not if The Hagwon had had their way. I don't have any sick days left, because I used them both for India-related things, but even if I did the Korean view on illness isn't terribly pragmatic. They try to bargain with you, "well, maybe you can come just for this one class, because parents expect there is foreign teacher--"



Again, the weaknesses of Hagwon education

As I said, the new semester started last week (that's why I've been so busy). I've touched on some of the frustrations of teaching at a hagwon, but a couple things happened this week that really highlighted one of the major reasons my "school" can be counterproductive to actual learning.

Unrealistic expectations
Yesterday my coworker called a teacher meeting to discuss discipline. In the course of developing a sticker system to encourage homework completion and discourage, say, yelling in class, the issue of the textbooks came up. Without any consultation with the foreign teachers (or, for that matter, the Korean teachers), the school purchased books far too advanced for the classes. First graders with no experience in real classwork were being given Level 2 Dictation books for listening, and the speakers were at conversational speed.

But they aren't willing to slow down or change. We just have to "make it work" because the parents expect more. As a coworker aptly put it, you can't go from arithmetic to physics in a week. You'd think that these parents, who are not by ANY means fluent (I've spoken to most of them) would realize how difficult it is to master a language, and yet they expect their small children to do it in a month? There's challenging students, but there's also going so far over their heads that they can't even reach.

The same day, one of my B-level students' mother came in for a meeting and to observe. She was furious that her daughter (first grade) was in the second-level class -- even though two of the smartest kids in the grade are as well, and we use the same book as the A-level. She yelled and screamed and carried on and finally my boss decided just to move the girl up, after the mother called the kindergarten teacher to get confirmation that YW's English was in fact remarkable. The truth, of course, is that she belonged and was doing well in B-level. But it wasn't about the kid. It was about the mother, and the image of being in the top class.

At least I have one sane parent, though! A former kindergarten student of mine who'd been placed into the C-level class was bumped up, and after a day his mother asked that he be moved back down to give him a chance to master the fundamentals. That kid will probably end up with better English than any of them!


Found a new website for general bookmarking: This Week in Evolution summarizes a paper a week. So much of my reading is either on the mechanisms of evolution or the general evo-creo debate that it's nice to interject some current research in there. Keep an eye on it.


It's a whole new year.

Today was the opening of the new year for Korean schools, which means changes at The Hagwon too. We have a new crop of baby first graders coming in, which means everybody else is shuffled and pushed up an hour. Reshuffling of the afternoon teachers, too: one teacher got transferred out and another brought it; all of my wonderful classes were taken away from me and given to the disciplinarian teacher, who really should be doing, oh I don't know, the classes with discipline problems. But that'd make too much sense for The Hagwon! In fact, in a stunning piece of reasoning, The Director is pointedly not giving the bad classes to Disciplinarian because if the boys can't spend English Hagwon time playing with their friends, they might quit.

Sometimes you just have to shake your head and get on with it.

So, my new and vastly unimproved schedule:

2pm - first grade, mid-level. I had half of them in kindergarten. They're solid students and mostly good kids. I won't have any trouble with them; also, there's only six.
3pm - kill me. Rotating class (so, a different group MWF than TR), low level, no interest.
4pm - no, seriously. Big rotating class, equally low, much worse discipline-wise.
5pm - low level underacheivers, but small class size and only on MWF. I can do a little with these guys, anyway.
6pm - thank the hockey gods for this one. Our six smartest elementary kids in one room. I've got my 4th grade writing genius (more on her at a later date), two 4th graders who lived in the US for two years, a very talented 5th grader and one of the funniest kids I know, even if he is a bit behind the others and in 6th grade (he's the "daughter of a bitch" boy).

Aside from losing all my kids that I've had since I started at this damn place, the big downsides are that I'm no longer teaching my 8-year-old math genius and my favorite first grader won't be with me anymore, either.

This whole thing would be so much easier if I didn't care about my job or my kids.

On a high note, I got to name a couple kids today. One was "Weasley" already, but I tagged two more "McKay" and "Carson." Cookies for whoever gets the reference.