Saturday, October 31, 2009

Are you sitting down? Good. I have a secret...

...I love my job. 

It's a different beast entirely from what I was doing at the hagwon in Daegu. It's a real college-prep high school, and the biggest disciplinary problems I've faced are uniform violations. So in that way it's a different animal, too, from my teaching positions in the States. The vast majority of the kids are friendly, and a lot of them are really smart. They're all Korean, with the exception of the principal's son, with varying degrees of English proficiency, and most of them know as much about indefinite and definite articles as I do about court etiquette in the Joseon Dynasty. (Hint: not much.) But they seem to thrive under the  relative informality and humane treatment they find at St. Paul, compared to the practices at Korean public schools. (For one thing, we don't hit their legs with sticks when they're late to school.) Certainly they wouldn't dare say "Annyeong" to the usual Korean teacher as say "Hi" to me or the other SPPA teachers; they know they're in a good place.

My schedule is easy, too: on "A" days, I have two 85-minute classes, a 150-minute break and another class; on "B" days, I have a free period, a class, and the rest of the day free, except for speech class or newspaper at the end of most days. I like my English 7 and Composition classes just fine, but I love my American Lit Honors and Creative Writing classes.

Am Lit Honors is full of bright, bright kids (four of whom are in this photo). They got into Fahrenheit 451 and are positively eating up The Crucible and The Catcher in the Rye. That's another thing: I get to pick the vast majority of my own curriculum. I'm enjoying Catcher far more than I ever did before, largely because they do. I thought it would shock them; it doesn't. I thought they'd have trouble with all the 50s slang; they don't. One of the girls asked me yesterday why I like Holden, and I said because his sister Phoebe's a smart kid and she loves him. I realized two things simultaneously, as I said it: that is a reason I like Holden, and--huh!-- I like Holden.

Creative Writing is just a ball because I get to make it up as I go along, gleaning projects and assignments from the 'net and my own still fairly serviceable mind. The students are having fun with it, and I have to say I'm amazed at some of the work they come up with despite their limitations with English. My schoolroom walls are decorated with their work.

Most of our students have adopted Western names, though some, notably boys named Atom and Ecclid, are a little shaky on the execution.

Perhaps the most rewarding thing, and one I can claim virtually no credit for, is the blossoming of a few kids in my English 7 class who seemed hopelessly lost in all of their classes. Jenny was horribly, painfully shy and seemingly totally at sea in English. She happened to be the first person I called on in my first class at the school, and the long silence was painful. She was getting close to zero on nearly every assignment, but her teachers had a meeting with her parents, and somehow letting her know we're on her side has made a huge difference. I call on her now when I'm sure she knows an answer, and she gives it! Better yet, she's made a friend of a girl named Lonie and they beam and wave and say, "Hi! Mr. Cornman!" every time they see me, before I can say anything. They give similar greetings, suitably adjusting the "Mr. Cornman" part, when they see other teachers. Jenny got a 78 on her test on The Pearl, about 50 points higher than she had been averaging. It feels good to be able to tell kids how well they're doing.

Sangjoon, in the same class, seems developmentally slow and, to put it horribly bluntly, was rather lumpish for the first six weeks. But he's saying "Hi" now too and his grades are beginning to come up a bit. And Alex, in the same class (he's on the left, below), has gone from being mute in class to wanting to answer everything. In each case, a meeting and some encouragement have worked wonders. All the stuff they tell teachers about believing in their students' ability... it's coming true.

So, you see, as the logo on the LG building down the block from the apartment is always reminding me, Life's Good. At least at St. Paul Prep.

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