Tuesday, February 23, 2010

It feels like years since it's been here

This is Dex and Nikki, who are mentioned below. (The picture's here because I haven't posted a photo in a long time.) They are not like this all the time, externally at least.

I've been remiss in  my blogging recently, and it's gotten worse because, you know, remissery loves company.

Thank you, thank you very much.

Actually, though, after awhile wherever you are stops being remarkable and exotic and just becomes where you are. I went with my friend Ray to the National Museum a couple of weeks ago and saw an enormous number of ancient Korean and (on loan) Peruvian artifacts and couldn't even get worked up enough to blog about it. Of course, once you've seen thirteen 1500-year-old pre-Incan cups, the next thirty or so seem kind of routine.

Also, the school schedule, as I've already moaned about here, is wearing me down, especially because two of the classes are very difficult for me to teach. I think that contributed to my getting a bit sick.

On Sunday, I felt really hung over, which would have been a trick since I haven't had a drink in weeks. I was dizzy and really weak, with all kinds of digestive unpleasantnesses and maybe a touch of fever. Sunday night, I slept fitfully and notmuchally, and yesterday morning I was all set to call in sick. However, we get a $350 bonus if we don't use any sick days, so I manned up and managed to whine my way through the school day yesterday. I even walked to Citizen's Forest Park and waited, bravely muttering encouragement, while my four runners ran.

And then there's the weather... I know I just posted this same idea a few days ago, but I don't know if I can really retire someplace where it's cold and gray for so long. I will always, always be an Ithacan, but I think maybe I need warmth and sunshine.

...and then today I felt pretty much better, and it was sixty degrees Fahrenheit, and I just had to get out after school. I missed running with Lauren, as she'd gone out a bit earlier, but I saw Chris and Zach sitting by the stream, having a touch of liquid refreshment and doing paperwork. Nikki, our new art teacher, who is probably the only 5-foot-9 dreadlocked blonde in Korea, was out running with her husband Dex (sans face paint). And Chris promises that tomorrow he'll go out running with the "team" and me, and Lauren says she will next week.

And the sun was out and my window was open and kids are playing basketball in the park across the street and the Doosan Bears have a home game in less than six weeks.

It's like coming out of a cocoon.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Spring in the air

...well, I would, but I'd probably hurt my knee.

Today was the first Saturday when it began to feel as if we might survive the winter after all. I haven't been crazy about the winter; I love snow, but not cold, and there's been far, far more of the latter than the former. This winter has made me reconsider where I really want to retire one day.

But today was sunny, with a high in the mid-40s Fahrenheit, the ballplayers are working out in Florida and Arizona, and it feels like spring is just around the corner and halfway up the next block. The high is supposed to be 50 by midweek. I'm sure the cold weather's not gone completely, but I think I won't renew my health club membership next month; I'll just go back to running outside, which is as God and Abibe Bikila intended.

Speaking of which, that which we laughingly call St. Paul Cross Country chugs along. I lost one of my four ducklings, as the principal's son decided after one outing that he'd prefer screen golf, but I gained one on Friday. There's no telling if the kids will keep at it or not; to tell the truth, I'm not sure why they want to do it at all, with no competition and no "fun". But I'm grateful for each day we go out. There are a surprising number of faculty members who run: Lauren, Nick, Susan, Nikki Puckett (the new art teacher) and maybe Chris, in addition to me; that's half the staff. (And the way I run, half-staff is appropriate. Ba-dum-dum.) Several of them have said they'll come out and run with us sometime.

As for the job, the less said the better... the (A day) Periods 1-2-3-4 and (B day) Period 5 class, followed by 5 1/2 hours of free time, is wearing me down in every way. Only Zach and I have five preps and only I have a day with no free period. Bleeeeeurgh. But June is coming, and with it, a school-paid round trip back to the States. It will have been two years since I've been "home". Now if I only knew where to go...

Meanwhile, maybe spring hasn't sprung, but the crank on the jack-in-the-box is beginning to move.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Coach Dog is back

If you know me well, you know that my favorite thing I've ever done for money (not counting that week in Tijuana that they told me never to mention again) is coaching cross country. I'm not even quite sure why I loved it so much: the camaraderie among the team members, the adrenaline flowing at the meets, the chance to teach something I love and help kids build confidence... anyway, I loved every minute of it during eight seasons at St. Joe and one at St. Augustine High and I've missed it very much.

And now I've got it back, sort of. On Mondays and Wednesdays, St. Paul has sports from 4 to 6 p.m. There's basketball and ping pong, and now there's "cross country", too. Mike Peck, our phys ed guy, encouraged me to see if anyone would be interested in going out to run. I really didn't expect that anyone would respond, but I got four kids: Geoff, the principal's son; Ecllid and Jee, freshman boys; and Buyoung, a junior girl who has a lot of experience at soccer.

On Monday, we went out for the first time. We walked five minutes to Citizen's Forest Park (yeah, I know it should be Citizens' Forest Park, but I didn't put up the sign) and jogged lightly to the path by the stream. For their first time out, they did well; Buyoung ran easily for a half hour and two of the boys ran most of that time. It felt really, really good to be... pardon the expression... on the road again. I actually got the feeling that the kids might listen to me about their form: forearms brushing the hipbones, parallel to the ground, torso straight up and down, don't overstride... great honk, I've missed this.

I was due for a comedown on Wednesday, and I got it. The weather was pretty raw: 40 degrees Fahrenheit, gray, the lightest of sprinkles. In other words: prime running weather. But Koreans hate rain; one of our students told me that getting rained on makes your hair fall out because of the pollution. At any rate, the kids remonstrated until I reluctantly told them they didn't have to go; it's not a team, after all, and they can quit anytime, so I can't push too hard. But it's a far, far cry from the true cross-country ethos: we run through everything. (Well, not lightning; we're crazy, not insane.) I'll always remember the county championship on Crescent Beach at high tide during Tropical Storm Gabrielle; the rain was coming sideways and the kids had to run through knee-deep ocean water, twenty feet across, at a beach ramp. (It's a shame that one Menendez girl was carried off by a shark.)

Anyway, on Wednesday I ran alone.

I can't force these kids into the true CC mindset, but maybe I can help them toughen up a bit and take pride in themselves over it. My dream is to have a team in a year or two and compete against other local international schools. We may have to run the boys and girls together to find five who really want to run, and I don't even know if any other local schools have running programs, but I can hope.

Meanwhile, I'll take what I can get. Coach Dog is back.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Yes, I would like some cheese with this

The new semester's started and I. Am. Not. Happy. Our enrollment has grown from 77 to 94 and that's necessitated more work for the teachers, five classes each rather than four. That in itself is all right; actually, the way our eighth period is structured (rotating study hall-clubs-speech class), I average 5 1/3 periods of teaching every two days rather than the previous 4 2/3. No big.

However, there is only one teacher who has a day with no breaks whatsoever other than lunch. I'll sit here and hum while you guess who that is.

Have you guessed yet?

On "A" days, when we have periods 1-4 for 90 minutes each, I have English 7, English 9, lunch, English 6 (!) and American Lit Honors. If you're thinking that six hours of work a day sounds pretty good, you haven't been a teacher. Teaching... teaching well, anyway... is exhausting, and having four 90-minutes classes is much more so than having eight 45-minute classes. (Back in the States, my standard work day was six 45-minute classes.)

On "B" days (periods 5-8), all I have is creative writing for middle-school students, and that's first thing in the morning. That means that two "B" days out of three, I have five and a half hours straight for planning, grading, etc. On the third "B" day, I still have four hours in a row.

Ideal, right? How little you know me.

I am totally incapable of focusing on work for that long without a break. I need to work an hour, take a break for 15 minutes (or 15 hours), and go back to work. There is going to be so much wasted time. Why, I might :: koff :: even write a blog post when I should be planning.

So, on alternating days, I'm exhausted from work and exhausted from idleness.

And then there's the so-called English 6 class. Zach (the other English teacher) and Nick (the ESL teacher)  also have classes with these kids. There are three of them; they don't belong here. They simply don't have the English skills; the two boys don't know that there is a past tense, for example, so my hopes to teach them the difference between the simple past and the past progressive are... in the past. There are other problems with them besides language, they may hear "Please turn the page", complete with gestures, three or four times before they respond, and will interrupt me in the middle of a sentence to ask where I live or whether I like soccer. It is the most enormously frustrating teaching experience I've ever had. I'm a really good English teacher but a total dunce at ESL and Special Ed.

The boss has decided, I guess, that we need the income from the new students; I know from experience that any small private school has to balance turning a profit with improving the school's image. All of us from the principal on down believe that this decision was a mistake, that making the school do things it's not designed to do will, in the long run, only hurt us.

Or, in the short run, some of us more than others.