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[[!meta date="2013-12-27 12:14:00"]]
[[!meta title="First eight weeks in Incheon"]]
[[!tag  imported_PyBlosxom writing diary]]

Today was the last day of the school academic year and I'm at the start
of two weeks off before I spend the remainder of the school vacation
teaching special vacation classes. It took a long time to get settled
here since there were so many things to sort out and so many things I
didn't know. Though of course my life here both inside and outside of
school will change from month to month as I meet different people and
spend my time doing different things, as of maybe two weeks ago I have
felt properly settled and able to spend all of my free time on things
that I am interested in rather than things that I have to do (with one
exception to be described below). So now seems like a good time to write
about my everyday life here. I won't write much about Korea more
generally.

[[!more linktext="continue reading this entry" pages="!blog/entry/*" text="""
My ordinary lessons during the school term have become very routine in
two ways. Firstly, we have lots of classroom routines: lots of
activities that we have done with each class lots of times, of course
with different target language to learn and practice. This is sensible
practice when teaching with minimal use of one's students' native
language because it reduces the amount of misunderstanding of classroom
instructions, and since we still give instructions it's another
opportunity for our students to process the language we're using to give
them, since they already know what we're trying to get across. But it
does mean that I rarely put any thought into the educational value of
the activities I prepare, instead thinking in terms of filling the time
in which the class is supposed to study English with something similar
to that which has filled that time in previous weeks. I do try out new
activities once or twice a week, but in choosing these I'm usually
thinking about variety and fun rather than education.

Secondly, I care a lot less than I did, and I think at this point a lot
less than my co-teacher, about how the classes actually go. When I
started I was frequently worked up about activities and indeed whole
classes falling apart, as often happens, both for my sake in trying to
pull the lesson together and my students' sake. But now the only thing
that genuinely annoys me in lessons is when the class won't shut up and
listen to our instructions for an activity that I think they're going to
really enjoy (often because they're already excited after having
completed the first stage of that activity). When things fall apart I
don't mind that much. I reflect on when this happens and my co-teacher
and I discuss it and what we should do different for the next class---we
teach almost all of our lesson plans more than once---but I don't feel
that I care all that much, which I find sad.

I don't have enough experience in education to say whether the above two
observations about my attitudes towards my lesson planning and teaching
are signs of becoming a complacent teacher, or just the results of
settling into the job that should not be seen as negative.

How much I enjoy teaching classes varies a lot, depending most strongly
on the attitude that a class of pupils brings to a particular lesson. I
guess the class they have had immediately before we see them has a big
effect. Sometimes they're just not interested and sometimes they come up
with fun contributions and sentences, expressing their personalities.

Aside from a ten minute session once per week I teach third, fourth,
fifth and sixth grade. Most of my time is with the older two grades and
I am happy about this fact, since I enjoy teaching them significantly
more than the younger ones. The young ones are incredibly smiley and
very willing to listen to my voice and loudly chant back to me, but
they're just a bit too young to be interesting: their language level is
very low and also they don't have much to say for themselves. Of course
there are plenty of boring older students too but the 5th and 6th grade
classes have enough interesting characters for me to enjoy myself.

My relationship with my immediate co-workers, the two Koreans whom I
co-teach with, and my relationship with the wider school staff, are very
good. It's clear to them that I'm making a serious effort to learn some
Korean since I frequently try out new things I've learnt and, of my
immediate co-workers, as plenty of questions. I think this is probably
the foundation of the general goodwill that exists between me and the
other staff.

With my immediate co-workers I do worry that I am making them
uncomfortable and perhaps occasionally being rude, as a result of my
feeling close enough to them that I'm being much less careful about
cultural differences. That is, I'm being myself, and there are aspects
of my personality that are very very western (more specifically, very
Oxford philosophy student...) that are hard for Koreans to deal with.
Various mental barriers to certain behaviours have melted away. In the
first few weeks I frequently caught myself and didn't criticise things
or make complaints, or do things like correct my co-teacher's English.
But now I've realised that I'm doing these things unthinkingly.

Here's an example. I'm generally pretty chatty and I tend to complain
about things that I don't actually mind very much about. But my
co-teachers frequently interpret this as me asking them to do something
about the issue, and very often it is something out of their control so
they just feel bad about it. If I want them to help me out with
something I'll ask them directly, but they don't always see it this way.
My cultural insensitivity here creates unnecessary stress for them.

Another example is making comments about Korean culture. This is
philosophy student territory: my style is to make harsh critical remarks
about things to provoke a defence of them and therefore come to
understand them. A man's true nature is revealed in war etc.etc. For the
first month or so I caught myself and avoided this, but now I realise
that I'm not being so careful. And Koreans aren't keen on confrontation.
Hopefully I can learn to be more careful again with all these things
around my co-teachers.

My Korean is coming along okay. I can express a lot more than I could
when I arrived because attending classes has got me a bunch of new
grammar that I try out at school. But my level is still very low and
it's essentially just a way to break the ice with Koreans, and get by a
little easier in shops, services etc., rather than a way of
communicating very much. I wish I could put more time into studying, but
I find it hard to fully commit when there is also philosophy to study,
and on the grounds that I could well not be here for any longer than a
year (see below).

I have met and continue to meet various people without really trying
that hard to meet new people, which is nice. Generally I meet foreigners
rather than Koreans, but I have met some Koreans too. I want to put the
effort into finding Korean friends by doing language exchanges; there
are websites to meet people who want to meet foreigners and have enough
English to do so under the assumption that you'll teach each other your
native language. A lot these devolve into hookups, and a super-serious
language exchange is beyond my current level since I'm not
conversational. Something in between would be good: some more Korean
friends to teach me some language and also show me some cool stuff to do
in Incheon and Seoul would be great.

I consider myself to have missed Christmas this year since aside from
serious Christians it is not celebrated here. It is a national holiday,
though, and in the morning I headed out to a coffee shop to study some
philosophy. This turned out to be a really great idea because by
starting my logic textbook, I broke my mental block to sitting down and
studying that was built on the assumption that it would be unpleasantly
hard and serious. It is hard and serious, and I need to figure out what
attitude to take towards it while not being at university. But now that
I've started the textbook it's much easier to continue. Not putting off
doing this should allow me to spend my free time better than I have been
doing; fear of effort has kept me procrastinating a lot lately.

I try not to think too much about the future, but recently I completed
my applications to graduate philosophy master's and doctoral courses and
so this makes me consider how long I'll stay in Korea. Some days I think
I should restrict myself to a year even if my applications are
unsuccessful, on the grounds that this isn't a job that I can really
progress in. Other days I think that I should just continue figuring out
to live a life without huge looming priorities like I had while at
university. I don't know what to think or what my priorities should be,
but I do know that I want to work on living life healthily, and that's
something that involves focusing on now rather than the future.

The biggest thing in this area, as mentioned above, is figuring out my
attitude towards study. I sometimes find it hard to see how it can be
worthwhile if I'm doing it outside of universities; it's so easy to go
wrong and get the wrong ideas in a subject like philosophy, and I find
myself being rather utilitarian and perfectionist about getting on with
doing it.

I'm pleased to have got my grad school applications sent in at last. I
missed the deadlines of two places I wanted to apply to: I thought all
the deadlines were around 31st December, and I didn't note down that two
of them were earlier in the month. Since I prepared notes and documents
for the appplication process before I left for Korea, it was frustrating
to find that I'd missed this aspect of the process. One thing that's
nice right now is that my self-esteem is not really tied to the outcome
of the process since I know how random is it. I know I'm good enough to
get into the places I've applied, and if I don't it's just a case of not
having done well in the lottery: there are just so many applications.
"""]]