great books on teaching

Since I have less than two months until I start working in Korea as an elementary homeroom teacher….(YIKES, wot), I’ve been reading as much as I can. My library has some great resources, so I thought I’d share some recent reads that really stood out to me.

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Real Talk for Real Teachers by Rafe Esquith (And anything else he wrote)

This book was incredible. If you’re in the education field in the US, chances are you’ve heard of Room 56 and the Hobart Shakespearians. Fifth grade students put on an annual Shakespeare play complete with custom classic rock accompaniments and dances. Ian McKellen was impressed. But apart from this astonishing side project, Rafe has a totally awesome and wonderful way of connecting with his students and inspiring them to become competent beings who always behave. Teacher’s dream. Definitely give it a read, or anything else by him.

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The End of Education by Neil Postman (Also anything else by him, education related or otherwise, this man is a genius)

Postman is one of those prophetic writers who seem to be able to understand humanity better than most of us would like. My other favorite book by him, Amusing Ourselves to Death, is an eerie and honest look at how close we are to Huxley’s Brave New World, where people are controlled by their addiction to amusement. Sound familiar? The End of Education is less doomsday, but just as honest. It’s main theme is to discover what the point, the end, of education currently is and what it should be. To briefly summarize, currently most schools encourage the theme of economic utility (school = great job = lots of money), but Postman argues that schools must have a better theme for them to work and really inspire students. I agree.

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Creative Schools by Sir Ken Robinson (I should just stop putting these in parentheses. Just read everything, eh?)

I actually first read Robinson’s books on finding your element; self-improvement style books all about finding where your passions meet your talents. Those books are incredible, but I was even more enamored of him when I heard his views on education. Most of his books are about those geniuses who do poorly in school or don’t go at all but end up becoming world renowned artists and figures. Pretty much any book of his will share something of his views on how important that arts, music, and dance are to good education.

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The One World Schoolhouse by Salman Khan

I never used Khan Academy growing up. I wish I had. I did fine in math in school, but I never understood it. I had what Khan calls a “swiss cheese” education in math, full from the outside by full of holes. Fortunately, lots of children have benefited from his videos, and plenty of adults too. Khan promotes a totally new way of doing school, and while the book is kind of a journey of how he created Khan Academy, he has some remarkably insightful ideas about how education will change, and how it should change. I was totally chomping on the bit to make something cool after reading this.

These are just a few of the many I’ve read lately – I’ve also been reading about child development, disabilities, theories by Piaget, Montessori, and Waldorf, and basic guides to teaching elementary. If you have any recommendations for me, share them! There’s so much out there it’s hard to know what’s good and what’s not.

otter.

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teacher, you’re a papaya!–teaching in taiwan

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School is fun! (I swear I’m not about to beat that child – I was demonstrating. Or singing.)

(This is something I wrote while I was in Taiwan.)

“Teacher! Do you have a boyfriend?”

“No.”

“Why?? You’re so pretty.”

“Teacher, your face is like a child’s!”

“Uh, why?”

“Cute!”

“Teacher, you so white! Come…”

*Kids try to drag me into the sunlight*

“Teacher, you’re a papaya!”

“That’s a fruit, you know.” (I said this in Chinese.)

“I know! Papaya! Papaya!”

Teaching kids is great. I teach fourth-graders, so the ages range from 9-12 in some cases. Our students love us; maybe because we’re foreigners, maybe because we act ridiculous since we don’t speak their language. Whatever the reason, it seems like every week I have kids telling me something hilarious.

What is education like in Taiwan? I work in a camp, so I see different kids every week. There’s no testing or grading, so my experience is a little different than other ESL teachers. I see kids from every walk of life, from the poor farmer’s kids to the rich elite. Some have great English, some have none. It’s a toss-up every week about what the average level of the kids will be.

From what I’ve heard from my co-teachers, friends, and other foreigners, the school system here is very different than in America. Kids go to school almost all day until college. Most of them attend some kind of after-school program, whether supplemental classes or cram school. That means they are in school from six or seven in the morning until near midnight. Every weekday. Crime in schools is very low, as is teen pregnancy and drug use. Reason being – these kids have no time. They don’t have girl/boyfriends or part time jobs because they’re so busy. The pressure to succeed is so intense from all spheres that they throw everything into studying. The ones who don’t tend to sit around and smoke on mopeds or hang out at internet cafes, not go shooting other people or getting into serious mischief.

You might think it’s a great thing that the kids are so serious, but there are downsides as well. Many education ministries and administrators are trying to overhaul the system; Asian students simply aren’t as creative as their counterparts elsewhere, despite their phenomenally high test scores. The students learn by rote memorization and lots of studying, so they don’t get much practice in creative solutions or making mistakes; skills that are vital in this day and age. A lot of students also get so burned out during their primary education that by the time they reach college, they tend to coast through without putting much effort in.

Obviously, there are pros and cons for every school system, but it does help foreign teachers when students are pre-conditioned to respect and obey their authority, not question it.

It’s slightly entertaining to see kids see us. For a lot of the students we get, we’re the first foreigners they’ve seen up close. During our “Body” class, we have a part where we ask them what color our eyes are. Since their eyes are all varying shades of brown, it’s cool for them to get to see different colored eyes. One of our teachers has bright blue eyes, and my eyes are greenish yellow. They even get freaked out on occasion, peering intently as us only to fall back with loud exclamations. Sometimes they ask us if we’re wearing contacts.

We teach without a Chinese co-teacher, so we’re limited in what we’re able to do. Not speaking Chinese, we have to keep instructions simple and demonstrable by hand motions. I don’t think we’ve ever had a problem, but it can take time to communicate this way, and you tend to lose inhibitions on making a fool of yourself.

Is it ever hard? Of course. There will always be kids who are too cool for singing songs, too distracted to concentrate, too boisterous for us to deal with, or too sullen to accept our love. Do I ever regret coming here? Never.

otter.

my dream, my old friend

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This is the story of my path to Korea. The story of my dream.

Ever since I was a child, I’ve been fascinated by Asian culture. I can’t pinpoint the reason, other than its otherness. Reason enough for the human soul to be caught and captivated. The strange and beautiful things I saw in books and on TV thrilled me. My mother had lived in Japan when she was small, and so our house was laced with influences of the Orient. Chopsticks when we made stir-fry, the entire series of Godzilla movies on VHS, beautiful dragonware china, pokemon cards, Japanese language books, and of course, Sailor Moon and Dragon Ball Z on TV.

But it wasn’t just that. My parents had lived in Belgium after they got married, and my mother had studied French, so we also had French song tapes and Spanish song tapes, and books about the Arctic circle and sled dogs. We grew up, my brother and I, surrounded by the rest of the world. It never seemed too big or far away or foreign. We never felt that it was closed off to us. I dreamed of traveling the world my whole life, and spent most of my time deep in books. I think those early days also gave me the love of language I still have. Singing along in French and Spanish just for fun, finding funny ways of saying everyday words, imitating accents…it taught me to love and to play with sounds, important for a future linguist.

When I was a child, I had normal dreams. Artist, vet, then when my horse phase was strong, horse-breeder, jockey, Olympic equestrian. In junior high school it was illustrator overseas, living in Britain with a house in Japan. In high school I started getting interested in languages, after pulling Mario Pei’s The Story of Language randomly off the library shelf. Bless you, Mr. Pei. I started seriously learning Japanese, then Swedish, looking back to my ancestry. I entered college, with one eye ever on my freedom after school to travel. To do something.

Then came Taiwan. The turning point. I don’t know how many people my age can claim a turning point in their lives, and maybe it’s too early to see if it actually was. But certainly Taiwan has given me the dream I’m currently working towards. Before Taiwan, I just wanted to travel. I wasn’t keen on teaching (another story), so that part was actually kind of awful for me in the beginning. I was dreading the teaching part of the experience. But a year in Taiwan halfway through college… Dream come true, my friends.

While in Taiwan, so very many things happened. I have a backlog of stories and anecdotes, so I’ll save that for later, but suffice it to say that it was the best year of my life. I was independent for the first time, working a full time job, living in a foreign country, with the freedom to do anything. I was also making more money than I had ever before. Eight hundred a month without paying rent! Riches.

But a funny thing happened there too. I began to love teaching. I don’t think I saw it that way at first. I thought I loved playing with my students, in class and out, that I loved making them laugh or getting interested in what I was saying.

Slowly, I realized what was going on. It was a bit of a revelation, I can tell you, and actually one that I still fight, believe it or not. I grew up NEVER going to teach. That was the one thing absolutely outside of my identity, probably due to all the bad experiences I had in public school before I was homeschooled. The me, the soul part of me, reeled from this abrupt change. But it made sense. I had been a natural teacher my whole life, enjoying helping my friends with work and sharing (teaching) my friends and family things I’d learned or read. The world was laughing at me.

I accepted it quickly though, because I was also getting interested in Korea at the same time, and it was the easiest and most logical way to live there. I still can’t explain “why Korea” when someone asks. I say it’s because I was already interested in the Korean language, and that’s true. I think Korean is the most beautiful language there is, but that’s also hard to explain. Do I need to? Cookie dough is my favorite ice cream, Korean is my favorite language. Done. Fine.

But that was just the impetus to look into Korea as a whole. I was also already watching Korean dramas, and while I knew that dramas are not any good sort of representation for real life (I’d also watched a LOT of Taiwanese dramas before going to Taiwan), I was intrigued by the kind of ideals I saw portrayed through their show writing. The culture behind the shows, so to speak. How they made characters react to certain situations, and who was slated as the good or bad guy and for what reasons. Deep stuff, I tell you.

At any rate, I read about Korea, I found Eatyourkimchi and watched all the videos, I tried Korean food for the first time and nearly died of joy…a lot went on in Taiwan to fuel my passion for Korea. Despite your warnings, dear school nurse, of Korean men.

So Korea it was. I had notebooks full of plans for living there, teaching there, blogging there… It was pure joy. But there was also the Big Gap. The two years of black hole college waiting to suck my fervor and joy away. I’m exaggerating. Slightly.

I’m on the other end now of it now though. Graduated, job in hand, counting down the weeks. Weeks.

I wonder what other people’s dream stories are like. Whether they’ve changed as much, and as often, as mine. Whether they’re working on their dreams now. I hope you are, friends. I hope you never let go of dreaming.

otter.

a few updates; dreams come true

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It’s rare I take pictures of myself. I’m not a selfie-centered person. But this has created the odd conundrum of me not knowing what I looked like most of the time. Sometimes I do want to remember that fun day I looked nice and rode in a car with my best friend for four hours to Austin and had some crazy good food…yeah, or maybe I just want to join my generation. Whatevs, yo.

But, yes, indeed, I was in Austin this week. I have relatives down there, and my cousin took me to to all the hot-spot awesome eateries and local joints. I mean, it sounds like we partied mightily, but really we went thrift shopping and comic book store-ing, and then went home to watch Doctor Who with burgers. Aw chyeah. My kind of vacation.

Although it’s a strong contestant, the watching Doctor Who and burgers and tea dueling (you heard me), are the not the reason I called this post “Dreams come true.” No, my friends, I have news.

I passed the EPIK interview a couple weeks ago, and while that in itself was amazing and wonderful and something I’m incredibly grateful for, I will have to turn it down. I will turn it down for a better offer that came from an unexpected source. Long story short, I have a friend who teaches in Korea and her school was hiring so she sent me a message right after my EPIK interview. After getting more information and looking up the school, I immediately sent in my resume and started praying I’d get in. Honestly, this school is perfect. It’s exactly what I wanted to look for after I got into Korea with EPIK, and it has the same benefits if not slightly better. Her school is a private Christian international school outside of Seoul. They prepare their students for enrollment in overseas schools and have a ton of extracurricular stuff; music, martial arts, gardening, drama, debate…everything. They’re also bilingual, so almost all of the courses are taught in English. And get this – that means I’ll be a regular home room teacher, not just the ESL (as far as I know; that may change). I’ll teach science and math and history and grammar…the whole nine yards, including idioms like that.

Honestly, this terrified me at first. I’ve never thought about teaching anything other than English, and I have no experience to do so. However, I know I can do it. I was homeschooled so I know the mechanics of teaching, as well as how to pick and choose curriculum and make things interesting. But it’s going to be so good. I mean, as an ESL co-teacher in a normal Korean school, it was likely I wouldn’t be a real teacher. And I don’t mean that the way it sounds. English teachers can’t interact with the students like the native Korean teachers – we just can’t communicate in that way for the most part. Plus, ESL teachers are rarely permanent. Schools know they don’t often last more than a year or two, and that means they can’t be a real part of the school policy building. I have no idea how much involvement is normal, but from what I’ve heard, it’s not much.

In this school, I’ll be a normal staff teacher who can be involved in curriculum planning and discussion. In fact, during my interview, they were telling me about some changes as if I was already there and part of it. It was brilliant.

I’m beyond excited. I was happy to get in with EPIK, and I have no problems with them. But this will be so much easier, and so much more challenging at the same time. Yes, I’ll be a teacher with greater responsibilities and more work, but I’ll know someone already who works there, and who knows the school and has told me all about it. That unknown factor with EPIK kept me from feeling one hundred percent calm. I just couldn’t be sure I wouldn’t be in a bad situation.

Because of all this, I’ve laid out a calendar of things to research. Beginning with general teaching theory, I’m going to get materials and information on teaching math, science, humanities, and then brush up on grammar and English right before I leave. There isn’t much time left now…it’s coming up fast, and I’ll be in Korea before I know it.

Wish me luck!

otter.

EPIK Interview

Hey guys!

Just last week I had my EPIK (English Program in Korea) interview, and since mine was a little different, I’m going to outline what happened. Now, I did pass, so it was successful, but before I had it, I researched all about what other people had gone through in their interviews. I looked up all the questions, wrote my answers, and practiced them beforehand, so I felt pretty ready.

So, what usually happens is once you have your interview time, you’re supposed to get on Skype half an hour or so beforehand to check your camera and let the interviewer add you as a contact. This doesn’t always happen, so I wasn’t surprised when they added me right before the interview.

The first surprise was that the interviewer was American. Maybe this is standard so maybe I just missed that fact, but I wasn’t expecting it. It was nice, of course, not to have any language barrier. So, first things first, we went through my application. You MUST print out your application so you can edit it along with the interviewer. I had some minor errors to correct, and then we went on to the lesson plan. Now, here, I have a bit of a bone to pick with Korvia, my recruiting agency that helped me with my application. I know they have ten years of experience working with EPIK, but many of the changes they suggested for my lesson plan I disagreed with. I’ve taught before, and I know how to make an effective lesson plan. However, I made those changes, and they were pointed out by my interviewer as things to be changed. Back. I didn’t mention my recruiter’s instructions, but agreed with him and made notes. It was just a little frustrating, but nothing too major.

So then he asked me basic questions; all the ones I expected. He asked about my previous teaching experience in Taiwan and how I liked it. Then, about 12 minutes in, he said they were having technical difficulties and would need to call me back. It’s Skype, so naturally I expected issues.

Here’s where things went a little weird. When he called me back, it was someone else. Another American. He made some passing remark about surprising me, and then went on with the questioning. Perhaps it was just this guy, but his questions were hard. And not listed on any of the sites I’d checked. Thank goodness I’ve done interviews before, because I would have been a bit thrown off.

I made a note of a few of his questions, not verbatim, but as well as I can remember:

– America is an egocentric nation (he did actually say this). How do you expect to fit in here with a Korean mindset?

– Say your co-teacher is really dominant and teaches all the classes, and you’re just the English parrot. How would you address having more of a role in the classroom?

– What would you do if your co-teacher teaches the students something wrong?

These questions aren’t that hard, but they did throw me off since I wasn’t expecting them at all. I wasn’t asked about my teaching philosophy or how to adjust to other cultures which were questions I was actually prepared for.

Overall, it was stressful, as any interview is, but hopefully this will help anyone looking to get into EPIK soon. I was prepared, but I wish those questions had been listed to think about beforehand. Maybe because EPIK has tightened up on requirements and are cutting jobs lately, they’re trying to filter a bit more effectively. Whatever the case, don’t take this interview lightly. If you guys are about to interview or are thinking about EPIK and have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask me!

otter.

the end

Graduation

the end of school, the end of life as I know it

It’s kind of odd to start a new blog off with ‘the end.’ But for me, this is the end. The ending of an era in my life; one I am not sorry to see go. I just graduated, and, barring a massive life redirect where I decide to get a Master’s, this is the end of my schooling. Finally. I mean, who doesn’t start school as a wee tot barely able to differentiate all fingers, trying to understand kindergarten dynamics, without seeing the bright light of college at the end? No? Just me then.

I had a crazy mix of emotions after I graduated. For one thing, I had been stressed out about an interview I’d had the previous Monday that would determine my future. (More on that later.) Maybe all those who’ve graduated before me have also had a giant ball of tension sprout between their shoulders for no discernible reason. Stress from the last two years coming out? Must be.

On a better note, that interview that I was stressing out about went well. Well enough for me to pass. Pass into what? Into a life teaching in Korea. See, I made this blog about teaching in Korea before I got the job. A little over-confident of me. I say well-prepared. I went through the recruiting agency Korvia, and the interview was with EPIK (English Program in Korea). Since my interview went a little differently than what I had read online, I’ll post separately about what went on, as well as my overall experience with the recruiter. Ya know, all that good stuff people who want to go to Korea eat up.

With any new beginning, especially one that comes from an ending, it’s nice to take a moment to re-evaluate things and start afresh. I’ve been reading about habits lately, and one thing I’ve learned is that beginnings are important. Good habits are easier to implement with big life changes. Of course, I always try this, and it never sticks, but maybe this time around it will. It’s summer, I need a job, I need to start preparing to move overseas (for several years, maybe permanently), I want to do this blog, other creative projects…I have a whole host of things I’ve been putting off whilst in school, and now that I’m out, I feel like I’m looking at thirteen different chocolate bars and I have no idea which one I want to eat first.

I was even going to delay this first post on my new blog until I’d finished the layout more. But knowing me, that would mean I wouldn’t post anything for a month. So here, internet void. Have this. Let me send this out, once again, and hope it lands somewhere.

otter.