Thursday, February 5, 2009

korea lookback (part 1?)

Originally drafted February 5, 2009.

For the Fulbright program, I was placed at an elementary school with
about 1700 students from grades 1 through 6. I actually taught every
single student at least once during my year there. I was chosen for
that school because they were running a pilot program to begin
teaching English in 1st and 2nd grade. Currently the English
curriculum in Korea begins in 3rd grade. My main responsibility was
preparing and teaching the 1st and 2nd graders. There were 7
homerooms per grade with about 40 students per homeroom. I had to
teach in all English to students with NO previous English experience
with the aid of the native Korean homeroom teacher, who also had
little to no previous English experience.

I was given a provisional textbook created by the school I believe in
the year prior to my arrival and had to use it. There were many
challenges and difficulties in this process. The textbooks had no
logical order in the way things were presented, there was little logic
to the themes of the chapters that I could deduce. This was not
really anyone's fault, as the textbooks were prepared by the same
homeroom teachers I was working with (no previous English
experience!). Nonetheless, I found ways to try and introduce basic
verbs and nouns along with classroom English that would make the
classes flow smoothly.

I had to learn to relax a little and go with the flow. I figured out
the best way to engage my students was to institute a bit of a routine
for the beginning of class (something they could recognize and use to
gain their bearings when we met each week) and also to work with a lot
of visual aids and hands on activities. I tried to keep the materials
relevant to their experiences and relate the lessons to things they
were familiar with (using Korean cartoon characters for a body parts
lesson/puzzle, using ancient Korean artifacts and traditional games
and instruments to learn the "what is this?" "it's a ...").

I also got a lot of experience in showmanship and presentations. We
held open demonstration classes at least once a month. My class was
taped for two different shows on Korea's English education TV station.
And near the end of my year we held a truly open demonstration class
for all the teachers and principals in the province. For several of
these classes (especially in the beginning) I often would come to
class to find that the AV stuff didn't work or they had considerately
taken DOWN my projector and taken it away for cleaning without
accounting for the fact that I would need it back FOR the open class.
It was definitely a year of interesting experiences, I learned to be
patient, creative, to deal with stressful situations, and to make the
best of every moment.

In the end, I think the biggest thing I learned that it wasn't about
me. There was so much of my year there that was about the students
and the school and I was just there to do what was necessary to help
them. I guess this is the thing that is really different from being a
student. In the big sense, students are necessary for college to
work. If NO one showed up for class or paid tuition, colleges would
become obsolete. But, if I personally didn't show up every day ready
to do my part, it really didn't have a big effect. But in Korea, I
guess it was my first real "job" and I realized that I really had to
step up to the plate and always be accountable and responsible and
what it was like to have other people count on me, to be part of a
team. And even if I didn't completely sign on with the things I had
to do or support, that's what being part of a team was. There was
compromise and negotiation and I finally learned what, "I scratch your
back and you scratch mine" applied to.

I guess that turned out to be a lot longer than I meant. I apologize,
but it was kindof therapeutic in a way. I haven't had to digest it
quite like that for someone yet. Other responsibilities in brief,
like I said I came into contact with EVERY student at the school at
least once. They really put me to work. In addition to the 14
regular 1st and 2nd grade classes each week, I taught 2 teacher
classes (1 general to all teachers and 1 intermediate level with the
English subject teachers). And I designed, created, taught an
afterschool English "camp" for 3 hours each week (rotating grades 3
thorugh 6) and also taught advanced language "club" type classes 2x a
week (3-4th grade and 5-6th grade). So, a lot of responsibility. I
came up with and designed all the materials and curricula for all of
the programs.

At Columbia, so far I have been taking a bit of a breather to get back
into the swing of things. Last semester I focused mainly on my
classes. This semester has been a bit busier just by the nature of
the programs I'm involved in. I'm on the Career Symposium committee
for the Columbia Society for International Law. We're puttng together
panel discussions for a 2 day event from attorneys who do
international law 2/18-19. I'm also involved witht the Public
Interest Law Foundation, which grants stipends for alls tudents who
work with nonprofit or governemnt organizations in the summer. I am
involved with their Annual Bid for Justice charity auction (held the
first week of March). The money from the auction helps fund the
summer student stipends and also grant requests from public interest

I am also a member of a student-faculty committee that is
working on the design for a new reading room in the law library.
there is currently a dearth of space, it's kindof similar to the
before (Perkins library) and after (Bostock) on a smaller scale. I
love libraries but hate the law library because it's the opposite of
everything i think a library should be (inspirational, beautiful, with
a sense of calm and yet energy) and so I applied to be on the reading
room committee to help the library realize its potential. (definitely more on this later...)

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