Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Exhaustion, Stress, Luck

I'm tired. I'm stressed. And I'm insanely lucky.

I've been go-go-going the last two weeks (hence the infrequency of blog posts) because I started teaching Korean English teachers at a training facility on Palgong Mountain. Though the teaching part is not too demanding (4-5 50 minute classes each day), two factors have this workshop severely impairing my ability to get a decent night's sleep.

First, it's about an hour and a half to two hour bus ride away from my house. So I'm averaging about 3.5 hours commuting time. It is difficult to sleep on buses (it usually just makes me more tired). I'm lucky that I can read most of the time, so I've also finished all four books in the Twilight series now (it definitely got better as it went on. The last book was actually quite well done--thanks, Sarah!). This is very draining, so until last night I hadn't recovered the energy to go to taekwondo. However, the center is beautifully situated with gorgeous mountain scenery out every window. I will bring my camera next week.

The second part is a hell of my own making. We were allowed to choose what topic we wanted to teach (there are six native teachers and the students rotate through each of our workshops so that we see each set of 9 students 6 times each). Of course I picked writing. I love writing, and I love teaching writing. However, the aspect of teaching writing I do not always enjoy is the volume of student writing you have to read and thoughtfully respond to. This was my main cause of stress as a teacher back in the U.S. I actually really enjoy reading and responding to student writing, it's just stressful when you have a time deadline and lots of students (here 54; in America I usually had 150-170). To understate it, this grading has been time-consuming.

I have tried doing some grading on the bus (you know, kill two birds with one stone), but it's difficult. Writing more quickly makes me nauseous than reading, so I have to move at a snail's pace. And I can get easily distracted. And it makes riding the bus an even more energy-draining experience.

All this aside, having now adjusted to the stress of it (of course with just two days next week remaining in the workshop), I'm really enjoying it. Most of the teachers are young and enthusiastic. Their level of English is generally very high. They are excited to try writing because it is the most-neglected area of English study in Korea (many English majors never had to write more than a handful of essays in English during university). Some of them are exceptionally thoughtful, creative, and intelligent. It is a pleasure to teach this kind of student. They are also very grateful for my comments (unlike kids in the U.S. and their parents). It's exactly what teaching should be.

I hope to do it again next year!


  1. I was just planning a creative writing lesson for my grade 5's and 6's when the next school year started. I was thinking I would start it early in the year and continue with it throughout but I'm sort of at a loss. Do you have any suggestions or ideas on how to get started for young elementary kids? So far, I've started with planning the breakdown of what's in a story (characters, plot, etc). My ultimate goal is that their diary sessions will end up being a collection of short stories, poems, plays, and skits. Ideas or directions on where to find ideas would be great! Of course, no rush. I can definitely wait until you are done with your workshops.

  2. I would start with more free-writing activities while reading good stories, poems, plays, etc. Kids that age naturally model the stuff they read that they like. Make it a reading-writing combo and you'll have a winner.

    Also, never grade journals/freewriting for grammar, spelling, etc. Parents and other teachers will want you to do it. Don't. Respond to the kid's writing like you would when you read a book--to the ideas, as a reader. It will make them more excited to write.

    Read up on pedagogy if you want to be a better writing teacher. Don Graves is a great start. I also have enjoyed James Moffett, Louise Rosenblatt, and Tom Romano. Rosenblatt is a bit super-intellectual but she revolutionized the field of teaching reading. Anyone who dedicates their book to those four might also have some good suggestions.



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