As the semester wore down, we discovered we had more grade 4 classes than we had grade 4 curriculum. We were scheduled for at three weeks beyond what could feasibly be stretched out from our textbooks, and thus we spent two weeks covering extra material. With an additional class left-over in the inexplicable final 3-day week of school, we had no idea what to do.
The last week of school, students can taste summer. The weather heralded it: the monsoon season broke, and suddenly every hour of the day was one of verdant splendour, of glistening sunshine and the smell of grass, and dirt, and ice cream, and freedom. Kids are generally useless the closer the summer gets, and when the weather becomes perfect, they come to see adults as the enemy. We are obstacles standing in the way of fun, robbing them of precious, non-raining time outside. Time away from school. Time in the park, or huddled over gameboys, or in PC bangs, or out ruining everything, like children desperately want to do.
Knowing this, the prospect of actually teaching them something on one of the last buffer days of the school year seemed preposterous. Their quivering, pneumatic child brains had already evacuated, and were waiting to meet their bodies out in the sunshine. Teaching them English would be throwing handfuls of sand into the ocean, granules of knowledge instantly swallowed and lost to the vast, unending knowledge that summer was upon them. Instead: a party.
One of the best parts of teaching in Korea is the low-level expectation in terms of entertainment value. Given the amount of time spent in hagwons, and the lecture style of a lot of their classes, it doesn’t take much to trick them into thinking they are just playing games. I use this to my advantage, and thus the daily agenda includes at least two “games” which are loosely concealed speaking or writing activities. But they get up, and they move, or there’s a ball involved, and suddenly they don’t think it’s learning anymore.
By the same token: a party isn’t that hard to assemble. Tell the students to bring a snack, move the chairs to face the projector screen, find Korean subtitles for How to Train Your Dragon. Done. Where at home I would have had to assemble my entire collection of board games, call in for seven classes worth of pizza and show up with face paint and water balloons, my kids are happy with air conditioning and no pressure. They tremble with excitement, and give to me and my co-teacher their supplication: handfuls of chocolate chip cookies, Doritos, Pringles, and whatever bizarre bagged offal they have compelled their parents to buy for them. They leave my classroom docile, placid, eager to come back in the fall and earn another movie and quietness day, and happy that we didn’t try to actually do any of that learning nonsense.
[Sidebar 1: Currently on the road again. Posting may be sparse for a week or two. I will be back with oodles of content and my peculiar brand of neurotic larfs in no time, trust me, no really.]
[Sidebar 2: you guys probably don’t care about this, but:
You like me! You really like me.
50,000 is ultimately a big, meaningless number without context, but it still makes me feel pretty proud in a vague, undefinable way. People on the internet clicked on something I put together! All of my dreams are coming true.]