From K-pop to Common Core: A Conversation with Christina

Everyone remembers their first year. I remember the lunch periods trying to figure out what you are going to teach next period, staying late after everyone has left the building including the custodians, the unruly kids testing your patience, and feeling like quitting is the only option.  Well despite the challenges, there is so much that you learn about yourself, teaching, and students that makes it all worth it. I had the privilege of interviewing a first year NYC teacher last summer while in NY.

I met Christina a few years ago at my church in Korea. After her time in Korea as a Fulbright scholar, teaching English, she went to graduate school at Columbia University Teachers College. Now she is teaching at a charter school in NYC. I was intrigued by her experience because she teaches Korean language and culture to high school students in Harlem. Her school requires students to learn Korean as their foreign language. We sat down and caught up over delicious frozen s’mores and coffee as she honestly shared about her experiences as a first year teacher. Thank you for taking the time to be interviewed!

What made you decide to take this teaching job?  I actually studied Internal Education Development in grad school. I always thought I would go into administration. When I was offered this position, a part of me thought, ‘okay, this is not curriculum or policy development, but gaining field experience would eventually lead me to where I would like to be in education.’ 

After the first year was done, I was really glad and humbled I went into teaching first. Now to come to think of it, I don’t know how I thought I would have gone into policy work and administration without having stepped inside a classroom and really interact with students on a day to day basis for better or worse.

What was the toughest part about being a first year teacher? I was used to being responsible for my own learning curve. To have the tables turned and being responsible for someone else’s future was tough.

What was the most memorable moment of your first year teaching? A lot of my students question why they have to learn Korean. They think that Korean is not relevant to their lives, which quite frankly is very true. However, our Korean department and school as a whole stress that learning additional languages builds character towards understanding people from various walks of life (which of course begins with language and culture). Learning a completely non-Western related language, additionally, builds grit and a tenacity towards learning as a skill set–not just something to be evaluated upon. Yet, our students will still frequently push back out of frustration. For example, I had one student acting out in class, saying, “I don’t need to know this. Why are we forced to learn something I cannot use outside of school?” We had a pretty long conversation about the matter that included everything from globalization to living in NYC, but to put it short three months later, I randomly got an e-mail from the student saying that in hindsight, struggling with the subject and expressing his frustration with me allowed him to think twice about people and how their backgrounds can shape their interactions with others.  

What words of advice would you give to another first year teacher? Take a deep breath and approach everything with a sense of humor.

What are some essential things you carry in your teacher bag? A tumbler, wet wipes, cough drops, a pen and laptop.

What is your typical work day at school like?  I used to wake up at 4:30am so I can catch the LIRR train–I did this for a year and half and it nearly zapped the life out of me. Now that I moved into Harlem, it’s a bit easier to get to work by 7:00 am. From 7:30-8:00 I have homeroom and the kids eat breakfast. I teach four classes then a class for tutoring, then a period for lunch. Then, we have enrichment period after school. At the end of the day, tidying the classroom, grading, and printing materials for the next day, I roughly leave school around5:30 to 6:00 pm

As a Korean language teacher, how do you integrate history and culture? In the tenth grade, students prepare for the Korean LOTE (Languages Other than English–language version of NY standardized high school exams), so I try to incorporate culture and history during days after finals and midterms. As a result, grammar and reading comprehension is often emphasized more than history and culture, which is a bit unfortunate. I do try to squeeze culture and history in when I explain different honorific forms of speech and writing patterns. Also, during free writing periods, I occasionally turn on K-pop songs. 2ne1 and Big Bang are usually popular with the students. 

I know Ban Ki Moon, the UN secretary, came to speak at your school’s commencement. How does your school interact with the Korean community? The local Korean newspaper supports us by raising awareness for us and highlighting our students’ achievements in Korean. Also the Korean government supports all schools in the U.S. that officially integrate Korean language programs within their curriculum. We also annually have Korean cultural performances/festival and get support from Korean associations and groups. Most recently, our school network also created a outreach extension to the Korean American community in which I believe we have a board member, who advocates for our Korean language program and connects us with various Korean related programs for our school. Honestly, I don’t know the full extent, but our school definitely proactive about integrating Korean culture in not only the high school, but also the Harlem community at large.

What are your hopes for NYC public education in the next 10 years? If I were a student, I would want more time for lessons on empathy and awareness in general. Right now everything is based on the the common core and standardized testing.  I think that students are forgetting that there’s a purpose behind this value and achievement we place on education. 

christina1

Advertisements

Guest Blog Post: Finding Depth Through the International Experience

guest blogger icon (2)

I’m excited to introduce this week’s guest blogger, Paul, who is from Toronto, Canada. He took a detour from his original path of pursuing law by going halfway around the world to teach ESL in Korea. After realizing his passion for teaching, he pursued a degree in teaching and is currently teaching high school computer science at an international school in Dailian, China. It’s always refreshing to meet other educators who love what they do!

I wanted to take this opportunity to share a revelation I had in a ginseng tea shop at Incheon airport in Korea 5 weeks ago.  I was sitting there with my own cup of tea, passing the time on my laptop, when I observed a couple ordering some tea at the counter. Immediately, two things were apparent.  The first was that they were newly-wed and the second was that they were on a backpacking trip.  Accordingly, two thoughts ran through my head: the first was ‘it must be nice to be newly-wed’ and second, ‘I wonder how they enjoyed Korea?’  The latter thought made me reflect on my own time in Korea, and that’s when I had my ‘Eureka!’ moment.  I realized that the Korea I knew and had experienced for 4 years was nothing like the Korea this couple had experienced in quite possibly a few days.  As common-sense as it may be, I realized that the more time spent in a place, the more intimately one would come to know a place, and this got me to thinking about the breadth and depth of knowing things.

So here’s my pearl of insight:

We all have a finite amount of time and energy.  How we invest this time and energy results in increasing either our breadth or depth in knowing a thing.  For example, when we travel, the reason we visit different countries, even if it be for a couple of days, is to experience and see new things.  In this case, we are expanding our breadth of knowledge.  If we spend more than a year in the same place, we begin to drift away from breadth and begin to move towards depth.  Things are no longer new, and through repetition, we begin to delve deeper into becoming familiar with a thing.

To take an example, when I lived in Korea, I really went out of my way to try different foods.  Whenever I tried a new food, I would be expanding my breadth of knowledge in knowing Korean food.  However, it’s not everyday that I would be able to try a new food.  Rather, more often than not, because I would be working at school, I would usually eat common foods such as rice, kimchi, and doen-jang jjigae (bean-paste soup).  Through the repetition of eating the same food everyday, a depth or familiarity developed with that very food.

And do you know what happened to me last month when I visited Korea?  I was sitting in a traditional Korean restaurant in Kang-won province, with a bowl of rice, a side-dish of kimchi, and a bowl of doen-jang jjigae in front of me.  I went to taste the doen-jang jjigae, and I kid you not, my eyes began to tear.  It wasn’t just the taste, which in itself was exquisite (being in the country-side, it was as authentic as it gets), but it was also the depth surrounding the experience.  In that first taste, recalling the four years I spent in Korea, eating doen-jang jjigae day in and day out, I said to myself, “dang, that’s some good doen-jang jjigae.”  And the point here is that I knew it only the way someone who had lived in Korea for 4 years could know it.

You might be thinking to yourself, “So what? I’m glad you have a special relationship with doen-jang jjigae.  In fact, I think you and doen-jang jjigae should get a room…”  Okay, well…no need to be facetious.  I’m just trying to illustrate what I mean by depth.

One of the things that attracts me to international teaching is that it gives me a chance to develop this very depth that I’m talking about.  Whether it be working abroad as an international teacher, or living abroad in some other capacity, isn’t it fair to say that living in a place for 6 months is different from 1 year, which is still different from 2 years, which is still different from 5, or even 10 years?

I believe being a good international teacher is greatly helped if you have a love and passion for learning another place in depth, which includes embracing such things as different culture, language, and food.  Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of international teachers out there who have no interest in learning their new country of residence, yet still win my full approval for being a good international teacher.  However, I would make the argument that performing to your best ability requires being comfortable.  If we are comfortable, this means we are familiar, and if we are familiar, it means that at some point, an investment of time and energy has been made.

IMG_1725

Guest Blog Post: World Changers

guest blogger icon (2)

This week’s guest blogger is not only a rare high school math and physics teacher, but also my younger brother. Even though teaching was not something he originally planned on doing, he is quite good at it. (It must have been due to all those times we played school together and I was of course the teacher and he was one of the students in my class.) I had the unique privilege of teaching at the same school as my brother in Korea and I could tell that he was making quite an impact on their lives.

World Changers

By Brian Kim

As a certified nerd and non-certified math teacher for the last 5 years, I’ve realized quite a few things about my “oh-so-lovely” students.  The most important of these can be spelled out with a simple cliché: every single one of my students can change the world. I don’t mean this in a butterfly effect type of way where if they flap their barely post-pubescent wings now, it may cause a storm of ominous and unavoidable chain reactions leading to the complete, utter, and mass destruction of the world. But I mean this in a genuine way, where I’ve come to believe that I’m teaching the future leaders, policymakers, and trendsetters in a constantly changing and evolving world (that hopefully won’t end in mass destruction).  My students are world changers.

In my ‘selfless’ quest to prod my students along on this journey towards success and hopefully a share in their future billion-dollar corporations, I started off with some new classroom decorations. Realizing their need for good role models outside of their suicidal celebrities, largely absent fathers, and their overly sarcastic math teacher, I decided to post up pictures of my heroes in the math world for them. As I desperately tried to explain how Einstein, Gauss, and Euler are important to their future successes and why giving equity to past teachers is a good business decision, I didn’t get much of a response from my iphone-hugging, gangnam-styling students. A few blank stares, nervous nods, and a feigned laugh later, I realized I needed to change my approach. 

1

A bit discouraged, but still unfazed, I decided to turn the tables on my students. I gave them a simple homework assignment: Come to math class with 3 math quotes that are not from google (aka write them yourself!). The following class, we took time to share the quotes in class and we voted for which quote we liked the best for each student. And then we went for an impromptu photo shoot in our classroom armed with my DSLR, the bulletin board, and a pinch of creativity (aka adobe photoshop). I printed out the pictures along with their quotes, laminated them, and posted them on my back wall.

Now everyday when my students walk into the classroom or look to the back because they’re tired of looking at my handsome face, they see a wall full of world changers: Einstein, Gauss, and Euler, next to Bae, Kim, Lee, Nelson, Crystal, Jung, and probably some more Kims.

3 4 2

Guest Blog Post: Learning to Teach, Teaching to Learn

guest blogger icon (2)

This past July, one of my long time wishes finally came true. I finally got a sister! We welcomed into our family Jane, who married my brother, Brian. I’m thankful to finally have a younger sister who I can go shopping with and do “girly” things with. I’m also thankful that she’s a passionate educator making a difference in the lives of her students Korea. This is her first year teaching middle school and high school English at an international school in Seoul.

Learning to Teach, Teaching to Learn

By: Jane Kim

When I take a step back and actually realize what I’m doing, I’m in utter… awe.

As a high school English teacher, I often get comments like “Oh, you’re an English teacher? So you must really love books, huh. What’s your favorite?” It’s a fair question, but I still struggle to know how to respond. To be honest, it has been a while since I sat down to read a literature book for pleasure, and no, I don’t absolutely love reading and writing. And to be really honest, I’ve often struggled with reading and writing throughout high school and beyond.

So, how and why am I teaching English to high school students? I’m often reminded of the answer when I get comments from my students about how much they hate writing essays and how hard it is to understand “Paradise Lost”. Strangely, these comments don’t frustrate me; they invigorate me. They remind me of how I used to be.

I remember reading many books as a child because I liked fun, exciting and moving stories. I mean, who doesn’t? If I hadn’t been exposed to reading books, I think I would’ve gotten into movies, cartoons (now it’s anime), or even video games, like many of my students now seem to enjoy way more than books. I also wrote a lot of stories and poetry growing up, because after reading so much, my hand just naturally began to imitate what I read. My own creativity was fueled by the stories I was immersed in. And most of all, I know I wasn’t the only one. Look at the posts below! All of Jee Young and Melody’s students love to read!

So why did so many of us stop enjoying reading and writing in high school?

Something happened as we got older. No longer were we receiving praise for our writing, but we were seeing red marks all over the things we wrote. We received A’s and B’s on some papers, but we really can’t remember those. There had to have been things that we wrote well, but they were buried under the red scribble about missing commas, “awkward” sentences, question marks, “too long”, “too short”, wrong font, disorganized, lack of flow, and the list goes on. And as for reading, well, homework, Sparknotes and academies had taken over. No time for that.

Of course, there are things that I, as a teacher, have a responsibility of teaching my students. Yes, proper grammar and writing style is pretty important. Yes, picking up on the author’s intent and techniques in a reading may also be important. But at the cost of what?

When students walk into my classroom, they have either begun or are in the midst of another day as a teenager. I have 70 minutes with them before they move on with their day. There are a countless number of skills that they need to learn. But becoming more apt in reading and writing does not motivate my students. Some have decided that they’re already bad at it, and others have developed a formula for doing enough to get the grade. And 70 minutes is simply too long to teach irrelevant skills to unmotivated students.

I’m learning that teaching English is much more about teaching than it is about English. In the midst of broken families and vicious teenage social lives, the space for teenagers to articulate their honest thoughts has become smaller and smaller. They may feel trapped in societal norms that define who they are, leaving them with no outlet for their God-given creativity. If my classroom is not a safe place for my students to express themselves, then I’m not doing my job.

When I can create a classroom environment where my students feel safe enough to voice their opinions, be honest about their feelings, and have conversations with me about what they are learning (or not learning), they are more likely to engage in the material. When they are given the time and space to write down what they think about, about things they’re actually interested in, without having to perform, here’s the shocker: they can write. When they can talk about the poem they just read without having the pressure to say the right answer, guess what: they can articulate exactly why they hate that line (and then write a poem about why they hate it). And when they can see that I am not looking for mistakes but for pieces of gold in a goldmine, they are more motivated to produce their best work.

In less than one year, I’ve buckled under the pressure of improving students’ writing skills. I’ve delighted over hearing some students say that they finally found writing relevant to them. I’ve cried from frustration over consistently unmotivated students. I’ve seen students beaming from their breakthroughs in their discussions of certain texts. I’ve had to apologize to students for my short temper. And through it all, I’ve discovered that I absolutely love teaching because I love seeing my students discover something new about themselves.

I’ve learned that the moment I stop learning about my students and their needs is the moment I stop teaching. It’s funny: when I do that, I get to learn so much more about myself and my creative abilities to not only teach, but also to read and write. So this is my prayer as a teacher: God, give me the grace to never stop learning.

Guest Read Aloud in Melody’s Class!

While I was in Korea, I had the chance to visit Melody’s kindergarten/1st grade classroom. I was really excited to meet her students and read to them. I read aloud the story Peter’s Chair by Ezra Jack Keats. Afterwards, we filled out this fun story map that Melody had made. On post-its I wrote down what the students shared. We went through the title, characters, setting, problems, solutions and theme. It was a great way to get them discuss the different elements of the story. I was so impressed that they were able to answer all these including the theme!

Afterwards, we did a quick question and answer session with them. They asked me about Singapore and my students. We had some time left before lunch so we played with some super cold play dough as well. I’ve never taught such young kids before, so it was a lot of fun to be in their class. I always have a lot of respect for teachers that teach the younger kids!  I’m not sure I would have the energy and patience. Thank you Melody for letting me visit your classroom! You have an amazing class and I could tell that  you are making an impact in their lives. 🙂

DSC_0001DSC_0007DSC_0012

signature

                                         Photo credit to Melody.     

Oh the Places You’ll Go!

It has been a whirlwind adventure this past month for both Melody & I. We were both moving schools and apartments and dealing with the end of the year craziness.  Also, Melody was busy graduating from graduate school all at the same time! So unfortunately we needed to take a break from our blogging, but now that we are on vacation and stateside, I’m finding some time to blog again!

So first thing is first, congratulations to Melody, Dyanne, Semy and their Simpson University Korea Cohort on their master’s degre! As Melody mentioned before here, she has been working hard on getting her master’s degree in education while teaching full-time here in Korea.  I was honored to attend her graduation here.

In honor of your graduation, a few words of wisdom from Dr. Seuss!

Oh, the Places You’ll Go!

by Dr. Seuss

Congratulations!
Today is your day.
You’re off to Great Places!
You’re off and away!

You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes
You can steer yourself
any direction you choose.
You’re on your own.  And you know what you know.
And YOU are the guy who’ll decide where to go…

On and on you will hike
and I know you’ll hike far
and face up to your problems
whatever they are.

You’ll get mixed up, of course,
as you already know.
You’ll get mixed up
with many strange birds as you go.
So be sure when you step.
Step with care and great tact
and remember that Life’s
a Great Balancing Act.
Just never forget to be dexterous and deft.
And never mix up your right foot with your left.

And will you succeed?
Yes! You will, indeed!
(98 and 3/4 percent guaranteed.)

KID, YOU’LL MOVE MOUNTAINS!

So…
be your name Buxbaum or Bixby or Bray
or Mordecai Ali Van Allen O’Shea,
you’re off to Great Places!
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting.
So…get on your way!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

Jerusalem Ministry Soccer Camp

Many of us grew up being part of soccer leagues, little league or going to sports camps. It wasn’t such a big deal. However, for the boys growing up in the orphanages in Seoul, it’s not something they get to experience. However, in July, Jerusalem Ministry holds a soccer camp for boys from the different orphanages in Seoul. They get to wear fancy new uniforms and soccer cleats. They get a coach and play in a soccer tournament. It’s something that many of them look forward to all year.

This year, the soccer camp is taking place from July 18-20th. It will be on the Yongsan military base. They are hoping to get about 40 volunteers and 44 students to participate. They are also looking for organizations that are interested in helping sponsor this camp as well. A few years ago, Smokey’s Saloon (burger place) sponsored a dinner for the winning team and coaches!

Even though both Melody and I will be back home in the States, we hope to spread the word about this camp!  This is a great chance to get involved in this organization especially if you enjoy soccer and are interested in coaching a team. I know you will have an amazing time with these incredible kids! For more information, please go to their website.  Here is a video from last year’s camp!