Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Goodbye Cambridge 1

Having been given our new, savagely mangled and extended schedule for the next four months, lectured on how our school is going to shit and it's nobody's fault but ours, and braced ourselves for the mess that will be the first day of the new school year tomorrow, we, we being all the teachers, both Korean and foreign, are feeling a bit deflated. One Korean teacher even quit. With immediate effect. (That means more sub classes for the rest of us. Mmmmmmmm.)

More on that though once it's up and running, or at least up and floundering. Now is a time for reflection on the last eight months. My sadly disbanded homeroom class, Cambridge 1, have all been sent off to elementary school. Most, as I said, are coming back for afternoon classes as of tomorrow, but I won't get to teach them. Bastard Chris teacher will, and he's not displaying the relevant emotions, namely those akin to finding an oasis in a desert of piss: relief and tempered joy. 

When I first arrived here I wasn't their biggest fans. They were loud and uncontrollable, they spoke far too much Korean, and they didn't seem to take to me either. Gradually, though, as we progressed through the neverendingly repetitive Wake Up series of English books, preceded by a daily phonics lesson, I fell in love with them. Here's a tribute.

Eunice, loud, bossy, uncompromising, was the early leader of the class as far as I could see. She had been placed, wrongly, in the more advanced MIT class but moved down to Cambridge when she couldn't cope. At first I thought she was a bit bored with the work, but as time progressed realised she was just lazy, and a lot of her potential wasn't reached because she failed to put in anywhere near enough effort. Her tests may have needed improvement, but when she wrote 'I love you teacher' on every page, how can you hate her? While her spelling and writing remained on a low improvement arc, her speaking ability, already pretty good, was getting ever better, and... 
Most memorable moment: When I found out we were going to perform a play for graduation, there was only one lead. Eunice, as the mean Princess Miserella, a role that could've been written for her, was awesome. It's a shame she's quit ECC outright now, she'll never be back.

Nathan was quiet and a bit dim last summer; now, he's a bit less dim and a bit more of a troublemaker. He's a troublemaker in that he actively looks to start fights with anyone close to him - it's not a mischievous thing, I think he likes causing controversy. It started to become a real problem around the beginning of the year, and I really began to dislike the kid. To give him credit though, after some repetitive but stern words from me and the manager he sorted it out. Plus I've never seen anybody so happy to receive a Christmas present - as you can see from the picture, it was a god damn triangle.
Most memorable moment: Trying to work out the answer to 8 plus 5. The video to which is here.

Eric was the smartest kid in the class and he undoubtedly needed to be learning at a higher level, but did he ever know it. Often suffering from big fish in a small pond syndrome, (if that's a thing, it might be) he was regularly dismissive of his classmates' abilities while striving to show his own relative superior knowledge at every given opportunity, which meant everyone else ended up resenting and ostracising him. It was only through the resurgence of another student (see below) that he ended up showing more humility and, later, having more fun. Still, an excellent student to have in the class for obvious reasons, also on Valentines' day he gave me some soap. And I mean good soap.
Most memorable moment: Setting me Korean homework off his own back, then giving me a sticker when I got eveything right.

Paulie began life under my tenure as a rowdy, sulky, spoilt bitch. He's good friends with Jack and together they wrought havoc on my early lessons. Paulie was the brains of the operation, if not in his grades, his ability to sense an opportunity to create mischief was inspired. Even his name - initially just Paul but suffixed with an -ie in line with his Korean surname, Lee, to differentiate from the Paul in Cambridge 2 - conjures up images of Italian American gangsters. Paulie's misbehaviour, though, was refined. He was able to mastermind great crimes, such as calling the teacher 'poo poo gas' or stealing Nathan's eraser, with sincere affection. Paulie was probably the second most affectionate student in the class, playful and constantly declarative of his love for his students and teachers. He endeared himself to me equally with his affection and his already well developed sense of cunning. He's damn photogenic too.
Most memorable moment: When, through his silver tongue and powers of persuasion, he managed to take 70% of all the big, famous 'soccer player stickers' I had sent from England from other kids throughout the kindergarten.

The other half of the Paulie and Jack crime duo, Jack was less affectionate and more thuggish, the brawn to Paulie's brains, but still, he had his moments. After my last lesson, totally out of character, I received a crumpled piece of A4 paper, upon which was scrawled: To Michael Teacher. I like you. So, I like you. From Jack. Jack's feelings are usually kept under wraps, so this was a nice surprise. He was sporadic in his classwork: at times he really couldn't be bothered, at others he'd come from nowhere to win the spelling game (where points are awarded for letters) with words like "fishbowls" or "playgrounds." His final exam marks weren't the best, though, so I hope he can cope with the step up to elementary school. He's there with Paulie, so he will at least have a partner in crime.
Most memorable moment: Bit of a crude one, but memorable. One day in October he shat himself. He carried himself quite well afterwards.

Heather left ECC just before Christmas to go to America, though she came back for the graduation last weekend. Heather was a great student: smart, loveable, friendly, but quiet and hardworking. Around November, Heather was involved in a bit of a love triangle, or possibly square or pentagon. Paulie and Jack were both became a bit besotted with her. Eric had always been friends with her as she'd been one of the smarter ones in the group and Eric could relate, but those nascent kindergarten feelings of love both seemed to hit Paulie and Jack at once, and soon they were falling over themselves to offer her erasers, pencils, their hand in marriage. Eric, the fouth corner of the square, then became a bit jealous and turned his envy towards the two boys in the forms of intellectual superiority. Paulie and Jack responded with primal insults and it got a bit dirty. The pentagon... or even pyramid, I suppose, is formed by Jasmine, who at some point declared her love for everybody. Strangely, though, when Heather left, everybody stated coldly that she meant nothing to them and they hated her. Still, there were emotional hugs all round when she came back at graduation. Fickle kids.
Most memorable moment: Paulie and Jack devoting themselves to her on her last day, Heather blithely lapping up the attention.

Sarah, I think it's fair to say was the weakest student in the class. Over the course of the eight months I taught her, there were only minimal improvements in speaking, reading and writing, whereas everybody else made middling to astounding gains. In spite of this, though, in our open lesson, where the parents came to watch me teach them about a subject we'd practiced for a month and the point was to memorise and enunciate clearly your section of the lesson script in the right order, she was exemplary. Despite underwhelming in rehearsals, she did brilliantly in the class play too. She tried hard most of the time, but you could tell things went over her head a lot of the time, and with kids like Eric in the class, I couldn't help her as much as she needed without disadvantaging the others. I'll miss her though, especially since she inexplicably quit with one week of lessons to go, and I wasn't able to say goodbye.
Most memorable moment: Revelling in rare praise after on open day I singled her out as the star performer, and showered her with stickers and candy.
So we come to the gem of a student that every teacher dreams of: Jasmine is very clever, funny, interesting, adorable, well behaved and affectionate to the point of stalkerish. She's unique and I will unabashedly admit that she's my favourite student by a mile. When I arrived at ECC in July, she was very quiet and spent most of the lessons in a world of her own or half asleep, her head on the desk, not participating in the lesson. This lethargy and apparent slow-wittedness (as mentioned on here before, she was once stabbed in the face with a pencil and didn't flinch) led the foreign teachers to facetiously speculate that she was perpetually high. After the first couple of months, though, she started to come out of her shell. I started teaching them phonics and Jasmine was suddenly putting her hand up in class. Her spelling improved no end. She'd come out with priceless one-liners or tangential anecdotes about her dreams, or tangerines. She told everybody on a ten-minutely basis how much she loved them, swooning all the while. When Heather left in December she stepped up and assumed the position of dominant female and set about catching up Eric. By the time of the final exams, she was top of the Cambridge class academically, even beating half the students in the class that had been learning English for two years. I still say that Eric's the smarter kid, but grades-wise Jas was just pipping him. 
Most memorable moment: So many, but number one was when she came in one day and told me about her boyfriend from tae kwon do class. "He kissed me... on the lips!" (giggle) (swoon) "And then here.. and here.. and all over. Mmmmm." Bear in mind she was born in 2002. Don't be alarmed though, I'm pretty sure that's all that's happened. She's referred to Paulie as her boyfriend since, and as mentioned above, declared love for everybody, including me. She lists her dream occupation as mother. She's going to break some hearts, that one.

Bye, you adorable little bastards!


Chi-Hé said...

beautifully written tributes. if only they could read them too! dude, i seriously love your blog. and words like 'dude' is apparently what korea does to you.

Michael said...

dude, i'm sure the koreanised american-english will wear off in time. well, i do hope you're enjoying england.. what was your first kimchiless meal? i have four months to go and i'm thinking about it already.
thanks for the kudos too. rest assured, your blog will go down in the canon of.. y'know, blogs about teaching in korea.

Chi-Hé said...

everyone speaking english in distinctly british accents is pretty disconcerting. on my first trip into london this weekend, i was pretty convinced nobody would be able to understand me.

for my first meal back i ate...fried eggs on toast.

but i had my first roast meal last night. it was somewhat amazing.