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Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Newish Job

This month marks my return to Kyungsung University, where I worked for four years (2003-2006).  Things, myself included, have changed enough that it feels like a completely new job.  This is mostly a good thing.

The most significant change is that class sizes are now limited to 15 students.  I believe that the previous limit was 50, though it may have been 60.  The difference this makes in teaching is similar to the difference between carrying 15 and 50 marbles with nothing but your bare hands.  I now have six classes, with a total of about 80 students.  My first semester at KIT I had a total of 350 students.  Last fall set my record for fewest students at 136 enrolled, and just under 100 regularly attending.  Even then, I did not learn many names.

I am now teaching only 2nd year students, whereas at my previous job I was teaching 1st and 2nd year students.  In keeping with the marble theme, 1st year students are more slippery marbles.  They have just finished high school in Korea, which is a challenge the likes of which most of my readers never have faced, and they are ready to avoid work of any sort.  To them, college is like the steps you take after crossing the finish line in a race, but before you settle down and put your nose to the grindstone at work.  Second year students are more like jagged marbles, easier to hold on to, but sometimes more painful.  They will work if they have to, but are less likely to put up with what they perceive as bad teaching.  The more English teachers they've had, the pickier they get.  I find it especially bad if they have had a very lazy teacher who demanded nothing and let them leave early all the time.

In general, English classes at Kyungsung University (which I will from here on out refer to as KSU, which will no doubt be confusing to my friends who fans of Kansas State University, and thus have difficulty processing change) are better optimized to actually teach students.  Though both KIT and KSU English Conversation Classes are two hours per week, at KIT the classes are all in blocks, so they meet one time during the week for two hours.  KSU has what I think of as a more traditional structure, meeting on two different days for one hour each day.  This offers two main advantages: less time to forget what was learned between lessons, and a lower likelihood of reaching English fatigue during class.

If you have not learned a foreign language, it will be difficult to understand foreign language fatigue.  Speaking and listening to a foreign language takes a lot of mental processing power, the same way walking is harder with small children fastened to your wrists and ankles.  Some people can talk in their native language for hours with no problem, while some of us get tired of it relatively quickly.  In a foreign language, that threshold comes much sooner.  The lower your level, the sooner you burn out.  With apologies to my bilingual friends, this is my empathy attempting to better understand my students:

Imagine that you are in class, listening to trying to listen to the teacher talking, while half a dozen other conversations are playing in one earbud in your left ear.  The teacher is from a country that claims to speak English, and considers your language to be a perversion of the Queen's English.  From time to time the teacher uses words which you simply do not recognize, and every word sounds different from what you are used to, sometimes subtly, sometimes unrecognizably.  In addition, this person has a bizarre sense of humor, making jokes that you do not even recognize as such.  If that doesn't sound so bad, it is because you are not imagining well enough.

So I like the small classes split into two different days, though I do have one class that only meets for two consecutive hours on Friday.

I also like my schedule in general.  It is not vastly superior to the schedules I've had at KIT, but there is one significant difference: no night classes.  I am home every evening to enjoy the company of my children.  I have a total of eight hours of gap in my schedule, but it's in only three chunks.  Some of my coworkers have that much in six or seven chunks: an hour here, an hour there.  I have two three-hour breaks and one two-hour break.  Even two hours is long enough to walk home and have an hour to waste time on Facebook do the dishes.

The biggest positive right off the bat for me is how close KSU is to our home.  I can walk to our office building in 20 minutes without pushing too hard.  Granted, I have to leave home 35-40 minutes before class to either avoid the elevator crush or recover from hiking up the hill plus ten flights of stairs.  Not wimpy apartment flights, but big, extra half-floor flights.
There is room for one of these on every floor!
(Yeah, that's the 7 1/2 floor from "Being John Malkovich")
I don't think there's anything as cool as an extra floor between the regular floors, but between the 5th and 15th floor there is a gym membership worth of free exercise.  All I have to do is come early enough to not be sweaty and panting when I get to class.

So not only am I exercising more, I am hardly ever riding the subway.  I work two days a week at Apple Tree Elementary, where Maxine goes to school.  It's about a 40 minute walk from my office, through pleasant neighborhoods with shops and places to eat, as well as the U.N. Memorial Park.

Of course, all of these walks are easily converted into much shorter bike rides, which I want to do.  That will free me up to take longer rides during the week, maybe even during those long breaks.  I am also hoping to bike with Maxine to and from Apple Tree three times per week.  She got a new, grown-up sized bike for a late Christmas present.
I like the old school lines and colors.

It's a bit heavy, but she manages.

I think the basket was what sold her on it.

My biggest problem will be sweat and stink as the weather gets warmer.

Wait, my sweat and stink won't be my problem, they will be my students' problem!  I'll just offer them extra credit to not notice my stench.

A few other details make KSU a better fit for me:  though both jobs have shared office space, at KSU I share with only about 12 instead of all 25, and the office is on the same floor of the same building as all of my classes!  At KIT I would go days, sometimes weeks, without visiting the office because it was far from my classes.  Now I have to be careful to be productive during my office time, because there are a bunch of fun guys in there most of the time.

I like my new coworkers, I miss my old coworkers.  In that respect, this change is a wash.  But almost everything else is an improvement.  It's taking me a while to get into it, and I am considering a big shift in my teaching style, hence my lack of posting recently.  It may get worse before it gets better.

Oh, and one more huge advantage: at the bottom of the hill is a movie theater, and I have time to go!  I saw two movies last week ("Imitation Game" and "Welcome to Yesterday".  Science/History and Time Travel/Teen), and plan to go once a week this semester.  It will not necessarily improve my writing, but it will be fun!  $6 for a morning ticket, which I can easily swing on Wednesdays and Fridays, sometimes even on Mondays!  If I can just resist the popcorn and cola, I think I will be all right!

I am excited about 2015!  Sure, my jacket doesn't talk and dry itself, and there are no hoverboards or flying cars, but I am already enjoying my job, my parents are coming to visit in November, and I get to resume my movie habit!  If I can just get my kids to be nice to each other, this will be an awesome year!

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A Brief Introduction

Roblog is my writing lab. It is my goal to not let seven days pass without a new post. I welcome your criticism, as I cannot improve on my own.

Here is a link to my cung post, which remains the only word which I have ever invented, and which has not, as far as I know, caught on. Yet.