25 September 2009

Teaching, Week 5 - (Hidden) Charlie the Unicorn, Riddles, and Names (Year 3, Day 31)

As I mentioned in my last teaching post, we're coming up on the 10th grade mid-term examination period, and, as I also mentioned, the lesson immediately before that week, I like to play a game or perform some other light activity to give the students a chance to relax and take their minds off the test.

So, the plan this week was to do a used car salesman activity on Tuesday, which really is a lot of fun, and do a brain teaser race on Thursday, which is also a lot of fun.

On Tuesday, lesson plan in hand, I burst through the classroom door, as is my custom, and shouted, "Hello, how are you?" As is our custom, those students that were napping in between periods--and there's always at least five; seriously, they bring pint-sized pillows for these cat naps--should have immediately snapped awake and shouted back at least as loud if not as enthusiastically, "Fine, thank you! And you?"

Instead my traditional way of saying, "Hey! Wake up! It's time for class!" was greeted with the proverbial crickets. Not a head stirred, much less lifted, from their repose on the desks.

So, after getting them awake, I scraped the lesson in favor of something far stranger than they could ever have imagined, called it American culture, and called it a day.

Thursday was brain teasers, and while I had fun in my sense of superior intellect (I had the answer key), the students had fun completing each question so they could tell my co-teacher or I the answer in English and thus receive the next puzzle.

Some even saw fit to stump me with their own riddles, diabolical constructions that resembled ancient runes inscribed on a stone wall (You're going to have to enable Korean script on your browser to see this one. [Menu Bar-->View-->Encoding-->Korean]):


The goal is to discover what the '?' should be.*

A riddle of less demonic origins was "Are there earthquakes on the moon?" Besides the obvious lack of tectonic plates and magma trying to reach the surface, I'll let you figure out your own reason for why there aren't.

I've been making a concerted effort to learn my students' names this year. This leads me to confess the sad truth that I have been remiss at learning them in the past. I could blame it on lack of exposure with the students and on the fact that names aren't used all that often in Korea, but the plain truth of it is that I've been lazy and a little conceited, learning only the names of students who deigned it good, right, and salutary to participate willingly in my sessions. This is my confession. May my students forgive me.

But when you start learning some students' names, you had better make sure you get all of them. They are like locusts that way. Spray the pesticide all you like, but if just one of them survives, you've got a whole new generation of locusts that think of that pesticide like we think of a light spring rain. Well... maybe they're not exactly like that.

I've had trouble with one particular student's name. I told him that the next time he sees me in the hall, he should come up to me and say, "Teacher, what's my name?" If I failed to produce the correct one out of my hat, he would earn a piece of candy as my punishment. I have only failed once since.

The students, at first, were happy with my new found facility. Basketball games go smoother when I don't bean a kid in the head with a pass because I can't call to him, and classes are more efficient when I don't have to say, "Hey, you three! No, the other three."

However, they are now guardedly optimistic. They have realized that me knowing their names means I can discipline more effectively in class, evaluate their English abilities better (or to the student's grade's detriment, depending on the student), and rat them out to their homeroom teachers.

Uncle Ben, your words of wisdom never rang more true. I know my flock now. Let us hope that they know me as well.

*I think I know the answer. The first six letters of hangul (the Korean alphabet) are ㄱㄴㄷㄹㅁㅂ. I think the point of the system given in the riddle is to connect any two exposed line segments that end parallel to each other and to bisect any interior line segments. Thus, when we connect the exposed ends of ㄹ and ㅂ and bisect their interior line segments, we get 田 and 田. Following this pattern, the ㄷ would only need its exposed ends connected giving us ㅁ. But, I have yet to check this with my student.

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