October 15, 2012 by travelinggrits
“The cold weather is coming, and you must keep warm hearts. All light needs energy to survive.”
The first words delivered by the Korean-American Fulbright Commission (KAEC) director to the ETAs, gathered for the first time since our departure day nearly two months prior, set the tone for our fall conference October 12-15.
The conference gave us a chance to practice the three R’s: remind, refresh and reinvigorate. One of our warmup activities was creating skits representative of a typical day at our school. As each team spoofed rowdy students and classroom antics, I chuckled with recognition. Small and large-group sessions didn’t necessarily give me mind-blowing new teaching techniques to solve all of my day-to-day challenges. But they did remind me that I’m not alone and that my fellow ETAs are important resources to reach out to when I’m at a roadblock.
“Beautiful Gyeongju,” as its motto attests, is known as the historical capital of Korea, and rightly so. The city encompasses several UNESCO World Heritage sites, and one day of our conference was set aside to relish its ancient charm. The Seokguram Grotto featured a stone Buddha in an artificial granite grotto, an unusual sight since most statues if its kind are placed in the open air or wooden structures. Nearby, Bulguksa Temple, was crawling with sightseers wandering among its ornate pagodas. The temple was built towards the end of the Silla dynasty, and our guide told us that taxing the people to fund its lavish design, which was visible from the mere sight of its entrance staircase, may have contributed to its decline.
Likewise, the lotus-dotted Anapji pond marked the site of a Silla palace, and a miniature replica of the palace in one pavilion attested to its magnificence. Our final stop was at the tumuli tombs, which were vast, grassy hills that once preserved the remains of royalty. These two sites reminded me of my visit to Mycenae in Greece with my study abroad class. Here, we had also used our imaginations to resurrect a palace from its stone floor outline, and we explored chamber tombs that were like rounded equivalents of the pyramids of Giza.
“Any light needs energy.” At the conference, I stoked the flames. The first few weeks at school had been a fast-burning flame of excitement. But as the newness wore off, I needed to make sure I was on my game each and every day.
The conference coincided with midterm exams for my students; their test inspired me to go through my own assessment by creating a brief survey for my co-teachers about my performance thus far. On Likert scale questions about classroom management and level of difficulty of material, I received few low scores, perhaps in the Korean fashion of saving face and avoiding harsh criticism of one’s peers. But I was pleased to receive constructive criticism in the open-ended questions. My co-teachers remarked on my best lessons, pointed out classes where I was still going over my students’ heads and encouraged me to be sterner with troublesome students when necessary. One remarked that many students don’t want to learn English because it has been a required subject all their lives, but she also thought I used too many games to practice material—which I felt was somewhat of a contradictory observation. However, another praised me for my lesson plan structure (which had been well-ingrained thanks to the Fulbright training program). “The way you teach has made me look at the way I teach my own lessons and see where I can make changes—thank you.”
“A very small man can cast a large shadow.” Sometimes I struggle to feel confident with the impact I will leave here; will my students even remember my name a few years from now?
But the KAEC director reminded us, “it is not about what you do, but who you are.” My lessons probably won’t be remembered—but to be honest, do I remember the content of all the lessons I learned in middle school? What will be remembered is the way I treat my students. The classroom antics, the laughter, the smiles. And in this, I must deliver all I have to offer.