Vignettes from March

Faux pas, sassy students, and thank you notes.

Bad words

“I have played the piano for eighteen years!” I told my new first grade students during my introductory lesson.

“Janine, how do you say eighteen in Korean?” my co-teacher asked, looking at some of the confused faces.


My co-teacher’s face froze and the students started laughing. It was ship-pal, wasn’t it?

Ship-pal,” she repeated, the first syllable softer than I had said it. “ShiP-pal is…a bad word!”

I still have no idea what I said, but the students laughed again as my face turned red with embarrassment.

“And that is why I said to try your best and don’t worry about making mistakes,” I said, finally joining in their laughter. If I’ve learned nothing else this year, at least I’ve learned to laugh at myself.


Seeing Red

This semester, I grade an average of 600 student papers a week. Armed with my “good job!” stickers and a pen for correcting errors and giving feedback, I spend nearly as much time grading as I do teaching. I enjoy reading the students’ work, but I recently had an incident that reminded me that I should go through their papers a bit more slowly.

After I handed back a student’s paper last week, the student came up to me after class.

“Um…Teacher?” She pointed at the NAME line, where I had written her name because she had forgotten to sign it. I looked at the name, not comprehending what was wrong. I glanced at the name tag on her school uniform. I hadn’t misspelled it.

She pointed at the NAME line again. “Red.”

It finally clicked when my co-teacher started to explain, “In Korean culture…”

“I’m so sorry!”

According to an old Korean superstition, writing someone’s name in red ink means you wish death upon that person. Last semester, I had been very careful to avoid using red ink when writing names. But somewhere in the 600 papers I had graded that week, I slipped up and forgot to use black ink instead.

I was mortified. The student and her friends were laughing at my profuse apologies, so they didn’t seem to take the superstition too seriously. I thanked them for bringing it to my attention and assured them I would be more careful next time.



Even when my students are sassy or obnoxious, I can’t help but admire their cleverness, especially when they are speaking or writing in a second language.

When I taught my American states lesson at the beginning of the month, I talked about how Kentucky was known for fried chicken, which is very popular in Korea. I showed a picture of a bucket of chicken from KFC, much to the students’ delight. At the end of class, I asked them to write about two states that they learned about that day, and I wasn’t surprised to see that at least half of the students wrote about Kentucky.

I was, however, surprised to see these gems in my 2-1 students’ writing:

“Teacher, I was aware that when you said Kentucky was known for chicken, you didn’t mean boiled chicken.”

“You know what, Teacher? KFC doesn’t stand for anything. It’s its own name.”

I think the advanced boys class will be one of my favorites this year.



“I live one hour away from New York City.”

I clicked the next slide on my PowerPoint to show some of the famous landmarks from NYC. The Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty popped up on the screen, while the students ooh-ed and aah-ed.

“What is this?” my co-teacher asked, gesturing toward the Statue of Liberty.

His face deadpan, a boy in the front row said, “Free hot girl.”


“Happy Lesson”

With the second-grade students, I wanted to do a brief unit on how to write a summary. I spent the first week using videos to teach students how to identify characters, setting, and the main idea of a story.  For the second week, I taught transition words and how to write about the beginning, middle, conflict, and end of a story. For the first week, we worked together as a class and for the second week, the students wrote their own short essays after watching a Disney short called Paperman. Most of my students did well with the assignment, but I was surprised to see this short note at the one student’s writing:


My student thanked me for assigning him an essay! Maybe I’m finally getting the hang of teaching after all.




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