수능 Day: Or, the Korean SAT

November 12. My students’ hard work and exhausting hours of study culminate in this one day that, for many of them, will determine the course of their lives after high school.

Imagine the SAT on steroids. Eight hours of testing, five subjects (Korean, math, English, social studies/science/vocational, additional foreign language), and only one day a year when students can take the test. The one score that mainly determines college admissions. This is the sooneung (수능), or College Scholastic Aptitude Test in Korea.

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The Plight of the Korean Student

I walk into my first class every morning to see students with their heads on their desks, relishing those precious few minutes before the first period bell. Most of them will pick their heads up and go through the motions of doing their English assignments. Others, sometimes half of the class, will not stir.

I feel conflicted. Do I wake the student? I should, of course. But my class doesn’t count for a grade and the student looks like he hasn’t slept in days. Should I let him sleep? If I let one sleep, does that mean the rest of them can sleep? What do I do when half of my class has their heads down and refuses to do work?

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Fall Conference Updates

This weekend was the annual Fulbright ETA Fall Conference. The conference was held in Gyeongju, which is about an hour and a half north of Gimhae. Gyeongju served as the seat of the ancient Silla dynasty, and over the weekend I saw some of Korea’s most important historical sites and relics. All ETAs made the journey to this small, historic city for a full four days of discussions, workshops, and reunions.

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The Cookie Game: Teaching Debate

“Teacher…Binch!”

I stood at the front of the classroom, in front of the rowdy students who were carrying their conversations from the hallway into Janine Teacher’s class. It only took two or three students to notice that I was holding a box of Binch cookies before the entire class was silent.

“Teacher, why cookie?”

“Today,” I told each second grade class as their eyes glittered with cookie-lust, “one lucky state group will win the Binch. We are going to have a debate!”

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Top 5 Weirdest Words I Have Actually Written on My Blackboard

Ah, the blackboard. The staple of every classroom. Now that it’s midterms week and I don’t have a lesson update, I’d like to share some of the weirdest things my students have asked me to write on the board. To give some context, usually I use the board to write instructions, show grammatical structures, or help students with spelling. The pictures below fall into the last category.

Let the countdown begin.

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Reach the World: Connecting Korea and America

A few weeks ago, I received an email from Fulbright about an opportunity to work with a New York nonprofit called Reach the World. Reach the World connects current students and teachers who are abroad with underserved classrooms in the United States, with the goal of introducing K-12 students to new countries and creating engaged global citizens. As of this week, I am officially a Reach the World travel writer!

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“Kimchi Has a Sexy Mood” and Other Poems by Students

When I was in high school, no topic in English class was more despised than poetry. The student consensus was that we would either read Edgar Allen Poe for the twelfth time or we would read some obscure poem about flowers. Even though I like poetry, especially the medieval poetry I read in college, I was hesitant to teach an ESL class about poetry. The class would be for my more advanced students, but I wasn’t sure if the topic would be too difficult. After much deliberation, I decided to teach rhyme and rhythm, share examples of English poems, and write a poem together as a class.The result: I learned that kimchi is sexy, Taylor Swift likes sweet potatoes, and apparently there IS a word that rhymes with spaghetti!

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