The Frustrated Teacher Series Part 1-Where’s Recess?

There are not enough words to say about a system that says it’s trying to fix education, only to perpetuate the very problems it has set out to solve. Of course, before we can talk about what it means to “fix education” (especially for kids who are already disadvantaged), you must understand what it means to provide an education in the first place.

Webster’s Dictionary defines the word “educate” as “developing skills, knowledge and character (especially within a formal school environment)”.  If this is the definition of what it means to educate, how does our current system measure up?

We can’t talk about how the current system of education measures up without thinking about our own experiences. You might be saying “When I was a kid, we were taught explicit character education alongside our multiplication facts. We wrote in cursive to develop fine motor skills and we played outside for recess.” If you are thinking these things, you might feel like your educational experience was pretty standard and how things in schools remain today. The world, however, has changed since those of us 24 years and older were in elementary, middle and even high school. Even though we still feel young, schools are changing. Schools (and the adults that run them) have very different ideas about what it means to educate today (for better and/or worse in many cases). People who work with children in schools today are worried about test scores, data, growth and performance in ways that would mystify many of us that came of age in the 80s, 90s, and early 2000s. (Seriously: stop and google  “Pre-K is the new kindergarten”)

Let me give you an example: When I was a kid at all grade levels, we had outdoors time (called “recess”) at least once a day. This was a time when kids ran around or at least freely socialized with each other and adults supervised but didn’t actively interrupt us unless there was a safety concern.  Nowadays, recess is a negotiable thing for students. In fact, the school I currently teach at uses recess as a consequence. If the students are too loud at the lunch table, there is no recess. Currently, we’re on a three month streak of having no recess.

Recess might seem silly but kids really need that time to play, be loud, and socialize in ways that adults don’t always dictate. My current school starts at 7:15 am and goes until 2:55 pm. The building has no windows and for the entire day, students are mostly sitting in a desk. Students DO take P.E. daily, but again that is time dictated by adults and only with students in their assigned class and grade.  Recess also gives kids a time to let off energy and be more prepared to sit down and learn later.

To me, recess is a RIGHT, not something to be wielded as punishment for months on end for every single kid in the grade (seriously, just punish the ones who act up)! Having recess shows that we as educators, parents, administrators and everyone else that cares about children, care to see our kids developing in the less (standardized testable) measurable ways. It shows that we understand that all humans need fresh air, social time and most importantly: A BREAK! My adult brain can’t even handle sitting and working for 6 hours a day with little else going on, so why would a child be able to do it?

 

 

 

 

This post is just Part 1 of many to come about my experiences as a first year teacher.  Stay tuned!

 

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My Musings on Dating

I have about three months before I turn 27 and I have some things to say about dating:

Dating is hard.

Maybe it’s because my free time is limited or because I moved to a new place and I don’t have an ongoing social scene. Heck, maybe it’s my more introverted “too many new people makes me a bit crazy” personality but no matter the reason, I come up with the same conclusion: Dating is HARD.

Not every woman or man at this age is looking to play around or date ever so casually. Not all of us can simply “not think about it too much” or “not feel anything”.  Some of us are really wanting a genuine connection with someone special and for some of us that never actually seems to happen.

Some of us are always having to deal with the question “So why don’t you have a boyfriend/girlfriend” and/or “Are you ever going to get married?” like men/women magically fall from the sky and are perfect for us. ( Newsflash to the people who ask these questions: STOP. STOP making single people explain themselves to you. THEY owe YOU not a single explanation for their lives.) 

What really makes dating difficult is that little part of your brain that keeps the compatibility scorecard. I honestly think everyone has this part in their brains, but some of us think of it way more often.  This is the part of your brain that will ask ” but what do we really have in common and is that enough to sustain ANY sort of relationship?” Your scorecard has to be realistic but not to the point of where you’re bored in your relationship. This scorecard contains all your “deal-breakers” and the things you can negotiate and compromise on.

And you know what?

Your scorecard can and often will change with time and experience. So what you tolerated in your college relationship at 20, might not be something you are willing to deal with at 25.

Right now, at 26, I’m watching  many of my friends re-negotiate their scorecards and other who have found the balance they’re looking for and settled into great relationships.

While I wish I could say I have all this figured out, I don’t. I’m not sure when I might have it figured out. I try not to put a deadline on my personal development but it’s hard when you’re watching people fall in love and build lives together (thanks social media).

So again I say : Dating is hard and I don’t know if it ever gets easy.

Update: Almost one year back from Korea. What am I doing now?

It’s December 25, 2016 and this is my FIRST Christmas back in America since 2014! When you’re abroad, you tend to romanticize the holidays, so it was great to actually live through the Thanksgiving and Christmas period in real time!

Now this also means that I’ve almost been back in the states for an entire year! Instead of talking about Korea, I’ll have more references for my young adult life in America!

So what exactly does a young adult do after returning from working abroad? Well, for me and several of my friends (who also taught in Korea), the next step was teaching here in America.

I am now a 6th grade social studies teacher at a local charter school in Louisiana. I have to say that if someone had told me I’d be here doing this in say 2012 (the year I graduated from college), I’d have laughed at them. Teaching in America was not a part of my plan when I was 22 or even at 24, when I left to teach in Korea, but here I am! I just finished my first semester of teaching.

So, you might wonder: If this wasn’t a part of my plan, why am I doing it?

I have so many answers to this question, but one always stands out. I chose to come and teach (even if I had many other choices) because I really do enjoy the learning and growing process that happens in the classroom. I enjoyed it in Korea and I still enjoy it right here in Louisiana!

Now of course I’ve had MANY surprises this first semester of teaching and I really hope to share many of them here, so stay tuned and of course: Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.

 

I’m back in the U.S.A! -And yes there’s a such thing as reverse culture shock!

I’ve heard it a thousand times and seen tons of YouTube videos about it! “When you return home from Korea, you’ll experience reverse culture shock”- and let me tell you, those people weren’t lying! Reverse culture shock is REALLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL!

So what exactly have I experienced? Has it been good or bad or ugly?

Well…

It’s been all of it. Here are a few examples:

The Good:

America has food. By food I mean, America has many different cuisines available. If you want Mexican food or Indian food or good ol’ American style Chinese take out, you can probably think of a place to go and eat it right now. That’s not always the case in Korea. If you do find foreign cuisine restaurants in Korea, you probably have to pay an expensive price for it! America’s food game is strong my friends, so appreciate it!

Speaking of food- The grocery stores in America are full of delicious and healthy options and we also have Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods- stores practically dedicated to healthy eating and living.

Speaking of stores- Our stores ROCK! You might hate Wal-Mart but admit it: IT HAS EVERYTHING! In Korea, when you visit E-Mart, you can buy a camera. E-Mart, however, does not have camera bags. Wal-Mart? Wal-Mart will sell you a camera, camera bag, a Fitbit, and practially anything else you want! Hell, our dollar stores have better selections than most Korean stores!

SHOES- I have “big” feet in Korea. I haven’t had a chance to properly shoe shop in a year and a half! To come to America, go to TJ Maxx, and find shoes for 10- 20 bucks in my size was a huge shock! Needless to say, I’m enjoying my new heels and running shoes!

The cost of being healthy/access to a gym- Gyms in Korea are STUPID expensive. A nice gym with up to date equipment and classes can cost you around 200 bucks there (a month). The U.S.A. can have the same type of gym, in a larger facility, with a nice swimming pool for 40 bucks a month! I’ll let you do the math on that one…

Last but not least- I get to drive my car again and gas is cheap. No more needs to be said.

The Bad:

Taxes- Dear America, Please just start including the full price of an item with tax on the damn shelf! Seriously! Korea does it! It makes buying things so much easier!

Tipping- Dear America, start paying waiters/waitresses a living wage! This would eliminate the whole need for tips!

TSA- The whole going through security at the airport thing is just plain annoying. You basically need to take off all your clothing, go through a full body scanner and if you have natural hair like me-get your hair searched. The whole process is as irritating as can be. I know it’s for national security but geez!

The UGLY:

Obesity-  Listen- Some Americans are really overweight. Some Koreans are too, but you definitely notice it more in America. We have gyms, we have healthy food options, and we have 7 different kinds of apples at the grocery store! Let’s take our health seriously!

No public transportation-  Korea spoiled me with $50 flights and going anywhere in the country in one hour. America doesn’t have the same system. A one way flight will cost you $200 here. Public transportation just isn’t the same (although American buses are more accessible for those with disabilities). My hometown doesn’t have any buses. And we don’t have a national high speed railway system, which are common throughout Europe and Asia (especially Japan).  All this means less traveling in America for me, which is sad because our country has so much to offer.

 

 

 

 

The Truth about Kpop-Percieved Innocence and Such

Alright here it is: I’ve been a Kpop fan since late 2008. Yes, that was 8 years ago (long before Gangnam Style appeared on the scene. I was a Freshman in college at the time and just starting to discover the awesomeness of YouTube. One day, my friend and I stumbled across the song “Mirotic” by top boy band at the time DBSK. For some reason, it took one viewing of that music video for me to want to know what Kpop was all about and ever since then, I’ve been trying to figure out the global sensation that is Kpop.

 

Now during my time as a Kpop fan, I’ve seen a lot. Fans of Kpop are known to be a little crazy (to say the least). From new school Koreaboos to old school Sasaeng fans I know very well how misguided, stubborn and persistently blind Kpop fans can be. After living in Korea, I can no longer sugarcoat the effects that Kpop has on kids in Korea (especially young girls). Keep that in mind as you read:

Kpop can be polarizing to foreign people who make the journey to live and work in South Korea. Here is this mass produced, seemingly innocent, group dominated music genre that plays everywhere you may go in Korea. Kpop idols start training at a young age, and during their popular years, they work their behinds off to be “successful” (which doesn’t necessarily mean rich). These idols have to withstand grueling diets and extreme schedules to make it in the Kpop world. If there is even one negative moment, or one scandal, it can be career ending (thanks to those crazy fans I mentioned before). For many foreigners, the hype that seems to follow Kpop seems foolish.

Of course, there are the foreigners who are not only fans, but believe that Kpop is somehow the innocent and perfect choice of the musical world. They believe that Kpop is the very way music should be done. They also believe that Kpop is not as violent and sexually explicit as western music.

So is it true? After being a long term Kpop fan and teaching in Korea for a year and a half, would I say that Kpop is as innocent as some believe?

Well….

Here’s my honest answer: Kpop is full of sex, but it isn’t presented in the same way that we are used to seeing in western music. Kpop girl groups still dress in sexy outfits and they still do sexy dances. I’ve found, however, that since Korean women are not as curvy as the likes of Nicki Minaj, they tend to get a pass on their sexy dancing and skimpy outfits. Kpop male groups still thrust their pelvises harder than Michael Jackson, but because they aren’t considered “thuggish” or “too aggressive”, they also get the Kpop Innocent Pass.

The funny thing is, Kpop songs tend to be full of sexual innuendos and it only takes a look at the English translations of some songs to see it. In recent years, there has been a rise in “sexy” concept music videos where seemingly innocent girl groups have changed their images to become more sexy.

While we can argue that because Kpop doesn’t blatantly discuss sex or violence, it is indeed more innocent than western music, you have to remember who the main consumers of Kpop truly are: My sixth grade female students and the millions of kids just like them in Korea. In Korea, Kpop is kids’ and teens’ music. These kids have no concept of western music’s concepts of sexuality and only see what is presented to them by their favorite girl and guy groups in their home country. As much as I would like to say Kpop is innocent, I can’t. The first time I had to turn off a Sistar video in my upper level afterschool English class for being too damn sexy, I knew I could never look at Kpop the same again.

When you see Kpop through the eyes of young people who are still trying to figure out their place in their society (and what loving, sexuality, and dating will mean to them), you realize that Kpop is just as powerful as the western music we listen to and that our western opinions over its innocence are pretty much pointless. What matter most are the opinions of the parents and adults in Korea who are attempting to guide their kids through the process of consuming media and growing up into Korean citizens.

 

 

On Deciding to Leave Korea

As the last six months of my teaching contract sped by, I had a decision to make: Do I leave Korea or stay in the country seeking new employment? The two main factors in my decision were my desire to return to college and earn my PhD and some uncertainties over whether our teaching program in Korea would be dismantled.

After taking the GRE for a second time and earning a score that made me happy I studied so much, I started to look forward to the journey of returning back to school. I began to think of a life after Korea and what kind of things I would do with my career in Education. I looked forward to returning to the world of research, studying, learning, presenting, and working towards my ultimate career goals. It didn’t  take long, however, for me to realize how lacking I was in real professional experience that would come from working in the U.S. As I read about the types of students who attended PhD programs in Education, I didn’t feel like I was one of those students yet. Sure, I had lived abroad, but what else? I didn’t have any real world experience to draw from .

Of course, there were other things that helped me decide it was time to leave as well. One of my biggest issues about living in Korea (at least where I lived) was the severe lack of dating. As a 25 year old woman, I feel that if I desire to date, I should be able to and I feel that with no shame. There was also the issue of simply being an afterschool English teacher with no hope to progress further than that. No one wants to be stuck in one role for years and year, with no hope to advance further.

Eventually the final decision was made (the uncertainty of the future of our teaching program definitely made the decision easier) and I knew that rather than struggle through an additional six months in Korea, I’d leave on a high note. The process of leaving made me really consider what I wanted to do when I returned to the U.S. and as I stood in my English class one day, I knew that I would want to continue teaching. So I decided to put off my return to the university/grad school scene and apply for an alternative teaching certification program. For the next two years, I’ll be dedicated to helping students learn Social Studies and hopefully building up my own professional network.

It isn’t easy to know when you should leave Korea, but the day comes when you know that even if leaving will be sad, it will be the right thing to do.

 

 

 

On the Beginning of My Batman Fandom…

Those of us who were lucky enough to be born in the early 90’s probably remember watching Batman the Animated Series (BTAS). This show was my very first introduction to the iconic comic character and I was HOOKED!  The show debuted back in 1992 and it was like no other in its time! It was dark (in both the tone and literally-having its own style of animation referred to as “Dark Deco”) and it was psychological and mature and most of all, this show had Batman running from actual bullets (from actual guns-which doesn’t happen in cartoons nowadays).  If you haven’t re-watch this show as an adult,  find it online and get ready to re-discover something amazing!

I was a bit too young to watch it when it first arrived on the screen but I did, however, have the benefit of catching the show in reruns (and new episodes until ’95) . Somewhere in those years, when the show was airing on Cartoon Network, I saw the one episode that explained how Bruce Wayne’s parents died and how that led him on the path to becoming the Batman. That episode was emotional (to say the  VERY least) and for some kids, it was probably a bit frightening.

For me, however, there was a connection! It’s so hard to explain now, but I can still remember the feeling I got from watching that episode. I understood that you didn’t need any powers to be a hero and that even with the darkest and most tragic of experiences in life, you can do great things. As I got older I understood that everyone has some darkness in them and we don’t necessarily have to fear it if we learn to channel into something positive.  My three year old self probably thought something like “Batman had really bad things happen to him but he grew up and helped others with no special powers”- but whatever the thoughts I had, I was forever a fan after seeing that one episode!

After BTAS, I watched other shows like Batman Beyond, Justice League, Teen Titans, The Batman, Young Justice and the list goes on and on. Since comic books weren’t available to me as a kid, the animated series of DC comics were my introduction to the DC Universe. There’s a reason why I always thought John Stewart (aka the Black Green Lantern) the original Green Lantern  and that’s because the character was featured in Justice League.

So that’s my story! I was a nerd before I knew what the word even meant and that continues today…

The only thing that rivals my love of Batman is my love of Harry Potter and that is another blog post for another day!