If you’ve been wondering where I’ve been, the answer is “hunkering.”  I hear that winter has been relatively mild in Maine this year, but in Korea it’s been record breaking cold.  Cold with no snow, that is, which means…meh.  Winter blows.

I spend even more time in my classroom now, usually puttering around until almost dinnertime because to leave means going from hot sauna classroom to ice cave hallway, where your nosehairs freeze, in 1.7 seconds.  The Koreans do a lot of things right, but building schools is not one of them.  The hallways are not heated, you see.  The hallways are not heated!  You see?  My day consists of drinking a cup of coffee, needing to pee, walking to the bathroom along the frozen tundra that is the hall, making a cup of hot tea to get warm again, having to pee, walking to the bathroom in the tundra … are you catching my drift?  It can be a serious drag.  Our students come to class with their giant down coats on and never take them off.  The rooms themselves are toasty, but what’s the point, really, of bothering to undress, when you’re just going to have to go back out into the arctic?   Colleagues warned me about this, I admit, but I wasn’t prepared.  So, I spend more time in my classroom now.  And that’s where I’ve been hanging out.

It’s halfway through our year in Korea, so it will come as no surprise (to you who know me well) that I’m attached to my students.  I wake up in the mornings happy and excited to go do what I do in a classroom.  Generally, kids here are very hardworking and serious about their studies.  They are appreciative to and grateful for their teachers.  It still delights me that they thank me on their way out of class.  Not all the time, in an obligatory kind of way, but when I’ve really helped them think.   They are super curious.  They ask fantastic questions, readily participate in class, ask for rubrics ahead of time in preparation for assignments and – get this- hand in their homework more than 96% of the time, on the whole.  I know this, because I kept track to make certain I wasn’t overestimating!   They get upset when they get grades lower than A’s. It’s refreshing, and humorous, and it’s so different from home in so many ways.  Students that care are the norm, not the exception.  It’s cool here to do well in school.  Not cool to not turn in your homework.  Cool to join the study group.  Not cool to not show up for it.  What is also unique is that if we do have a problem with a student, be it academic or behavioral, it is usual to receive a parental note much like the following:  Thank you for letting us know about _________ (fill in the blank).  This will be taken care of.  And then – it IS.   Come on, teacher friends at home!  You know that sounds like a dream come true!

If you’ve been reading about education lately you’ll know that public schools in Korea are in the hot spotlight for their methods of factual drill and kill, constant testing,  enormous academic pressure,  and keeping kids in private study lessons (Hagwon) until midnight and beyond, every school night.   DIS is an international school with an American curriculum, so our students are learning how to think creatively, problem solve, work cooperatively, confidently express opinions and question the status quo.  It is atypical for Korea but is a welcomed, even coveted, educational option.  I don’t have the big picture of the direction the country is heading, having only spent a few months here, but when you match students like these, with curriculum that encourages free thinking, with the support of their families…it’s got to be a recipe for success.  It’s an uncommon experience, doing what we’re doing.  We are more grateful for the learning we’re doing than our students and their families are for our teaching, that much I know.

So.  This is also why I’m spending more time in my classroom than at our little home when it’s so cold.  I want to.  I want to teach the students everything I can.  They give their best, and I give mine. That, too, is a recipe for success.