I've never wanted a week to go so quickly in my life. The excitement for Japan has been building steadily for a while, but now the leash is off and I am giddy. As a result I haven't wanted to do much work in school. Luckily, the school schedule has once again come up trumps for me. Obviously I had Friday off for Buddha's birthday, part of the reason we can go to Tokyo, but my school's sports day was on the Thursday, meaning I only had to teach for 3 days, and only 8 lessons.
You can't really call those 'lessons' either. I dragged the kids out of the comfort zone that is their own classrooms, and took classes this week in my own room. It's not just my room, but it's better for groupwork. I'm allowed to do this once in a while, but am not allowed to move the students every week. Why, I don't know, but there's still many things about school that throw me. Wednesday is a good example of this. I teach periods 1-4, but then have the afternoon free. About ten minutes into period six, three students turn up to my office and start talking in Korean. I point them over to the other woman in my office, but then they suggest that they're talking to me. And then say that I'm supposed to be teaching their class. Right now. First I'd heard of it.
Turns out that this was a class that I had missed to go to the open class last Friday. Still, to be told about it would have been nice, and I made this point to Ms. Kim when she turned up to my room with the class. I was pretty annoyed - how dare they interrupt my YouTube session - until she said that she had only found out less than half an hour before the lesson. Messages don't get passed around particularly quickly in school, so I would have probably been told in...I don't know, June?
A bit frustrated and unprepared, I lost my cool for the first time out here. A student would not stop talking, even though his classmates kept telling him to be quiet. He was sat in close proximity to where I was standing, and eventually I snapped. Randomly, I had a ping pong ball on my table, so I picked it up. And threw it at him. And hit him on the head. Then carried on teaching as normal. He was brilliant for the rest of the lesson. The corporal punishment that is so common out here obviously works pretty well, but I can't make that a regular thing, otherwise I would never get a teaching job in an English-speaking country further down the line.
Unsurprisngly, the students' behaviour changes when are dragged out of their own environment. They become louder, more playful and are a bit less disciplined. On the whole, its better for what I was doing, as group activities also seem to bring out the competitive streak in many students who are normally quiet in class. And also, no one sleeps, which has to be seen as a good thing.
I was playing scattegories with them, and it was great fun for everyone, though the volume in class ruined my voice a bit. Especially on the Wednesday, when I taught this four times back-to-back. I took to using a microphone in a couple of lessons, but resisted the students' calls for me to serenade them with songs.
Aside from the extra lesson, Wednesday afternoon was spent watching some K-pop on Youtube with some of my students. The Wondergirls have released a new song which I'm sure all of my students already know the words and dance moves to. It's best described as a 'grower'. Certainly nothing on 'Run Devil Run' by Girls' Generation, which is definitely my favourite K-pop song right now. Would it be a success in Britain? Possibly, possibly not, but I like it. Though we know that my music taste often leaves a lot to be desired.
So Thursday was sports day. If you remember from my previous efforts, over the past couple of weeks qualifying for various events, ranging from dodgeball to football, has been taking place. Uniform wasn't happening for me today, so I turned up in the clothes I was wearing to Tokyo. A different kind of uniform was happening for the students, however. No standard sports' kit in sight. Each class (one boys' and one girls' class were paired) had to wear the same costume; one that was decided days, maybe even weeks, advance, so that the students could all get hold of it.
Some of the costumes were ridiculous. As I said to the other English teachers, there is no chance in hell that you could get an entire class of 17 year old boys to wear matching pink satin pyjamas with bunny ears in a British high school. It just wouldn't happen. It's amazing that there is no issue with self-consciousness and about what other students think of you. Though the other students, dressed with sombreros or mickey mouse ears or hawaiian shirts, wouldn't be able to take the mick too much.
They actually competed in these outfits, which made it more bizarre. Though some of the events were bizarre in their own right. Tug-of-war is an outstanding event choice which I will recommend in any subsequent school I work in. What's funnier is that, if it is 1-1, they don't have a third, definitive attempt. Oh no. They decide the winner in a much fairer way...rock paper scissors. Mental.
I then settled down amongst the students, who spent most of the day hi-5ing me and posing for photos, to watch the dodgeball and football finals. The latter went to a penalty shootout, in which a grand total of three people scored. Very bad game, but the chanting from their fellow classmates and paired classes was incessant. Who knows what they were saying - I'm guessing it was names of their classmates and positive things like that - but its infectious, and very catchy.
The funniest event came a little before lunch. It's hard to explain, so the pictures will help here. The basic premise is that each class crouches down in a line at one end of the field, with the exception of three of the class members, who stand at the back. When the gun is fired, one of the students clambers onto the back of the first student in line. He then proceeds to RUN ALONG THE LINE, flanked by the other two students who try (and often fail) to prevent him from falling off. So far, a little bit strange. Well, strap yourselves in. The field is obviously longer than the line, so people from the back of the line have to run to the front to keep the line going to the other end of the field. So basically you get a mass movement of people across the dirt, with people clambering over one another and falling over. It was hilarious. Health and safety would ban this event before it even entered UK waters.
I decided to eat and nap for a bit at this point, the two events being interspersed with more photos and hugs. And me being squirted by a water pistol numerous times. I was very tired, and needed to conserve my energy. Not only for Tokyo, but for a more immediate reason. As you have seen, there are many differences between the sports days of Korea and Britain. One I have yet to mention is the level of involvement of the teachers. The teachers play a more active role out here; in that they actually take part. I wasn't told about the teachers vs students football game (Mr Kang was, but had had a soju sesh the night before so hilariously slept through and left them short of numbers), but I had been told about the relay race. Why? Because I was running in it.
Not against students, I hasten to add. I'm not that stupid (though stupid enough to agree to this during my half-marathon training, which hasn't really been going to plan but did involve running the day before). As a teacher of first-grade students, I was running for the first-grade team. We were against the second-grade team, and a team of parents. Naturally, there was a bit of interest in this race, not least from my office, who made a placard for me. The first-grade team was the populist group, containing myself and the very popular and superbly built student PE teacher, who all the girls love for some reason. I know the reason now.
We battered the other teams. I was on the penultimate leg, and had enough time to slow down and do an ear-cupping gesture to the adoring fans. The scream was deafening, true ego-boosting moment. But it pales into comparison with what happens next. I hand over to the PE teacher, who waves to the students, before doing a somersault. That's right, an actual somersault. Ear-splitting roars, including one from me. He then jogs around half the track backwards, holding out the baton to the second-grade guy who is sprinting his heart out but not getting closer. Another flip, and then a soft jog to the line. Ridiculous. He got ambushed by about thirty students wanting to hug him. Hero.
That pretty much wrapped up sports day. Let's face it, that was not going to be topped. It was a wonderful day. The students had so much fun, and it was nice to see them come out of their shell a bit. Funny how much more fun people are when they are relaxed and don't have to study for 16 hours a day. The cheering and passion was incredible: I really wish sports day in Britain could even come close to replicating that. As for the costumes...each to their own.
Straight from school was the beginning of our Japanese adventure! I'll get on writing that up soon.
Love you all