With final examinations in the dust, students smiled and cheered. They had actual plans for the weekend.
“I will go to Ghost Castle PC Room.”
“I will watch movies.”
“I will watch my favorite drama.”
My heart smiled. They work so hard. They finally earned real leisure time. For better or worse, their academic worries could be shelved until next school year.
When finals ended, festival preparation began. I had no clue what I was diving into.
It all started a week and a half before the festival. About half of my classes asked me to cancel class so they could “practice for the festival.”
At my school (and I’m sure most Korean schools), a student-centered festival is held in the winter. Amazing artwork decks the halls and raucous music echoes throughout. Each first and second-grade class prepares their own performance. First graders sing and dance in a choir. Second graders perform a musical.
The first time I permitted my class to prepare for the festival I damn near pissed myself from nerves. As a former substitute teacher, I am very sensitive to classroom noise levels. In other words, a loud classroom means a bad sub. As they played music and practiced their dance routines, I stepped outside the classroom to judge the situation. Student voices and speaker music echoed in the halls.
“It’s too loud man,” Anxiety-Brain said. “They’re going to know you canceled class. They will fire you soon.”
“Relax. We’re not in America anymore. This could very well be an acceptable noise level.”
“Who are you trying to kid?”
“You! I’m trying to kid you! You’re the paranoid one.”
I checked the next-door classrooms to see what was happening. One teacher was standing in front of the class, but the students appeared to be doing no work. The other class was watching a movie. I checked the other two halls just to be safe. They were equally loud.
“See,” I said with righteous indignation, “we’re not being too loud. This is just a loud school.”
“Whatever. I warned you.”
Despite everyone’s apparent lack of concern, Anxiety-Brain’s harangues won the day. I started refusing students’ requests to practice for the festival and instead taught my scheduled lesson. In a 2-week project, students wrote and performed their own short drama.
Some students heard about the exception I made with one class and were less than pleased.
“We heard the two-class got to practice for the festival.”
“Yeah, and that was a mistake. We will have a regular class.” Call me Hypocrite Teacher.
That Monday, another activity started as well – I volunteered for a secret surprise teacher’s dance routine.
“What a great way to impress the students and build staff goodwill,” I thought. “We’ll practice for a few hours and it will be awesome.”
Oh, the woes of a naive foreigner. I was ill-prepared for the time commitment I had voluntarily shouldered.
At first, things were easy-peasy. Evening classes were in their last week so we couldn’t practice past 6:00 P.M. I started to understand the dance well. Teachers complimented me. I’m so used to being a beyond awful dancer (people would confound my “dancing” with medically concerning seizures and convulsions) that I didn’t know what else to say besides a sheepish “Thank You.”
I also think practicing a dance routine at orientation came in handy.
One week later, during the actual week of the festival, things kicked into a gear too high to anticipate. That Monday, dance practice droned on until 9:00 with a short break in the middle to purchase matching sweatshirts (just the insistence on a uniform should have been a red flag of the gravity of the event but again…naive foreigner).
Then, in one of my second-grade classes, I was asked to perform a bit part in their musical production. I was assigned the role of a mirror and instructed to pre-record two lines.
“Oh, Min-Jeong” (a sort of Korean pun that roughly translates to “I agree. It is Min-Jeong.”
The teacher (Min-Jeong) later explained that this part of the play was mirrored after Snow White. The students asked the mirror (me) who was the most beautiful. Somehow the scene ends with Min-Jeong pushing a kid out of the way and asking me “Min-Jeong?” (in context roughly means “Min-Jeong is the most beautiful. Do you agree?”
This was by far the easiest of my several; rehearsals. Two lines and a single cue. I can manage.
By Tuesday, I was already starting to cave on allowing students to practice for the festival. One of my co-teachers said that it was normal. As a foreigner, all I want to do is the “normal thing” whenever possible so I canceled my classes for the rest of the week. It was a nice desk-warming break to do some writing and reading.
Thank goodness I canceled my classes because I could not anticipate the practice schedule. I ended up staying after school for four hours from Monday to Thursday (don’t worry they paid me overtime (about the U.S. federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour)). I ate modest cafeteria lunches and dinners. Dance practices combined with morning workouts left me hankering hard when I returned home. I was eating almonds by the fistful, completely abandoning my intermittent fasting routine (and yet I was shedding water weight like a leaky balloon).
By Wednesday night, through continued after-hours practices, I had the inescapable feeling it was actually Thursday. I realized that staying after school four hours for three straight days gave me the feeling of an additional workday. By definition, those eight-plus hours constituted an additional work day. It was strange.
Regardless I was having a great time. It was a testament to William James’ theory that “the mind follows the body and the body follows the mind.” I left dance practice each day smiling and fulfilled. In other words, I didn’t dance because I was happy. I was happy because I danced.
Regardless, the festival would commence tomorrow and continue through Friday afternoon. After a long week, I was well-prepared to finish and wind down into the Christmas weekend.
Some students built the littlest snowman that could. The snow melted though. He’s dead now.
This is merely one example of the many examples of student artwork put on display for the festival.
I think his name is Dexter, but I can’t remember. He lives in Little Miss King Kong coffee shop across the street from my school. He looks beyond uncomfortable about taking a picture with me.
Sad puppy is sad.
The Lotte Outlets look much better from this side. On the side I typically walk through, a white concrete wall is all I see.
I love Korean clothing with English words. They even try to coin new words.