The Joys of Warming a Desk

With the first semester of work in the books, I transition to the winter vacation period.  Encompassing all of January and February (save one week for high school graduation ceremonies), it is the longest respite students have from school.

Following a brief overnight teacher “workshop”, winter classes commenced.  I teach two classes after lunch.  In one, I teach improvisation comedy games.  Students love to spontaneously practice English with humorous situations and exercises.  In the second class, I work with students on developing persuasive speeches.  While less fun-focused, it is a great opportunity to challenge students critical thinking and English language skills simultaneously.

Those classes encompass two periods of my eight-hour workday.  The other six hours comprise of what many public school native English teachers affectionately and disparagingly call “deskwarming.”

The term is exactly what it sounds like. We utilize our booties to warm the seats of our desks.  In other words, we have no explicit responsibility except to remain at school from 9:00 A.M. To 5:00 P.M.

Why?  As contracted employees, we are entitled to 24 vacation days during the 59-day winter vacation period.  Most teachers teach a camp or supplementary class for 7 to 21 days.  That leaves a minimum of 10 days in which teachers are obligated to show up to work with no classes or workshops to teach.

The initial expectation is to use the time to plan lessons for the upcoming semester.  I have largely stuck true to that aim with the goal of 15-in-15 (15 new lesson plans in the 15 days of winter classes).  However, as I gain more lesson-planning experience, the production turnaround time from concept to lesson continues to decline.  I rarely spend more than two hours on lesson planning each day.  Many other teachers are efficient or unmotivated enough to spend even less time.

So how do I fill so many hours of dead time?  This is a ubiquitous issue for Korea ESL forums and blogs across cyberspace.

The suggestions are largely consistent:  study Korean, take an online class, read books, binge on Netflix, sleep.  Boredom is a common complaint.

I am far from complaining.  Between downloaded readings, EdX MOOCs, Khan Academy calculus practice, an online community college psychology course, developing Anki flashcards for studying Korean, and watching YouTube videos on self-improvement, I tend to keep busy.

My most effective tool in managing my time and staying productive has been the Pomodoro technique.  A commonly-discussed time-management method in self-help circles, the method’s alleged effectiveness stems from a consistent work-break schedule that promotes productivity while minimizing burnout.

This is the routine I use in the three-and-a-half hours leading up to lunch:

  1. 25 minutes – Plan a lesson.
  2. 5 minutes – Refill water and coffee, use the bathroom, do ten burpees, walk around the hallways.
  3. 25 minutes – Plan a lesson.
  4. 5 minutes – Refill water and coffee, use the bathroom, do ten burpees, walk around the hallways.
  5. 25 minutes – plan a lesson (by now I am usually finished lesson planning for the day).
  6. 5 minutes -Refill water and coffee, use the bathroom, do ten burpees, walk around the hallways).
  7. Make Anki flashcards for studying either Biopsychology or Korean.
  8. 15 minutes – refill water and coffee, use the bathroom, do ten burpees, watch a YouTube video or two, check Facebook, email, or Kakao.
  9. 25 minutes – Khan Academy, EdX, or pleasure reading.

By this point, even if lunchtime has not come, my self-control starts to fatigue and I am less rigid in following the Pomodoro protocol.  Regardless, by 11:30 A.M., I usually finish my core goals for the day (mostly lesson planning) and can relax into intrinsically motivating intellectual pursuits.

Despite going into “deskwarming” with a well-defined productivity plan, I still sometimes succumb to the menacing boar that is boredom.  It breathes down my neck, giving me a feeling of restless discomfort.  Sometimes I counterproductively try to combat this looming beast with Facebook lurking and intermittent Kakao messages.

Regardless, when the pernicious pig eyes me with a contemptuous snort, I have to return a smile.

“This may not be as comfortable as the full class schedule of before, but I embrace this change of pace.”

I mean it, too.  The space to breathe and enjoy some time to myself is a blessing I cannot ignore.  It won’t last forever.  Soon enough, I will be immersed in a new semester with a full class load, wishing for the winter days of yore.

So for now, as I while away the hours under the din of fluorescent lights staring out into the snow-soaked landscape, I can only smile and appreciate the fact that I have the luxury of battling brief bouts of boredom during my working hours.

Photo Corner

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I don’t know how (or if) this phone charges money, but where was the hallway phone when I was in high school?  Before I had a cell phone (and even after) students could only use the phone in the office for a very good reason.

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A recent blizzard threw down a layer of snow that reminded me of a Kentucky or Tahoe winter.

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I feel like this poster regards a serious matter like sexual harassment, but I cannot take the love-infected boy zombie seriously.

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I found the edge of Namak.  This road just dead-ends into a wall.

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These Simpson’s statues are signed in Hangeul that literally reads as “sculptor.”

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This is the bridge at the edge of Namak.  Soon I want to ride my bike across and explore some local hiking trails.  Once the snow goes away.

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