Ian Says Goodbye to Newfound Friends Once Again
Of the eight native instructors currently under contract at JIEI, three are leaving over the next six weeks – three instructors I’ve come to consider close colleagues.
One man (let’s call him Muffin) will step onto to the International School circuit – a job many identify as the upper echelon of ESL education. He accepted a two-year offer at a Buddhist-based school in Chiang Mai, Thailand. If (and that’s a big if) he can secure the flights and visas in the next couple of weeks, he will depart and I will miss him dearly.
Muffin’s lived in Korea for nearly ten years, spending an unheard of seven years at one school before moving to JIEI. Most long-term native teachers either tire of their school or wear out their welcome after four years. Muffin could have stayed at Roseong Boys High School for four decades if he had the mind for it. Since I first joined the JIEI team, I respected his personal cocktail of tireless work ethic, unshakable composure, and dirty dry humor.
His ability to cultivate harmony with Korean co-workers through flexibility, affability, and sincere Korean language practice is a model for any native teacher with an ounce of concern about their relationship with their school. As a man with an aspy streak, I’ve found his mentorship invaluable as I strode to emulate his ingratiating mannerisms whenever possible – such as taking time to sit with Korean co-workers in the lunchroom instead of self-segregating with other native teachers. Or picking up a soju bottle to circulate between tables and share shots during office dinners out.
He can’t sing. He can’t dance. His photos are dreadful. And I love him for it.
Thank you for showing me the value of technology. Thank you for listening to my worries and concerns over tofu, kimchi, and beer. Thank you for being nobody but yourself. I wish you all the best in the next chapter in your impending spiritual awakening.
Meow and I joined JIEI at the same time. In spite of her youth, she carries herself with more poise and fashion sense than most. I suspect her Coloradan upbringing played a part – she’s cool as a dry Rocky Mountain breeze.
In fact, I spent the first month of my time at JIEI thinking I was the youngest native teacher exclusively because Meow has her ish so together.
Almost all of the native teachers at JIEI are licensed to teach in Ontario, Canada, Florida, Kansas, or the District of Colombia. All except for Meow and myself. And Meow doesn’t care about that fact one bit.
“Yeah, I’m not a licensed teacher. So what?”
Thank you for modeling how I can overcome my own un-credentialed insecurities – an insecurity that once threatened to bury me in a coffin of impostor syndrome.
We also share the common hardship of preparing graduate school applications last fall.
“How’re your applications going, Meow?”
“Ugh…I’m still working on my personal statements. How about you?”
“Same. It’s tough to write about myself sometimes,” I lied.
However, I’m happy to report promising outcomes for the both of us. While I hope to attend the University of Kentucky fully funded with a TA position to study linguistics, Meow will attend the University of Denver on a full-ride scholarship to study Educational Policy. I respect her ambition to promote real impact among developing educational systems by working from the both top-down or bottom-up.
While she readily admits she wouldn’t be keen to teach young students on a full-time basis, I think she will make an even more substantial impact at the macro-level. I’m excited to think about what the future holds for her.
I’ll never forget Meow for her kindness on my birthday. I was deep in a thicket of December depression when my 28th birthday rolled. I accordingly downplayed all questions about my birthday plans. Honestly, I didn’t see any birthday plan beyond a six-pack of tall boys and a pack of Marlboro Golds.
And yet on the evening of December 10th, 15 minutes before we knocked off of work, Meow invited me to her apartment to share a meal with her and her boyfriend – a Wisconsinite with kitchen skills of great renown.
Over fried pork cutlets and steamed vegetables, Meow and her man gave me one of my better birthdays of recent memory – just shooting the breeze on life, nodding our heads to eclectic music, and playing with their infamously animated cat.
Thank you for your kindness and camaraderie over this past year. I wish you all the best as you continue your educational ascent.
Florida Man is a man of many momentous deeds. One must only open a newspaper to regale in his exploits. He’s famous! And for a whole year he sat right next to me in the Native Teacher Office. Cubicle buddies!
Words cannot express the debt of gratitude I owe to Florida man – how his mentorship shepherded my social and professional acclimation.
Moving to a new town is tough. All local streets, landmarks, watering holes, and social circles dissolve into irrelevancy as a new and uncertain landscape lies ahead.
I started a new job with full anticipation of its demanding workload and stress-inducing schedules. The Mokpo Misfits were no more. Flatcap, a man who framed my social life with clockwork cafe and sauna jaunts, jetted back to England. I was alone.
Yet since the day he gave me a tour of the Institute following my interview, I knew Florida Man was someone special – well-spoken and sincere with a silly streak. So honest about his insecurities yet comfortable in his own skin. It’s no surprise he would be the most well-connected foreigner I’d meet in Yeosu.
From my first day, he and his girlfriend helped include me in their friend group. They invited me to group events, overnight excursions, and hiking trips. One day I felt like a stranger in a new town. The next day I felt like part of a tribe. I blinked and suddenly I belonged. All thanks to Florida Man’s charms.
Florida Man’s affability and honesty make him an undisputed favorite instructor among trainees. And his unorthodox lesson plans never cease to inspire me. Sitting beside him in that office, observing his classes, and listening to his latest lesson ideas always help me to re-consider my own instruction methodology.
One day he and the trainees played Monopoly to consider how the rules and processes of social systems shape behavior – and then redirected conversation back to the trainees’ own classroom culture.
I’m going to butcher it, but I’ll try to summarize anyway.
Monopoly is a game. Games have rules. The rules reward some behavior and discourage other behaviors. In Monopoly, only one player wins. That player wins by gaining control of all of the money and property on the board. In short, Monopoly’s zero-sum rules encourage greedy behavior and punish generous behavior.
Similar to Monopoly, our own activities and classroom procedures shape student behavior. The Korean educational system is notorious for its rules and processes that promote competition – classroom games often only promote a handful of winners (at most 15-20% of students feel the satisfaction of winning while the rest have to cope with losing). Instructors often grade on a curve, discouraging peer learning and encouraging self-promotion and cutthroat study tactics.
But Florida Man is the reading instructor. How does this aforementioned lesson relate to reading?
At the time, Florida Man led a class novel study on Lois Lowry’s The Giver – a book famous for its theme of portraying a society whose desired outcome is a liberation from pain.
While reading through The Giver with the trainees, he designs experiential lessons that explore powerful concepts like power structures, social systems, end of life decisions, and what makes a for a satisfying life. And he finds a way to relate all of that to modern Korean society and education.
He once led a reading discussion around a powerful short story about intelligence called Flowers for Algernon. Fortunately, a trainee let me borrow their copy so I could appreciate the story’s themes of ambition and loss.
I am enamored by how he facilitates discussion. Trainees often either praise or protest Florida Man’s reticence to share his own opinions and interpretations. He often does not lecture at the trainees. Rather, he asks guiding questions that allow trainees to form their own conclusions.
“Have we seen anyone in pain in this novel?”
“Have we seen any poverty in this novel?”
By asking yes/no either/or questions, he can skirt around spoon-feeding answers and instead allow trainees to learn from each other – the epitome of peer learning and discussion. It’s led me to try similar techniques in my own classes.
At first, I just wanted to write off his seemingly effortless teaching as a product of natural ability – an accusation he humbly denies.
“My classes today are the result of listening to trainees’ feedback over the last two years.”
In August, he plans to move back to Indiana with his girlfriend. He seems interested in returning to American classrooms either as an elementary teacher or a reading paraeducator. I wish him all the best.
Even though I know that empty chair and cubicle will betray a greater hollowness than meets the eye.